Black Dahlia had bad teeth?

Discussion in 'Dental Archive' started by Joel M. Eichen D.D.S., Aug 13, 2003.

  1. I had no idea .......

    She came to Los Angeles during World War II from nowhere special, a
    pretty girl with big hair and bad teeth who liked to go to bars and
    nightclubs.



    ***


    May 25, 2003



    BOOK REVIEW
    A city's sins, a family's skeletons
    Black Dahlia Avenger, The True Story. Steve Hodel, Arcade: 504 pp.,
    $27.95




    Owen Smith for The Times


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    By Gary Indiana



    She came to Los Angeles during World War II from nowhere special, a
    pretty girl with big hair and bad teeth who liked to go to bars and
    nightclubs. She believed in love and romance and lived on hot dogs and
    Coca-Cola, lavished hours on her makeup in dollar-a-night furnished
    rooms. A drifter, something of a cipher, she was a person people
    remembered vaguely but could never quite pull into focus. A good time
    gal who didn't really seem to have a good time, demanded a little too
    much sympathy and hardly ever returned a favor. She sometimes spoke of
    a husband killed in the war, a baby who died, but these were figments
    of a waking dream that carried her through sleepless nights. If
    someone hadn't cut her in half, the world would know precious little
    about Elizabeth Short.

    She had been nicknamed the Black Dahlia, a name so movie-perfect for
    the era of noir that her murder became symbolic of everything weird
    and inexplicable festering under the city's gleaming surfaces. Steve
    Hodel's bestseller, "Black Dahlia Avenger," is the latest in a long
    procession of novels and nonfiction books to treat the Dahlia case as
    Los Angeles' emblematic homicide, a killing affixed to the city the
    way Jack the Ripper is to Victorian London and the Strangler is to
    Boston. The Dahlia killing engraved itself into urban mythology; it
    seemed to say something stark and ugly about the emptiness of glamour
    and the wages of sin. Short's dead body became a movie star, a
    cautionary tale and a magnet for a large assortment of pathologies,
    many of them literary.

    The symbolic message of Short's corpse as the killer arranged it at
    39th Street and Norton Avenue in Leimert Park in early 1947 could not
    in itself be less mysterious or more readily aligned with notions of
    Hollywood as a sausage factory for the young and beautiful. Like the
    Manson killings, the Hillside Strangler slayings and the Night Stalker
    spree, the Black Dahlia murder was carried out with its effect on the
    public very much in mind. The perps in all these cases had something
    to tell the world, posing the bodies, writing things in blood, sending
    a garbled telegram about the incurable in human nature.

    The classic account is John Gilmore's "Severed," which achieves the
    almost impossible feat of turning the very blankness of Elizabeth
    Short's brief life into a thing of riveting oddity. According to
    Gilmore, Short had a rare vaginal deformity that made the image of a
    sexually easy creature of the night nothing more than an image; if we
    accept this premise, the Dahlia story becomes the dark tale of a
    hapless mimic whose grasp of adult relations extended only to what
    they looked like in the movies. There's no reason not to credit
    Gilmore's fastidious account, in which one drifter kills another, then
    dies in a flea-pit hotel fire: This cruddy, depressing solution to the
    mystery is utterly consistent with the pathos of the world the Black
    Dahlia traveled through on her way to the big nowhere.

    For a certain mentality, however, prosaic justice demands that an
    unusually vicious, legendary murder turn out to have been committed by
    a truly unlikely, preferably famous individual or, failing that,
    someone connected to famous people. Hodel, a former homicide detective
    for the Los Angeles Police Department, manages to implicate several
    famous personalities in Short's murder. "Black Dahlia Avenger" has the
    added frisson of its author's bizarre discovery, after two entire
    years of research, that Short's killer was -- gasp! -- his own father.

    Hodel is not the only person in recent years to discover exactly this
    skeleton in the family closet. In 1995, a book called "Daddy Was the
    Black Dahlia Killer" revealed that its co-author, Janice Knowlton, a
    former lounge singer, had discovered through recovered memory that her
    father murdered Short after Short left an aborted fetus in her
    father's garage. Horrifically, Knowlton was forced to witness much of
    the torture and mutilation inflicted on Short and to help him dispose
    of the remains.

