Issue 02: Coming Down In New Orleans, Louisiana Part 0I

Shining a light on the darkest corners of the Zach and Addie story

Writer: Josh Lami

You already know this story, at least… the surface details, right?

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If not, listen to our episode of Obscura detailing the tragedy of Zach and Addie.  It puts Romeo and Juliet to endless shame. When I first applied as a writer at Obscura in January of this year, I naturally visited the website to familiarize myself with the show. At the time, the most recent episode was on Zach and Addie. I don’t really believe in “signs,” so to speak, but seeing those two as Obscura’s then-current subject sure as hell made it feel like the universe was saying “Josh, this is where you’re supposed to be.” See, what only a handful of people knew, was that for nearly six months—since June of 2018, to be exact—I had been doing some investigative journalism, independently, on Zach and Addie for reasons we’ll get to soon enough. When I came to Obscura I was beyond familiar with the case. Moreover, it was a significant part of my life.

 Prior to joining the Obscura team I was working as a news writer for a number of news and entertainment outlets, many of which I’m legally bound from publicly naming due to non-disclosure agreements. My press credentials were an asset in helping secure resources and land interviews for my Zach and Addie investigation, but I’ve parted ways with the world of mainstream news writing. It’s just not a world I wish to be part of. Since being a news writer, quitting, and joining Obscura, I have to say, as a journalist I’ve found absolutely no difference in in terms of difficulty when it comes to obtaining whatever information I may be seeking at a given moment. It doesn’t matter who you’re writing for, journalism is journalism. It’s not for lazy people, it’s a lot of back and forth, a lot of dead ends, and fighting tooth and nail for the truth. Simply put, investigative journalism is fucking hard.

Initially I planned to write a novel or maybe even make a documentary about the Zach and Addie case, but once Justin and I discussed the idea of doing a blog for Obscura, I knew right then, my report (or series of reports) had found a home. There’s no better platform than right here. My only regret in my time with Obscura was the fact that the Zach and Addie case had already been covered before I arrived. Now I can remedy that. 

As I descended into the abyssal pit that is this story, something bad happened; I got too close. It strikes me as corny to say that aloud, but it’s the truth. I became so entrenched in the tangled web of complexity that is the Zach and Addie case I started feeling, for lack of a better word, haunted by it. I started carrying this inexplicable profound sense of regret, baseless guilt, and outright depression, and I was feeling it at every waking moment. Honestly, I thought maybe I was losing it. My girlfriend, Autumn McKinney, was helping me out a bit with this investigation, so I’m naming her to make sure she gets due credit. Also assisting me was someone who is nothing short of a best friend, a fella by the name of Scott Fleeman. He also deserves some recognition. Both of them were noticing how much of a toll this case was taking on me. Both advised me to walk away for a bit. I listened. Wise decision on my part. At the center of Zach and Addie’s story are matters most people take quite personally. Things like mental illness, abuse, rape, exploitation, lies, domestic violence, and suicide. It stands to reason that I’d also take these things to heart, being so surrounded by it, every minute of every day. Still, despite my sensitivities, there was work to be done. After my initial hiatus, the new approach was to take long sanity breaks and come back to Zach and Addie sporadically, when I deemed myself fit. So far I’ve been working on this investigation for a little over a year. I still have a long way to go, but I’m in no rush. These things take time. 

There was never any hope of keeping personal politics or my emotional shortcomings from influencing a report about Zach and Addie. I’m emotionally attached to the case and my writing will reflect it. Since I’m stating this up front, I can move forward with no ethical concerns. 

So why investigate an already-solved murder? It’s difficult to say. Something about it has always seemed off. I think it seems off to a lot of people. It’s a case that is magnetic to most who hear it, but it’s hard to put your finger on why it’s so engrossing. I hypothesize the infatuation is due to a subconscious knowing that some level of fuckery is afoot in the Zach and Addie case.

 To preface everything which follows: I’m not a detective. I’m not a police officer, I’m not a federal agent, I’m not employed by any form of law enforcement or branch of the military. I’m a writer, a journalist, a researcher, an artist, and a dozen or so other titles that don’t come with a set base salary. People hear that and probably assume I’m a liberal and/or a heavy drinker. They’re correct, not in the case of ‘or,’ but in the case of ‘and.’ So it’s on the table. I’m a lefty (not just politically, but left-handed as well), I’m not a cop, and I like to drink. 

Conflicts of interest? None I can think of. Perhaps my own emotions.

Specialized training? None. Not even an associate’s degree. I’m a high school graduate and a little surprised I managed that. Some people get degrees in journalism and end up being restaurant managers. Some don’t even go to college and end up being journalists. If my lack of college education is a problem for you, you’re not alone, but just for the record, it has never been a problem for me. Taking the route of autodidactism was a personal decision and one I have never regretted. 

Do I ever drink on the job? I don’t know a writer who doesn’t indulge sometimes while drafting a piece. If we’d have wanted a job that didn’t allow drinking, we’d have been accountants. 

Do I plan to politicize this case? 

