Published 2006 by Bulfinch Press, Hachette Book Group USA


Exquisite Corpse is a hypothesis, built from a wealth of visual and factual material. Unlike others who have preceded us, we make no definitive claim to solve the murder of Elizabeth Short, otherwise known as the Black Dahlia murder of 1947. We do suggest that clues about this crime may have been hiding, for decades, in plain sight.

Exquisite Corpse presents the theory that Elizabeth Short's murder may have been informed by surrealist art, and that the killer was familiar with surrealist art and ideas. It also proposes that art created after the murder may have made veiled references to it.

Our book generally supports Steve Hodel's best-selling book Black Dahlia Avenger, which proposes that George Hodel, the author's father, was the killer. We take exception to some of Steve Hodel's claims in Black Dahlia Avenger, however. For instance, his attribution to his father of many other murders is provocative but highly questionable, in our view. In addition, neither of us believes that the unidentified women pictured in his father's photo album are Elizabeth Short.

Foremost, our book asserts that this gruesome but precisely executed murder may have been a deranged attempt to imitate motifs in surrealist art. That said, we do not believe that Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, or any other surrealist artist was directly responsible for the murder, or that the killer himself was an artist.

Surrealism was a fascinating and wide-ranging art movement, filled with wonderful and strange imagery. The Black Dahlia's possible connection to it is a small chapter in surrealism's history, another testament to this art's irrepressible and revolutionary allure.


Downloadable recordings of Mark Nelson's
StoryCorps conversations with George Hodel's
grandson Joshua Hodel Spafford
Part 1 (Large file: 38.3mb) Part 2 (Large file: 40.7mb) Part 3 (Large file: 41.8mb) Part 4 (Large file: 37.6mb) Part 5 (Large file: 41.3mb)

This downloadable PDF documents presents an
argument for the importance of a recently discovered document
George Hodel / Cement Sack

This downloadable PDF documents the
relationship between Man Ray and George Hodel
Man Ray / George Hodel

This downloadable PDF documents
George Hodel's Surgical Experience
George Hodel / Surgical Experience

This downloadable PDF documents
Hodel discussing his own surrealist photography
George Hodel / District Attorney Transcript p. 95


National Public Radio The "Three Books" Series: "Three Grisly Tales of Love and Death in Tinseltown," by Paula Uruburu; Online: October 21, 2010 NPR

Art In America "Surrealism to Die For," by Peter Plagens; Online: April, 2009; Print edition: April 2009, pp. 47-50

Vanity Fair "California Dreamgirl," by Sheila Weller; Online: December, 2007, pp. 1-2; Print edition: December 2007, pp. 359-361 Vanity Fair

MCAD Magazine (Magazine of the Minneapolis College of Art and Design) "A Sharp Eye" by Kim Zimmerman; Print edition: March 2007, pp. 12-13

Art & Australia "Ingrid Periz on Exquisite Corpse," (Short Book Review); Print edition: Volume 44, No. 3, Autumn 2007, p. 44

Artforum "A Bright Guilty World: Daylight Ghosts and Sunshine Noir," by J. Hoberman, Online: February, 2007, p. 5; Print edition: February 2007, p. 315 Artforum

The Village Voice "Top Shelf: Our 25 Favorite Books of 2006," Online: 22 December, 2006; Print edition: 27 December, 2006 - 2 January, 2007, p. 46 The Village Voice

Modern Painters "An Excellent Cadaver," by Ed Park,
November 2006, pp. 48-50 The Dizzies (Ed Park Blog)

The New Republic "Deathworks," by David Thomson,
Online: 15 September 2006; Print edition: 25 September 2006,
pp. 37-41

The Independent "Film Studies: Who killed the Black Dahlia?,"
by David Thomson, 10 September 2006 The Independent

Los Angeles magazine "Living with the Black Dahlia:
The Murder that Changed Los Angeles," by RJ Smith,
September 2006, p. 242

ARTnews magazine "Body of Evidence," by Sarah P. Hanson,
September 2006, p. 44


None currently scheduled


Barnes & Noble Booksellers Park Slope
267 7th Avenue, Brooklyn, New York 11215
Thursday, 19 October, 2006 (7:30 pm)


Thursday, March 08, 2007

William Copley; Dudley Murphy; George Hodel: Surgeon

Mark Nelson and Sarah Hudson Bayliss
Exquisite Corpse: Surrealism and the Black Dahlia Murder

So much to report, so little time. Where to begin?

First, a belated "Blog Thank-you!" to my business partner David Zaza for throwing us an amazing book launch party on October 12, 2006. Thanks also, to Max and everyone at Max Lang Gallery in New York for giving us their gallery space for the evening and for making us feel at home at such a great venue. Among the 200 or so friends and art world associates who came out for the event were the artist Billy Copley and his wife Patty Brundage. Billy's father, the pioneering dealer and artist William Copley, plays a prominent role in our book, and we are grateful to Billy for his support throughout this project.


Around the same time that Exquisite Corpse came out, the University of Minnesota Press released Susan Delson's book Dudley Murphy: Hollywood Wild Card. The definitive biography of an iconoclastic film director, this seemingly quiet book presents an audacious theory: that Murphy, not Fernand Léger, was the driving force behind the early avant-garde film Ballet mécanique. It was during the making of that film in Paris that Murphy became closely acquainted with Man Ray.

After twenty years in the movie business, Murphy became a successful hotelier and restaurateur, owning and operating the Holiday House resort in California. In the early 1950s, he and his wife, Virginia, gave Dorothy Huston Hodel safe haven there after George Hodel (under investigation for the murder of Elizabeth Short) abandoned his family and left for Hawaii.

In Hollywood Wild Card, Delson writes: "During the later years of his self-imposed Hollywood exile, which lasted from 1940 to 1951, Man Ray was a regular at Holiday House. In Self Portrait, [Man Ray] blithely dismissed the career of his erstwhile collaborator. 'Dudley took [Ballet mécanique] back to Hollywood and got some work on big films as a result, made some money, and opened a charming restaurant and motel on the Pacific coast, which I myself frequented during my séjour in Hollywood in the Forties...He was a charming and generous host, but never referred to the movies again.'"

Delson and I met shortly after the publication of our respective books. Surprised by the overlap in our very different works, Susan told me that it was Dorothy Huston Hodel who encouraged Murphy to write his own memoirs later in life.

For more on Dudley Murphy: Hollywood Wild Card,


Though Sarah and I are both busy (who isn't) we intend to add relevant content to this blog when we can. Previously, we posted a document detailing the documents and photographs that track the relationship between George Hodel and Man Ray from 1944 and 1951. This month we submit the document "GeorgeHodel: Surgical Experience and Practice" (a downloadable PDF in the "online content" section near the top of this blog) to collate some of the information on George Hodel's surgical ability. This document doesn't prove that George Hodel killed Elizabeth Short, but it proves that Hodel had the technical skill necessary to perform such a gruesome task.


Finally, thanks to everyone who has written with comments or questions. We will post an "FAQ" document sometime in the near future to address the most common queries.

- Mark Nelson

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