15 Horrifying Real-Life Stories Behind American Horror Story

We’ve been loving every single season of American Horror Story ever since it made its debut. It’s just such an original and downright creepy series that we just can’t seem to get enough of it. But how original is the series? If you’re anything like us, you must have wondered throughout these bizarre seasons how the writers come up with these crazy characters and deep stories. The storylines are badass, and not only that; the characters at times make you want to crawl under the blanket at night and never come out. The series is going into its seventh season, and it just seems to be getting scarier. We're now anticipating the seventh season, which seems to revolve around cults. You might not be aware of this, but the producers of American Horror Story got their storylines from real-life horrors. Find that hard to believe? Well, it’s true! There are actually horrors out there that are so deep and disturbing that they were the inspiration for this maddeningly horrific show. In anticipation of that season, we decided to take a look at the previous seasons and dig deep to find out where these ideas came from.

Although we, too, found it hard to believe that these bloody stories were based on real-life events, we couldn’t deny the evidence. These stories are based on cruel people, abductions, murders, and weird occurrences that come from our own history. If you're a fan of horror history, then stay tuned to see the stories that inspired the horrific tales that made American Horror Story so popular.


15 Serial Killer Richard Speck

The second episode of the very first season deals with a home invasion where the killer wants to reenact a murder from the sixties involving sorority girls being murdered because they were nurses. The killer asks a mother and a daughter to dress up like nurses before he stabs them to death. The storyline came from the real-life killing spree of Richard Speck. In 1966, Speck went to a townhouse where nine nursing students lived. He broke into the home and tied the girls up with bed sheets. He planned a night of bloody murders where he put each girl in separate rooms and then one by one went in and strangled or stabbed each of them. There was only one survivor of the attack, a nurse who hid under her bed making Speck unable to discover her. She testified against Speck, and she was the reason he was eventually brought down and sent to prison.

14 Dr. Henry Howard Holmes


In season five of American Horror Story, Evan Peters plays the role of James Patrick March, who builds a hotel where horrors of his own making happen. A crazy man who lures peoples into the hotel’s torture chambers and then seals them inside? Horrifying? Yes. But these creepy stories always originate from somewhere, and in this case, the story is based on Dr. Henry Howard Holmes. He was a Chicago man who, in 1893, built a hotel that was eventually called Murder Castle. There’s a reason that the hotel got such a scary title, and that’s because Holmes built the hotel with the plan to murder people. With the plan of capturing people, he set up booby traps and torture rooms throughout. Holmes was eventually arrested in 1895, two years after the hotel opened. After his capture, he confessed to killing 30 people, though many people believe his death count is a little closer to 200.

13 Edward Mordrake

Wes Bentley took on the character of Edward Mordrake in a two-part Halloween episode during the Freak Show season. Mordrake is a man who has an evil face on the back of his head, almost as if he has multiple personalities. The character was inspired by a real person that lived in the 1800s. There have been books written about him because of an unusual deformity. That deformity was another real face on the back of his head; the face was much smaller than his actual face, bringing creepiness to a whole new level. In the show, Mordrake has a hatred for freak-show performers and goes around killing them on Halloween. In real life, though, the only person that he killed was himself when he committed suicide at 23. Back then, it would've been rather difficult to live with a deformity like that without fear of persecution.

12 Grady Franklin Stiles, Jr.


The character of Jimmy Darling in the Freak Show season of American Horror Story is based on a real-life person by the name of Grady Franklin Stiles, Jr. Grady had something called "Lobster Claw Syndrome" where his hands were permanently disfigured, making them look like actual lobster claws. Grady was born in 1937, but shockingly enough, his entire family had the same condition. He didn’t have many prospects for the future, so he ended up a sideshow act at a young age. He had a lot of demons because of his condition, and he became an alcoholic and was physically abusive. The character of Jimmy in the show is the exact same way. Grady ended up murdering his daughter’s fiancé in 1978 and died after a neighbor gunned him down. Quite the creepy little story and one that we had no idea even existed.

