“Inference” Poem Written and Published By 18-Year-Old George Hodel Describes Himself as “Conceived in Sin..Somber Skys Darkened Dismally, and I Was Born”
February 18, 2023
Birch Bay, Washington
Below poem “Inference” was written by eighteen-year-old George Hodel in 1925 and describes how he was “born in sin”..on a dark night as the sky darkened dismally.” Young George published his poem under the pseudonym, “Vernon Morel.” The poem is excerpted from my audiobook, “The Early Years- Part I (1920s) and is read by Malcolm Hillgartner.
George Hodel aka “Vernon Morel”
George Hodel’s Review of Ben Hecht’s novel, “The Kingdom of Evil”
In the weeks following the Black Dahlia murder on January 15, 1947, my mother, Dorothy Huston Hodel was having an ongoing affair with well-known screenwriter, Rowland Brown. Rowland had worked with and was good friends with fellow Hollywood screenwriters, Ben Hecht and Steve Fisher. Brown would have very likely been “the source” for both Hecht and Fisher knowing that George Hodel was the actual killer.
Screenwriter Ben Hecht
A close friend of Steve Fisher and Rowland Brown, screenwriter, Ben Hecht (his 1925 novel “Kingdom of Evil” reviewed by George Hodel) reveals he knows the killer’s name.
Los Angeles Herald-Express
February 1, 1947
“I know the name of the killer and the psychology of his deed. There is only one form of hatred that can equal in violence the symbolizing rage of the lunatic–and what that hatred is I will leave unsaid.”
Screenwriter Steve Fisher
A close friend of Ben Hecht and Rowland Brown, screenwriter, Steve Fisher reveals he knows the killer’s name and believes police also know the identity of the man who slew Elizabeth “Black Dahlia” Short.
Herald Express, February 3, 1947
“Noted Film Scenarist Predicts ‘Dahlia Killer Will Soon Be in Toils”
“By following the case in the Evening Herald I think I know who the killer is, and think the police do also, and in a very short time will have his name. When the killer’s name is published I think all of his friends will be very surprised and terrified. I think he is still in Los Angeles. When arrested his attorneys will plead insanity, but the killer will be his own worst enemy. He will not want people to think he is crazy. He is an egomaniac.
I believe that the killer believed that the Dahlia had wronged him, and because of his punctured ego, she had to be exposed. People had to know it. Vengeance had to complete itself. That is why he tortured her and chopped her up in ways so gruesome that many of the revolting details have not been revealed, even with all that has been printed about the Dahia.
… I believe the police right now have a definite “line” on the real killer…Look for a thriller finish to this case.”
If we assume George was responsible for the Father Heslin murder, I think his poetic myth of being an avenging angel born out of a night of carnality and sin might be pretty accurate. William Hightower’s story of the kidnapper being a garrulous customer of a casual hooker acquantaince seems to me probably a cover story created to protect his girl, a highly experienced “hustler” with a litany of criminal and violent associates. Further, Hightower saw himself as this young woman’s rescuer, protector and business manager. My speculation is George had an encounter with the girl and, either to impress or to spite her, entangled the couple in a thrill-seeking caper of his own devising. That would explain a great deal about GHH’s subsequent double life and unique crime signature.
Yes, I think you make some good points. In so many of GHH’s crimes we hear the “It was justified”; “It was Divine Providence” and in his murder of Elizabeth Short he comes right out and identifies himself to the whole world as her “Avenger”. And, as we discover, Father Heslin was previously involved in a sexual molestation accusation of an 11-year-old girl in 1904 which was “dismissed due to insufficient information.” (However, I don’t see any possible connection or way that GHH could have known about that incident?)
I don’t think GHH knew or cared about any accusations against Heslin. Possibly he originally saw himself as a self-appointed “avenger” of human “folly,” including religion, based on (for example) his high-minded childhood anti-war poetry and his likely intellectual influences. But he probably came to accept that it was really about ego and sex once the deed was done and his life course irrevocably set. His subsequent “avenging” was mostly about indulging and self-medicating misogynistic rage. Aimee McPherson in ’26 would represent a transitional case.
