American Horror Story inspired by real life events


Photo By ZhengZho via Wikimedia Commons

A photo of the Cecil Hotel that American Horror Story filmed in for their fifth season.

Naileah Meza , Staff Writer

The American Horror Story TV series is filled with darkly thrilling characters and plots which, in some cases, are surprisingly based on real people, places and events.  In fact, some of the most bizarre aspects of show actually have a historical foundation. As they say, truth is stranger than fiction, but thanks to a particularly twisted writing staff, AHS fact and fiction is equally weird. So let’s get into some of the most unbelievably real scenarios that have been referenced by AHS so far. 

Black Dahlia: Murder House – Season 1

In the beginning of the episode “Spooky Little Girl,” Dr. David Curan is shown committing a murder that is based on the famous, true-crime case that became known as The Black Dahlia murder. With the help of another character, Doctor Montgomery, Curan disposes of a young woman’s mutilated body. A flash-back scene depicts a 22 year old victim by the name of Elizabeth Short coming to the residence dubbed The Murder House by series creators, only to be savagely butchered by the time the episode is over.

Elizabeth Short or the Black Dahlia, is a real person whose murder remains remains unsolved. Countless books have been written speculating as to the motives and identity of her killer. Short was an aspiring actress who was born in Boston on July 29,1924 and died on January 14 or 15 of 1947 after traveling to Hollywood with hopes of movie stardom, which prompted nightmares for countless women who had the same dream.

After  a passerby found her dismembered body in Leimert Park, the Los Angeles police department began an intense investigation that involved over 150 suspects but led to no arrests.  During the investigation, envelopes were mailed to local newspapers containing some of Short’s personal effects and various messages which demanded the police show up to certain locations. Police to suspected that the envelopes were sent by her murderer to brazenly humiliate and frustrate them in the most public way possible.

Over the years, over 500 people have confessed to the crime, some of whom weren’t even born at the time of Elizabeth’s murder, yet the case remains as one of the oldest and most famous unsolved murder cases in Los Angeles County.

Ed Gein: Dr. Oliver Thredson: Asylum – Season 2

The character of Dr. Oliver Thredson kidnaps women who he believes has skin which will empower him. Any woman who he considers a challenge to what he ultimately desires is killed, skinned and beheaded. He’d then uses the skin to create furniture or add it to his “Bloody Face” mask. It may startle some fans to find that even this character’s vile predilections were based on an actual person known as Edward Gein.

The most gruesome aspects of this story line intersects with a documented crime. In November 16,1957 Bernice Worden was reported as missing from her hardware store. The cash register was missing and there was a trail of blood leading out the back of the local business. At first, investigators feared she had been murdered as a result of a robbery gone wrong. Her son Frank, the deputy sheriff sent authorities to local resident and handy-man Ed Gein’s house, for no other other reason than the fact that he was the last recorded customer at the store. While conducting what they thought was routine questioning, investigators found the corpses of Bernice Worden and local tavern owner Mary Hogan, as well as other human remains, including some which had been preserved and made into common household decor, such as lampshades.

Edward Gein confessed to the murder of Worden and Hogan, as well as robbing the graves of women recently buried who resembled his mother. He died on July 26, 1984 in Mendota Mental Health Institute where he spent the rest of his life institutionalized.

Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie  : Coven – Season 3

In season 3, we see Madame Marie LaLaurie’s Chamber of Horrors, where she keeps her slaves strung up, boxed in and tortured. At one point we learn that she locked up her own daughters in cages because she overheard them criticizing her. Due to her devious nature and inhuman cruelty, Madame LaLaurie, the “voodoo queen” of New Orleans, Marie Laveau, casts a spell on LaLaurie which causes her to endure a waking-sleep through decades. She is woken up and dug out in present time by Fiona Goode, the “witch supreme” of a coven, which serves as the season’s focal point.