It was 2006 when Zach Bowen leapt from the balcony of the New Orleans Omni hotel to his death in the street below. This was during George W. Bush’s second term. Zach had fought in Bush and Cheney’s widely loathed Iraq war. Zach came home with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result. Later, he murdered, dismembered, and cooked the body of his girlfriend, Addie Hall, on a stove-top, in their kitchen. This case was politicized years before I came along. Uncle Sam has been converting our fathers, sons, brothers, husbands, life-partners, and boyfriends into traumatized killers for quite a while. Is mentioning that politicization? Fake news? No, it’s a fact. Does reminding people of facts sometimes piss them off? Yes. Especially when those facts point to a glaring crisis that has plagued our nation since its inception. I don’t even come close to absolving Zach for what he did. It was wrong. But that doesn’t negate the fact that we send people like him to other countries, force them to endure unimaginable horror in wars that are based on abject lies, then ignore these traumatized soldiers upon their return. Then we somehow have the audacity to express shock when one of these people goes off the deep end. What did we expect? Trauma isn’t some excuse to get out of going to work, it’s a crippling affliction affecting millions of people.  

Fortunately, as of late, we’ve gone mad with de-stigmatizing mental illness in this country. It’s about time. I wonder if either Zach or Addie would have fared better today. In the era of Donald J. Trump’s occupation of the Oval Office, folks on my side of the political spectrum resist the buffoonery of this quasi-dictatorial administration by way of exhibiting fierce, radical inclusivity. Those spreading toxicity are generally the only ones excluded from the group. Ironically, trauma peddlers like Louis C.K.—a man I used to call a hero—cry victimization, and no one listens. I use Louis as an example specifically because his recent modis operandi is to lambaste the younger generation he now feels so rejected by. A generation who no doubt sees me as old and out of touch as well, but I don’t share Louis’ bitterness. Kids today are perpetually celebrating the very diversity lamented by that fear-stricken vocal minority identified by their red hats and MAGA bumper stickers. This generation stands up and supports their fellow citizens struggling with mental illnesses, gives them room and encouragement to talk about their problems, rather than telling them to shut up deal with it. 

Now that’s a protest.

 If you’re fighting for a cause which stands in opposition to mass compassion, you’re fighting for a gruesome cause indeed. I hope this current trend of opening up continues and I hope it results in fewer cases like the one involving Zach and Addie. The powers that be say ‘build a wall, keep ‘em out, be a man, act like a lady, shoot to kill, keep your mouth shut, and do your job.’ People have obeyed for too long, and as a result, we have rampant mass shootings, police brutality, systemic racism and sexism, a suicide epidemic, and tragic stories like the one of Zach and Addie. Indiscriminate hugs and re-assurances from tomorrow’s leaders are landing like Molotov cocktails at the front door of a dying, but still destructive administration. Make no mistake, you’re living in strange times when acceptance is in direct opposition to leadership. My generation did a lot of name-calling, though significantly less than the generation preceding it. Something older people may never come to terms with is the fact that the kids actually do know better. They always have. In the nineties, being open about depression was gaining acceptability, but telling people you had anxiety still garnered responses of wrinkled brows and hand-waving dismissals. Today you can share your PTSD struggles on Facebook and receive a flurry of loving responses. It’s not my generation, but I sure wish it had been. I’m unsure how Zach and Addie would have liked the conscious collective of 2019, but it seems like most Americans have the luxury of a support net. When you have that, life is exponentially more bearable, even in the worst of times. There are people in this world who believe they have no one. The question of whether it’s a genuine or perceived isolation is irrelevant. If loneliness feels real, its power is unimaginable. On some level, despite their chaotic life, Zach and Addie both believed they at least had each other in this midst of all the madness. After a while, they realized they were wrong. 

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And that is the only reason you know their names.

June 4, 2018

We got to New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA) around five o’clock PM on a Monday. Flew in from a tiny airport in Concord, North Carolina by way of some cheap airline I’ve never heard of before or since. If Wal-Mart’s Great Value brand is secretly behind a discount commercial airline, that was it. The tickets were damn-near free, though, so who was I to complain? I was supposed to be interviewing a filmmaker on the set of a movie I had no interest in seeing, but New Orleans is, without question, my favorite iteration of the United States. 

America comes in many forms, but none of them compare to the Big Easy. At my side was a pretty little red head named Autumn. She has been calling me ‘baby’ for a little over ten years and over the course of that decade I’ve become quite fond of her. I suppose that’s called a relationship, though I’ve never been a fan of labels. It was her first time visiting NOLA and probably my tenth. I’d warned her on the airplane ride, but there’s no way to accurately describe the jarring nature of walking out into that infamous New Orleans heat for the first time. No sense belaboring this point, I told myself. Poor girl will figure it out soon enough.

We abandoned the godly air-conditioning of Louis Armstrong International Airport and ventured into the abusive climate of New Orleans. The look on her face said it all. Heat is one thing, but that humidity is vile. Something about the air in that town. Thick, even sticky. You’re not sure if the air is wet or if you’re really that sweaty after being outside for less than a minute. 

