American Horror Story: Real Life Events That Inspired the Show

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Is American Horror Story real, you may ask? You bet it is! Well, most of it. Did you know that there’s a real life haunted hotel like the Cortez? Or that there was an actual clown that slaughtered many like Twisty? Were you even aware that people did indeed disappear from Roanoke Island hundreds of years ago? What you’ve been watching for nine seasons is very much real, ladies and gents.

Sorry to make all your nightmares a reality but American Horror Story is in fact based on several real events and historical figures. Much of the show’s plot-lines are not make-believe, as you assumed. Cue the nightmares and shivers, here are 25 creepy real life events that inspired American Horror Story

1. The Nurse Murders

Murder House

nurse murders american horror story

FX

You’ll be surprised to know that season 1 of American Horror Story is based on true events. Remember the dead nurses who were stabbed and drowned by a random attacker in Murder House? Well, in 1966 a man named Richard Speck broke into a Chicago student nurse dormitory and raped, tortured and killed eight of the poor nurses. Although he escaped, he was thankfully caught, sentenced to life and later died from a heart attack in prison.

2. The Black Dahlia

Murder House

Black Dahlia real life

FX | Wikimedia Commons

Some of you may already have recognized the infamous Black Dahlia in Murder House. Elizabeth Short’s true story and death was explored on the show although some details were slightly changed. Just as we saw in Murder House, Elizabeth was an actress in the 1940’s looking for fame. She was later brutally murdered with her body being chopped in half and a permanent smile curved into her face.

3. Tate Langdon’s Mass Shooting

Murder House

tate langdon american horror story

FX

As you may recall in Murder House, Tate committed a mass shooting at his high school in 1994 against those that bullied him. Remember how he asked a student if she believes in God before killing her? Well, this mirrors a real-life high school shooting like the Columbine one where one of the shooters asked a victim if she too, believed in God before taking her life.

4. Dr Arden

Asylum

Dr Arden real life

FX | WikimediaCommons

It’s difficult to forget the horrible Dr Arden from American Horror Story. It’s hard to believe that his real-life counterpart was actually a lot more horrific! Asylum’s deranged German doctor is based on SS officer Josef Mengele who worked as a physician at Auschwitz. There he would perform horrendous, deadly experiments on his prisoners, far worse than what we saw on AHS!

5. Lana Winters

Asylum

Lana Winters real life

FX | Wikimedia Commons

Nellie Bly was a journalist who famously set up her own involuntary committal to the Women‘s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island in 1887. She later exposed the asylum for its terrible treatment of its patients. Does this ring a bell? The story sounds very similar to Sarah Paulson’s journalist character, Lana Winters in season two when she willfully committed herself into Briarcliff in an effort to shed light on the asylum’s cruelty to patients.

6. Dr. Thredson

Asylum

Dr. Thredson American horror story

FX

There were some twisted individuals back in the day! Twisted to the point where they’d make home ornaments out of body parts! This may remind you of Dr. Thredson in Asylum – the psychotic serial killer who decorated his home with skin and bones from his victims. There was once a notorious murderer who did the same. Ed Gein used to make lampshades out of human skin and bowls made of human skulls. EEK!

7. Madame LaLaurie’s Chamber of Horrors

Coven

Madame LaLaurie real life

FX | Wikimedia Commons

Does Madame LaLaurie’s Chamber bring back a nightmare of horrors? We bet it does! You’ll never guess what – Madame LaLaurie was a real person in the 1800’s! Kathy Bates’ terrifying character was based on a prominent New Orleans socialite who tortured and killed her slaves in her attic called – you guessed it – her “Chamber of Horrors”.

8. Papa Legba

Coven

Papa Legba american horror story

FX

Even Papa Legba is based on a “true” person – well, “true” if we’re talking legends. According to voodoo culture, this Coven character is apparently very real – and scary. People believe he is the intermediary between the living and the dead, just like he was in AHS!

