The Significance of Zodiac’s References to the “Number 13”-A Literal Crime Signature?

January 29, 2022
Birch Bay, Washington
Yesterday, we were presented with the Rees Key which suggested a possible name cipher solution to a letter sent to law enforcement on George Hodel’s birthday in 1950, claiming to identify by name the Black Dahlia Killer. (See blog link Breaking News…HERE. 
Could this taunt (hiding his real name as a clew) have been a crime signature used by George Hodel after he reinvented himself as “Zodiac” in the 1960s?  I believe it was. Here’s the evidence.
Exhibit No. 1
(Copied verbatim from the original reference in Most Evil I (2009 HB ed.) pg.183 which reads:
8. Bates confession paper and signature
The original crime summary of the Cheri Jo Bates investigation states that the suspect typed his “confession letter” on teletype paper cut from a roll of a “UP model 15 Teletype machine.” He also typed “THE CONFESSION” at the top using all capital letters and, according to some investigators, included a signature line comprised of spaces for 12 letters as shown below.
THE CONFESSION BY _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
Not having access to the original documents, I’m unable to confirm the accuracy of these statements.
Figure 15.16 shows three of my father’s legal signatures. They read: (1) G. Hill Hodel M.D;
(2) Dr. G. Hill Hodel (3) George H. Hodel. All three contain 12 letters. It is not a stretch to imagine Zodiac, due to his megalomaniacal ego, would not be able to resist using the actual number of letters in his name.
Figure 15.16

Figure 15.17

Figure 15.17 is a reproduction of a Telex teletype sent to me by my father in January 1978. I know for a fact that he had Telex machines (unknown models) installed in all of his fifteen branch market research offices throughout Asia, and received and sent dozens of teletypes a week.
Telex teletype paper would have been foreign and inaccessible to most people who were considered suspects (including past boyfriends and students) in the Bates murder. Yet it was a commonly used item, handled many times a day by business executive George Hill Hodel.
Exhibit No. 2
(Copied verbatim from the original reference in Most Evil I (2009 HB ed.) Page 159):
… Missive sixteen (a postcard sent on October 5, 1970) is of interest because of the use of cut-and-paste letters, a practice employed by the Black Dahlia Avenger in his letters to the press following the Elizabeth Short murder in LA.
At the time this postcard was received the police and press noted the thirteen holes punched in the paper and assumed this represented victims as suggested by Zodiac. However, it could well have been a double entendre which also corresponded with his earlier “signings” with the 13 punch holes representing his signature and real name as:
Exhibit No. 3
Once again we have the number thirteen connected with Zodiac’s message, “You ache to know my name and so I’ll clue you in.”  We know he included the cipher which when decrypted by Mssr. Yves Person, the Paris, France high school teacher, who  revealed the letters to be from the ancient Celtic language and spelled-H O D E L.
In addition to the actual cipher signing of his name did he include the 13 “Spellbound Eyes” again to represent each letter of his name? –

G E O R G E H O D E L M D  or D R G E O R G E H O D E L

Having walked around inside my father’s mind for several decades, (a very scary place to be) I believe he may well have conceived these to be his clever clews. Puzzle pieces to satisfy his taunting “catch me if you can” persona.


  1. Luigi Warren on January 29, 2022 at 2:46 pm


    There was considerable play on the number 13 in the frenzied Bay Area newspaper coverage of the 1921 Father Heslin kidnap-murder. Seems like the sort of thing which would have left an impression on a young “criminal genius” orchestrating his first Fantomas-style mass media terrorist campaign at the tender age of 13. It’s one of many reasons I tend to credit your extraordinary idea that he could have pulled off that crime as a summer holiday “caper” and then gone right back to being a straight A student at South Pasadena High. Wouldn’t that be the pattern of his whole life?

