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Duck Hunters Find Human Torso Along Turnagain

Remains: Woman's body is the second one to wash up on shore this summer.

September 13, 2003 -- A father and son out duck hunting on South Anchorage mud flats stumbled across a woman's torso on September 6, the second time this summer that human remains have washed up on the shores of Turnagain Arm. The man found the torso about 1,000 yards from a residential area at Oceanview Drive and Reef Place. The remains consisted of a headless torso and both arms and appeared to be those of a white woman, Anchorage police said.

Anchorage police are investigating the case as a homicide. Sgt. Scott Jessen, head of homicide, said investigators are pressing ahead to identify the remains and determine the cause of death. Jessen estimated the woman, whose body had arms but no head or legs, died months ago. The torso was taken to the state medical examiner's office in Anchorage.

Dr. Franc Fallico, acting chief state medical examiner, said body parts can separate naturally as tissue between bones decomposes. But bodies in water also can lose extremities in collisions with boats, ships, or rocks, he said.

Dana Tindall, who lives on Reef Place, said Anchorage police came to her house Saturday morning and asked whether she had a telescope. They wanted to scan the coastal area behind her house for the duck hunters who had called about a body. Using the scope, officers keyed in on a grassy, fairly dry area not far from the water's edge, Tindall said. Tindall told police they'd need hip waders to get there.

Officers called in the Alaska State Troopers' helicopter, which landed at the bottom of the Oceanview Bluff Park sledding hill to pick up police officers and take them to the site. The helicopter took the remains back to the base of the hill, where an investigator from the state medical examiner's office was waiting.

The hunters were shaken and too upset to talk with reporters, Tindall said.

Dr. Fallico declined to discuss any initial observations because police had directed that all information come from them. He completed a preliminary autopsy of the torso on September 10, but said that it was impossible to make any immediate guesses regarding identity. Fallico's investigator took the remains to the medical examiner's lab, where they remain in refrigerated storage. Fallico said he hoped to recover fingerprints that will help him identify the remains without resorting to DNA testing, which can take months. He said that collecting fingerprints can be difficult given the condition of the remains. Fingerprints can identify only a person whose prints are on file.

Fallico said forensic pathologists can usually garner a lot of information from bodies, even only a torso. The question is whether it provides the right kind of information for investigators. In general, he said, "sometimes you can get lots of good information, like great identification, fingerprints, cause of death, but if you don't know who did it, ... then of course you haven't solved the crime."

Investigators are still waiting on DNA test results in their effort to identify a partly decomposed headless torso with no legs was found June 18. The body was discovered by a man and three children in the rocks near Beluga Point on Turnagain Arm. Police sent material from the remains to an Outside lab for DNA testing, but results are not yet available. The first torso was too decomposed to determine a cause of death.

The June discovery heightened interest in the case of Bethany Correira, a 21-year-old woman raised in Talkeetna who vanished in May from her new apartment in Anchorage's Bootlegger Cove. Police on Saturday did not speculate on a connection between the Correira case and the latest find, which occurred about nine miles northwest of Beluga Point along Turnagain Arm. Correira's mother, Linda Correira, reached by phone Saturday evening, said police had not contacted her about the second torso.

"It's a good sign," she said, explaining that police would have contacted her "right away" if they thought the remains were connected to her daughter's disappearance. If they find something definitive, she added, police have promised to deliver the news in person. The family is pretty sure that the first torso is not Bethany's either, Correira said. The remains, preserved by cold water, appeared too decayed to be recent enough, she said. And police told her they've gotten a little DNA back and also are fairly sure the remains are not her daughter's.

Just the same, Correira said, news of yet another unidentified torso brought on mixed feelings. "It's hard," she said. "Until they find something, I still have hope."

-- Edited and excerpted from the full article by Zaz Hollander and Lisa Demer in the Anchorage Daily News, by Nicole Tsong in the Anchorage Daily News, and the Associated Press

Retired Detective Says Father is Killer in LA's Oldest Cold Case

Steve Hodel, a retired LAPD homicide detective, is adjusting to the discovery of evidence, including a tiny three-inch book of grainy photos, that he said proves his late father, a respected Los Angeles doctor, was the torture killer of Elizabeth Short, the so-called Black Dahlia. Hodel also believes his father, Dr. George Hodel, might have killed several other women, as well.

If he is correct, Hodel has cracked a more than half-century-old murder case that is the oldest and most notorious of Los Angeles' unsolved "cold cases". It also is one of the most sensational, a mystery replete with a beautiful victim, a grotesque murder, an incest trial and famous characters from the heyday of old Hollywood.