I think it likely that neither Hightower or “Dolly Mason” (in reality, “Nemesis Girl” Doris) were in any real sense culpable for the Heslin murder. Very possibly they were just tricked into providing the tools, mainly the hire car. That wouldn’t change the emotional takeaway for GHH that Doris “made” him do it, and then cold-bloodedly sacrificed Hightower to save her own skin. That is why the “Lady Doom” comic book hit home years later, I think. It literally depicts a cowboy being victimized by a dance hall dame spinning the wheel of Nemesis.
Let’s not forget GHH’s late-life self-justifying myth in the “Parable of the Sparrows.” That roots the futility of human action in sexual attraction and suggests that it is all somehow an unreal shadow play. It seems like a clever way of explaining away a life of crime instigated by an adolescent sexual adventure.
I’ll expand on my thought that Hightower and/or Doris were perhaps unaware of what GHH was going to do with the rented Ford. I see much to support this idea in the record — most obviously, that Hightower came forward to lead authorities to the body. But I think that even if this is true, it must have involved something more than an opportunistic prank. In principle, one could imagine a minimalistic scenario where GHH commandeered a car rented by Hightower for the purposes of a “date” with Doris, did the crime for kicks, then dropped the car off on the street in the middle of the night and pulled a runner. However, that leaves too much circumstantial evidence unexplained. To wit:
1. The coincidence that Hightower had extensive recent and long-term connections with Salada Beach, a relatively obscure region of the San Francisco Peninsula.
2. The fact that components of the tent found in Hightower’s hotel room, which he purchased under a false name, were buried near Heslin’s Salada Beach grave.
3. The fact that stylized lettering on the envelope of the ransom note bears clear similarities to the “TUBERCULOSIS” warning written on Hightower’s tent.
4. The coincidence that the prolix ransom note talks of being a machine gunner and pyrotechnic gadgets, and Hightower was an inventor of machine guns and pyrotechnic gadgets.
There’s also the coincidence of Hightower owning a .45 and being unable to account for its disposition. Maybe the disposal was a clumsy attempt to avoid trouble when he came forward, given that by Hightower’s own account he found .45 shells at the crime scene. Still, all in all, I think we have to conclude that some *scheme* involving an activity at the beach was involved, which GHH instigated or became involved in (e.g., as a lookout and/or runner.) A bootlegging operation fits the bill in every respect:
1. Historically, Salada Beach was used by bootleggers to land skiffs carrying Canadian whisky during Prohibition.
2. The crime scene setup above Salada Beach seems to fit the requirements of such an operation.
3. Doris had lately been “queen” of a gang of Minneapolis bootleggers smuggling Canadian whisky.
4. At every turn in 1921 and in the decades following his conviction Hightower linked the affair to bootlegging.
I think to have any hope of guessing what really happened in the Heslin case, we need to grapple with who Hightower and his associates were, their situation and the milieu (downtown San Francisco, Prohibition, etc.) What was Doris doing all day? Chances are, she was still “hustling,” still going to nightclubs and rubbing shoulders with bootleggers, gangsters and other “chancers,” just as she did in Denver, Minneapolis and the Black Hills goldmining colonies. That’s a scene we know GHH got comfortable with before he even hit seventeen, working at the Record. If he had a job in the city with Zelenko’s operation in the summer of ’21, he might well have started his explorations even earlier.
