Crime in Culture: Killer Fathers, Traumatised Sons. Legacies of the Black Dahlia and Zodiac.

Across the cultures that have emerged from the proto Indo-European and the Indo-European people we can find similarities, which speak to an unrecorded time in history which serves as a foundation for many languages and myths right up to the modern day. We know little of these people, even their homeland is in dispute, but through comparitive linguistics and mythology it is possible to start forming some idea of who these people were and what was important to them.

One of the proposed founding myths of these people, which can be found in mythologies across Eurasian landmass is that of the earth mother, and the sky father. While subsequent iterations of multiple cultures have added more gods as human being have become more sophisticated, and society and culture has changed, we can be pretty sure that earth mother and sky father are prossibly part of the first mythologies or beliefs of the people who are our cultural and lingusitc ancestors.

No where is the myth more bloody than in Greece, where Gia, the earth mother anguished that her husband, Urinos, had hidden their children from her. She had one of her children ambush and castrate him. Casting his severed member aside, the blood and semen of which bore a collection of mythic children. It is an extream form of revenge and the fact that the son castrats the father creates a layer of meaning to it which may be hidden by the mists of time, but is also ripe to be interpreted anew for each age.

Once you’ve seen one Sky Daddy…

The bond between father and son is a complex one and having never been either a father or a son I do not fully understand it, but I assume much like mothers and daughters it is somewhat about moulding and then surpassing and/or rejecting, and all the conflict and struggles that those to modes of relating to another reveal. No where is the bond between parent and child more painful that when your parent has committed some of the worst crimes imaginable. In Happy Face, Melissa Moore recounts with searing honesty the torturous shadow her father, Keith Jasperson has cast on her life by his serial killing. Others like Kerry Raider, daughter of Denis Raider, Mae West, daughter of Rose West and Sarah Turney, daughter of Michael Turney have all spoken openly and honestly about what it is like to have as your father or mother, someone who has done what many people would consider unthinkable.

There have not been quite so many son’s speaking out about killer fathers. It is not possible to know in each case the reasons why but possibly the fact that gender differences mean that women are often more comfortable speaking about deeply personal matters, expecially when they feel others could benefit from it, may be some of what makes the difference. There could be so many intertwinning reasons, a desire to not let the offending father come to define your life, a wish to stay out of the public eye for fear of retribution, a desire to protect your own children from a poisonous legacy.

Notable examples of those sons that have are Steven Hodel and Gary Stewart. Steven Hodel’s father George Hodel has been a high profile suspect in the murder of the Black Dahlia, as well as other women in 1940’s Los Angeles, and Gary Stewart believes that his father may have been the Zodiac killer, who also operated in California. What these men do not have in common with the women mentioned above is that there parent has not been proved to be the killer that they are supoosing, and there is more theory here than proof.

Both men have talked extensively about their beliefs about their fathers. Hodel has written several books and been in several podcasts including Root of Evil, and Solving the Black Dahlia. Stewart has also written books, and is the subject of documentaty The Most Dangerous Animal of All. The title is in reference to a quote within one of the Zodiac’s letters.

When looking at their fathers stories it is undeniable that both men were indeed people you would want to give a wide bearth too. Hodel, with his genuius level IQ, had obviously forgone developing emotional intelligence and was accused of raping his daughter repeatedly, fathering his own grandchildren. A back street abortionist he used his trade to blackmail the men who sent their mistresses to him, and so had many powerfull people in LA in his pocket. It is possibly he is linked to more than one murder and it does seems likely that he killed his secretary.

The Black Dahlia, who’s name was Elizabeth Short, was murdered in 1947 and her body was found on an undeveloped bit of land in Los Angelies. What has made this murder stand out amoung other unsolved murders of the the time, a whole 56 years later, is the brutality and ferocity with which Short had been killed. Her body was bisected, she had a “Glasgow smile,” which is when someone’s mouth has been slit at the corner in a line that follow paralell to the jaw, there were various other mutilations and during the autopsy feaces were found in her digestive system. The sheer brutality of what Short had been subjected to both before and prossably after death shocked people then, and in our more knowing age is still shocking. Most of us could maybe imagine commiting murder, if a loved one was about to be injured or killed, but this senseless barbarisim is so far removed from anything that can make sense to the ordinary person in the street, it is likely Elizabeth Short will be burned on the concious of popular culture for generations to come.

The Zodiac, was not so physically brutal, however his modus opperandi did create terror. Killing five victims between 1968 and 1969 in California. He mainly shot young couples, but there are other murders starting in 1962 and stretching to 1970 which some believe could also be attributed to the Zodiac. The Zodiac, who like BTK in a moment of pathetic self agrindisement gave himself his own nickname, like the Black Dahlia, became seared on the concious of popular culture.

It isn’t as easy to parse why the Zodiac has hung around in collective memory as it is with the obviously savage treatment of Elizabeth Short. It may lie somewhere in his choice of victims, young couples, who were doing nothing but enjoying time togther. It is such a normal thing to do, but at the same time, when it comes to uncovering shared interests and similarities in world view, dreams of a possible future it is a dizzying, heady mix, a precious time which many look back on fondly. Even as an adult falling in love has the potential to turn your world upside down, but particularily with young people falling in love the symbolisim of hope for the future is at it’s most potent, and not yet tarnished with any of the harsh realities of life. Therefore it could be said that for the Zodiac to target young lovers, he was in some ways targetting, destroying and trying to obliterate the hope for the future of those people’s families, communities, state and country. The Zodiac was on some level not just killing people, but killing hope, perhapse killing a thing that had been taken from him, and he couldn’t retrieve, so wanted no one else to have it either.

