15 Real-Life Killers Who Inspired Horror Movies

Hollywood screenwriters are always on the look out for the next big story that will shock audiences and stay with them a long time after they leave the movie theatre. Publicising evil crimes not only gives notoriety to killers but can also allure potentially violent people into the same desire for infamy. Nowadays serial killers have become household names but many believe it is better to bring their disturbing acts to light than to bury the evidence and pretend it never happened.

Often there are too many crimes that are as disturbing as they are shocking. Those who carry out such acts or depravity should always be punished accordingly which often means a well-publicised public trial. Once the case has attracted the attention of the media it is quite difficult to shake off the spotlight. Details of murders can spread around the world and this is when Hollywood can cash in and tell their very own version of the story to fascinate audiences.

Those who seek out the latest thriller receive a twisted pleasure from this. It is hard to remember sometimes that behind the story-lines, the famous cast and the CGI that these movies are actually quite close to the cold truth. Here are fifteen real-life killers who inspired these horror movies and it might change how you view them again in the future.

WARNING: contains graphic descriptions and disturbing details 

Continue scrolling to keep reading

Click the button below to start this article in quick view

Start Now

15 Daniel Harold Rolling - Scream

via teafurnee.blogspot.com

Daniel Harold Rolling became known as the Gainesville Ripper after a murder spree which caused the death of eight people including five students. Rolling was born in Louisville, U.S and he had a difficult childhood with an abusive father who would violently attack his children and wife. Rolling found himself in trouble with the law during his teenage years after he committed several robberies and was caught spying on cheerleaders who were undressing.

In May 1990, he attempted to kill his father and during the argument his father lost an eye and an ear. Three months later he began his murder spree killing students during burglaries. He raped his victims, mutilated the bodies and often 'posed' them in sexually seductive positions in front of mirrors. One student was from Santa Fe College and four others were from the University of Florida.

Media attention surrounding the murders began to spread fear nationwide. Rollings was caught when arrested on a burglary charge and the police found tools in his car which were linked to the murders. In 2006, he was executed by lethal injection at Florida State Prison. Screenwriter Kevin Williamson wrote the script for the slasher film Scream shortly after reading about the Gainesville murders and his since claimed it was his biggest inspiration for the movie.

14 Bradley John Murdoch - Wolf Creek

via horrorfilmcentral.com

In 2001, British tourist Peter Falconio was abducted in the Northern Territory of Australia and his girlfriend was assaulted by Bradley John Murdoch. Murdoch grew up in Broome, Western Australia and worked as a mechanic and a truck driver. He had two previous convictions on his record which were for dangerous driving and shooting at people during a celebration over a football match.

Despite the evidence that Murdoch had murdered Falconio and assaulted Lees included DNA traces which were "150 quadrillion times more likely (to) belong to Murdoch", he continued to deny all charges. Wolf Creek was based loosely on this true story. Although it was due for a 2001 release this was postponed until 2005 under a Northern Territory court injunction. It was believed by the court that the movie would influence the outcome of the trial.

In 2005, Murdoch was charged as guilty and sentenced to a life sentence with no parole for 28 years. The body of Falconio was never recovered even after exhausting attempts to find where the remains had been buried.

13 Getrude Baniszewski - Girl Next Door

via horrorfilmcentral.com

In 1966, Getrude Baniszewski committed a crime so terrible it was called the "single worst crime perpetrated against an individual in Indiana's history". A teenage girl called Sylvia Likens had been taken into her home and over time was tortured and mutilated to death. Sylvia was 16-years-old and her sister, Jenny, was 15-years-old when their traveller parents put them in the care of Baniszewski in return for $20 a week. When a payment was late from their parents they were both beaten and this was the start of the child abuse they were forced to endure.

Baniszewski would encourage her own children and others who lived in the neighbourhood to regularly beat Sylvia and push her down the stairs. Baniszewski also locked the young girl in the basement of the house, poured scalding hot water over her body then rubbed salt into the wounds of the burning, sexually assaulted her with glass bottles, forced her to eat her own faeces and carved "prostitute" into her skin with a hot knitting needle.

