Some lives are so extraordinary, with twists so unexpected, that they’re easily translated into a gripping movie or TV series. Fauna Hodel’s life was one of them. She knew, even as a girl, that her story was special — and so she began taking notes for the inevitable movie adaptation. And that was before Fauna knew the real twist of her biological family's connection to the Black Dahlia Murder.
Still, Fauna's instincts were spot-on. In 1991, a (still unreleased) movie starring Alfre Woodard was made about Hodel's life growing up as a white girl adopted by a Black mother in Sparks, NV. However, it took until 2019, with Patti Jenkins’ TNT mini-series I Am the Night starring Chris Pine and India Eisley, for Fauna's story to actually reach audiences. I Am the Night had its sneak preview premiere on Sunday, January 27 on TNT. It will normally air on Mondays at 9 p.m. ET.
Fauna's story technically begins in 1951, when 16-year-old Tamar Hodel gave birth to a baby girl. As Tamar revealed to DuJour, Fauna was the product of a sexual assault. Though the father was white, Tamar listed the child's father as being Black on her birth certificate. According to Hodel's website, Tamar did this to "ensure that the child would never return to [her] emotionally reclusive white family."
That said, George Hodel, Tamar's father, was initially quite involved in his granddaughter's early life. He insisted she be named Fauna, pulled from a poem by the Robinson Jeffers (that's where he got Tamar's name, too). George also arranged the terms of Fauna's adoption: She must keep her full name, and she must not be legally adopted.
So when Jimmie Lee Greenwade (played by Golden Brooks in the show), a Black restroom attendant at a Nevada casino, adopted Fauna from George, Jimmie expected the baby's skin to eventually darken. "Of course, my hair never darkened. I never did. But I waited my life to," Fauna said on KOLO TV. In fact, Hodel's 2008 memoir, One Day She'll Darken, is based on the promise George told Jimmie Lee about Fauna's race.
Growing up during the Civil Rights movement, Fauna — raised with the name Pat — felt caught between worlds. She wasn't accepted by either the white or Black community. Then, there was the problem of her mother, who struggled with alcoholism and later began working as a prostitute. The GoodReads page of Fauna's memoir gives a summary of Fauna's harrowing childhood with Jimmie: "Together they endured extreme poverty, alcoholism, starvation, sexual abuse, pregnancy, and death, hopelessly bound and knotted together by relentless bigotry."
As a teenager, Fauna realized only one person held the answers to her identity: Her birth mother, Tamar, who had quite a difficult childhood herself. At age 14, Tamar ran away from the California home she shared with her father, Dr. George Hodel, who had been a celebrated doctor in the community and socialized with artists and filmmakers, like director John Huston and photographer Man Ray.
While in LAPD custody, Tamar confessed that she had witnessed — and been a part of — the "bizarre sex parties" held in Hodel's mansion. Tamar also claimed she had been molested by her father, beginning at the age of 11. “He tried to make me a sex goddess," she said during an interview later in her life. After a publicized trial, George was declared innocent of sex charges in 1949. But since Tamar's testimony linked him to the Black Dahlia murders, George fled the U.S. for Asia until 1990.
In the trial's aftermath, Tamar left the Hodel household, but her troubles continued. Tamar was married twice as a teenager. She ended up having another daughter, Deborah (who later changed her name to Fauna-Elizabeth). Tamar couldn't protect her daughter from her father — once, on a visit to George Hodel's house, Deborah was drugged and woke up in his bed. Tamar later moved to Hawaii and had three sons, Peace, Love, and Joy (Love is now a professional surfer).
In 1972, Fauna reconnected with her biological family — and eventually learned about the secrets it was harboring. As Tamar vehemently claimed during her 1949 trial, George Hodel was almost definitely responsible for the scandalous 1947 murder of actress Elizabeth Short, more commonly known as the Black Dahlia murder. The Black Dahlia murder remained unsolved for years.
After George died in 1999, Tamar clued her half-brother, Steve, into the link between George and the Black Dahlia murder. Steve, a cop for LAPD, began putting the pieces together. In 2003, his best-selling book, Black Dahlia Avenger: The True Story, compiled an overwhelming amount of evidence that condemned his own father. Steve has continued to look into the case. In 2014, he published a revised version with more evidence.
The remaining Hodel family members are very much in support of the show. Fauna's daughters, Rasha Pecoraro and Yvette Gentile, are hosting the companion podcast to I Am The Night, called The Root of All Evil. I Am the Night adds another layer to the Black Dahlia mystery, and to the human cost of George Hodel's actions.