10 Real-Life Tragedies and Urban Legends American Horror Story Brought to Screen
Of all the crazy things AHS has always done perfectly, incorporating and intertwining multiple eerie real-life stories is our favorite part.
Known for its ability to terrify viewers by mixing the macabre with elements of real-life tragedy, American Horror Story has become a cultural phenomenon in television. Creating a series that blurs the lines between fact and fiction, Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk have expertly woven dozens of chilling inspirations into the spirit of the show.
Here are 10 real tragedies and legends that served as eerie muses for the creators of American Horror Story.
1. Betty and Barney Hill
In AHS' second season, we're introduced to Kit and Alma Walker, a married couple whose lives take a terrifying turn when Alma mysteriously vanishes, leading Kit to claim she was abducted by aliens. This storyline draws eerie parallels to the real-life experience of Betty and Barney Hill, who in 1961 reported encountering aliens.
After a two-hour lapse in memory, they sought hypnotic therapy, which revealed a shared version of their experience. Eventually, Betty became a prominent figure in UFO research, and Barney sadly passed away in 1969.
2. Countess Elizabeth Báthory
AHS' fifth season, Hotel, introduces us to Lady Gaga ’s Countess Elizabeth, a glamorous vampire with a penchant for murder. Her character bears striking similarities to Countess Elizabeth Báthory of Hungary, a 16th-century noblewoman who believed that bathing in virgins' blood would give her eternal youth.
She was finally found guilty in 1610 and was imprisoned in the same castle, which she used as her own laboratory, until her death in 1614. Her gruesome legacy as the female serial killer with the most kill count continues to haunt history to this day.
3. The Nurse Murders
In the first season of AHS, a disturbing scene in the Murder House mirrors the tragic fate of two nursing students in the 1960s, who are terrorized by a man posing as an injured visitor, leading to a violent and deadly encounter.
This character, R. Franklin, reflects real-life killer Richard Speck, who, in 1966 in Chicago, attacked and brutally murdered eight nursing students in their dormitory. One survivor, Corazon Amurao, played a crucial role in Speck's capture and conviction as he was sentenced to life in prison where he died in 1991.
4. Madame Delphine LaLaurie
AHS' third season brings to life a wealthy New Orleans socialite, notorious for her sadistic treatment of slaves. This chilling portrayal in the series resonates with the grim realities of LaLaurie's actions during the 19th century.
After the full extent of her crimes came to light, Delphine fled to Paris, where she eventually passed away. The show's depiction in Coven accurately mirrors the historical context, presenting her former home as a museum that remains a popular destination for those seeking ghostly adventures both on the screen and in real life.
5. The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders
In AHS: Hotel, we hear Miss Evers, the deceased maid, recount a heartbreaking story about her son's abduction during the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders. Her son, along with other boys, was tragically kidnapped on Halloween and met a gruesome fate in a chicken coop.
The Wineville Chicken Coop Murders did indeed occur in the 1920s, mirroring Miss Evers' horrific story. Authorities discovered that Gordon Stewart Northcott had kidnapped several children and dumped their dismembered remains in a mass grave. This story not only made it into AHS but served as a plot for the movie Changeling with Angelina Jolie.
AHS' sixth season takes inspiration from the enigmatic disappearance of the Roanoke colony in 1587. This unsettling storyline is rooted in the real history of Roanoke Island, where a group of English settlers set out on a journey to America. Among these settlers, John White embarked on a trip to England to secure vital supplies but upon his return, he was met with a perplexing sight — the place had been deserted, and the cryptic word "Croatoan" was carved into nearby objects.
Despite his relentless efforts, John White never succeeded in locating his family or his fellow settlers, leaving an enduring mystery that continues to confound historians to this day.
7. Killer Clowns
While the show drew inspiration from a chilling mix of infamous cult leaders, including Charles Manson for Kai Anderson's portrayal, the show also masterfully channeled the darkness of real-life clown paranoia.
AHS: Cult delves into the societal fears of the Great Clown Panic of 2016, a phenomenon where creepy clowns terrorized communities. Drawing from real-life reports of menacing clowns, the show captures the collective anxiety that gripped the nation, merging reality with terrifying fiction.
8. H.H. Holmes
In AHS' fifth season, the spooky Hotel Cortez takes its cue from the infamous Hotel Cecil in Los Angeles. Evan Peters' character, James March, channels the darkness of H.H. Holmes, America's very first serial killer and his chilling history, including his creation of the gruesome Murder Castle, where he lured and tortured people.
Eventually, Holmes confessed to a staggering count of over 130 murders and met his end at the hangman's noose.
9. Devil’s Night
One of the hotel's episodes features Devil's Night, a dark and macabre gathering hosted by serial killer James March. Looking closer, you can see that the party includes famous serial killers discussing their heinous crimes and competing for notoriety.
Notable killers present include Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, and the Zodiac Killer, among others. Some of these killers, such as Ramirez and Gacy, have appeared as characters or been referenced in other seasons of the show.
10. The Axeman
AHS: Coven introduced the audience to a terrifying character known as The Axeman, a jazz musician, who parallels real-life murders in New Orleans in 1918-1919. The show draws inspiration from a series of axe attacks, highlighted by a letter supposedly from the Axeman, published in the local newspaper, promising to spare homes with jazz music playing.
In the series, the Axeman meets his end, being lured by witches with opera music and fatally stabbed. His ghost returns in 2013 to meet a similar fate at the hands of a new generation of witches.