Halloween Feature Story: The Real American Horror Story


Ellie Hood

First aired in 2011, the TV show American Horror Story has gained incredibly popularity. Despite its graphic, gory content, many viewers enjoy the scares they get, as well as seeing Evan Peters. While the show itself is completely fictional, many are surprised to learn that all the events in the show are inspired by real events. These are the stories that inspired America’s favorite horror show.


Season 1: Murder House

Black Dahlia – Elizabeth Short was a young aspiring actress when she was brutally murdered in Los Angeles in 1947. Her body had been severed in half at the waist and the blood drained out of her and both sides of her mouth had been cut to her ears. The cuts made to her body suggested surgical expertise, but despite the polices’ thorough investigation of multiple doctors, no killer was ever found.

Richard Speck – Richard Speck’s story inspired the murder of two nurses in Murder House, except Speck murdered eight nurses, not two. In 1966, Speck snuck into a nurse dorm where he murdered the eight nurses one-by-one in a single night. He was incriminated by a ninth nurse who survived by hiding under a bed.

Season 2: Asylum

Betty and Barney Hill – This couple inspired the characters Kit and Alma. The real Hills claimed to have entered an altered state of consciousness after hearing strange noises outside their car. They hav only spotty memory of what happened during their altered state of consciousness.

Ed Gein – Gein’s strange obsession with decorating his house with human body parts inspired the decor for Dr. Oliver Thredsen’s house. Gein confessed to killing two women in order to create his ghastly furnishings, as well as digging up body parts from graves.

Season 3: Coven

Delphine LaLaurie – After her cook started a house fire sometime in the early 1800s, law enforcement discovered that LaLaurie was torturing and mutilating her slaves in her attic. Her house, located in New Orleans, is said to be haunted.

The Axeman – To this day, the Axeman’s true identity is unknown, but his crimes are burned into the history books. Between 1918 and 1919, a series of murders occurred in New Orleans where the victims were killed with an axe or a straight razor. The Axeman’s primary targets were Italian immigrants.

Season 4: Freakshow

Twisty the Clown – Twisty the Clown was based on Pogo the Clown, better known by his real name John Wayne Gacy. Between 1972 and 1978, Gacy raped, tortured, and killed over 33 young men (usually around ages 15-19) and hid them in a crawl space in his house. Fun fact, during the filming of Freakshow, many of the cameramen were forced to take extended breaks because Twisty disturbed them so much.

Schlitze Surtees – The inspiration for Pepper and Salty, Surtees suffered from a microcephaly, a genetic mutation that causes the skull and brain to be smaller than normal. During the early 1900s, he worked as a sideshow performer and eventually became famous for his performance in the 1937 film Freaks. 

Season 5: Hotel

Richard Ramirez – Ramirez, who committed over 13 brutal murders, temporarily lived on the top floor of Hotel Cecil in Los Angeles. Later, he became known for dumping his bloody clothes in the dumpsters behind the hotel.

H. H. Holmes – H. H. Holmes was the inspiration for Mr. James March. H. H. Holmes was nothing more than a pharmacist when he set up his “castle” at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. The inn was a web of secret passages and dead ends fitted with hidden peepholes, gas lines, and trap doors. At one part of the inn, a greased chute led down to a basement where Holmes had a furnace, a surgical table, and a medieval rack. Holmes’s preferred targets were young women, whom he lured his inn, gassed them, and performed horrible experiments on them before skinning them and selling their skeletons to universities.

Season 6: Roanoke

Lost Colony of Roanoke – In 1587, a group of Englishmen led by John White settled in modern-day North Carolina on Roanoke Island. Shortly after they settled, Captain John White returned to England to get supplies. Four years later, he returned to Roanoke Island only to find that all 100+ settlers were gone. The only clue to their disappearance was the word Croatoan carved into a tree. It is theorized that the colony was slaughtered by the Powhatan Tribe, but archaeologists are now finding evidence that the people might’ve assimilated.

Season 7: Cult

Cult is not based on any one particular event, but it draws from many different aspects of history. Released in 2016, the characters’ divide based on political preference was inspired by the contentious and heated 2016 Presidential Election. Main character Kai Anderson is based on a variety of cult leaders, the most famous of which is Charles Manson. Manson, after failing to become a rockstar like he had dreamed, formed the “Manson Family,” a group of women who were completely devoted to Manson and everything he stood for. After a while, Manson convinced some of his most loyal women to brutally murder celebrities for him. Another piece of Cult was the clown scare in 2016. Because no one was able to really figure why the clown movement had manifested, screenwriter Ryan Murphy gives his explanation in Cult. 

Season 8: Apocalypse 

(Not based on a true story)

Season 9: 1984

Richard Ramirez (again) – The Camp Redwood Killer from the most recent installment of American Horror Story was based on Richard Ramirez, but unlike his appearance as a mere ghost in Season 5, he is the main villain in Season 9. In this particular Season, the producers of American Horror Story reveal another creepy hobby of Ramirez’s: Satan worship. Like he did in real life, Ramirez forces main character Brooke to swear on Satan before he murders her. He also threatens Brooke with Satan’s wrath after she escapes from him initially.


Works Cited and Photo Credits

Anthony, Michael. “True Stories and Real People That Inspired AMERICAN HORROR…” HellHorror.com, Hell Horror, 16 Sept. 2019, hellhorror.com/amp/article/10085/True-Stories-and-Real-People-That-Inspired-AMERICAN-HORROR-STORY.html.

Davis, Miriam. “The Axeman of New Orleans Preyed on Italian Immigrants.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 15 Feb. 2018.

Dockterman, Eliana. “American Horror Story Season 6: The True Story of Roanoke.” Time, Time.

Maranzani, Barbara. “8 Of History’s Most Notorious Serial Killers.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 18 July 2017.

O’Keefe, Jack. “’AHS: Cult’ Will Haunt Your Post-Election Nightmares.” Bustle, Bustle, 5 Sept. 2015.