Black Dahlia Confidential

Is LA's Most Famous Murder Mystery Solved? James Ellroy Thinks So

And, according to Kay, actor Jack Webb, who played a cop on television, and had close friends on the force, told a friend that the chief of detectives had specifically described the Black Dahlia killer as "a doctor in Hollywood, who lived on Franklin Avenue."

That was the same street where George Hodel lived.

Back in 1949, the LAPD was a dirty department rocked by scandals involving cops and gangsters, prostitutes and payoffs. It was a time and a place that crime writer James Ellroy knows well.

"Reports recommending whether or not to file charges were on sale for $500 a pop," says Ellroy. "The detective bureau was a repository of drunks and cronies of high-ranking LAPD officers. At the time of Elizabeth Short's death, it was a very corrupt institution."

Before she was known only as the "Black Dahlia," Short was just another struggling young woman in 1946 post-war Los Angeles.

"She lived off her friends. She basically didn't have a job," says Steve. "She'd go out on dates with men, but she wasn't a prostitute. And she didn't drink."

But that clean-cut image of Short didn't sell newspapers, says Ellroy. "[She was] portrayed as a prostitute. It isn't true," says Ellroy. "Portrayed as a movie-mad girl who got parts in a lot of movies ...it certainly isn't true. Portrayed as a lesbian, it certainly isn't true."

Short's beauty certainly entranced men. And after she was murdered, her suitors became suspects. Among the suspects were nightclub owner Mark Hansen, described as one of Short's jealous boyfriends, and Short's landlord, Glenn Wolf, who was also described by others to police as a sexual maniac.

But they can be eliminated, says Steve, for one simple reason: the condition of Short's body.

"What I discovered, to my surprise, was that the killer was a surgeon," says Steve. "Not a meat cutter, not a butcher, a skilled professional surgeon."

"48 Hours" decided to put Steve's theories to the test, and showed the crime photos and short's autopsy to Dr. Mark Wallack, chief of surgery at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York. He was asked to look at the crime scene photos as well as Short's autopsy.

"You don't get this kind of training where you can actually invade a human body, unless you've had some surgical experience," says Wallack, who believes a doctor committed the crime.

Although Steve's father didn't actually practice surgery, he excelled at it in medical school. "He was a surgeon," says Steve. "She was killed by a surgeon. That really is a limiting pool of suspects."

There are other pieces of the puzzle that convince Steve that his father was the killer. For instance, he says the killer's handwritten notes, sent to newspapers right after Short's murder, were in his father's handwriting.

"48 Hours" also asked John Osborn, one of the most respected document examiners in the field, to compare letters the killer sent to the newspapers with examples of handwriting from Dr. George Hodel.

Osborn questioned the uppercase versions of the letter 'N' in Hodel's letters, and said those of the Black Dahlia killer were different.

"There is simply not enough evidence to prove one way or another whether his father was the writer or not the writer," says Osborn.

But what about the photographs of the mystery woman found in the album, the ones that started Steve on his investigation? Is this, in fact, Elizabeth Short?

"Initially, I did think that they were very, very close," says forensic artist Sunni Chapman, who uses and distributes E-Fit, facial recognition software that compiles detailed sketches of suspects for police investigations.

Chapman examined two of the photos and initially saw a lot of similarities between Elizabeth Short and the mystery woman. But upon closer examination, and after measuring the facial features in both photos, Chapman said she was "85 percent certain that these two photographs are not of the same woman."

None of these expert opinions, however, changes Steve's mind. That's because he says he's uncovered yet another clue that points to his father as the killer: a photo taken by George Hodel's close friend, the artist Man Ray.

"He wanted to be like Man Ray," says Steve of his father. "He wanted to be an artist, and I think this was his masterpiece."

Steve believes his father posed Short's body to resemble the Minotaur, the mythical beast that devoured young maidens. He positioned her arms like the horns of the beast.