 Autumn was wearing a pink romper with pictures of cats all over it. Before we boarded the plane, it looked crisp, vibrant. Her hair was glowing and shiny like always, but after ten minutes outside in NOLA, the romper was drenched in sweat, hanging off her body like some kind of sack she’d found in a dumpster. Her straight hair took on a wavy, frizzled look and lost all semblance of shimmer. After a moment, she resigned to putting it up in a bun and even felt relieved that she wouldn’t have to waste any morning time fixing her hair while we were in town. No point. My clothes were soaked as well, my face shiny with pouring sweat but I’d expected as much, no disappointment on my end. I was just happy to be in the best city in America.

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New Orleans, Louisiana is something everyone should experience before they die. No exceptions. If you’ve never been, go. If you are already as drawn to it as I am, cheers. And if you have visited, deemed it an insipid fuckpen of squalor, and vowed never to return, I find myself somehow impressed by your resolve, yet sickened by your existence; boorish marmot.

I’d been awake for over thirty hours and the first thing we did after landing was go to our AirBnB. Right off the bat, we’d made a poor decision. Autumn noticed the a/c was quite lax in this unclean basement apartment. Also a number of bedbugs were present. It was in a pretty rough area, the Uber driver told us this was a section of town he liked to avoid and seemed to be chastising us a for calling him out there. I took some photos of the neighborhood. It was in a bit of disrepair but I never felt threatened.

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We found a tourist-y hotel in the Quarter and shacked up there, unpacked, and walked around for a bit. I showed Autumn Jackson Square. Some of the local dunks accosted us, numerous people tried run scams, and it was hotter than sixty shades of hell. This was a typical visit, but Autumn was beginning to wonder why I loved this place so much. After an hour or so, sleep deprivation broke me and a waking delirium said we needed to head back to our hotel so I could sleep. 

Lying in bed, Autumn remarked that the town had an unmistakable dark vibe about it, a perpetual sense of danger was giving her a feeling of dread, but for no discernible reason. I felt the same. Not just then, but every time I’d visited before. Always on guard, a feeling of being watched, and an unwavering distrust of every person I encountered. To answer the question I knew she was pondering—why do I love this city? 

“Because here, I can’t zone out and let life pass me by. I have to stay vigilant. When I’m back home working, I’m just biding my time until something interesting happens, which is sporadic at best. Here, my days aren’t uneventful. That sort of thing doesn’t exist in Crescent City. I can’t swear to it, but I think this might be what it feels like to be alive.” 

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June 5, 2018: Meeting Zach and Addie

It was morning, Autumn and I were sitting at Café du Monde, a famous, but overrrated establishment if you ask me. Even so, Autumn was entitled to experience some of the commoner stuff, New Orleans virgin that she was. As we stuffed our faces with beignets, I nudged Autumn and pointed to an interesting scene that the rest of this packed restaurant seemed oblivious to. Workers were busy running around, shuffling from one table to the other, well-to-do tourists were devouring glorified funnel cakes, and no one seemed to notice a homeless gentleman in a heroin nod, seeming almost like wall decor in this iconic New Orleans eatery. Autumn gasped, I smirked and said “Welcome to New Orleans.” Is there any city in the United States that better exemplifies the wealth inequality in this fucking country?

Autumn and I left Café du Monde, took a cemetery tour and found a deal on Groupon for something called a “Haunted Museum.” This was something I’d never heard of, but tickets were around ten dollars each, so I couldn’t think of a reason to pass up the offering. As we began making our way to this place, the sky began pissing on our heads, as if to say, “go find something else to do.” If the sky was talking, we weren’t listening. A solid rainstorm became an all-out downpour, but even still, we hoofed it from St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 to this vague attraction located at 826 North Rampart Street. 

From the outside, it didn’t resemble a museum. It looked more like a rundown mom and pop business of some sort, but we were definitely in the right spot because there was a sign reading “Bloody Mary’s New Orleans Haunted Museum” hanging over the sidewalk. Inside, it looked even less like a museum. Actually, what it looked like was a gift shop, because that’s exactly what it was. We were informed that the “tour” would start in about fifteen minutes, so we perused this strange gift shop for a bit, trying to dry off. 

 

While looking at goofy merchandise, designed to appeal to tourists in search of a “unique” souvenir, I noticed a hallway. It was narrow, contained some kind of voodoo alter, and at its end was a white door I immediately regarded as foreboding. Why I found this door so unsettling, I’m unsure, but something about it just didn’t sit well with me. 

View of hallway from gift shop

View of hallway from gift shop

Finally, it was time for the tour. A young guy by the name of Jagger gathered the group together. This group consisted of Autumn, myself, a guy probably around my age (I’m 34), and two other women who seemed to be experiencing as much confusion as I was. Jagger began walking toward that horrible door, foretoken of a looming repugnance I have yet to escape. 

I doubt I ever will.

My least favorite door in the world.

My least favorite door in the world.

This door opened up to a courtyard, in which, you could see the back entrance of a number of French Quarter homes. Jagger stood there babbling about who used to live in some of the aforementioned apartments, then led us around a corner to the apartment so integral to this haunted museum. Once we entered the back door of the “haunted museum” something happened. 