    Best regards,


  2. Yolie on January 30, 2022 at 10:18 am

    Steve the Merino letter is signed MS
    Today you have 13
    The MS-13 connection seems obvious

  3. Patricia ONeill on January 31, 2022 at 1:12 pm

    Steve: First, Congrats (some sour grapes feeling here) on your Rams win yesterday……but could have been rigged….I think an investigation in order!🤣🤣
    On to more serious content…..and this is to you & Luigi. The murder of Father Heslin in Colma, CA. was one ( there are others) of the tragic events that jumped out at me from TEY!
    I know that 100 years later this would not be a traceable event in the Heslin investigation but IMO, the very young GHH did NOT randomly pick Colma as a fun place to drive to with a phony driver’s license from L.A. Nope, he knew where & why he was going there… kill Father Heslin! The mileage as I recall from Los Angeles to San Francisco is approximately 460 miles. In my mind’s scenario, GHH as a young boy met & was befriended by this Catholic priest somewhere in the Southern CA area before the Church “shipped” Heslin out to another boondocks town (Colma, which it sounds like came after Stockton, CA). And I, being very familiar with the goings on in parishes & their priests, these men had very few limits placed on them & were free to travel at will….lots of times without their identifiable collar on. You combine meeting Heslin with perhaps an abusive mother and quite a bit of freedom (little supervision living in his cottage behind parent’s home) he was a prime target for predators! And at 13 GHH, no matter how bright, certainly did not have the emotional maturity to deal with such dangers…..he had no one to turn to. Father Heslin may have presented himself to your father as a friend, counselor, place of refuge for GHH. It was at this stage where GHH may have developed his overwhelming anger to both females & males as he started his teen years into adulthood. And his high IQ put everyone he came in contact with in extreme danger. Your books, Steve, not to be taken lightly!! Should be required reading by teachers, psychologists, MD’s, Law Enforcement etc.!! 😎🌵.
    PS…..on to ‘23….Go 49ers👍!

    • Luigi Warren on January 31, 2022 at 2:46 pm

      Hi Patricia,

      FWIW, my “strawman” theory is that young GHH got sexually involved with William Hightower’s companion, “Nemesis Girl” Doris Shirley, after the couple arrived in downtown San Francisco in the summer of 1921. Maybe he was interning at Alexander Zelenko’s offices a few blocks away, or in a lab at Stanford. He talked her into getting Hightower to participate in an easy money scheme involving a Salada Beach “lookout,” e.g., something in the rum-running line. He got hold of Hightower’s rental car and .45 on the pretext of this scheme, then turned the thing to his own terroristic ends, leaving his marks in a frame. I’d guess GHH already had a haughty contempt for religion, but the primary motive was thrill-seeking, as in the 1924 Leopold and Loeb case. This was the start of the “game” that GHH continued to the end of his days.


      • Luigi Warren on January 31, 2022 at 4:54 pm

        I’ll add that, if my proposed scenario is on point, I doubt that either Hightower or Shirley had foreknowledge of the bizarre kidnap scheme, and it may have taken them a while to figure out the linkage — exactly as in Hightower’s cover story about “Dolly Mason.” Shirley certainly had some comfort level with robbery and violence, based on her recent escapades in Denver and Minneapolis. However, she seems to have been a hard-headed, gold digger type, and she had recently attracted a lot of publicity and police attention. Hightower dabbled in slightly wacky inventions and side hustles and possibly had some ideological beef against religion, but there’s no compelling evidence of criminal tendencies. True, they might have complemented each other, or come under the sway of a silver-tongued boy genius. The most compelling thing to me is that coming forward to locate Heslin’s body would have been suicidal on Hightower’s part if he had really been in on the kidnap plot. It turned out to be a bad move anyway, but seems more comprehensible if he was innocent. -LW

        • Steve Hodel on January 31, 2022 at 6:07 pm

          Yes, I think your a lot closer to the truth of it. I just don’t see GHH knowing Fr. Heslin prior. The fact that the original typed letter was left blank then handwritten in “Fr. Heslin” is a big tell. I think he was drinking and whoring ex post facto, and he did have “loose lips” despite slipping through the net, time after time. Ultimately, it has been his braggadocio that catches up with him time and again. I agree that Dolly Mason possibly aka Doris Shriley was opportunistic and sucked Hightower into it and he ran with it and dug himself a hole he couldn’t get out of. Am debating whether to do a standalone on the crime I left out of The Early Years. But, if I do decide to go with it, it will very much support GHH’s earlier crime signature/MO of the Heslin murder.
          Also, to Patrici O’s points. I would not rule out the possibility that GHH was molested by “a priest” probably in LA at a younger age. He could well have taken “revenge” on Fr. Heslin and a hatred for the church based on that. I just don’t think it was Fr. Heslin that molested him. ???