As unbelievably gruesome as character is, Madame Marie Delphine LaLaurie was a real person who was as sadistic as her fictional portrayl. Madame LaLaurie was married three times, and her first two husbands died “mysteriously”. She was rich, well-known socialite in New Orleans who hosted many parties and held a strong influence over even the most powerful members of her community. This allowed her to literally get away with murder. Ghastly rumors began to circulate around the city after Madame LaLaurie was seen chasing a young servant onto the roof of her mansion with a whip until the 12 year old servant fell over the edge and died. As for the Chamber of Horrors it was real as well and was only exposed after her attic caught on fire. At that time, slaves were discovered in her home who had been brutally tortured. Eventually, multiple bodies were found buried in her yard.

Mobs descended on the mansion and destroyed it after news of LaLaurie’s crimes were confirmed, but tragically, although AHS writers punish the character, the real LaLaurie reportedly escaped to lavishly live out the remainder of her life in Paris.

John Wayne Gacy: Freak Show – Season 4

The Twisty The Clown character from this season was inspired by several different killer clowns, but one of them was the infamous serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Twisty was dropped on his head as a child which caused a minor mental disability. Twisty is depicted as pursuing work as a clown for Rusty Westchester’s Traveling Carnival during the 40’s where he begins to finally experience a sense of belonging. Two dwarfs who are were a part of the carnival’s human menagerie become jealous of Twisty’s popularity and spread rumors that Twisty molested children. Because of those rumors Twisty was no longer able to find work as a clown and becomes a haunting, heartless killer.

John Wayne Gacy was born on March 17,1942 and was executed on May 10,1994. Gacy assaulted, tortured and murdered 33 teenage boys and young men in Cook County, Illinois. All of his known murders took place at his ranch house in Norwood Park and were buried in the crawl space under his house. John Wayne Gacy had a death sentence and was on death row for 14 years before he was executed on May 10,1994 with a lethal injection.

His story parallels Twisty’s due to the fact that Gacy worked as a clown for childrens’ birthdays and was known for his charity work prior to becoming one of the most well-known killers in American history. He was also physically abused and rejected by his alcoholic father due to his inability to be more athletic and accusations of being “stupid” despite any efforts he made to gain his father’s approval.

The Cecil Hotel: Hotel – Season 5

The inspiration for season five’s Hotel came from “a surveillance video that went around two years ago that showed a girl getting into an elevator in a downtown hotel that was rumored to be haunted, and she was never seen again,” explains AHS co-creator and producer Ryan Murphy.

The video that Murphy is referring to went viral after the LAPD released it in hopes of locating Canadian college student Elisa Lam, and was the last evidence of Lam’s existence before her body was found.  Lam was eventually found in a water tank at the Cecil Hotel in Los Angeles on February 19th. A hotel maintenance worker went to check on one of the water tanks since guests of the hotel had been complaining about the water “tasting funny” and complaining about low water pressure apparently caused by Elisa Lam’s body decaying in the tank. An autopsy report found no trauma to Lam’s body and deemed her death “accidental” for lack of any other explanation.

The Cecil Hotel was a large, luxurious hotel built in 1924, but became increasingly run-down over the year. It has hosted an oddly disproportionate number of homicidal and suicidal guests starting in 1931. It had reportedly attracted serial-killer Richard Ramirez, The Night Stalker, as a long-term resident during his killing spree. The hotel was also rumored to be one of the last places that Elizabeth Short, better known as the Black Dahlia, was seen alive. The hotel was renamed Stay on Main in 2011 due to it’s infamous reputation and has been declared a historical monument due to it’s architectural significance.

Although we watch American Horror Story for our entertainment, it’s significant to remember that many of these episodes contain details from actual cases now famous due to their cruel and disturbing nature. AHS has received criticism for depicting deviant behavior, but in it’s defense, the most controversial aspects the series originated from actual human behavior as opposed to a writer’s pen. Whether or not the darkest expressions of human nature should be remembered, represented or forgotten altogether will continue to prompt ongoing debate.