9. The Voodoo Queen

Coven

marie laveau real life

FX | Wikimedia Commons

Apparently, Marie Laveau was a Voodoo Queen between 1820’s and 1860’s. As in the show, she was a hairdresser by day and practised black magic by night. In fact, she was so esteemed that when she died, people continued to visit her tomb in hopes of being healed from beyond the grave.

10. The Axeman

Coven

The Axeman AHS

FX

Sorry to creep you out but the Axeman from Coven was once very much a real man – and murderer. Just like his “fictional” character, the Axeman was a murderous musician in New Orleans between 1818 and 1819.  He used to break into houses with his axe and disfigure his victims. Remember how AHS’ Axeman typed up letters to the local newspapers? Well the historical figure did exactly the same, threatening to kill those not playing jazz music on a particular night.


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11. Twisty the Clown

Freak Show

twisty clown real life

FX | Wikimedia Commons

The murderer who inspired Twisty the Clown did far worse than his fictional character on Freak Show. John Wayne Gacy was known as Pogo the Clown during his killing spree in the 1970’s. He would attend children’s parties and charity events and lure teenage boys to his home to rape and murder them. The twisted clown killer was eventually caught and sentenced to the lethal injection in 1994.

12. Jimmy Darling

Freak Show

jimmy-darling-real-man

FX/Pinterest

Jimmy Darling was quite the heartthrob in Freak Show but his real-life character was quite the opposite. Grady Stiles Jr was born with a congenital disorder called ectrodactyly which gave him claw-like hands. He too, was part of the circus but unlike the beloved Jimmy, Grady was reportedly an alcoholic and a murderer! He was convicted of third degree murder for killing his eldest daughter’s fiance!

13. Pepper

Freak Show

Pepper AHS

FX

Had a soft spot for Pepper? There was someone very much like her back in the day. Schlitze Surtees, known as Schlitze the Pinhead was a sideshow performer in the early 1900’s. He too, had microcephaly, a neurodevelopmental disorder that causes an unusually small brain and skull. Like Pepper, Schlitze could only speak in single-syllable words. Bet he was just as sweet!

14. Dot and Bette

Freak Show

dot bette real life

FX | Wikimedia Commons

Conjoined twins Dot and Bette weren’t just a fictional pair that Ryan Murphy happened to think up of. They were most probably based on a real story of two sisters who became well-known in the 1920’s. Violet and Daisy Hilton were conjoined at the pelvis and performed in vaudeville shows alongside Charlie Chaplin at the time.

15. Edward Mordrake

Freak Show

Edward Mordrake AHS

FX

The guy with two faces probably scarred you for life. For you, he was only fictional but in the 1800’s, this person was real! Edward Mordrake from Freak Show was very much a real-life person who according to books, had an unusual deformity – a small face at the back of his head. Unlike the killer on Freak Show, Edward committed suicide aged 23.

16. The Morbidity Museum

Freak Show

The Morbidity Museum ahs

FX

The Morbidity Museum in Freak Show may have been too morbid to be true, but in actual fact it’s very real. Human curiosities like organs from conjoined twins, a mummified woman (“soap lady”) and pieces of Einstein’s brain are displayed in The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. Care to take a visit?

17. The Countess

Hotel

countess ahs real life

FX | Wikimedia Commons

The Countess’ character is based on a frightening legend named Elizabeth Bathory. This 16th and 17th century Hunagarian countess killed hundreds of girls and it’s even believed she bathed in their blood in an attempt to stay young. She was hardly a vampire and probably not as hot as Lady Gaga but she sounds just as ghastly!

18. James March

Hotel

james march real life

FX | Wikimedia Commons

It scares us to admit it but James March was a very accurate portrayal of his real-life counterpart. Dr. H.H. Holmes was an infamous real serial killer of the 1890’s. Just like Mr March, Holmes opened his hotel and inside it he trapped, murdered and disposed his female victims in hidden rooms and sound-proof vaults. It’s believed his kill count could be over 200!

