The limited series I Am the Night resurrects a legendary murder still unsolved more than 70 years after it happened. For decades after Elizabeth Short (‘The Black Dahlia’) was tortured, murdered, and mutilated, her case was used to frighten many a young female whose ambitions included show business. In the South, her case captured just as much attention as it did in the rest of the country. This series sets itself apart from other film and TV coverage of the case, though. The book it’s based on is written by someone with personal ties to a suspect.
Fauna Hodel’s memoir, One Day She’ll Darken: The Mysterious Beginnings of Fauna Hodel, recounts Fauna’s journey to find her birth mother. Hodel was born to a white teen mother who claimed the father “was a Negro.” Fauna was then adopted and she was raised by her black family. As she seeks answers about her birth, she runs into stories about her controversial grandfather.
Fauna’s grandfather was George Hodel, a physician whose reputation was less than savory. Yet he had money and power and an ability to dodge allegations that ranged from sexually abusing Fauna’s mother Tamar who was only 14 when the allegations surfaced, to being investigated regarding the death of his secretary. Hodel’s son Steve, a former homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Dept., believes his father George is the killer of The Black Dahlia.
The 1947 murder was grisly, and news outlets of the day capitalized on the details. Sometimes, the papers outright fabricated details. They didn’t have to. You can read about the horrific crime at the Black Dahlia Web at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. A post on the site details the crime scene:
“The Los Angeles Police Department noted that the woman’s body seemed to have been posed. The woman was lying on her back with her arms raised over shoulders, and her legs were spread in a twisted display of seductiveness. There were cuts and abrasions across her body, and her mouth had been sliced to extend her smile from ear to ear. Investigators believed she had been tied down and tortured for several days due to the rope marks on her wrists, ankles, and neck. Her naked body had been cleanly sliced in half, just above her waist.”
Although extensive efforts and abundant resources were devoted to the investigation, Miss Short’s murder has never been solved. Various suspects, like Hodel, have been explored more than half a century after the crime, but there is still disagreement about the murderer.
Elizabeth Short was only 22 years old when she was murdered. Various media and even the FBI have erroneously described her as a “starlet.” Although she may have aspired to a showbiz career, she didn’t have one. She did get busted for teenage drinking, and that is one reason her body was identified so quickly. The FBI had her fingerprints on file:
“Short’s prints actually appeared twice in our massive collection (104 million at the time)—first, because she had applied for a job as a clerk at the commissary of the Army’s Camp Cooke in California in January 1943; second, because she had been arrested by the Santa Barbara police for underage drinking seven months later. We also had her “mug shot” in our files (see the above the graphic, which includes one of Short’s actual fingerprints) and provided it to the press. We did not have a photo from her Army application as some accounts have claimed.”
The public fascination with the case never went away, perhaps because the savage murder of a young, vulnerable girl was never solved. This latest TV effort seems to be attracting interest, considering The L.A. Times gave it an extremely positive review.
The FBI still maintains a page about Short’s murder, with links to various documents. The photo of Short used in the text of this article came from the FBI pages.
Was Dr. Hodel truly the murderer? That question has nagged many for decades. The limited series I Am the Night starring Chris Pine and India Eisley, directed by Patty Jenkins who also directed Wonder Woman, begins Monday, January 28 at 9 P.M. on TNT.
(Kay B. Day/Jan. 28, 2019)