In the interest of full disclosure, I do not believe in ghosts. I don’t believe in an afterlife, heaven, hell, hauntings, poltergeists, psychics, clairvoyants… I’m as firm a skeptic on any kind of mysticism as you’re likely to find. Completely non-religious, and not likely to change my stance on that. To me, looking at “haunted” locations or taking vampire tours is purely about entertainment. It’s fun to think about, but the thought of actually believing in such a thing is a foreign concept to me. Now, if you’re a believer in such things, I’m not here to belittle you. I’m completely disinterested in berating someone for being religious. If you’re happy, I’m happy for you, but personally, a church of any kind is just not my scene. I tell you this because what I’m about to say sounds like bullshit. At least, it would sound like bullshit to me, had I not been the one who experienced it.   

We walked through a doorway into the lower level of an old apartment. To our left was a staircase, which made a turn and stopped at another door. As soon as I saw this staircase, I felt dizzy, grief-stricken, scared, sad, and like everything in the world that could go wrong just did. Every fiber of my being was screaming at me to stay the hell away from those stairs. Later, I found out Autumn felt the same way. I tried distracting myself from what felt like an oncoming panic attack by looking around at the wall decor and taking pictures. As luck would have it, one of the photos captured the look on Autumn’s face as she was observing this horrible fucking staircase. 

I live with this person, so I know this look, and I can confirm that what she’s expressing is “fuck everything about this.”

I live with this person, so I know this look, and I can confirm that what she’s expressing is “fuck everything about this.”

And of course, Jagger instructed us to ascend a staircase that seemed to have the qualities of the Dementors in a Harry Potter book, because what kind of story would this be if he didn’t? We climbed the stairs and my feelings of distress only worsened as we reached the top.

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Jagger opened the door and we entered a blue room that looked like a residential living room. Haunted museum? Not so much. We were actually standing at the site of one of New Orleans’ most heinous crimes. This was Zach and Addie’s home. This is where he strangled her, where he dismembered her, and where he cooked her. Jagger told us the whole story in great detail while I sat in a chair feeling completely disconnected from myself. I just felt strange. There’s no other way to put it, other than to say, this place had bad energy, and I’m not someone who ever uses phrases like ‘bad energy.’ The weirdest part was, I lost time while we were in the apartment. As we walked down the stairs I started feeling more like myself, not quite so terrible, and then it hit me that I couldn’t really remember what all was being said or what I was doing while in that living room. 

Again, Autumn had a similar experience. She said she felt like she was in some kind of hypnotic trance and the tour guide’s words seemed like background noise, at best. One of the things I do recall is Jagger pointing to an electric range and informing the group that this was indeed the stove Addie Hall was cooked in. Then he pointed to a refrigerator and said “that’s where he stored her dismembered body.” As if charging admission to see such a thing wasn’t tasteless and exploitative enough, the owners of this murder site also dressed Zach and Addie’s old bedroom up with creepy dolls for theatrical effect. 

People can feel how they want about this operation, but personally, I found it sickening. I’d never have given money to someone exploiting this tragedy if I’d known what was going on, but this wasn’t advertised. In any case, the time to skip this ghoulish attraction had come and gone. I was past the point of no return, so I did take some photos inside the apartment. 

After showing us that little corner of hell, Jagger showed us the rest of the “haunted museum.” Mostly it was a bunch of crap like skulls in jars, dolls they swore were haunted, but weren’t, weird taxidermy. I didn’t really care enough to pay attention because all I could think about was the fucking horrific murder site this person had just surprised me and my girlfriend with. If you’re going to show me a skull in a jar, show it to me before you take me to the site of the heinous murder you’re profiting from. It’s something of a tough act to follow. 

Autumn and I walked back to the hotel in veritable silence. What do you say after something like that? Being in that apartment brought a feeling of near-intoxication, but whatever we’d been drunk on, we were now coming down and we were coming down hard. It took a good solid 3-4 hours before it really hit us, this nightmare we’d just experienced. Maybe some people are unaffected, hell maybe most of them are. We weren’t. We were mortified, upset, angry, but also curious. Perhaps I’m just sensitive. We’d left Zach and Addie’s home in the physical sense, but our hearts and minds were still very much in that living room. Later that night we sat in on the bed reading everything we could about Zach and Addie. It’s a strange case because there’s a ton of information readily available, but there’s also glaring questions surrounding it, and getting to the answers is nothing short of an ordeal. There were too many discrepancies for me, too many odd coincidences. When I left New Orleans a few days later, I came back home and immediately started doing a ton of research. I reached out to all kinds of people, including Bloody Mary, aka Mary Millan, the owner of Zach and Addie’s previous address.

This is a two-part blog post, and for part two, we’re going to delve into some of the unsettling facts surrounding this case, some of the odd coincidences no one really talks about, and the possibility that police aren’t being entirely truthful about what actually happened in that apartment. 

Thank you for reading, and as always, keep the fire burning.

Issue 01: Fresh Facts for Rotting Cases

A new venture for Obscura begins with some strange details about two familiar atrocities.

Writer: Josh Lami

Welcome reader, I’m glad you’re here.