Consider the young man who provided Doris with her alibi, “nightclub entertainer” Lee Putnam, son of a respected Denver architect. Looking to nail Hightower, the DA was only too happy to believe everything Lee and Doris said, sequester them from the press at a private resort, marry the couple off and ship them to Mexico to start a new life once Hightower was in San Quentin. Doris claimed to have met Putnam in San Francisco the day before the Heslin kidnapping, and almost immediately took up with him, leaving Hightower just days after the murder. That was certainly convenient. Investigators released a letter Putnam sent from a San Francisco hotel about a month before the crime to one Henry Jennings, who ran a pool hall and taxi stand on Spring Street in DTLA (also a near-future haunt of GHH.) In the letter he seems to be trying to get Jennings to help out on a “racket.” Interestingly, I’ve found news articles from 1926 concerning one Henry A. Jennings — I think it’s the same guy but can’t be sure — who gets arrested in LA and booked for a con that involved recruiting a crew of his Cleveland homies to a wild goose chase hunt for gold in Death Valley. That seems like a model, or at least food for thought…
“Doris Relates How She Met Suspect,” Oakland Tribune, August 13, 1921
“Death Valley Gold Mine Yarn Leads to Arrest on Confidence Game Charge,” Illustrated Daily News, July 30, 1926
Steve: As I have stated in previous comments, I do believe GHH’s suspected relationship ( IMO) w/Fr. Heslin unfortunately capped off the tremendous anger GHH would carry with him throughout his life. The “Inference” poem written by him at the age of 18 is sadly the path he was “set upon” for the rest of his life. Note I said “set upon”….not “chose” for the path taken😔. George Hodel was robbed of free choice in life by adults, (I’m accusing parents, mentors, spiritual guides here) who literally killed his soul at such an early age! Unfortunately the rage & violence within your father was then tremendously fueled by his high intelligence! “We all have choices” is a line spoken so freely by those who guide us, but sometimes that freedom of choice is not a given in lives of those sexually & emotionally abused. If I may digress on a lighter note here as I close, I know you are GHH’s son, DNA proven, but by god you sure do look like Rowland Brown! Keep moving forward on your quest for the truth & stay well….lots more to do, Steve!
Totally agree with your assessments re. dad. A perfect storm where the “outside” met the “inside.”
Regarding Rowland Brown, I for a long time believed that he might be my real father.
He was a “man’s man” and I really felt close to him. Fellow Scorpios, we even shared the same birthdate- November 6th, which as a boy growing up I thought was “very cool.” If you’re looking for a great read on Hollywood writers/producers/directors in the 1930s check out Philippe Garnier’s, “Scoundrels & Spitballers: Writers and Hollywood in the 1930s.” Great writer and a lot in the book on Rowland Brown.
Steve, will check out “Scoundrels & Spitballers”👍. How wonderful you had a close connection with Rowland Brown….and shared the same birthdate! Not being a very religious person I cannot say “who” but “someone” was (is?) watching over you….truly a blessing!👍😉🌵
This is off topic, but it’s an article about the “Red Lipstick” murder with good photos.
Yes, the author of the article and the website Deranged LA Crimes, Joan Renner, is no friend of my investigations. She is connected to the Esotouric Bus Tours and comes from the Larry Harnisch school of naysayers regarding “Dr. George Hodel didn’t do it.” Without going into details on the misinformation contained in her article/summary of the 1947 LA “Red Lipstick Murder” of victim Jeane Axford French (she completely leaves out the last witness, Toni Manalatos a waitress, and her actual suspect description, “a dark-haired man with a small mustache” and their 1:00 a.m. meet and dining and his “speaking French” with the victim at the Piccadilly restaurant. Her Ford, Roadster was found in the Piccadilly parking-lot, just over a mile from where her body was found the next morning.) Better to hear it out of the horse’s mouth. Here is her response to a reader on her Deranged website on Aug. 24, 2014, who inquired about the possibility of Dr. Hodel being the Black Dahlia killer.
“Camilla–Actually Dr. Hodel was only a suspect briefly in the original investigation. I know because I was fortunate to be an assistant curator for the L.A. Police Museum’s limited run exhibit a couple of years ago. We were given unprecedented access to the original files. While Steve Hodel may believe his father to be guilty of Elizabeth Short’s murder (and several others from what I understnad including the murder of James Ellroy’s mother; murders in Chicago to which William Heirens confessed and was convicted; and the infamous unsolved Zodiac slayings in Northern California). I respectfully disagree with Hodel’s thesis which was predicated on a photo which he mistakenly identified as being Short. I believe Dr. Hode was a scumbag who molested his own daughter, but not a killer. Without a doubt the Black Dahlia case in one of the most intriguing unsolved homicides in L.A. crime history. Thank you so much for you comment, and for reading Deranged L.A. Crimes. Best, Joan”
It is obvious that Ms. Renner has not read any of my books/investigations and is merely mouthing the Larry Tarnisch, Esotouric Tours, mantrams etc. Will leave it at that.