'I Am the Night' Unearths New Details of Hollywood's Black Dahlia Murder
Patty Jenkins’ new TNT series uncovers new details connected to the infamous Black Dahlia murder of the 1940s—and explores it as a story of racial identity.
Photos by Los Angeles Police/Getty Images and TNT
The gruesome slaying of Elizabeth Short in January of 1947 is one of the most notorious unsolved murders in American history. The Los Angeles Record ran front-page stories related to the case for thirty-one consecutive days. Cut in half with surgical precision, her face carved into a hideous “smile," her body defiled before and after death, the 22-year-old victim, an aspiring actress, was dubbed the “Black Dahlia” and her violent death became a source of obsession for crime buffs that has persisted to this day.
TNT's new miniseries I Am the Night centers on 16-year-old Fauna Hodel (India Eisley), a young woman who has an unlikely connection to the gruesome murder. Inspired by Hodel’s 2008 autobiography One Day She’ll Darken, writer Sam Sheridan (Disaster Diaries) pairs up with executive producer and director Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman) for the six-episode series. With glossy visuals and a familiar cast, the series unfolds with a noir-like sense of mystery, and no small amount of violence. Chris Pine is electrifying as Jay Singletary, a Korean War vet and journalist whose promising career imploded when he bungled reporting on the Black Dahlia killing. Years later, a copycat crime compels Jay to return to his earlier investigation.
Unaware of her origins or her real name, Fauna (known as “Pat”) lives with her African-American mother Jimmy Lee (Golden Brooks) in Reno, Nevada. Pat believes she is mixed race, and being light-skinned creates social awkwardness for her at school. When she discovers by accident that she is actually white, and secretly adopted, it throws her life into a tailspin and she travels to Los Angeles, a hub of the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement, to try and learn the truth about her biological parents.
Fauna’s efforts to tell her story, include being related to the notorious George Hodel, who, as the show reveals, was a prominent suspect in the Black Dahlia murder. Fauna's real-life intrigue about George persisted her entire life, and she was involved with the production of I Am the Night until her death in 2017. With the current proliferation of shows and podcasts devoted to true crime and its complex human elements, it seems the time has finally come around for a wider audience for Fauna’s story.
“Our mother spent many years researching her own story, but she tried to avoid movies that were bloody or evil, she didn’t want to allow it into her psyche,” Yvette, one of Fauna's daughters tells Broadly. “We called her Glinda the Good Witch because she loved things with a happy ending.”
In the series, Fauna goes to stay with her grandmother and cousins in Los Angeles, and contacts her grandfather, George (Jefferson Mays), who invites her to visit him. Eventually, Fauna meets up with Jay Singletary and together they navigate the glamorous, dangerous underworld of George’s wealthy circle. Fauna learns that her mother, George’s daughter Tamar, lives in Hawaii, and that the family considers her to be mentally ill. Meanwhile, Jay uncovers startling evidence that links George to the Black Dahlia killing.
George was a prominent gynecologist in Los Angeles and was referred to as “the city’s venereal-disease czar and a fixture in its A-list demimonde” by Vanity Fair. He was known to have unorthodox sexual proclivities, a huge stylish mansion with a subterranean walk-in vault, and a habit of throwing secret bacchanalian parties. Hodel also ran an abortion service, and was indicted for various “morality” crimes, but acquitted. Despite being a prominent suspect in the Black Dahlia murder, he evaded apprehension and the case has never been solved.
After George’s death, his son Steve, an LA police detective, discovered photographs of Elizabeth Short in his father’s possessions and decided to write a book on the mystery. In the course of his research, Steve discovered surveillance records from the LAPD as they had bugged the family home. “Here you’ve got independent corroboration that he was, in fact, the prime suspect. Basically, I was blown away,” he told the Guardian.
Despite Hodel’s ongoing research and insistence that his father killed Elizabeth Short, neither the LAPD or the FBI have ever solved the case, and numerous people have confessed to the crime over the years. As for Yvette and her sister Rasha, they’re working on a podcast about their mother’s story called “Root of Evil” (debuting February 13).
“There’s only so much you can show on TV,” Yvette says, “and the reality of it was so much more intense in some ways.”
Yvette says she knows that her mother would be pleased that her story will be reaching millions. “Mom read the pilot, and she was so happy with how the production was going. I know she is watching, she is dancing and smiling, without a doubt.”