          • Luigi Warren on January 31, 2022 at 10:57 pm

            As you pointed out, this doesn’t look like a real kidnap-for-ransom plot. It was terroristic scheme with theatrical and role-playing aspects, executed for kicks. Not the last in his oeuvre.

  4. Patricia ONeill on February 3, 2022 at 5:27 pm

    To you & LW: Thanks Steve for the link to the UNSOLVED podcast. Finally able to listen to now that the last of the “out of towners” ✈️ out this morning! Another brutal reminder of GHH’s extreme violence was hearing how her body was mutilated w/parts shoved within her privates….horribly inhumane! And again I revert back to the murder of Fr. Heslin in Colma. You and LW definitely have your ducks in a row tying in the associations with Hightower, Dolly Mason etc. prior to the actual murder of Heslin. I just cannot picture a young teen of 13 partying, paling around with a group of adults in San Francisco! Not many adults in a party or “up to no good” mode would be that interested in dealing with a very young teenage boy. Also I did comment before about the blank line for Fr. Heslin’s name, which was handwritten in later. A plausible “lapse of memory” as he typed but perhaps a ruse to throw investigators off track giving the appearance of a random kidnap/murder. For sure GHH had not honed his skills as a predator & murderer at 13 but IMO was tremendously motivated by personal anger & revenge. As also mentioned before, I have witnessed both personally & professionally the tremendous and long lasting anger generated by young men who have been victimized by clergy. By the time GHH associated with Elizabeth Short in the mid 1940’s his predatory skills had snowballed into the monster GHH became. 😓🌵

  5. Luigi Warren on February 4, 2022 at 4:20 pm

    Hi Patricia,

    On whether we can see George paling around with Hightower and/or Doris Shirley, I don’t have much difficulty with that scenario:

    1. We know that GHH was a far-from-average kid and that he was intellectually and sexually highly precocious. If he was charming and manipulative as an adult, then dollars to donuts he was already that way as a “boy genius.”

    2. Doris Shirley had entered the world’s oldest profession at the tender age of 13, growing up fast in the Black Hills mining colonies of South Dakota. At the age of 24 she was an experienced hustler, apparently quite successful at it, street smart, self-possessed and proud of her business acumen.

    3. Doris had been “rescued” a few months before the Heslin case by itinerant cook Hightower, 43, after she got into a spot when her “husband,” leader of a gang of Denver automobile bandits, got put away for a big bank heist. Hightower’s friend and former employer, Bakersfield capitalist Fred Hall, was quoted in the San Francisco Examiner as follows: “[Hightower] is the sort of man that likes to be big brother to all fallen women, not to aid them to a better life, but to show them how to make more money in the life they are living.” While I don’t see anything in the coverage to suggest Hightower’s side hustles included pimping Doris, it’s a reasonable guess that their relationship was somewhat “irregular.”

    My speculation is that Doris hooked up with GHH a few times, he talked her into using Hightower to help out on some sort of smuggling scheme that perhaps his adult Russian friends were supposedly involved with, for which he needed a lookout tent and a car plus a gun for security. Then he pulled his stunt and ghosted them and, as details on the Heslin crime emerged over the next few days, Doris and Hightower figured the connection. Pretty much Hightower’s story, in other words, only the names were changed to protect the innocent.


  6. Keith M. on February 5, 2022 at 10:43 am

    Hi, Luigi and Patricia. I think there might be a much bigger clue out there. William Copley’s
    ” Some Sort Of Crime” 1992 (soon after George’s return to the States) seems to be a nod to George Hill Hodel in relation to Heslin or the Frome murders? It’s obvious to me. What are your thoughts?

