One of the reasons why American Horror Story is such a successful series is because of the characters on the show. Sure, we love AHS for many different reasons; good plot twists, believable dialogue, and that sort of thing, but at the heart of it all is the characters themselves.
But have you ever watched a season of AHS and wondered to yourself how the writers dream up all these characters? Do they maybe use traits from people they know to build them up or are they entirely fictional? Most writers will tell you that they use what they see around them to create so often the characters you see are a blend of fiction and reality. Real-life quirks help make the characters more believable and relatable, and this is one area where AHS gets it right every time.
But the creators of our favorite anthology series also likes to draw on real-life historical figures to create their characters and although these accounts are often highly fictional (i.e they add extra details), this makes the storylines seem even more credible and of course, scarier too! But which characters are based on real people? We’ve got the shocking true stories behind the best-loved AHS characters right here.
15 Asylum: Kit And Alma Walker
Did you know that the characters Kit and Alma Walker from Asylum were inspired by real people? Well, believe it. Their names were Barney and Betty Hill and what made them memorable is that they were among the first people to ever report that they had been abducted by aliens. In 1961 the couple reported that while traveling they had seen a large UFO hover over the highway, skipping around at incredible speeds. According to the couple, who stopped and used their binoculars to get a better look, they could see alien beings observing them through the ship's windows. At one point they felt as though the ship was chasing them and seconds later they realized the UFO was gone, but more than an hour of time had suddenly passed. They were convinced that they were abducted and after reporting the incident, they wrote the bestselling book The Interrupted Journey.
14 Asylum: Anne Frank
“When I write I can shake off all my cares. My sorrow disappears, my spirits are revived! But, and that's a big question, will I ever be able to write something great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer?” These were the words of the author of one of the most well-known books in history, The Diary of Anne Frank. Anne was the 15-year-old schoolgirl who famously documented her families horrific experience during the Holocaust in WWII. According to official records, she died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945 but in the AHS universe, there was an Asylum inmate who claimed to be Anne Frank and although her argument was compelling it was never revealed whether or not her claims were true.
13 Coven: Madame Delphine LaLaurie
Kathy Bates joined the AHS family in the third season, and what an entrance she made! Bates was cast as the chilling Madame Delphine LaLaurie, and as evil, as she looked on the show it’s still nowhere near as terrifying as the real LaLaurie. She lived in New Orleans in the mid-1800’s and was a socialite famous for her glittering parties. But her slaves knew what a monster she really was and according to legend Madame Lalaurie was a serial killer, who tortured and killed many of her slaves in her “Chamber of Horrors”. When her crimes began to catch up with her, she fled the country; some say she went to Paris, in order to escape punishment. According to some, her mansion is still said to be haunted.
12 Coven: Marie Laveau
The vicious Madame Delphine LaLaurie wasn’t the only character based on a real person in AHS: Coven. The voodoo queen, Marie Laveau (played by Angela Bassett) was also inspired by a real person and was very similar to the AHS character. She lived in New Orleans around the same time as LaLaurie and was revered for her supernatural powers. She practiced voodoo and black magic and had a massive multiracial following. People would come and see her for spells and healing and just like she is on the show, she was also a hairdresser on the side. She’s inspired many books and artworks and is still a highly recognizable character even today. People still visit her grave in the hopes that she will grant their wishes.
11 Coven: The Axeman Of New Orleans
Danny Huston's Coven character, The Axeman, was a real person, although because he was never apprehended we still don’t know who he really was. But he did exist that much is certain. The Axeman of New Orleans was a serial killer who was active between 1918 and 1919. He broke into his victims home at night and killed them all with straight razors or axes that he found on the premises. To make matters even more bizarre (no wonder he was such a good choice for the show) he even sent a letter to the newspaper warning the people of New Orleans that he would strike again and kill anyone not playing his favorite music – jazz – on one particular night. The killer was never caught so we have no way of proving that the letter was authentic, but that doesn’t make it any less creepy.
10 Freak Show: Pepper And Salty
Pepper made her first appearance in AHS: Asylum and was such a hit with the fans that the creators brought her character back again for Freak Show. In Freak Show (which takes place before the events of Asylum), Pepper and her husband Salty are pinheads working in Elsa’s traveling show. Interestingly enough, both Pepper and Salty were inspired by a real-life 1900’s sideshow performer known as Schlitze Surtees. He was born with microcephaly, a neurodevelopmental disorder that caused him to have an unusually small brain and skull, and the mental ability of a 3-year old. But Schlitze was happy as long as he had an audience and he loved to perform. Today he is best remembered for his role in the classic 1932 film Freaks, and for inspiring the creation of Pepper.
9 Murder House: The Black Dahlia
During the first season of American Horror Story, Mena Suvari guest starred as Elizabeth Short, the woman the world came to know as The Black Dahlia. In real life, Short was an aspiring actress who was just 22 years old when she was murdered in Los Angeles in 1947 and as this was also the location of the Murder House, it was a great match for the show. Just as depicted on AHS, her body was found severed at the waist and with cuts around her face. Although there were many suspects in the case, The Black Dahlia’s killer was never identified and the case remains one of the oldest unsolved murders in the country. In AHS, Short dies after she overdoses on nitrous oxide at a dodgy dentist and winds up being mutilated by Dr. Charles Montgomery.