About half a year ago, I began working for Obscura as a writer and researcher. Justin hired me to pen some of the scripts for this ever-expanding true crime podcast. I wasn’t the show’s only writer, mind you, but I was here to help carry the load and increase the output for our loyal listeners. I didn’t know what to expect. This was far from my first writing job, but Obscura was my first professional venture into the curious world that is true crime. As a freelancer, you hear a spiel from every editor-in-chief, every blog-runner, every show creator about how their platform is “different.” How you, the writer, are going to be an integral part of helping this person create something huge. How, together, we are going to change the whole landscape of X industry. They’re not lying, they’re just not as committed to innovation at they believe themselves to be. Their sights are set on a level of success most will never attain without some serious vision. Writing for news sites, entertainment outlets, blogs, authors who want their books ghostwritten, or even publishing companies can be frustrating if you’re the creative type, because often, the people for whom you’re writing are not interested in a novel approach; they want tried and true. Instead of taking risks and experimenting, they look to others in their field who have been successful and try to mimic those methods. Sometimes it works, but usually not.

I’ve written millions of words and I’ve yet to work with a copycat who ended up breaking into major success, but it could still happen.  As a writer, once you’ve been in the game for half an hour, being told by a client to follow convention is what you’ll come to expect. Frankly, it’s discouraging. After a while, I got depressed and wondered why I started writing in the first place. This wasn’t something I needed to meditate on, the answer was glaring and had always been; I wanted to create. Hitting word counts for vapid writing projects while making a tenth of what I should have been was never part of my aspirations as a writer. Godspeed if you’re into that sort of thing.

So I did what many freelance writers tell you not to do, I said no to any project that felt like work. If I wanted to make a living doing something I hated, there were easier, more lucrative, and certainly more stable gigs to consider. Since then I only take the gigs I’m passionate about. Obscura was far outside my comfort zone, but I was up to the challenge.

 

Oh, the places I’ve been since January of 2019.

I’ve contributed scripts for around nine episodes, which is honestly a drop in the bucket, yet I already feel like I’ve been to hell and back. One thing I hear from time to time is that I have a “unique voice.” The first time someone says it about your writing, it’s flattering. It might even go to your head, but such words will wear thin in rapid fashion. Because as unique as a writer’s voice may or may not be, most editors or producers will look on in horror if you actually try to use it.

Obscura has been an entirely different experience. Justin never discourages me from going outside the boundaries of convention and he doesn’t just look to other true crime podcasts as a template for what his show ought to be. As a result, he’s developed something that is not only unique, but growing at a staggering rate. Most every other writing job I take, I’m working with a client, but Justin Drown isn’t a client, he’s a partner. Furthermore, Obscura isn’t just a job, it’s a passion. Not every risk I’ve taken in writing for the show has paid off, in fact a few have been downright bad ideas, but plenty have resonated beautifully. It’s called a creative process and I’m happy to say, at Obscura, we actually have one of those.

A new venture

Recently, Justin hired more writers for the main episodes and he approached me about starting a blog for the site. Something where we could explore more of the minutia, delve into more than one case per sitting, and really just do whatever we want within the realm of true crime, while giving our wonderful audience more of the macabre to digest. I loved the idea. Writing for the podcast has been great and I’m sure I’ll contribute some future episodes, but here on the page is where I shine best and I believe Justin has noticed that and—being a smart fella—wants to utilize my best strengths. Or maybe I’m reading too much into this, hard telling. I could belabor the motives of Obscura’s founder or I can focus on the important thing… we’re here.

Here, we can go in a number of directions. We can ask more questions, delve into speculation, entertain the notions of hair-brained conspiracy theories, look at photos and videos, posit alternate explanations, and just do all kinds of things we wouldn’t normally be able to get away with on Obscura’s main podcast. Some posts will be serious, some humorous, we can talk about murder or, if we so choose, look at other types of crimes. Hell, we can even revisit cases from older episodes and discuss what we might have missed, or even talk about behind the scenes information listeners weren’t privy to. The possibilities are endless and we’re all pretty excited. Furthermore, this is a better place for you to make suggestions about subject matter. That’s right, I’m going to read your request and suggestions for future blog material and the best submissions will appear in the official Obscura true crime blog. Not for every entry, but some.

That said, let’s start this off simple and look at the lesser-known asides from some true crime cases you’ve more-than-likely heard about. Nothing irks me more than seeing a clickbait headline such as: “10 Amazing Horror Movie’s You’ve Definitely Never Seen” as a precursor to a list of ten mediocre horror movies I’ve seen five or more times each. How do you know which movies I have or haven’t seen? With that thought in mind, I won’t presume to know what you, reader, have or have not read about the cases mentioned in today’s blog entry. You may-well be a full-on walking encyclopedia of true crime knowledge. I’ll just say the information we’re discussing today is likely to be a revelation to many.

 

Now, hop in. We’re going to California.

  

A Homicide Detective Named Steve Hodel Believes His Father Is Both the Black Dahlia Murderer and the Zodiac Killer

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Read that again, if it makes you feel any better, but you read correctly. The Black Dahlia Murderer and the Zodiac Killer. Both. George Hodel—Steve Hodel’s father—was also allegedly responsible for a number of other murders, completely unrelated to Black Dahlia or Zodiac.

