Dr. George Hodel, Jr.-The True History Behind TNT’s I Am The Night

The real story of Dr. Hodel from I Am The Night is just as strange as his fictionalized character.

Courtesy of Turner Entertainment Networks

If you watched TNT’s Gilded Age thriller The Alienist you shouldn’t be surprised by their latest contribution, I Am The Night.  The Suspense Collection as TNT is referring to these thinking man’s chillers is poised to fill the space that AMC’s The Terror held.  Thoughtful dramas with a scary story, great acting, writing, and directing are all the rage now.  With the inclusion of a huge name in Chris Pine, a “based on a true story” plot, and crime drama/horror mashup themes all working in their favor, this should be another home run.  The Alienist was a gorgeous, historically accurate period piece that was as interesting as it was creepy.  This go around, the setting is 1965 Los Angeles and the mystery is straight from the novel by Fauna Hodel, One Day She’ll Darken

Fauna is the granddaughter of Dr. George Hodel who may be the elusive Black Dahlia killer.  The dramatized story recounts Fauna’s struggle to find her biological parents and come to terms with the evil she finds.  Chris Pines’s character, a hard drinking, hard fighting troubled reporter Jay Singletary is utter fiction but does provide a nice story driver and a charming piece of eye candy.  The monster in I Am The Night is larger than life and all too human.  Jefferson Mays does an incredible job of delivering the all-powerful and supremely evil Dr. Hodel.  His Dr. Hodel is the sort of character that chews scenes and sucks the oxygen out of every moment.  He is a mustache-twirling villain who only enjoys his notoriety more than his vileness.  Sure he is a little too much, okay a lot too much, but that might just be what makes his character work.  The reality of his life may be even more terrifying.

Dr. George Hill Hodel, Jr. was a physician who was 40 years old at the time of Elizabeth Short’s death.  He was brilliant, having graduated high school at age 15 and attended the prestigious Cal Tech for one year before having to leave school because of a sex scandal with a professor’s wife.  He had five children by three different wives.  He was married four different times.  In 1949 he was accused by his daughter Tamar of sexual assault but was acquitted after a widely publicized and lengthy trial.  He came under scrutiny for the Black Dahlia murder following the incest accusations.  Even though he was acquitted, the detectives felt the three witnesses who testified to the sexual abuse were compelling, and the doctor was placed under surveillance.  For the year his house was recorded he made many disturbing comments about the death of his secretary and gloating about the police’s inability to convict him of any murders.  He also made comments about possibly killing someone who knew too much.  One particularly incriminating comment, “Supposin’ I did kill the Black Dahlia. They couldn’t prove it now. They can’t talk to my secretary anymore because she’s dead.” was very damning.

Elizabeth Short who is better known as the Black Dahlia was not the only person Hodel is accused of killing.  Dr. Hill was present when his secretary Ruth Spaulding died of a drug overdose.  He burned many of her things before calling the police which was both suspicious and effective as it led to the case being dropped for lack of evidence.  Evidence was later found detailing a blackmail plan.  She had compiled documents proving he was fraudulently billing patients, giving out unneeded prescriptions, and providing illegal abortions.  It is now believed this is how he first met Miss Short.  She was one of his patients.  A witness, Lillian DeNorak who was living with the Hodels at the time said Elizabeth was one of Hodel’s many girlfriends.  One of his sons Steve Hodel, a detective with the LAPD, believes he may also be the Lipstick Killer, responsible for the Jigsaw Murder in the Philippines, and/or the Zodiac Killer.  He has written many books on his father’s possible crimes and maintains a website SteveHodel.com where all of his evidence and postulations are maintained.  There is even a photo album which may contain pictures of Elizabeth Short however this has never been confirmed.  The evidence list is quite extensive and very convincing.

Dr. Hodel lived with his family from 1945 to 1950 in the famous Sowden House which American Horror Story’s Murder House is based on.  This beautiful house was built in 1926 by acclaimed architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s son.  It is believed this is where the murder took place, and Elizabeth Short’s body was moved in cement sacks from the house to the empty lot where she was eventually found.  A forensic anthropologist in 2014 confirmed through a series of soil sample tests that the backyard did contain samples specific to human remains.  Cadaver dogs have positively identified human remains in the rear yard.  The empty lot where Elizabeth Short’s butchered body was found is just blocks from the Sowden House.

A dying declaration from W. Glenn Martin who was a paid informant for the LAPD came to light in the way of a secret letter.  This letter attested to specific members of the LAPD knowing and protecting “GH” who is believed to be George Hodel.  The letter goes on to say it was known Hodel was the Black Dahlia killer in addition to killing others.  It goes on to mention certain members of the police knew Dr. Hodel socially and actively covered up his many indiscretions including murder.  Handwriting samples from The Zodiac Killer’s letters and Hodel’s family effects are a confirmed match.

It all adds up to one hell of a story even without a concrete conclusion.  The one thing that stands out is the serious amount of coincidental deaths and odd circumstances surrounding Dr. Hodel.  The pilot episode of I Am The Night is atmospheric and gritty, just as the subject matter warrants.  With such rich material to be mined, and Patty Jenkins'(Wonder Woman) capable hands directing this show, this will be TNT next moody hit.  A sneak peak is available tonight on TNT at 8 CST.  

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