The young girl was eventually murdered when Baniszewski bludgeoned her to death with a wooden paddle after Sylvia attempted to escape from the house. Panicked by her death, the family forged a note and called the police trying to cover up the murder as a suicide. When the police arrived to the scene of the crime, her sister Jenny whispered to them, "Get me out of here and I'll tell you everything". Baniszewski was charged with first-degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. The 2007 movie The Girl Next Door was based on the murder.

12 Phantom Killer - The Town That Dreaded Sundown

via Orion Pictures

The Town That Dreaded Sundown was released in 1976 and was based on the violent crimes committed in Texarkana in 1946. Still to date the crimes remain unsolved and the serial killer known as "Phantom Killer" or "Phantom Slayer" was never identified. The Phantom Killer attacked eight people in and around the area always when the sun went down.

The attacks spread fear across the town. In a panic locals boarded up their homes and bought all the guns, ammunition and locks in stores. Heavily armed police would patrol the street at night but gangs of youths started taking matters into their own hands and began setting out at night as bait for the killer.

Since the release of the movie the rumours and old folklore began stirring up again in the town especially as the tagline on the posters was: "In 1946 this man killed five people...today he still lurks the streets of Texarkana, Ark." Nowadays, the movie is played in an outdoor cinema for the locals at Spring Lake Park every Halloween.

11 Charles Manson - The Strangers 

via biography.com

The Strangers was written and directed by Bryan Bertino. The movie, which was released in 2008, starred Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman as a couple who are attacked in their summer home by three intruders. The opening of the movie announces that it is "inspired by true events". Bertino said his inspiration for the script was a series of break-ins in his own childhood neighbourhood when he was growing up and also the Manson killings.

In 1968, the wife of movie director Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate, was 26-years-old and eight months pregnant when she was murdered at home. Members of the Charles Manson 'family' broke into Tate's house then tied together her and four friends. They were then stabbed multiple times and the word "pig" had been painted in their blood across the walls of the house. Like The Strangers they were unable to get help because the main electricity and phone lines had been cut.

In November 1969, the murder was finally solved after Manson family member Susan Atkins was overheard boasting to an inmate that she was the one who had killed Sharon Tate. Atkins was then offered immunity from death row if she gave up the names of the others who assisted in the murders. She accepted the offer and named her accomplices as Charles Manson, Charles Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel and Los Feliz.

10 Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo - Borderland

via biography.com

Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo was born in Miami, Florida. He was known as a drug dealer, cult leader and serial killer. When his demand to become a full-time member of the powerful crime family, the Calzadas, was rejected there were seven members of the family found dead with their fingers, ears, brains and spines missing. He then joined a new cartel, the Hernandez brothers and carried out many sadistic and ritualistic murders.

Constanzo was a firm believer in black magic and often practiced human sacrifice. When the police finally caught up with his cult and raided his hidden ranch they discovered human brains in a cauldron. At the ranch there were fifteen mutilated corpses buried there and with the evidence mounting Constanzo and his cult followers fled to Mexico City. When the officers found their hideaway, Constanzo demanded that he was shot dead by his cult to avoid arrest and imprisonment

The 2007 movie Borderland bases it's plot loosely around Constanzo's cult and the human sacrifices they carried out. It currently holds a perfect 100% score on movie critic website Rotten Tomatoes.

9 Joe Ball - Eaten Alive

via youtube.com

Joel Ball was born late 1890 and he was known by several names including "The Alligator Man", "Butcher of Elmendorf" and the "Bluebeard of South Texas". Although it is unknown how many women he killed that figure could be as high as twenty. After World War I ended, Bell opened a bar called Sociable Inn in Elmendorf, Texas. Here he had built a pond which contained live alligators and he would often charge people to watch them feed on dogs and cats.

Soon after the opening of the bar many women went missing from the town including barmaids he had hired. In 1938, a sheriff went into the bar to question him about the missing persons but Ball pulled out a hidden handgun and shot himself through the heart. A local man, Clifford Wheeler, was questioned after Ball's suicide and he admitted to helping with the disposal of two bodies which were fed to the alligators. Wheeler estimated that Ball could have killed as many as twenty women.

Eaten Alive was a 1977 movie was loosely based on the crimes of Ball. Many objected to it's release labelling it "too gruesome" for release.