Stewart, set out to find his birth parents, and in doing so uncovered a terrible story of a twenty-seven year old father who had preyed on his fourteen year old mother, Jude Gilford. The papers at the time called it The Ice Cream Romance and it was a front page story, giving a sweet almost innocent patina to what amounts to statutory rape and abductiond in the way only past decades could. Gilfords’ parents however did not see the romance through the rose coloured glasses of the general public, and tried repeatedly to get their daughter back, in what must have been a startilingly terrible ordeal, it appeared they were the only ones who took what was happening to their daughter seriously.

The so-called “romance” went south after Jude gave birth to Gary Stewart. Van Best, possibly in annoyance at the amount of attention Gilford was giving the newborn one day took him out of their home and gave him up for adoption, without Gilfords knowledge. It must have been a terrible and traumatic event for Gilford, on top of a lot of other traumatic events in her young life, and she left Stewart.

In the documentary Stewert details his search for his birth parents. Something many adopted children set out to do no matter how loving their adoptive families are, because the human have a profound need to understand who we are, and where we have come from. Stewart of course, finds Gilford, and she is able to explain the strange circumstances around his birth. Stewart still wants to know more about his father, so starts to research Earl Van Best Jr, and the more he finds out, the more disquiet he becomes. Soon Stewart is convinced that his birth father was the Zodiac killer, and he backs it up in a book which has the same title as the documentary about his search, and is co-written with true crime author Susan Mastafa.

Stewart and Steven Hodel both have evidence which appears to stretch credibility. Stewart, that his father lived for some time in Japan and liked the Makado which was intergrated to his letters zodic to police, Hodel that his father had a photograph of a woman who looked a bit like Short. This is not the only evidence though, there are the the Zodiac’s coded letters, in which Stewart can find his fathers name. By the way I tried, and I can also find my name within one of the Zodiac’s letters, and I have a long name, so if I can do it most people will be able to. Stewart also is economical with what other people have told him, and stretches information to fit into his theory. Hodel also has his detractors and if you listen to Solving the Black Dahlia then you can hear the same accusations against him.

It is still obvious however that both men are not necessarily out and out lieing. Telling you something the know is false. They really do both believe that their fathers are responsible for some of the most notorious unsolved murders of the 20th century. So if they are not purposefully pulling the wool over our eyes, what exactly is happening here?

I suggest that this has something to do with the way that the killers who kill in series, who mutilate, and torture, who taunt the police, are the killers that have garnered the most attention. They are the most rivieled and hated. They are consturcted as being something that looks human, but is not quite human. What makes the rest of us human, our empathy, our compassion, our falibility is essentially abstract to them. They exist both seperately from us, but also within our society. They serve the function of the boogeyman who is there to frighten us into good behaviour. So why would one put so much energy, and time and attention into proving their parent was a serial killer?

Having mulled this question over for some time I suggest that it is because these men’s fathers feel like killers to them. The brutalisation of Elizabeth Short could be a physical mainfestation of they way George Hodel’s behaviour has disfiguered his family. For those who listen to Root of all Evil it is easy to see generation upon generation of Hodel’s have been trying to heal and recover from the pshycological wounds that man inflected upon them. Was his rape of his daughter, his incestous fathering of his own grandchild, something that is akin in the mind to making someone literally eat shit, to cutting their head, their brain, their identiy away from the lower part of them bodies and their genitles? Disrespecting the person so much that they become more than just objectified, but wholely nothing more than an object to be tossed away. That is how George Hodel treated his daughter, and the rest of his family are living with the consequences. It is also how someone treated Elizabeth Short.

What about the Zodiac? As already discussed he was doing so much to obliterate the future, to put an end to potential and promise. Perhpase that is exactly what Earl Van Best did, first of all with manipulation, rape and abduction of Jude Gilford. Then by abandoning his son, leaving him to be adopted by stranger and brough up without any knowledge of his bith parents, or the mother who obviously had wanted him. Van Best robbed Jude and Stewart of the future they could have both had together, and therefore he probably feels to Stewart like he is the Zodiac, who in his crime became the embodiement of those pshycological wounds.

While watching The Most Dangerous Animal of All, it is easy to see that Stewart has hurt the people around him, his birth mother, his co-author, the numerous wives who have left because of his obsession. It is also possible to see that Stewart himself is a man who is extreamly hurt, who will possibly never give up on the idea that his father in a serial killer. Because that is how it feels to him, and what we feel, weather it is factually correct or not, is often what hurt people hold onto as the truth.

Goya’s picture of Saturn devoluring his son. And what is a father to his child but a God.

Neither of these men should be mocked or ridiculed for their obsessions with what they feel are their fathers crimes. When a society like ours has so few ways in which men can express, explore and excavate their pain and distress, it is more than likely to mutate and come to the surface dressed up as something different. With both of their fathers dead Hodel and Stewart are reversing what they did. Their fathers they think physically embodied and did to others the pshycological wounds they inflected on their children. Now their children are trying to inflict a pshycological wound on their fathers. You can’t wound someone pshycologically who is dead though. All you can do is try and ruin their reputation, drag their name through the mud, make it a by word for the worst of humanity. What, in essence they are doing, is cutting off their fathers cocks and throwing them to the wind. It remains to be seen what mythological children will emerge from the blood and sperm this time.

One thought on “Crime in Culture: Killer Fathers, Traumatised Sons. Legacies of the Black Dahlia and Zodiac.

  1. Steve Hodel has spent 20 years exploiting his LAPD career to push increasingly bizarre claims that his father (who in reality never killed anyone) was a jet set murderer who committed every famous slaying (mostly unsolved but a few are wrongful convictions) on the planet. How he he get away with it? Dr. Hodel, um, uh, ‘knew too much.’

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