It should be prefaced that the veracity of Steve Hodel’s claim that his father was the Zodiac Killer is, to say the least, questionable. It’s a far-fetched theory, unlikely to be true, though not implausible. Compelling if for no other reason than the fact that it’s a notion proposed by a bona-fide homicide detective who works for the Los Angeles Police Department. Then again, does an LAPD detective’s endorsement of such an unlikely scenario really lend credence to the possibility? Or does it speak more about the competence of law enforcement detectives in California? You can decide for yourself on that one. The big question on most people’s minds is how this theory it compares, in terms of likelihood, to claims that Ted Cruz could be the Zodiac Killer.

All I can think is that it’s definitely more plausible than a dream I had where my grandmother was trying to convince me that Bill Clinton’s father was the Greasy Strangler.

Now there is some genuine connection to Steve Hodel’s father, George, and the Black Dahlia. George Hodel was actually a suspect in the Black Dahlia murder. He was acquitted, but many believe he shouldn’t have been, especially George’s son. There were microphones placed in George Hodel’s apartment during the Black Dahlia investigation, reviewed by police and found to contain disturbing content.

Here are some selected excerpts:

 

“Realize there was nothing I could do, put a pillow over her head and cover her with a blanket. Get a taxi. Expired 12:59. They thought there was something fishy. Anyway, now they may have figured it out. Killed her.”

“Supposin’ I did kill the Black Dahlia. They couldn’t prove it now. They can’t talk to my secretary anymore because she’s dead.”

 

Here’s some food for thought: I’m not the Black Dahlia murderer and I know this for sure. Hell, I couldn’t be without a time machine. As one of the billions of people on Earth who didn’t commit the Black Dahlia murder, I think we can all agree that the thought of saying the words: “supposin’ I did kill the Black Dahlia,” while going on to point out the fact that the cops sure can’t prove it, in presumed privacy, is a highly unlikely scenario. Not that doing so necessarily makes one guilty; it just seems like such an easy thing to never say. Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps he was rehearsing for a play.

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George Hodel was, as can be imagined, a suspect in the murder of his secretary. He was also accused of raping his daughter. However, he was convicted of neither crime. Posited at the time was a rumor that Hodel’s secretary was blackmailing him because she had damning information of patient mistreatment and misdiagnoses. This as a means to bill people for unnecessary medical expenses and then pocket the money. Elizabeth Short, AKA the Black Dahlia, was allegedly one of those patients. When investigated, it was discovered George Hodel possessed nude photos of Elizabeth Short. It certainly sounds like, on paper, Hodel could very well have been the guy, but that’s never been proven in a courtroom. Officially, like Zodiac, the Black Dahlia case remains unsolved. Some take Steven Hodel’s postulations as concrete evidence that the case is solved. Others have said it’s a laughable notion to even consider Hodel might as the Black Dahlia murderer.

            Steve Hodel runs a website (https://www.stevehodel.com) where he still updates evidence he says links George Hodel to the Black Dahlia murder. He has also written a number of books on the subject.

            As for being the Zodiac Killer, that’s harder to swallow. George Hodel apparently lived in the Philippines between 1950 and 1990, so most researchers don’t consider him a possible suspect, as he would have been outside the country during the Zodiac murders. Granted, he could have been making trips back and forth under a false identity.

            Steve claims the evidence against his father in the Zodiac case is all but iron clad, though mostly it’s based on handwriting analyses and Zodiac’s “radian.” That is to say, the area of California where Zodiac did his business intersects with where the Black Dahlia was discovered, and thus, links George Hodel to the Zodiac Killer. When I think about the phrase “grasping at straws,” this is the kind of shit that comes to mind. Still, just the suggestion makes one wonder if Steve is right. Such theories may never be provable. Hell they might even be debunked (https://zodiackillerfacts.com/zodiac-theories/the-accused-the-accusers/george-hodel-most-evil/steve-hodel-most-evil-debunked/), but thinking about it and wondering ‘what if?’ never ceases to be a fun thought exercise.

It’s the mark of an intelligent person to consider another point of view without necessarily accepting it as fact. Steve’s assertions about his father’s involvement with the Black Dahlia murder seem to be in earnest, even if misguided. His Zodiac theory, on the other hand, sure seem like an incredibly marketable angle to sell more books.

Henry Lee Lucas May Not Have Been A Legitimate Serial Killer, As His Unknown Number of Victims Falls Somewhere Between 3 and 3,000.

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For the podcast, we usually avoid especially famous crimes. Hence the name “Obscura.” That’s the best approach, because who wants to hear the same cases repeatedly? Even still, sometimes true crime writers have pet cases they wish they could delve into from a different angle. Thankfully, we now have a blog where we can do exactly that. Henry Lee Lucas or the aforementioned Black Dahlia murderer, for example.