8 The Zodiac Killer - Zodiac 

via io9.com

David Fincher directed Zodiac in 2007 about the "Zodiac" who killed in San Francisco Bay Area during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The movie stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, and Robert Downey, Jr. Zodiac would attack couples or individuals who were walking together through secluded parts. After the first death, a college student named Cheri Jo Bates, he sent a letter reading, "Bates had to die. There will be more".

Zodiac send letters to the press taunting local detectives as well as several codes which he demanded to be printed or he would kill again. When one of his encrypted messages was unscrambled it read: "I like killing people because it it so much fun it is more fun than killing wild game in the forest". An eyewitness at the murder scene helped the police create the above image of the the killer. Even with the help of this identification the Zodiac was never found.

7 Gustave - Primeval

via youtube.com

Primeval is a 2007 movie about a man-eating crocodile. In real-life the killer croc is Gustave from Burundi and he is gravely feared by many in the region after being responsible for potentially three hundred human deaths. Witnesses have said that his body is covered in bullet scars and one of his shoulder blades is deeply wounded.

It is hard to determine just how large Gustave is as he has never been captured but in 2002 a report was released that he was "easily more than 20 feet (6.1 meters) long". He is said to weigh around 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms) according to the National Geographic. To achieve such a monstrous size he will be around 100 years in age. Gustave has to keep up with his weighty appetite so he can no longer hunt prey such as fish or antelope which is common for his species, instead he has to hunt wildebeest, hippos and humans.

6 Chante Jawan Mallard - Stuck

via youtube.com

Chante Jawan Mallard, from Fort Worth, Texas, hit a homeless man named Gregory Glen Biggs with her car in 2001. Mallard was intoxicated on a mixture of marijuana, alcohol and ectasy at the time of the impact and she drove home with body lodged in the windshield. Biggs died in her garage but instead of calling the police she reached out for a friend for help. Her friend, Clete Jackson, and his cousin, Tyrone Cleveland, helped to hide the body in a local park and they set fire to the front of the car to help hide any evidence.

Months later at a party, Mallard began laughing at a party claiming, "I hit this white man". She was arrested on suspicion of murder and during her trial the court heard that if she had chosen to drive to a hospital then Biggs would have survived the crash. She was given a 50-year sentence for murder and a 10-year sentence for tampering with evidence with no eligible parole until 2027.

In 2007, Mena Suvari starred as Brandi Boski in Stuck, a movie based on Mallard's case. The critics gave it mixed reviews, Stephen Holden of The New York Times called the film a "grim, expert little thriller". Robert Wilonsky had a different opinion as wrote in The Village Voice, "Stuck is both darkly comic and disgusting; the name alone reduces the crime to a sick joke".

5 Alfred Packer - Ravenous

via climaxyourmind.wordpress.com

In 1873, Alfred Packer attempted to climb the high mountains of Colorado during the peak of a harsh winter with five other men. When the snow became too deep for them to travel further they were stuck and slowly began to run out of food. Upon his safe return he claimed that the others had died from the severe weather conditions.

Nine years later, Packer confessed to close friends that he was forced to resort to murder and cannibalism in order to survive his expedition. He was put on trial and sentenced to death but after a retrial the sentence was changed to manslaughter and he was jailed for forty years.

In 2005, Devoured was released as a budget movie. The IMDB tagline reads: "Years after Packer terrorised a Colorado mining camp, similar murders have begun to occur. As the body-count rises, it soon becomes clear that the flesh-hungry madman may have survived for more than a hundred years". Obviously the discrepancies in accuracy angered film critics and the movie gained shockingly low reviews.

4 Robert Hanson - Frozen Ground

via youtube.com

Robert "Butcher Baker" Hansen was an American serial killer who abducted, raped and murdered as many as thirty women between 1971 and 1983. He died last year aged 75-years-old serving a life sentence of 461 years with no chance of ever getting parole. Hansen grew up in Esterville, Iowa and suffered from severe acne scars which left him permanently scarred. He was constantly rejected and picked on by girls which lead him to fantasise of hurting women.