8 Hotel: James Patrick March
In AHS: Hotel James Patrick March was a serial killer with an obsessive need to kill. Being a man of means he decides to build a hotel as a place to torture, kill, and hide all his victims. Now, this sounds like a killer too far-fetched to be based on a real person right? You’d think so, but you’d be wrong. March was inspired by a real man by the name of H.H Holmes, and while the character is not a direct portrayal the connection is obvious. Holmes, who is often referred to as America’s first serial killer, confessed to the murders of 27 people, but some historians believe that his body count could have been around 200. While it was never proven there was speculation that he hid the victim's bodies in the walls at his World's Fair Hotel, just like James March did at the Cortez.
7 Freak Show/Hotel: Twisty And John Wayne Gacy
In AHS: Hotel, James Patrick March invites a bunch of serial killers over for a macabre dinner party and one of the first to arrive was John Wayne Gacy. Gacy is one of the world’s most infamous serial killers, with a body count estimated at around 33, but the reason for his infamy doesn’t really have anything to do with his actual murders. People were fascinated by him because of what he did as a sideline – he worked as a children’s birthday clown called Pogo. Not only was Gacy portrayed in this scene in Hotel but he was also the inspiration for the villain of Freak Show – the killer clown named Twisty. And the fact that both characters were portrayed by the same actor, John Carroll Lynch, just proves that they were inspired by Gacy.
6 Freak Show: Jimmy Darling
For AHS: Freak Show, Evan Peters played the role of Jimmy Darling, a young man born with a deformity that caused his fingers to be fused together. This condition is known as ectrodactyly and in AHS Darling was referred to as Lobster Boy. The inspiration for Jimmy clearly came from one of the most well-known freak-show performers in history who also had this condition; Grady Franklin Stiles, Jr. But Stiles was nothing like the sweet Jimmy when it came to temperament. He was a violent alcoholic who was even convicted of killing his daughter’s soon to be husband the day before they were meant to tie the knot. Although he was found guilty, he never went to prison because at the time no correctional institution could care for an inmate with a deformity like this.
5 Freak Show: Dot And Bette Tattler
As unbelievable as it sounds the Tattler sisters might have drawn inspiration from not one set of conjoined twins, but two. The first likely candidates are Violet and Daisy Hilton, who were born in England in 1908 and fused at the pelvis. The sisters spent most of their lives as sideshow attractions and even appeared in two films; Freaks, and Chained For Life. The other source of inspiration for these characters is Abby and Brittany Hensel, real-life conjoined twins from Minnesota. They share a striking resemblance to Bette and Dot in that they are dicephalic parapagus twins, which means that they have separate heads, but conjoined bodies, and at a quick glance it appears that they have a single body with two heads. Like Bette and Dot, they both control one side of their body.
4 Hotel: Aileen Wuornos
AHS veteran Lily Rabe only played a small role in Hotel, but you couldn’t have missed her as the most infamous female killer of modern times; Aileen Wuornos. Most serial killers are male, which made Aileen quite a unique, yet still disturbing, character. She’s also been portrayed by Charlize Theron in the 2003 film about her life, Monster. Aileen was raised in an abusive household and from a young age, she worked as a prostitute. Between 1989 and 1990 she killed at least seven men while soliciting, although her defense was that all the men had attempted to rape her. She presented this defense at her trial but was ultimately found guilty and sentenced to death by lethal injection. She was put to death in 2002.
3 Roanoke: Miranda And Bridget Jane
Ever heard the term “Angel of Death”? Well, in criminology this is the term used to describe serial killers who work in the healthcare system and prey on their patients. There’s nothing that says evil like a person who abuses trust in this heinous way and nurses Catherine May Wood and Gwendolyn Gail Graham were two such killers. Together the pair, known as the “Lethal Lovers”, murdered at least two and possibly up to eight elderly people while working as nurses’ aides in an old age nursing home during the 1980’s. Graham was thought to be the mastermind behind the killings and received a life sentence and Wood received a 20-40 year term. They are still serving their sentences today. Graham and Wood are likely to have been the inspiration for the killer nurses in AHS: Roanoke.
2 Roanoke: Thomasin White
If you don’t know anything about the Lost Colony of Roanoke, here’s a quick history lesson. In 1585 British settlers set up the colony of Roanoke, led by an explorer called John White. But things were very hard for the settlers in the new world and in 1586 White decided to return to England to gather supplies for the small group. He told his daughter, who had gone to the colony with him that he would return within a year, but he was waylaid and he only managed to return in 1590. By that time he found the camp deserted, with no sign of what happened to the people who had been living there. In AHS: Roanoke he leaves behind a wife named Thomasin (AKA The Butcher) but in real life, she did not accompany him on this journey. So while she was real, her backstory is pure fiction.
1 Hotel: Richard Ramirez
Richard Ramirez was among the serial killers invited to attend the Devil’s Night celebrations with James March in AHS: Hotel. Like all the other serial killers portrayed in this scene (apart from John Lowe), Ramirez was a real person and is also sometimes referred to as The Night Stalker due to his preferred methods. From June 1984 until August 1985 this man terrorized the residents of San Francisco, breaking into homes, raping and killing his victims with whatever weapon he could lay his hands on, including knives, handguns, and hammers. When he was finally apprehended, he expressed absolutely zero guilt for his actions and told the press that he worshipped Satan. He died from cancer complications in 2013 while awaiting execution on California's death row.