    Knowlton's is the kind of book it doesn't do to argue with: Its author
    seems to have channeled a rich vein of snuff pornography while gazing
    at healing crystals in some quack's office. Hodel, having been a
    homicide cop, would seem a more rigorously fact-driven investigator.
    And yet Hodel's father, like Knowlton's, was named George. What Hodel
    considers proof is strangely tangled with nebulous memories. Could
    Steve Hodel be an "alternative personality" of Janice Knowlton?

    Let's call this personality Steve and see what he has to say. After an
    obligatory shock-horror opening that whisks us back to Leimert Park on
    that dreadful morning in 1947, Steve recounts his own bittersweet and
    strained relations with his father, Dr. George Hodel, up until his
    death in 1999. There would be no funeral, as per his will, but Steve
    flies to San Francisco to console Dad's widow, June. She gives him a
    small photo album that belonged to his father, unwittingly opening
    Pandora's Box.

    Among the pictures, Dad -- at one time a professional photographer,
    among many other things, and an intimate of Man Ray -- has kept
    throughout the years are two of a woman with her eyes closed.
    Something tries to bubble up from memory. The face is familiar yet
    unknown. At last it hits him: It's the face of Elizabeth Short.

    There are also pictures of Hodel Jr.'s first wife, Kayo, whom we now
    learn had been, unknown to Steve, one of Dad's mistresses before Steve
    married her. We later find out that she cheated on Steve and lied
    about her age (that is to say, lied about her age extremely). Steve
    now realizes that the love between Kayo and his father was a deep and
    tumultuous one, rather than a silly fling, and concludes that Kayo
    married him to wreak revenge on Dad.

    To get to Short, Steve seems to have taken a cherished bromide of
    American prosecutors a bit too much to heart -- that is,
    circumstantial evidence is often more valuable than eyewitness
    testimony.

    He tells us first about his father's extremely rangy life. Dr. Hodel
    had been, at various times, a concert pianist, a crime reporter, a
    radio announcer, an artist, finally a surgeon and psychiatrist. In
    1947, he and the family were living in the posh Lloyd Wright's Sowden
    house at Franklin and Normandie avenues, in Steve's account a brooding
    Gothic pile full of secret rooms straight out of "Vathek." Dr. Hodel
    operated a venereal disease clinic downtown, presumably another
    accursed lair of dark secrets. Among his friends were Henry Miller and
    John Huston.

    The picture Steve paints of his father unavoidably calls to mind those
    sinister doctors in novels by Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson,
    usually found at a starlet's bedside at 3 in the morning brandishing a
    syringe. There were, at the spooky Lloyd Wright house, orgies. There
    was, among Dr. Hodel and his famous friends, an interest in the
    Marquis de Sade. One of Steve Hodel's older brothers recalls seeing
    Dr. Hodel write something on a woman's breast in lipstick at a typical
    get-together. Shortly after the Dahlia slaying, another unsolved
    homicide became known as "the Lipstick Murder."

    At various moments in the book, after depositing such tidbits, Steve
    announces that he has "proven" something, perhaps meaning something in
    the realm of the occult. Dr. Hodel, we are told, admired Man Ray, who
    did a famous portrait of the Marquis de Sade and was a surrealist. The
    surrealist group once made photo-booth portraits of themselves with
    their eyes closed to emphasize the belief that dreams and reality are
    the same.

    In the pictures of Short that Steve found in his father's album, her
    eyes are also closed. Moreover, the way the dismembered Dahlia was
    posed bears a close resemblance, qua Steve, to the figure in Man Ray's
    photograph "Minotaur." The Marquis de Sade left instructions that he
    did not want any funeral obsequies or memorial, virtually the same
    stipulation found in Dr. Hodel's last will and testament.