    • Steve Hodel on February 6, 2022 at 7:43 pm

      Keith M:
      Personally, I don’t see any connection that would indicate Copley had knowledge of the Heslin crime. I doubt any of GHH’s later acquaintances DID other than possibly Fred Sexton, who was very likely the second male in the Fromes double homicide in Texas in 1938 along with possibly Dorero, my mother.

      • Keith M. on February 7, 2022 at 9:40 am

        Hi, Steve, Patricia and Luigi.
        All great points! I felt it wasn’t a stretch for Copley to have known of Heslin or the Frome’s as George would confess this much later to his group of friends like Man Ray and others. The reveal would travel within the tight circle of artists. Others, including Copley, have given the knowing nod to the master before in their artwork and ‘Some Sort Of Crime’ seemed no different. Elements of the tic-tac-toe pattern, George in his China uniform, the car, the men ( including a smaller man or boy?), the women, the gun and a few other cryptic elements seemed to show Copley’s knowledge ( through George or Man Ray) of George’s past crimes. The 1992 piece of Copley’s seemed to sum up or collage multiple events as an homage upon George’s return. A ‘tribute’, if you will. In my eyes and gut I truly felt this. Thank you and looking forward to the docu-series.

  7. Luigi Warren on February 6, 2022 at 4:49 pm

    I looked at “Some Sort of Crime” and I’m not seeing a real clue there. It seems like an amalgam of Copley’s usual obsessions which happens to feature a Prohibition Era crime angle, although there are as ever cryptic elements whose significance is unclear.

    With respect to Hightower’s “Dolly Mason” story, I do not believe that the real killer just happened to spill the beans to a random hooker acquaintance of Hightower and, quite by coincidence: (a) Hightower happened to be very familiar with, and had recently visited, the Salada Beach location where the body was buried; (b) he happened to have owned a gun similar to the one used in the crime and then disposed of it in an untraceable way just around the time the crime occurred; (c) he happened to have rented a car similar to the one used to abduct the priest at 9 o’clock for the hours of 6 pm to midnight and couldn’t identify anyone who’d testify as to where he went with it; (d) he happened to have purchased under a false name the very tent whose pegs were found in the same hidden alcove above the beach as the priest, buried just a few feet from the corpse; (e) he happened to be a weaponeer, gadgeteer and machine gun expert, just like the kidnapper represented himself to be in the ransom note. There was much that was dubious about Hightower’s prosecution but there’s no question there was a lot of impressive evidence boxing him in. IMO, either he was involved in a conspiracy or he was at least indirectly connected to a perpetrator who set him up to take the fall. I don’t have a firm conclusion, but increasingly think the latter is a strong possibility.


  8. Patricia ONeill on February 6, 2022 at 7:33 pm

    LW & Keith M: Again “ducks in a row”…..could not find the William Copley book on my Nook or Google?!😟. Bur guess I am coming at this killing of Heslin from woman’s point of view. Having raised 1 son (now 56!) & had hands on caring & raising 5 grandsons (ages 20 – 34) now all successful, college educated, I cannot fathom a 13 year old teenage boy engaging in the activities 460 miles from home (L.A.) you describe as “capers”. I do see GHH as “researching” just where Heslin was then located then with one purpose in mind heading for that location to execute the murder. In my professional (now retired) life as a teacher (middle school thru high school in CA, NYC, RI and AZ) I saw many hair-raising & sad young boys in bad situations! I also observed throughout my life the severe effects on closely related men in my family who suffered the long term effects of sexual abuse by clergy! ……..And I may add, in some of the most prestigious Catholic high schools & universities in this country! I saw the anger that GHH displayed in some of my family members, but by the grace of god, good family intervention & money for rehab there was some recouping of a productive life. I still see the Heslin killing as VERY personal and the satisfaction it gave GHH provided the impetus that propelled GHH for the rest of his life!!

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