11 Aileen Wuornos

We're more familiar with serial killer Aileen Wuornos because of Charlize Theron’s depiction of the character in the movie Monster. We saw a darkness in the woman, but not only that; it shocked the world that there could actually be a female serial killer. There aren’t exactly a lot of them. American Horror Story brought the serial killer played by Lily Rabe back in the Hotel series. The story of Wuornos involves a woman who was psychologically damaged due to her life as a prostitute. She went about killing seven men that she was servicing between 1989-1990. She was convicted of her crimes and then was eventually executed by lethal injection in 2002. Lily Rabe portrayed the character in an old-school way, but we still saw that shade of insanity that made Wuornos so scary as a serial killer.

10 Jeffrey Dahmer


Jeffrey Dahmer was one of the most horrific serial killers in all of history. During his reign of terror, he murdered at least 17 men and boys. He didn’t just murder them, however; he often raped them, dismembered them, and shockingly enough, even ate them. He was a seriously sick individual who ended up with the name "Milwaukee Cannibal." American Horror Story brought Dahmer back to life during the Hotel season. Seth Gabel played the notorious character during an episode called “Devil’s Night.” We loved seeing Dahmer brought to life in the character on the show, and he creeped us out all over again. That the character was based on a real person who raped and then ate his victims is a sad part of our history. We're so glad that he's locked up in prison and not out loose doing terrible things.

9 The Black Dahlia

During the first season, American Horror Story had an episode in which the story of The Black Dahlia was recreated. It’s the tragic story of Elizabeth Short, who ended up becoming The Black Dahlia. Mena Suvari played the role of Elizabeth Short, but the episode wasn’t entirely about the real story, as many of the events in the show were fabricated. However, the parts that weren’t fabricated were more real than we might like to admit. Short was an innocent woman who was brutally murdered in 1947. She was an aspiring actress who fell into the hands of a sick man who chopped her body in half and carved a “Glasgow smile” into her face. It was a story that made headlines because of how the body was disfigured, but the killer was never captured. Why the killer chose to carve a smile on his victims' faces is something that we can only guess, but that doesn't make the images of the murders any less horrifying.


8 The Abduction of the Hills


In season two, American Horror Story dealt with an episode that was based on the abductions of Barney and Betty Hill. The writers used a true story to work into the Asylum history, and it was a pretty awesome episode. The real story dated back to 1961, when an interracial couple claimed that they were abducted by aliens. The abduction reportedly happened in Portsmouth, New Hampshire when the couple was returning from a vacation in Montreal. They saw what appeared to be lights in the sky followed by a spaceship landing in a nearby field. The couple even claimed to have seen aliens through the window of the craft, and all of a sudden, everything went black. The couple woke up two hours later without any memory of what had happened to them, but their clothing was torn and their shoes were scraped. The couple went to a hypnotist, and that’s where their memories resurfaced. The story became a book called The Interrupted Journey, which was also made into a movie, The UFO Incident.

7 The Attic of Horrors

Just that title alone can give you the creeps. We loved when Kathy Bates joined the cast in season three of American Horror Story. She played a socialite who had a murderous streak in old 19th century New Orleans. She was a horrific character who seemed to be cold right down to her core. She was no made-up character, however; the socialite was based on Delphine LaLaurie, and she's part of New Orleans folklore. Back in the day, she was quite the party host, and people loved her, but behind the scenes, she was a cruel and often vicious person when it came to her slaves. There were a lot of rumors of her starving her slaves, but it turned out to be much worse than that. She chased one 12-year old slave off of the roof of her house because she planned on whipping the girl for brushing her hair wrong. The child, of course, died, and LaLaurie dumped the body down a well. Later, LaLaurie burned her own residence, and when neighbors went in and tried to save them, they found dead slaves chained in the basement with buckets of their organs scattered about. LaLaurie escaped persecution by leaving town in her carriage. Talk about a house of horrors!

