Gary Indiana's review of Steve Hodel's "Black Dahlia Avenger" (Book Review, May 25) was long on imagery but woefully ignorant of the facts. I interviewed Mr. Hodel extensively for a segment that aired on "Dateline NBC" (a lengthier version is now being prepared for Court TV) and came away convinced that Hodel's version of events is at least plausible and perhaps more than that. Some of it is enough to make you stop and think -- unless, of course, you've already made up your mind.
* Steve Hodel recognized his father's handwriting on the notes the Dahlia's killer sent police. A handwriting expert agreed with him.
* Eyewitness accounts placed Elizabeth Short and a man who strongly resembled Dr. George Hodel together just a few days before the killing.
* The killer disposed of Short's purse directly between the field where the body was found and the Hodel home. You can draw a straight line through all three points on a map.
* The Man Ray photo "Minotaur" does offer an intriguing explanation for the posing of Short's body, an answer that's eluded investigators to this day.
* The D.A.'s office took Dr. Hodel so seriously as a suspect that they broke into his house and planted listening devices.
And finally, consider the on-the-record comments of Stephen Kay, a respected homicide prosecutor with the L.A. County district attorney's office. He says that if Dr. Hodel were alive, he would file murder charges against him for killing Elizabeth Short. Can any other author make that claim?
Yes, it's all circumstantial. But it's a stronger case than many other self-appointed Dahlia investigators have offered.
It may well be that Steve Hodel, through his investigation and his book, is trying to settle an old score with his father. But I put exactly that question to Hodel during our interview, and he has at least a reasonable answer: Father and son had mended fences in recent years. Steve Hodel didn't want this to be true. And he clearly had no inkling -- since LAPD files were off-limits to him as a retired cop -- that his father's name is all over the files of the Black Dahlia case. From a critic's point of view, Steve Hodel's book may well be what Indiana rather viciously calls "meretricious, revolting twaddle." But it may also have solved a mystery.
Gary Indiana replies:
To be absolutely accurate about it: Steve Hodel claims to have recognized his father's printing. Printing is considered even less useful for purposes of comparison analysis than handwriting. You can draw a straight line through any two points, and unless the handbag was found in Dr. Hodel's driveway, I don't think adding it as point three makes very sweeping evidence. The most intriguing explanation of the Short death scene is one that can't be printed in a newspaper and does not involve the upper torso and its alleged resemblance to the Man Ray photograph. Moreover, Dr. Hodel's photographs that supposedly feature Elizabeth Short in no way resemble her and are clearly pictures of someone else. These were what supposedly sparked Steve Hodel's chain of "thoughtprints" in the first place. While I'm sure the police were every bit as fastidious about the use of "listening devices" in 1947 as our various overlapping law enforcement agencies are today, it seems from Hodel's own account that his father was aware of them and could very easily have been having a laugh at the expense of the listeners when he mentioned the Black Dahlia. As for Stephen Kay, whether he would file murder charges against Hodel's dead father if the latter were alive is beside the point.
Satire in America
In Adam Bresnick's review of "Da Gospel According to Ali G" (Book Review, May 25), he tells us this: "Americans have never taken too kindly to satire ... the genre [is] too bitter a pill for the national palate...." OK, so tell me: Is Bresnick referring to the America of Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce, Thomas Nast and all their nettlesome descendants, H.L. Mencken, Sinclair Lewis, Dorothy Parker, Ben Hecht, W.C. Fields, "Modern Times," Dawn Powell, Billy Wilder, Lenny Bruce, Philip Roth, Donald Barthelme, David Mamet, Richard Pryor, Jay Ward, Chuck Jones, Mad magazine, National Lampoon, Dilbert, Frank Zappa, P.J. O'Rourke, Sam Kinison, Gore Vidal, Randy Newman, Albert Brooks, Kevin Smith, Larry David, David Sedaris, Hunter S. Thompson, the Richard Nixon of Dan Aykroyd, the Joe Cocker of John Belushi, the Mr. Robinson of Eddie Murphy? That America? The America of Allen Ginsberg's "America"? Oh, I see. The America where satire can't quite find an audience.
Rancho Santa Fe
Adam Bresnick replies:
It is not that America has no great satirists; it's that America doesn't take kindly to the genre. And American power hates the genre. It is no accident that Lenny Bruce was tried for obscenity, that Mad magazine was nearly shut down in the wake of the congressional "investigations" of the mid-1950s, that Gore Vidal lives in exile, that Belushi and Kinison died from the excesses that attend bitter American hilarity. That America produces great satirists is a miracle in spite of itself -- or perhaps because of itself.