In 1983, his hideous crimes were finally exposed when 17-year-old Cindy Paulson managed to escape from him. She had been offered $200 to perform oral sex on him but when she got inside the car, he pulled out a gun and then drove her to his home. He chained her neck to a post then tortured and raped her. She managed to finally escape and flagged down a truck driver who took her safely to a motel. When the police arrived later they managed to link her description to Hansen who had previously been charged for theft of a chainsaw.

In The Frozen Ground Vanessa Hudgens plays the role of 17-year-old stripper, Cindy. The movie is based on the real-life story of Hansen with Nicholas Cage and John Cusack also starring.

3 Henry Lee Lucas - Confessions Of A Serial Killer

via biography.com

Henry Lee Lucas was born in Blacksburg, Virginia, 1936. At just ten-years-old his brother attacked him with a knife which resulted in him losing an eye and his mother forced him into being a cross-dresser. His mother, a prostitute, would also force him to watch her have sex with clients. His father died of hypothermia after drinking to much and collapsing in a blizzard whilst trying to get home.

Lucas dropped out of school during sixth-grade and began drifting. He said the first person he murdered was 17-year-old Laura Burnsley when she refused to have sex with him. In 1960, his mother found where he was living and went to convince him to return home. This caused a violent argument which resulted in him killing her. He recalls, "All I remember was slapping her alongside the neck, but after I did that I saw her fall and decided to grab her. But she fell to the floor and when I went back to pick her up, I realized she was dead. Then I noticed that I had my knife in my hand".

Lucas was then arrested and charged with second-degree murder with a sentence of 20 to 40-years but he was released shortly after due to prison overcrowding. The following years saw him attempt to kill or successfully kill several others. He was captured and charged on eleven counts of murder although the police believed there were many more unrecovered bodies. He died behind bars in 2001 of heart failure. There have been three narrative movies made about his life including 1985's Confessions of a Serial Killer, 1986's Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and 2009's Drifter: Henry Lee Lucas.

2 Ed Gein - Psycho & Texas Chainsaw Massacre

via ownzee.com

Psycho and Texas Chainsaw Massacre are two horror films which petrify people to the core but what is even more disturbing is that one person had inspired both of them. Edward "Ed" Gein grew up on a remote farm in La Crosse County, Wisconsin with his mother and brother. He was only allowed to leave the farm to attend school, his home life was mostly spent doing chores or listening to his mother, a Lutheran, preach that all women were prostitutes and instruments of the devil.

In 1957, hardware store worker Bernice Worden disappeared and Gein was one of the few customers who had visited the store on the day she was last seen. When they searched his property they found Worden hanging upside down, decapitated and "dressed out like a deer". They also found on the property a basket made of human skin, skulls on his bedposts, bowls made from skulls, Worden's head in a sack, female genitalia in a shoe box, a belt made from female human nipples, four noses and a lampshade made from a human face.

Gein told detectives that between the years of 1947 and 1952 he had robbed more than 40 graves of middle-aged women who he thought resembled his own mother. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and found not-guilty by reason of insanity. He was sent to the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane which is a maximum-security facility in Waupun, Wisconsin. He died aged 77-years-old of heart failure.

1 Ted Bundy - Silence of the Lambs

via sliptalk.com

Ted Bundy kidnapped, raped and murdered many female victims during the 1970s. He would use his handsome looks and natural charisma to win their trust before overpowering them and assaulting them in secluded locations. He would return to scenes of his crimes later and perform sexual acts on the corpses or would take back the heads of his victims home to his apartment as a memento.

He was arrested and charged with kidnapping and criminal assault in 1975 but the list of his suspected crimes were growing larger under investigation. After years of denial he finally confessed to thirty murders and was sentenced to execution by electric chair. A member of his own defence team even called him, "the very definition of heartless evil".

Author Thomas Harris based the personality of Hannibal Lecter, played by Anthony Hopkins, on Bundy. In the movie Silence of the Lambs he can be seen using his charm to lure innocent women into his grasp. The now famous relationship between Starling, played by Jodie Foster, and Lecter on that between Bundy and Robert Keppel who was a criminal profiler that worked closely on the case.


Sources: biography.comhorrorfilmcentral.commurderpedia.org, rottentomatoes.comnationalgeographic.com, villagevoice.com, nytimes.comimdb.com

More in Extreme