Podcasts To Listen To: Root of Evil - The True Story of the Hodel Family and the Black Dahlia

True Crime

The Black Dahlia Murder

The Black Dahlia Murder has intrigued and confused the world since Elizabeth Short was murdered in 1947. Over the years, various theories have been put forward about the identity of the enigmatic killer who rivals Jack the Ripper for his ability to grab the attention of true crime fans. 

One name that seems to be thrown up every few years as a suspect is that of notorious Dr. George Hodel who has become an even more important figure to true crime fans following the release of TNT drama, I am The Night.


Root of Evil: The True Story of the Hodel Family and the Black Dahlia

The TV drama I Am The Night is accompanied by a podcast, Root of Evil: The True Story of the Hodel Family and the Black Dahlia. In the TV drama, Fauna Hodel is the main focus of the plot as she searches for the truth about her life and the family who gave her up to a childless African-American couple in 1951 who was told she was of mixed race. 

Hodel herself was heavily involved in the making of I am The Night until her death in 2017 after spending most of her life writing the story of her life and interviewing her family and friends.

Following the death of Fauna Hodel, her daughters, Yvette Gentile and Rasha Pecoraro took over the role of consultants to director and producer Patty Jenkins. True crime fans know the problem with TV drama is the need to leave out details and pass over important facts to keep the pace of the drama moving. This is where the podcast comes in with the daughters of Fauna Hodel taking hosting duties as they explore the materials collected and stored by their mother. 

The sisters explain they knew about the stash of materials their mother had referred to on many occasions and they had heard family stories about the interviews recorded on cassette about George Hodel.


The Hodel Family 

There are two main stories being told in the first season of the Root of Evil podcast which grabbed my attention and would not let go. The first is that of Fauna Hodel and the mystery of her own life and the second is that of the evil grip Dr. George Hodel held over his family. In the first episode, the focus is generally placed on Fauna Hodel and how her life began in some of the most mysterious circumstances I have ever heard in the racially charged atmosphere of the 1950s and 60s. 

I am The Night may drop us into the action of the early 1960s as Fauna is coming to the end of high school and looking for the truth about herself, but the podcast goes into far more detail. Fauna's mysterious birth and adoption by an African-American preacher and his alcoholic wife is something I would never have considered happening at such a time in U.S. politics. 

The race issue runs heavily through the podcast and the attempts of Fauna to fit into the family she was living with despite her adopted family not believing she had any African-American heritage at all.

Throughout the story of Fauna's life, I was struck by the constant arrival of Dr. Hodel in the events of the story. George Hodel arrives in the story early and prompts the events of Fauna learning more about her birth mother and the truth about whether her father was African-American. 

What stands out in the story of Fauna and her biological mother, Tamar is the way the Hodel family was hiding a series of facts about their family. Although the story of Tamar and Fauna is a difficult one, it only adds to the mystery I was soon dragged into because of the many strange decisions the family took as they moved on with their lives and lied about the race of Fauna's father.

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Authenticity From The Podcast

A major impression I took away from the Root of Evil podcast is the fact the TV show changed much of the story with the real events just as mysterious but did not move as quickly as the drama. Even in the story of Tamar meeting Fauna for the first time is filled with mystery as Tamat says she was only 30 minutes late arriving at the airport in Hawaii while interviews with Fauna and her daughters reveal she was around five hours late.

In my opinion, the use of the cassette tapes as the main source of audio adds a sense of authenticity and adds to the mystery of the podcast. True crime podcasts often rely on documents and second-hand testimony interpreted by a host to reveal the secret behind an event. However, I like the fact that the Root of Evil podcast relies on first-hand testimony despite the fact many of the events are disputed by members of the same family as they move through the ways the Hodel family was affected by George, Tamar, Fauna, and the other members of the family.

What stands out for me is the fact we are given the chance to understand what the Hodel family went through from their own testimony and how their choices affected the family for decades. The specters of George Hodel and Elizabeth Short run through the podcast with Steve Hodel playing a key role in the naming of George as the murderer of Elizabeth Short and for his role in a number of other murders. The former LAPD detective is well known in true crime circles for his theory that George was the murderer. 

What shocked me more than the link between Dr. George Hodel and the Black Dahlia were the other murders and events members of the family claim they witnessed throughout the life of the Hollywood doctor. I was shocked to hear of Fauna and her mother breaking into the home of George in the first minutes if the podcast and detailing the deaths of at least two women including the secretary of George Hodel. 

I enjoy the use of the cassette audio which some have asked to be cleaned up to limit the hiss associated with this form of recording. However, for me, the fact this is a historic case means the hiss of the recording adds to the authenticity of the details being revealed and gave me an insight into how the secrets of the Hodel family had been held for decades. 

The fact that Fauna's children are on hand to give a little insight into the details revealed by their mother makes this one of the most satisfying looks into the events of the Elizabeth Short murder case I have heard in my time listening to true crime podcasts.

For true crime fans, this series is a must listen. Do check out Root of Evil: The True Story of the Hodel Family and the Black Dahlia and get lost in one of the most compelling and long-running mysteries in the history of true crime.