    There is more, much more. Dr. Hodel was -- or so Steve claims -- the
    "prime suspect" in the Dahlia police file, though which file,
    discovered in what year, in whose department and by whom are questions
    so muddied by Steve's account that any methodical reader would be
    skeptical. Steve's revelations occur to him by way of "thoughtprints":
    products of free association. An accomplice of Dr. Hodel's named Frank
    Sexton is remembered by a witness; photographs and "thoughtprints"
    summon him as a "swarthy" man. Steve is later made aware of the
    presence of a swarthy man in some 15 murders, including that of James
    Ellroy's mother.

    The Dahlia body site is only a few miles from the Sowden house. So are
    a million other things in Los Angeles, but this kind of pataphysical
    eureka defines this entire book's methodology: The mere physical
    proximity of one thing to another suggests a relationship -- Dr. Hodel
    lived in Los Angeles, so did Elizabeth Short; an interest in the
    Marquis de Sade (an interest shared by Simone de Beauvoir, Pierre
    Klossowski, Maurice Blanchot and many other literary figures) becomes
    solid proof that Man Ray, Huston and Dr. Hodel were "sadists" and that
    Dr. Hodel, at least, along with swarthy Frank, had no inhibitions
    about perpetrating the tortures and mutilations of De Sade's novels in
    real life; a man claiming to be the Dahlia killer who called a
    reporter spoke in a refined, sibilant voice; Dr. Hodel had once been a
    radio announcer and also had such a voice; and so on.

    Perhaps aware that his portrait of a libertine, murderous coven in his
    childhood home is only marginally more plausible than Janice
    Knowlton's acrobatic feats of memory, Steve eventually rolls his
    sister, Tamar, onto the proscenium. Tamar, once a freewheeling buddy
    of Michelle Phillips, is now an older and wiser mom of two daughters,
    named Fauna 1 and Fauna 2.

    As a teen, Tamar told police who picked her up as a runaway that her
    father had molested her. This resulted in an indictment, a trial, a
    scandal. After being acquitted, Dr. Hodel fled the country, staying
    away for most of the following 40 years, leaving Steve in the clutches
    of his mother, a drunk. Man Ray went back to Paris around the same
    time.

    Like Steve, Tamar is willing to say anything about anybody as long as
    they are dead. John Huston, Tamar asseverates, tried to rape her when
    she was 11: He was, she says, exactly like his character in
    "Chinatown." According to Steve, Dr. Hodel had such powerful goods on
    the high and mighty because of his VD clinic that Tamar's accusations
    would never have resulted in formal charges, except for a bureaucratic
    screw up. Man Ray, he implies, somewhat contradictorily, might also
    have been snared by the webs of justice had he, too, not been
    "powerful," but he fled the country just in case. The notion of Man
    Ray as a person with awesome power over the Los Angeles police and
    district attorney's office is itself rather ponderous.

    What we have here is a wacky parody of a police procedural, with a
    rich and fascinating subtext of delusion. There is also something
    plangent and, in an underdog way, tragic about somebody so wounded by
    a lousy childhood that his father becomes a veritable Minotaur in his
    adult imagination, a scourge to all women, faceted and diabolical as
    Fu Manchu. Remember that Oedipus, too, was a kind of detective.

    All the same, it isn't nice to drag a lot of famous dead people into
    your family muck, unless you have witnesses a little more reliable
    than someone who differentiates her children by numbering them.

    It is, finally, and not at all sympathetically, appalling that a
    homicide detective would sell out his professional integrity to
    produce this piece of meretricious, revolting twaddle, which amounts
    to evidence manufacturing, litigation-proof slander and chicanery on a
    fabulous scale and does absolutely nothing to answer the question: Who
    killed Elizabeth Short?

    Gary Indiana is the author of numerous novels, including "Resentment:
    A Comedy" and "Do Everything in the Dark," published this month.



    If you want other stories on this topic, search the Archives at
    latimes.com/archives.
    Click here for article licensing and reprint options








    --
    Joel M. Eichen, .
    Philadelphia PA

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    Joel M. Eichen D.D.S., Aug 13, 2003
    #1
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