Hodel, 61, has written this gruesome tale in a book, Black Dahlia Avenger.

In his book, Hodel paints his father, Dr. George Hodel, as a fiend who tortured and carved up a young woman and perhaps went on to kill others before he abandoned his family and fled the United States.

Steve Hodel's journey into the darkness of his father's life began with the little brown photo album given to him by his father's widow when the elder Hodel died in 1999 at the age of 91. Its yellowing pages contained snapshots of some of George Hodel's 11 children from four marriages, including Steve and his mother, the ex-wife of director John Huston.

But what caught his eye were two carefully posed and framed photographs of a mystery woman with flowers in her hair.

"It wasn't immediate recognition," the author recalls. "But I thought, 'Why do I know this face?'"

He remembered a movie about the Black Dahlia case and began to do computer research, comparing the photos in the album with those of Elizabeth Short.

As his research continued, his conclusion became inescapable.

Dr. George Hodel was a man with a genius I.Q. who socialized with Hollywood legends such as Huston and artist-photographer Man Ray, among other luminaries. He is shown in his son's book as the central figure in a depraved social set that dabbled in sex orgies and drugs. Ultimately, his father's path led to murder, Hodel said.

The 1947 Black Dahlia killing is a Los Angeles legend, a murder so gruesome it makes other famous killings pale by comparison. The body was severed at the waist, drained of blood and washed, then carefully posed in a vacant lot. Hodel said the pose was right out of a sculpture by Dr. Hodel's famous friend, Man Ray.

Contributing to the crime's enduring fascination were the beauty of the 22-year-old victim, who wore dahlias in her black hair, and the stories circulated at the time of her Hollywood ambitions.

Elizabeth Short had come from Massachusetts in the 1940s in search of a better life. She dated many men and lost her true love in a wartime plane crash. Records show that several witnesses identified Short as a girlfriend of Dr. George Hodel.

When District Attorney Steve Cooley decided recently to release the long-secret files on the case, Steve Hodel's theory gained substance. His father's photograph was in the file, along with transcripts of electronic surveillance on his home for three weeks in 1950.

The reports are fragile, typed on onionskin paper that is yellowed and crumbling. But they make clear that Dr. Hodel was one of the prime suspects in the investigation of Short's murder.

He had been tried and acquitted on a charge of committing incest on his 14-year-old daughter in a sensational 1949 trial during which the Black Dahlia was mentioned. Afterward, police electronically bugged his Hollywood mansion, a Lloyd Wright-designed Mayan-style edifice where the rich and famous partied.

The transcripts of overheard conversations include a statement in Hodel's voice saying: "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."

At another point, he is quoted as saying, "Maybe I did kill my secretary." And there is a tape in which a woman is heard screaming.

The younger Hodel now believes that his father killed the secretary to keep her from talking. He also links Hodel to the so-called "red lipstick murder" of Jeanne French, a woman found slain within weeks of Short's murder with an obscenity and the initials "BD" scrawled on her nude body in red lipstick.

The author also said he recognizes his father's handwriting on taunting cards and letters sent to police after the Black Dahlia killing. He said his research indicates that his father and an alleged accomplice might also be linked to the murders of seven other women and suggests they were serial killers.

Why didn't the police prosecute Hodel's father? The book offers a rather complicated theory involving police corruption and Hodel's position as the doctor who worked with the public health department in treating venereal diseases in Los Angeles. His medical files might have included some famous names. Steve Hodel also suggests some authorities were bribed.

He also notes that as the investigation progressed, Dr. Hodel left the country, spending most of the rest of his life in the Philippines.

Hodel's theory that his father was a killer in the same league as famous murderers such as Jack the Ripper is not without its skeptics. Over the years, many people confessed to being the Black Dahlia killer, but no one was ever charged with the crime.

Theories abound about who might have killed Elizabeth Short. One writer even tried to implicate director Orson Welles.

A supporter of Hodel's theory is Deputy District Attorney Stephen Kay, a former prosecutor in the Charles Manson case who worked with Steve Hodel for many years. He said Hodel's story is different because he arrives with unusual credentials. For 24 years, he was a Los Angeles Police Department homicide detective assigned to Hollywood.

He notes that when the younger Hodel began his unusual project, he came to Kay and swore him to secrecy. The prosecutor, stepping outside his official duties, said he would privately examine Hodel's evidence and tell him if the case could have been prosecuted, even though today no one is left to punish.

At the time Hodel wrote the book, the DA's files were not open to him. He gleaned most of his information from newspapers, public documents and family archives.

Based on Hodel's evidence, Kay said he would have no reluctance to file a murder case against Dr. Hodel if he was alive. But Dr. Hodel is dead and so are the key witnesses and investigators.

