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)


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

StoryCorps conversations with Joshua Hodel Spafford

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

Last December, to our surprise, Sarah and I were contacted by Joshua Hodel Spafford, a working actor here in New York City who also happens to be the grandson of Black Dahlia murder suspect George Hodel. Collaborating with playwright P. Seth Bauer, Joshua was working on a play about his grandfather and he invited us to a stage reading of the production in process. Personally, I was a bit reluctant to go. I suppose I was fearful that I would just get sucked further into something that I was trying to extricate myself from. Sarah was quite game though, and with a little prodding on her part I ended up attending. Needless to say, we were both pleasantly surprised. Though presented in rough form, the play was far from the schlock-fest I anticipated, and clearly worth polishing into a tighter work. Judging from the enthusiastic response of the crowd we were not alone in our appraisal.

After communicating sporadically by email during the following months, Joshua and I decided to sit down together and record an ongoing conversation at the StoryCorps booth in New York City. (If you haven't heard of StoryCorps -- one of the largest oral history initiatives ever implemented -- its worth checking out at Tens of thousands of Americans have taken part since its inception in 2003, preserving the voices and stories of their friends and loved ones in the intimate setting of a small, closed sound booth.)

Over the course of six 45 minute sessions recorded between March and August 2008, we discussed the people and events that have caused our paths to intersect. For both of us, it was a transformative experience. Personally, I feel privileged to have had the chance to learn from (and speak so freely with) someone still coming to terms with his painful family history. His response to my questions and statements during the interview, as well as to Sarah's and my book, has been both gracious and supportive. Even if you have no particular interest in the Black Dahlia murder, Joshua's personal story makes for a fascinating listen. I have posted all 6 recordings in their entirety here on our blog. (The links are at the top of the page). Bear in mind, these are very large files (between 35 and 41 mb each) so some patience might be required when downloading. A note about the recordings: I am planning on adding one more recording sometime in the future to clear up a few mild factual goofs made over the course of our discussion. Like typos in a book, misstatements are an inevitable, if annoying, part of any "off the cuff" conversation and since we we have the platform to fix them we might as well get the scholarship right. I'll keep you posted. Meanwhile, good listening . . . If you've ever wondered about George Hodel, these are well worth the time.

Back to the play: As I mentioned previously, Joshua and Seth, along with director Heath Cullens, have been working hard over the past year to bring the play to the next level. Thanks to Shannon R. Mayers, executive director of the Gerald W Lynch Theater in New York, they will be presenting a stage reading of the play three times, this week and next. Because the play has not been titled yet, it's simply being referred to, shorthand, as "dahlia." I will be giving a short set of opening remarks at the Saturday and Monday readings. I have no real idea what they've been up to since last December so I'm excited to see it again. The readings are free and open the public. I hope you can attend!

Here's the Scoop:
Gerald W Lynch Theater
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
899 Tenth Avenue (between 58th and 59th Streets)
Friday, October 24; Saturday, October 25; and Monday, October 27
All performances begin at 7pm.
Free tickets can be reserved at 212.279.4200 or at

Thanks for reading,
Mark Nelson

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