When people ask what I do for a living, I never tell them I’m a project analyst for an IT company, because that sounds boring (and for the record, yes, it is extremely boring). I always just say I’m a freelance writer. It’s not a lie, because I do that for a living too, it’s just not my sole source of income. When I came to Obscura, I changed my answer. Now I just say “I’m a true crime writer.” Still not technically a lie. Now ‘true crime writer’ is a job that sounds cool (and for the record, yes, it’s extremely cool). After I reveal my ultra-cool line of work, eyes widen and people often say something like “wow I’ll bet you’ve seen some crazy shit.” Yes, yes I’ve see things that would leave most people in the floor, curled up in the fetal position, calling out to whichever God they believe in. But that was true long before I came to Obscura. What can I say? My twenties got a little wild.

Their first question is always “who is your favorite serial killer.” I so despise this question, because like most reasonable people, I don’t have a favorite serial killer. I hope no one does. Serial killers are interesting to try to understand, to learn about and to study, but they’re not people to be revered. They’re violent people who end the lives of the innocent and ruin the lives of a victim’s friends and family. Fuck every single serial killer that ever walked the earth. Being something of a smart ass, I usually give a response to the tune of “um… I don’t really like any of them.”

After I give mister tactless a moment to rephrase his question to something a little less mortifying, like “Well which serial killer do you find the most interesting?” my answer is always Henry Lee Lucas. Something about his status as a drifter, his relationship with Ottis Toole, and that thing on his upper lip resembling one of those novelty mustaches from Dollar Tree just creeps me right the hell out. More interesting than even the mustache is his number of victims. Convicted of nine murders, officially, authorities confirmed Lucas had committed more than 200 murders shortly after his apprehension. Personally, I find that number suspiciously high for one human being, short of a military official who has spent their life fighting on battlefields, but I suppose it’s possible. Still, to pull off 200-something murders (the official number isn’t hard to find, it just flat out doesn’t exist) you’d have to be extremely intelligent. Cunning, stealthy, unassuming, charming… Ted Bundy was all of those things and even he couldn’t clear the double digits. Thing is, Henry Lee Lucas wasn’t what you’d call a bright fellow. In fact his IQ was reportedly below average and may have even been as low as 76. For comparison, Forrest Gump had an IQ of 75. Granted, Forrest was a fictional character, but I’m not bringing up Andy Warhol. His crimes against art are too heinous for Obscura. Ted Bundy, on the other hand, reportedly had an IQ of 136, while Jeffery Dahmer was sitting around 145. This isn’t to suggest that IQ is the epitome of what determines a person’s potential. I know many people with brilliant minds who are total under-achievers, and likewise, people with low IQs that have been successful. Having said that, there’s a reason organizations like the FBI screen for intelligence.

While two-hundred or more victims might be hard to swallow, his later claims were downright ludicrous. After his initial confessions, authorities from other states started questioning him about other murders and he confessed to virtually all of them. In the end he'd confessed to something like three thousand murders. At this point, you could make an argument that he was committing genocide in America. Thing is, he was full of shit. It goes without saying he didn't kill thousands of people, but he didn't even kill the initial two-hundred. Get this; even the nine he was convicted of murdering was inaccurate. One victim included on the list of people Lucas was convicted of murdering—an unidentified person often referred to in the media as "Orange Socks”—was not killed by Henry Lee Lucas at all. Authorities confirmed this after Lucas' conviction.

Henry Lee Lucas was given the death penalty, but that sentence was later commuted to life in prison. In Lucas' later years he stated that he'd actually only murdered three people, one of which was his mother. Not that we can take Henry's word for it, it seems he's quite the fibber, but what's perhaps most interesting is why so many murders were pinned on him in the first place. We already know that he was getting special treatment while in jail for providing confessions. Every time he gave detectives another statement of confession, he'd swindle another favor. That's typical in our... less than perfect Unites States Justice system. What many people don't know is why any of these detectives would believe them in the presence of obvious contradictory evidence. There were mountains of it. Little things like Henry being in a completely different state at the time of the murder to which he was confessing.

It turns out, the police weren't gullible or incompetent, they were opportunistic. See, at any given time, in any given police department, there are piles of unsolved murder cases. These departments are always under pressure to close said cases. In the end, Henry Lee Lucas' honesty wasn't the point. The point was to pacify higher ups by closing as many cases as possible. Word got out that Lucas was a goldmine of confessions. The cheat-code police departments had been waiting for to close cases without having to do any real investigating. News crossed state lines and everyone wanted in on that action. Henry Lee Lucas' status as a drifter who had traveled to many states made his involvement plausible. In some cases, Lucas received incriminating evidence from open murder cases to use during a confession, thus lending more credibility to his confessions.