"I've tried lots of murder cases. And I've only had one other case where the victim had been posed," says Kay, who agrees with Steve's theory.

Kay also says cuts found across Short's face and mouth were meant to mimic another May Ray work: "The Lovers." "I know that this is a bizarre thing, but this was a bizarre man," he says.

After Steve's book was published, the LAPD was wiling to hear his theories. But until now, they weren't willing to open the original police files on the case.

The book Steve Hodel has written about his investigation has won over some powerful allies, including mystery writer James Ellroy. "I think he's solved the Black Dahlia murder case," says Ellroy.

But there are also plenty of skeptics, including Elizabeth's childhood friend, Mary Pacios. She believes that Hodel relies too much on speculation, not facts, in the case against his father. "He could probably go into a list of about half a dozen good suspects," says Pacios.

And the LAPD agrees. A year and a half after the DA opened his files, the LAPD finally revealed, in an off-camera briefing, the secrets of its own Black Dahlia investigation.

There was no surprise. Dr. George Hodel was a major suspect in the case at one point. Police say he was only one of 22 major suspects - seven of whom were doctors.

Police also contradicted Steve and claimed they were unable to find any proof that his father dated or even knew Elizabeth Short. But the LAPD has its own credibility problems.

The LAPD now admits that in the years since Short's murder, virtually all the physical evidence in the case has disappeared. The police aren't sure how this happened, but it has simply vanished from the files.

The bottom line: L.A.'s most famous unsolved murder may never be solved.

"How can you lose all of the physical evidence in the most important crime that the LAPD has ever had," says Steve. "It's not just the physical evidence. It's the interviews. It's the wire recordings of my father. Everything has disappeared. These things don't just disappear."

Shocked and angered by the LAPD's response, Steve also dismisses the findings of two handwriting experts hired by "48 Hours" and the LAPD -- who both said they were not convinced that the handwriting in the killer's letters matched Dr. George Hodel.

"It's my father's handwriting," says Steve. "I don't have to be convinced. I don't need an expert to tell me. I know it as a fact."

Why is he so determined to prove that his father was the Black Dahlia killer? "Because it's the truth," says Steve.

Whatever the truth may be, George Hodel is still causing pain for the people closest to him. His son, Steve, is struggling with conflicting emotions for a man he believes is both a monster and his father.

Was there any sense of revenge against his father by publishing his book? "None at all," says Steve. "I love my father. I love him to this day."

His daughter, Tamar, says she has never gotten over the trauma of being molested at 14 by her father: "I loved him, too, even though I was very hurt by him, and kept waiting for him to be a good guy."

But if Steve is correct, the ultimate victim was Elizabeth Short.

And again, almost six decades later after her brutal killing, The Black Dahlia, the feature film, is set to play upon a mystery and the imaginations of millions of Americans.

And now, real movie stars, like Hilary Swank, Scarlett Johansson and Josh Hartnett will become part of a new story that's already a Hollywood legend.

"You know, not being able to solve a murder of that caliber I think was a pretty big deal," says Swank. "And I think that was the infatuation that people have."

"Anybody that was around the California area at that time knew the whole saga, you know, it was in the newspapers everyday. It was a big deal. I guess you could liken it to the Jon Benet Ramsey case," says Hartnett. "She was young and beautiful, destined to be infamous."

We may never know for sure who killed Short, or whether George Hodel was the Black Dahlia killer. He fled the United States just days after the D.A. stopped its investigation in 1950. He didn't return until 40 years later, when the search for the killer had long gone cold.

"This case, this investigation, has been described as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma," says Steve. "I can't think of a more perfect description than that."

It may be a mystery, but to crime writer James Ellroy, it's one with a perfect ending.

"It's divine providence that a mad doctor spawns a son who becomes a LAPD homicide detective, who sees photographs that are not even Elizabeth Short," says Ellroy. "And it turns out that his old man did the job, anyways. I dig it."

Steve Hodel continues to investigate his father; he suspects his father was involved in the murder of 30 other women.