Take a double dose of Dahlia to get the full story

Have you been watching I Am The Night? Great, then you don’t need me to tell you that it’s fun despite some uneven moments and that freaky sex ritual stuff that flashed me back to that season of True Detective we do not speak of. Overall IATN has been a pulpy Monday night delight and I’m a little bummed it was such a short limited series.

Viewing tip: Binge it. I found that the high-gloss camp vibes were more fun at an unbroken pace, so perhaps watching all the episodes together will feel less unwieldy than the week-to-week viewing experience was. (If nothing else, watch it for Chris Pine and his terribly fantastic dialogue.) 

My only real complaint about the show is its tenuous link to the Black Dahlia murder, which got all of the promotional hype and very little airtime in the actual episodes. If you tuned in already knowing everything about the case, it felt like a bait and switch. If it’s all new to you, here’s a better way to learn about America’s most infamous unsolved murder.

Want to get the full story? Read it in Black Dahlia, Red Rose.

As much as I love the drama of the Hodel family story, George Hodel’s incidental connection to Elizabeth Short is pretty much just that: incidental at best. While the show is very probably correct in portraying him as a sinister creep, and he maybe definitely murdered his secretary, he was not by any means the top suspect in the Black Dahlia murder.

Two other men were, and according to author Piu Eatwell, corrupt forces within the LAPD made sure they were never arrested and the murder remained unsolved. More than 70 years later, it feels like Eatwell’s research has finally closed the case.

Black Dahlia, Red Rose is the most comprehensive book on the case to date, and probably the definitive authority on it as well. I’m pretty sure it’s the book that true crime podcasters read for research when they cover this murder, too. (If you’ve ever wanted to know the full extent of the grisly autopsy details, Eatwell spares none.) Eatwell is as prosaic as she is thoroughly researched, and she recreates the old L.A. of noir to build historical context behind this sensational story and its rambling cast of characters. The book’s narrative reminded me often of Devil in the White City, with its inclusion of broader L.A. history and fascinating anecdotes about powerful figures and bit players alike.

Most of all, Eatwell brings life and depth to the much-maligned victim, Elizabeth Short, who was a mysterious and transient person during her brief life. The many suspects connected to Short branch out like tangents from her story, but Eatwell highlights the curious links between them to build out the full picture of conspiracy that led to, and covered up, her death. Best yet, Eatwell discloses details of the case that put so, so many red herring theories to rest, including George Hodel. It’s all too much to list here and it’s way too satisfying to know, so I highly implore you to read the book for yourself.

If you prefer podcast form:

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  • Listen to the opening season of Hollywood & Crime from Wondery. This was one of the first podcasts I listened to on an MFM recommendation, and also the first source where I learned about this murder! The theatrical narration style certainly feels fitting, too.
  • Check out these episodes from True Crime Garage, although I’m confident Nic and the Captain did their research with Eatwell’s book, too. Their coverage provides a pretty thorough introduction.
Root of Evil: The True Story of the Hodel Family and the Black Dahlia
  • I also subscribed to the forthcoming companion podcast Root of Evil: the True Story of the Black Dahlia. I’m tempted to read Fauna Hodel’s memoir that inspired the show, but after three episodes of this podcast I’m not sure how much of this family’s misery I can take…

How about you??

Have you watched the show? Read the book? Obsessively followed the case? Accidentally looked at the crime scene photos and regretted it since? Share in the comments!

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