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Deciphering the Dahlia Killer?

Steve Hodel’s personalized license plate reads THTPRNT. Careful readers of his book might recognize the word as a shortened version of “thoughtprint,” another controversial aspect of his case against his father.

In addition to the pictures of Short and the handwriting on copies of the killer’s taunting notes, which both Hodel and an independent expert have identified as his father’s distinctive block printing, Hodel reveals many thoughtprints that, taken together like strands of a rope, he says help prove what is largely a circumstantial case.

Hodel coined the term, and the concept, as a distillation of the lessons he learned solving more than 200 homicides for the LAPD. He defines thoughtprints as “the arches, loops, whorls and ridges of the mind, the aims and motives hidden within our thoughts that, like the points in a fingerprint, contain the potential to identify and connect us to a specific action, object, event or crime.”

In explaining his use of the term, Hodel cites two examples of thoughtprints from his book, one large, one small. The small: A few days after the Black Dahlia murder, the killer began sending cryptic messages to the press and police that were written in journalistic style. One example came when the killer was proposing to turn himself in: “Dahlia’s Killer Cracking, Wants Terms.”

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The headline quality of that message “reveals a journalistic background,” says veteran L.A. County prosecutor Stephen R. Kay, and that suggestion is backed by assertions that crime writer Joseph Wambaugh made in a documentary on the case produced before Hodel’s book was published. Wambaugh, also a former LAPD cop, speculated that the notes were written by tabloid reporters to keep the story alive and make sure there was a fresh angle every day. But Hodel believes the style came easily to his father because he had been a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Record.

The more significant thoughtprint attempts to answer an enduring question: Why was Elizabeth Short so bizarrely mutilated and posed with her arms raised above her head and bent at the elbows?

Hodel devotes a chapter to his father’s long friendship with fellow surrealist Man Ray, the famous photographer who dabbled in sadism and attended many of the wild sex and drug parties at the Franklin house from 1946 to 1950. The parties were only distant memories of nighttime laughter and drunken sounds for Hodel, who was born in 1941, but they were described in detail to Hodel by his mother, Dorothy, and by young artist Joe Barrett, who rented a room in the house.

Hodel zeroes in on one of Ray’s most famous works, “Minotaur,” and suggests that George Hodel was engaged in a macabre competition with Ray in which he used his scalpel to re-create the image that Ray created with his camera.

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“Dad worshiped Man Ray. But there was also a competition,” Hodel says. “Dad thought of himself as an artist. The Black Dahlia was his masterpiece, using his scalpel as a paintbrush and her body as his canvas.”


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