The first time I heard this, it sounded like a bold claim. Outlandish. Maybe even like a conspiracy theory. I was naive, because this aspect of the Lucas case isn't the work of some hack journalist writing for a gossip column, it was confirmed in The Lucas Report (https://lrl.texas.gov/scanned/archive/2009/8145.pdf) by Attorney General Jim Mattox. In the report, he stated:

"We have found information that would lead us to believe that some officials 'cleared cases' just to get them off the books”

Such a staggering display of behavior, transcending unethical and veering right into abject corruption by not just one, but numerous police departments, should be more troubling to the general public than it is. Henry Lee Lucas wasn’t special. Any reasonable person reading the report has to know such disregard for truth and justice isn’t exclusive to the Lucas case. If you have doubts, go talk to the West Memphis Three, they have stories to tell. The “bad apples” argument doesn’t work in the case of Henry Lee Lucas’ exploited confessions. In fact, it suggests systemic problem and brings about a litany of questions regarding trustworthiness of law enforcement and the justice system general. Granted, perspectives vary from person to person, but for me, instances of corruption like this have led me to the conclusion that N.W.A.’s 1988 reporting of problematic law enforcement hit the nail on the head.

Though Considered One of History’s Most Horrifying Serial Killers, Albert Fish’s Crimes Were Worse than Most People Realize

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At this point, it seems like everyone already knows about the letter Albert Fish sent to the parents of one of his victims. If not, here's the cliff's notes:

 Albert Fish came to their farmhouse seeming well intentioned enough. He did some work for the family and then offered to take their young daughter to a birthday party. I can't imagine why, but for one reason or another, they didn't think that sounded like the worst idea of all time, and said yes. Needless to say, her parents never saw or heard from their daughter again, because Albert Fish murdered, cooked, and ate her. They did, however, hear from Albert again, and he wasn't speaking in a courtroom.

 Because murdering and eating a child wasn't evil enough for Albert, he decided to ice that cake of horror by mailing a letter to the parents, detailing exactly what he'd done. Here is an excerpt from a transcript of that letter: (https://murderpedia.org/male.F/f/fish-albert.htm)

“On Sunday June the 3 --1928 I called on you at 406 W 15 St. Brought you pot cheese -- strawberries. We had lunch. Grace sat in my lap and kissed me. I made up my mind to eat her. On the pretense of taking her to a party. You said Yes she could go. I took her to an empty house in Westchester I had already picked out. When we got there, I told her to remain outside. She picked wildflowers. I went upstairs and stripped all my clothes off. I knew if I did not I would get her blood on them. When all was ready I went to the window and called her. Then I hid in a closet until she was in the room. When she saw me all naked she began to cry and tried to run down the stairs. I grabbed her and she said she would tell her mamma. First I stripped her naked. How she did kick -- bite and scratch. I choked her to death, then cut her in small pieces so I could take my meat to my rooms. Cook and eat it. How sweet and tender her little ass was roasted in the oven. It took me 9 days to eat her entire body. I did not fuck her tho I could of had I wished. She died a virgin.”

             Can it really get anymore depraved than… whatever the hell that was? I’m afraid so. See, either the collection of needles in his groin or the above letter are usually what people bring up when discussing Albert Fish, but these details represent a small fraction of his depravity. He was convicted of three murders, but suspected of nearly one-hundred. For today’s entry, we’re going to look at what he did to a little boy named Billy Gaffney.

After kidnapping him, Fish took him to an abandoned house, stripped him naked, tied him up and burned the child’s clothing. According to Fish, Billy was gagged with a dirty rag he’d found in a dumpster. After that, Fish left. Yes, that’s right, Albert Fish tied this child up, left, and took a trolley back home. The next day he came back around two o’clock with a makeshift cat of nine tails, which he had fashioned out of a couple of belts and a short wooden handle. Then he whipped Billy Gaffney’s bare bottom mercilessly and relentlessly. According to his own confession:

“I whipped his bare behind till the blood ran from his legs”

          After that, he cut the child’s nose and ears off, slit his mouth from ear to ear, and gouged out his eyes, finally killing him. Once Billy was dead, Albert cut a hole in his stomach, put his mouth to it, and sucked out the blood. He detailed further cannibalism and dismemberment, confessing to police:

 

 "I picked up four old potato sacks and gathered a pile of stones. Then I cut him up. I had a grip with me. I put his nose, ears and a few slices of his belly in the grip. Then I cut him through the middle of his body. Just below the belly button. Then through his legs about 2 inches below his behind. I put this in my grip with a lot of paper. I cut off the head -- feet -- arms-- hands and the legs below the knee. This I put in sacks weighed with stones, tied the ends and threw them into the pools of slimy water you will see all along the road going to North Beach." I came home with my meat. I had the front of his body I liked best. His monkey and pee wees and a nice little fat behind to roast in the oven and eat. I made a stew out of his ears -- nose -- pieces of his face and belly. I put onions, carrots, turnips, celery, salt and pepper. It was good.”

             Albert Fish is discussed far less often than people like Jeffery Dahmer or Ted Bundy because his crimes are—I personally believe—somehow harder to stomach. We could do an entire blog just on Fish’s atrocities, but the violence is so prevalent and sickening, it would become redundant after about ten minutes of reading. Still, he was absolutely one of America’s worst. One of the few serial killers whose crimes are not only not exaggerated, but rather, downplayed.

            With that, we conclude the first Obscura true crime blog. We hope you enjoyed it, learned something, and maybe even got a chuckle at one point or another. If you liked what you’ve read, you’re in luck, because there’s a lot more to come. Thanks you for reading… and keep the fire burning.

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