Unsolved (4/10)

Continuing this week is the documentary series that delves inside the minds of killers. In each programme, Dr Michael Stone, a forensic psychiatrist at New York City’s Columbia

University, considers killers and places them on his ‘most evil’ scale. This edition looks at unsolved murder cases, in particular the notorious Chicago Lipstick Killer and Los Angeles’s Black Dahlia case. Although the identity of these killers remains a mystery, Dr Stone analyses their murderous methods in order to further flesh out their profiles.

In the mid-1940s, the people of Chicago were living in fear of a vicious murderer nicknamed the Lipstick Killer. He had taken the lives of three female victims using a similar modus operandi. At one of the crime scenes a note was found scrawled in lipstick on the wall: “For heaven’s sake, catch me before I kill more. I cannot control myself.” Six months after the third killing, a 17-year-old man was arrested and charged with the murders. Bill Heirens confessed to everything, but later retracted his confession, claiming it was made under duress and was the only way to escape the electric chair.

Agreeing that there could be some truth to Heirens’s story, Dr Stone creates a picture of the Lipstick Killer by analysing his methods. His first victim had her throat slashed and her wounds sealed with adhesive tape. His second victim had been shot and stabbed in the neck. Both of the bodies had been bathed and washed clean of blood. The third killing was the most gruesome of all – the severed head of a six-year-old girl was found in a sewer. The rest of her dismembered body was found shortly afterwards. From these details, Dr Stone concludes that the killer would most likely display psychopathic and schizophrenic traits. These tendencies put the Lipstick Killer extremely high on the scale of evil – at 18 out of 22.

To see whether Heirens fits this image, Dr Stone interviews him in prison, where he remains incarcerated to this day. After questioning the inmate on his upbringing and the circumstances surrounding his arrest, Dr Stone concludes that “it’s unlikely that Heirens would ever have been capable of the things done by the Lipstick Killer”.

In Los Angeles, former police detective Steve Hodel has been conducting his own investigation. He thinks the Lipstick Killer is also responsible for Los Angeles’s most famous unsolved murder – the case of the Black Dahlia. In 1947, the body of aspiring Hollywood actress Elizabeth Short was found bisected across the waist and laid out on a vacant piece of land. At the time of the murder, Hodel was just a young boy, but the horrific crime returned to his mind when he joined the police force in the 1960s. “This was not a butcher or a meat-cutter,” Hodel says. “This had to have been somebody highly skilled in medicine.”

When he discovered a chilling photograph amongst his deceased father’s possessions, Hodel’s interest in the case grew. The photograph was a black and white image of a nude woman who bore a striking resemblance to Short. Could George Hodel, a talented physician, have been involved in the Black Dahlia killing? Determined to find out, Hodel set about compiling a profile of his father – a man he says was “larger than life”.

A gifted child, George was an accomplished pianist at an early age and had an IQ one point above that of Einstein. But his confidence faltered when, at age 14, he started university and became a social outcast. Isolating himself from his peers, he developed an obsessive interest in drugs, sex and violence. In later years, George achieved success as a doctor in a Hollywood sexual health clinic. This meant that he rubbed shoulders with some of the art world’s biggest stars, and enjoyed a high profile in the community. “We worshipped him,” says Hodel. “He was almost godlike to us.”

In Dr Stone’s opinion, if the killer is indeed George Hodel, his ‘God complex’ and sexual motives could shoot him right to the summit of the scale of evil.

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