6 Twisty the Clown


Adding a killer clown to the Freakshow season wasn’t a real big surprise. Everyone is terrified of clowns, and Twisty the Clown had a face that would give anyone nightmares. It’s almost as if his face had been torn off and then put back together. The real-life inspiration for his character was serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Gacy was the original clown killer who painted his face and worked at local children’s parties and fundraisers. From 1972 to 1978, Gacy terrorized children, killing 33 boys and some men in Illinois. He was considered one of the most notorious serial killers at the time and often painted himself as Pogo the Clown while he was in prison. Having a serial killer as part of a traveling carnival is an interesting idea for sure, and American Horror Story did a great job of creeping everyone out.

5 Anne Frank

During the Asylum season of American Horror Story, we met a mental patient played by Franka Potente. She starred in a few episodes as the character, and she was quite fascinating because she claimed she was Anne Frank, the 15-year-old girl who rather eloquently documented her terrifying experience during the Holocaust before she died. No one believed the mental patient, of course, partly because of her state of mind but mostly because Frank was known to be dead. American Horror Story never confirmed for sure that the character really was Frank, but if you watch the episode, she makes a pretty convincing case that she is, in fact, the real Anne Frank. It’s one of the many unsolved mysteries of the show, and if she was, in fact, Frank, then her story was even more tragic than we had previously thought.

4 Leader of the Undead


In the Roanoke episodes of American Horror Story, a lot of it is made up, especially with regard to the mysterious disappearance of the lost Roanoke colony. There's a scary and often ruthless leader who's in charge of the undead colony, and she's played by Kathy Bates. She's quite the creepy character. In the American Horror Story, she's depicted as a killing machine. The story behind it all starts with John White, a North Carolina settler who left town to get some provisions for his colony. When he returned, everyone had mysteriously disappeared, including his wife, Thomasin. No one ever found out what had happened to that colony. In American Horror Story Thomasin was portrayed as a ghost who likes human sacrifices to get power. They call her "the Butcher" because she’s pure evil.

3 Axeman of New Orleans

During the third season of American Horror Story, we saw another New Orleans murderer. He was called "Axeman" because he liked to break into houses and kill people with an axe. The killer spent between 1918-1919 terrorizing the entire city. He liked the attention most of all, and he used to send letters to the editor of Times-Picayune. In the communications, he would threaten to attack further residents and add that anyone who played jazz would be spared as it was his favorite music. That very night, there was so much jazz music heard all over the city, and no one was killed. No one ever figured out who the Axeman was, and American Horror Story recreated the letters to the editor. Many people wondered why the killings stopped after the year and guessed that, maybe, the killer had died. It’s something that we'll never know.

2 Papa Legba


We’re not really sure if Papa Legba is real or not, but he’s certainly a fierce legend. In the Coven Season, American Horror Story used the legend of Papa Legba and made it real with guest star Lance Reddick. The voodoo culture depicts Papa Legba as the intermediary between the living and the dead. Some people see him as a good character, while others see him as a bad person. He's the one in charge of communicating between worlds. American Horror Story took it to a whole new level, of course, and made Legba the man in charge of sentencing people to their own personal hells. That’s what we love about American Horror Story, though: they take an already scary story and make it so creepy that you have a hard time watching it. Who knows if he’s real or just a legend? But he’s surely a creepy character.

1 The Cecil Hotel

The fifth season of American Horror Story is held at Hotel Cortez, but it’s really inspired by Los Angeles’s Cecil Hotel. The original hotel has a terrible reputation because people just keep dying in the place. Not only that, but people in the hotel also kill others. The inspiration for the fifth season 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,” Murphy stated. The Cecil Hotel had an occurrence where a woman was found dead in the hotel's water tank; she turned out to be the girl in the video, but no one knows how she had gotten into the water tank. Talk about a creepy hotel... And now you know why it inspired the fifth season. Serial killer Richard Ramirez was also believed to have haunted the hotel at times, so it’s truly quite the scary place, all things considered.


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