Hodel has broken with some family members over his book. His father's widow no longer speaks to him. But his half-sister, Tamar, the subject of the incest trial, is convinced he is right.

"I always thought my father had killed the Black Dahlia," she said in a telephone interview. "I said it back then."

Tamar Hodel, now 68 and living in Hawaii, said she was branded a liar in the trial and went into exile with her mother in Mexico after the scandal.

"Now everything is falling into a clear light," she said. "I didn't know how badly I'd been smeared. In 1949, people didn't talk about incest much. It was a very different time. I got the message when I was so young that I was bad and a liar.

"Even with all the horrible things they said about me, I was under my father's spell for quite awhile," she said. "But I'm so glad I told the truth ... Now I understand his cruelty, and I see it had nothing to do with me."

Steve Hodel believes his search was worthwhile. He said he often imagined Elizabeth Short and the other women his father might have killed crying out for justice.

"I've investigated 300 murders, and I've never seen anything close to this," he said. "I feel that I was being guided to find these important truths. It's been a spiritual trip for me." -- Edited excerpts from the article at the Modesto Bee.

Page Contents:

  • Duck Hunters Find Human Torso Along Turnagain
  • Missing Child Ticker
  • Unsolved Case Resources
  • Jon Benet Ramsey Case Revisited 
  • 'Someone's Got to Know Something'
  • Retired Detective Says Father is Killer in 'Black Dahlia' Case
  • Criminal Minds Crime and Court News Index

Jon Benet Ramsey Case Revisited

December 25, 1996: Child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey, age 6, was found slain in a basement room of her family's posh Boulder, Colorado, home. Her killing remains unsolved to this day. Her body was discovered several hours after her parents called the police to say she had been kidnapped.

Over 1,500 children were murdered in the United States in 1996, but none of these murders attracted more media attention or fascinated the American public as much as the Ramsey case. During her brief life, Ramsey was a frequent contestant in child beauty pageants, and was named National Tiny Miss Beauty and Little Miss Colorado, among other titles. Professional beauty photos of Ramsey released to the press after her death gave this particular child murder case a human face, and the public followed the criminal investigations intently.

On the morning after Christmas, JonBenet's mother, Patsy Ramsey, called the police and explained that she had discovered a three-page ransom letter for her daughter, who could not be found. Shortly thereafter, according to police reports, JonBenet's father, John Ramsey, found his daughter murdered in the basement wine cellar of their home.

Her body was covered with a blanket, her wrists were tied above her head, her mouth was covered with tape, and a nylon cord was wrapped around her neck. The autopsy report revealed she might have been sexually abused and that she suffered a blow to her head that left an eight-and-a-half-inch fracture.

After several months of investigation, with no charges or outside suspects found in the case, the police initiated an investigation of members of the Ramsey family. After studying handwriting samples, a police expert concluded that the hand-written ransom note matched the handwriting of Patsy Ramsey, although the charge was never proved in a court of law.

To this day, the Ramseys have made many public appearances, denying any responsibility in their daughter's murder, although Boulder County District Attorney Alex Hunter identified the Ramseys as "the obvious focus of the investigation." Two years passed without an arrest, and Commander Mark Beckner, the new lead investigator in the crime, stated that JonBenet's family "remain under an umbrella of suspicion," and that police were still searching for conclusive evidence. -- Edited and excerpted from UPI, the History Channel

'Someone's Got to Know Something'

Mother haunted by loss of daughter

On March 14, 1999 Sonya Wallace was found bludgeoned to death in an eastern Williamson County drainage ditch. Wallace's mother, Linda Gonzales, has suffered from recurring nightmares since the discovery of her daughter's body, and the nightmares have intensified as today's anniversary of the discovery of Sonya's slaying, still unsolved, approached.

Gonzales last saw her daughter Feb. 19, 1999. Sonya left her Rockdale home to take a letter to the post office four blocks away and never came back. Her mother reported her missing that day. A motorist found her body almost a month later in a shallow creekbed near the farming and ranching community of Structure.

Gonzales said her family and her ex-husband, Don Wallace, withheld details of the investigation from her to protect her. Now, she searches her memory for clues.

"I keep thinking there's something that maybe I didn't mention, maybe because they kept me isolated at that time," she said.

"I believe that there's people out there that know, and I'd like for them to come forward," Detective Pete Hughey said. Hughey declined to discuss the case in detail, but said he is still looking for whoever killed the Rockdale High School sophomore.

Anyone with information is asked to call CrimeStoppers, (800) 253-7867.

Excerpts from full article at Austin American-Statesman

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