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)


Wednesday, September 12, 2007

George Hodel and ManRay; George Hodel: Surgeon

This month we are updating both of the documents we have written since the publication of Exquisite Corpse. The recent discovery of a portrait of George Hodel by Man Ray, at Harvard University's Fogg Art Museum, requires us to update the document Man Ray and George Hodel. The file on our server, now called GeorgeHodel_ManRay02.pdf, can be retrieved by clicking the link Man Ray / George Hodel under the map on this page. Documents recently retrieved from the U.S. Public Health Service require that we update the document called George Hodel, Surgical Experience and Practice. The file is now called GeorgeHodel_Surgeon02.pdf and can be retrieved by clicking the link George Hodel / Surgical Experience, also under the map on this page. These documents note that George Hodel was appointed a civil officer of the United States and given the title of Passed Assistant Surgeon. His application for that position notes that he was employed as "Camp Surgeon" for the CCC [Civilian Conservation Corps] in New Mexico from December, 1936 through June, 1937.

We have added an interesting document, a page from the Los Angeles District Attorney's transcripts of surveillance of the Hodel household (made while Hodel was under investigation for the murder of Elizabeth Short), in which Hodel discusses his own Surrealist photography. We don't make much of the document in Exquisite Corpse (see page 173, footnote 4) but we've included it here to provide additional documentation that George Hodel was interested in Surrealism. You can retrieve this document by clicking the above link, George Hodel / District Attorney Transcript p. 95.

You now need to log in to access Artforum online, so the Artforum link here on our blog now brings you to a log-in page. It's free to set up an account, but if you don't care to do so, here's what Village Voice critic J. Hoberman had to say about our book in his Artforum article A Bright, Guilty World: Daylight Ghosts and Sunshine Noir: "Exquisite Corpse: Surrealism and the Black Dahlia Murder (Bulfinch, 2006) uses horrifying visual evidence to make the case that the Dahlia’s killer was Dr. George Hodel, an artist manqué and a friend and patron of then-local Surrealist Man Ray; the authors further suggest that the disposition of Elizabeth Short’s remains may have inspired or influenced Marcel Duchamp’s secret assemblage, Étant donnés, 1946–66. Published the same month that DePalma’s Black Dahlia opened, Exquisite Corpse is far more frightening, fantastic, and convincing than the film."

Mark Nelson and Sarah Hudson Bayliss

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