19. The Hotel Cortez

Hotel

hotel cortez real life

FX | Wikimedia Commons

Think the Cortez is all make-believe? Think again. The hotel in American Horror Story is real, guys! Well, kinda! There is a haunted hotel in Los Angeles that once went by the name, Hotel Cecil. We doubt it’s infested with vampires or that they’re kidnapping children but rumor has it that murders have taken place at this spooky hotel, including a young girl who was found in the hotel’s water tank. Not just that, several women who checked into the hotel later jumped to their deaths.

Believe it or not, the Hotel Cecil is the last place where the Black Dahlia was seen alive. Shivers are running down your spine, we know.


What is the BEST and WORST season of AHS? Check out our ranking of every American Horror Story season and see if you agree!


20. Aileen Wuornos

Hotel

aileen wuornos real life

FX | Wikimedia Commons

Did the name Aileen Wuornos ring a bell? The creepy character in Hotel was in fact based on the infamous serial killer in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Aileen notoriously killed seven men and was later executed by lethal injection in 2002.

21. Jeffrey Dahmer

Hotel

Jeffrey Dahmer ahs

FX

Aileen wasn’t the only famous serial killer who attended Devil’s Night in Hotel. You may have recognized Jeffrey Dahmer as one of the most famous murderers in American history. He killed at least 17 boys and men and was known as the Milwaukee Cannibal for raping, dismembering, and eating his victims.

22. Roanoke Island

Roanoke

roanoke real life

FX | Wikimedia Commons

Is American Horror Story: Roanoke based on true events? Indeed! There is a place in North Caroline that has a haunted and peculiar history. In 1587, an English settlement was established on the island but after three years the colony of 117 people vanished without a trace. Their houses were gone and the settlers were assumed dead. The only thing found was the word “Croatoan” carved onto a wooden post. The historical story still haunts and baffles Americans to this very day.

23. Kai Anderson

Cult

Kai Anderson real life

FX | Wikimedia Commons

Much of American Horror Story: Cult was based on a true story. The season’s lead character, Kai Anderson is actually inspired by a variety of real life cult figures including Charles Manson, David Koresh, and Jim Jones Murphy. As mentioned by Ryan Murphy, the theme for AHS: Cult came from “mixing the idea of the Manson cult of personality” with “somebody who rises like that within a disenfranchised community.”

24. Valerie Solanas

Cult

Valerie Solanas AHS

FX

Episode 7 of Cult gave us a small insight into the real-life events of 1968 when Valerie Solanas attempted to kill Andy Warhol. Solanas, played by Lena Dunham was indeed a real person who was famously known for shooting Warhol and writing the controversial SCUM Manifesto which urged women to “eliminate the male sex”.

25. The Night Stalker

1984

We hate to creep you out but 1984’s Night Stalker is indeed based on a real person and true story, ladies and gents. Also known as Richard Ramirez, the Santanist was a real killer and rapist during 1984 and 1985. In fact, his crimes go so far as 13 murders and 30 other felonies including sexual assault and burglary. Not only was this character based on a real-life serial killer, but he regularly visited the Hotel Cecil, too. Creepy, hey?

The Night Stalker real life

FX / WikimediaCommons

These are indeed real American horror stories. We never thought such horrors existed! Can you think of other characters or plot-lines that happened in real life, too? Let us know in the comments below…

Want more from AHS? We’ve listed how each season of American Horror Story is linked

Image Sources:
City of Los Angeles Police Department [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Karl-Friedrich Höcker [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Miscellaneous Items in High Demand, PPOC, Library of Congress [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Smerdis of Tlön [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The Orchid Club [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons / Modified
See page for author [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
[1]; Copy of an old portrait [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons / Modified
Article features the image “hotel cecil” by Jim Winstead is licensed under CC BY 2.0
http://murderpedia.org/female.W/w/wuornos-aileen-photos-1.htm [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)] , via Wikimedia Commons

John White [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
State of California, San Quentin Prison [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
San Quentin State Prison, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This article was originally published in October, 2016.

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As an avid blogger and someone who eats, sleeps and breathes entertainment, I decided to take matters into my own hands and establish a showbiz-themed website. Ever since I can remember, I've been interested in the world of celebrities, have listened to the latest music, and watched the newest movies.

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