Some true crime stories need no fictionalization to be turned into addictive dramas — that's why they're so popular (and problematic). Others need embellishment before they hit the screen. I Am the Night is somewhere in the middle, not because the true story parts of I Am The Night (Fauna Hodel, her grandfather, and his possible involvement in the Black Dahlia murder) are in any way dull. Rather, there is still so much we still don't know about what happened 71 years ago that someone had to invent a few details to fill in the cracks.
So what's real and what's made up in this TNT limited series? Here's what we can tell so far.
True: Fauna Hodel's Unusual Upbringing
After an odd conversation with a white woman in the Reno casino where she worked, bathroom attendant Jimmy Lee Greenwade reluctantly agreed to adopt a baby about to be born to a teenage girl, Tamar Hodel, in San Francisco. The woman, a friend of Tamar's mother, said the baby's father was Black, and she thought Greenwade and her common-law husband, a minister and shoe shiner, who had no children, would be good parents to the mixed baby. In Hodel's autobiography, One Day She'll Darken, she says her mother only agreed to the adoption to get a good tip, but when the baby was born, her husband talked her into following through. They decided to call the baby Patricia, though they never legally changed her name.
With her light skin and blue eyes, Patricia/Fauna says she had a tough time growing up in the Black neighborhoods of Sparks, Nevada — something we see glimpses of in I Am the Night. Greenwade’s drinking problem was also hard on her daughter, though she said she later became close to her again.
False: Fauna's Birthdate and Discovery of Her Adoption
In the TV series, Fauna only discovers she's adopted by sneaking into her mother's things and finding her birth certificate, which we see on-screen and shows her birthdate as being 1949. In reality, Fauna was born in 1949 and knew from an early age that she was adopted. She also didn't try to meet her birth family until later.
True: George Hodel Was A Black Dahlia Murder Suspect
The murder of Elizabeth Short was a major sensation in 1947, in part because of the gruesome state of her corpse: sliced in half at the waist, drained of blood, with surgical incisions throughout her body (including her mouth, her thigh, and her pelvis). Detectives suspected a doctor or medical student could have done this work.
George Hodel was a doctor in Hollywood who specialized in venereal disease. Surreal photographer Man Ray and director John Huston were known to attend the parties Hodel held in his home on Franklin St., which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. But Hodel truly gained notoriety in 1949, when his daughter Tamar accused him of incest. She claimed he had been raping her since she was 11, and she had aborted his baby when she was 12. The trial was another media sensation, which newspapers liked to call the "Doctor's Morals Case."
Hodel eventually managed to discredit his daughter as a mentally unstable liar. The accusation did make him a suspect in the Black Dahlia case, however, and police tapped his phone. In one transcript of the phone tap from 1950, which the Los Angeles Times found in 2003, Hodel appears to confess to killing his secretary. He also tells someone, "Supposin’ I did kill the Black Dahlia. They couldn’t prove it now. They can’t talk to my secretary any more because she’s dead."
False: Jay Singletary Was A Black Dahlia-Obsessed Reporter
Chris Pine's character in I Am the Night is completely made up. At the same time, it's entirely possible that Los Angeles reporters who covered this and other murders at the time got seriously messed up by their work. The police were notoriously corrupt, and readers' appetites for bloody, moralistic crime stories were insatiable.
In I Am the Night, Jimmy Lee somehow has Singletary's number and calls after Fauna leaves home to find her grandfather, saying he should look into Hodel again. By episode 2, he's anxious to do so. We don't know where this story is going, but we do know no one ever pinned anything on the doctor in his lifetime.
False: Fauna Got Wrapped Up in George's World As a Teen
Fauna actually got married and had a daughter at age 16. She did find her grandfather's contact info at the hospital of her birth, but he was actually living in Asia at the time. He reluctantly put her in touch with Tamar, who was living in Hawaii. Fauna visited her birth mother in 1974.
True: George Had Fauna Followed
In interviews promoting her book, Fauna says that her grandfather had her followed as a young woman. He also was behind the lawsuits that prevented her from completing the movie about her life, starring Alfre Woodard as Jimmy Lee.
Maybe True: Fauna Was George's Daughter, Too
Fauna never found out whether she, too, was the product of her grandfather's incest. Tamar told her that she wasn't, but did say that Fauna was white, not mixed race, and that she'd lied about her father being Black in order to make sure Fauna would be taken away.
Maybe True: George Was A Deranged Man Who Murdered For Art
Fauna's uncle, Steve Hodel, is the one who has promoted this theory as his father's motive for the Black Dahlia and other murders. The retired detective has published books about his decades of research and has said George Hodel carved up Short's body to create something akin to Man Ray's art, "a masterpiece, a crime so shocking and horrible it would endure, be immortalized through the annals of crime lore."
That chilling idea is the mood that dominates I Am the Night, so even if it's not true, it is part of why people will be tuning in for more of the show.