The True Stories Behind 21 American Horror Story Characters
American Horror Story: Freak Show drew a lot of inspiration from history, several of Coven's most memorable characters are based on real figures, and American Horror Story: Hotel continued the tradition. While we're gearing up for season seven, check out the characters throughout each season who are based on real people, murderers, and stories. Beware: this is not for the faint of heart.
Season 1: Elizabeth Short, aka The Black Dahlia
Mena Suvari guest-starred on the very first season of American Horror Story as Elizabeth Short, the woman who would become infamously known as The Black Dahlia. Though parts of her story were fabricated for the show, The Black Dahlia murder is very much real. Short was a 22-year-old aspiring actress who was brutally murdered in 1947. Her body was chopped in half, and her killer carved up the sides of her mouth, giving her what's known as a "Glasgow smile." Her murderer was never identified.
Season 1: The Nurse Murders and the Richard Speck Case
One of the story lines from the first season revolves around a couple of nurses who are killed in the Murder House. Though the nurses on the show (played by guest stars Rosa Salazar and Celia Finkelstein) aren't based on individuals, Ryan Murphy has said their murders are inspired by the Richard Speck massacre in 1966. Speck, a seaman from Texas, broke into a Chicago dorm filled with nurses and viciously tortured, raped, and killed eight of them in one night. The sequence in the show is light compared to what actually happened.
Asylum: Kit and Alma Walker and Barney and Betty Hill
Remember Asylum's Kit and Alma Walker? According to producers, they were inspired by a couple named Barney and Betty Hill, some of the first people to ever claim to have been abducted by aliens in 1961. Their experience was widely publicized and became a bestselling book called The Interrupted Journey and a 1975 TV movie The UFO Incident. Just like Kit and Alma, Barney and Betty were a mixed-race couple, an integral part of the story line on Asylum.
Asylum: Anne Frank
Franka Potente starred on several episodes of Asylum as a mental patient who insists that she is Anne Frank, the 15-year-old girl who famously documented her horrific experience during the Holocaust before her death. It's not conclusive whether or not Charlotte truly is Frank, but she does make a pretty compelling case. The American Horror Story character remains one of the most tragic and puzzling parts of the series to this day.
Coven: Madame Delphine LaLaurie
A handful of main characters from Coven were based on real people, but none as chilling as Madame Delphine LaLaurie. Portrayed by Kathy Bates on the show, LaLaurie was a prominent New Orleans socialite in the 1800s. She was discovered to have tortured and killed many of her slaves in her "Chamber of Horrors," and her house is still said to be haunted.
Coven: Papa Legba
Whether Papa Legba is "real" or not is up for interpretation, but the Coven character, played by guest star Lance Reddick, is based on a popular legend. In voodoo culture, he is the intermediary between the living and the dead. Papa Legba is both a good and bad figure, controlling who communicates between worlds, and in American Horror Story's case, sentencing some to live in their own personal hells.
Coven: Marie Laveau
Angela Bassett came aboard Coven as Marie Laveau, the ancient voodoo queen of New Orleans. In reality, Laveau was a revered woman in the city between the 1820s and 1860s. She practiced black magic, and just as she is on the show, she was a hairdresser on the side. She was known for being a nurse and a healer, and people still visit her grave to see if she'll grant them wishes.
Coven: The Axeman of New Orleans
Danny Huston's Coven character, The Axeman, was a real person — though we still don't know his identity. Between 1818 and 1819, a series of murders were committed around the New Orleans area. The killer used axes or straight razors owned by the residents of the houses he broke into, and, as seen on the show, he even threatened to kill anyone not playing jazz music on one particular night.
Freak Show: Pepper and Schlitze Surtees
One of the many Freak Show characters to have been inspired by a real person, Pepper (and her husband, Salty) was inspired by Schlitze Surtees. Known as Schlitzie the Pinhead, he was an early 1900s sideshow performer with microcephaly, a neurodevelopmental disorder that causes an unusually small brain and skull. He had the cognizance of a 3-year-old and could only speak in single-syllable words. He is mostly known now because of his part in the 1932 film Freaks. Source: FX Networks, MGM
Freak Show: Edward Mordrake
Wes Bentley appears in the two-part Halloween episode of Freak Show as Edward Mordrake, a man with an evil face on the back of his head. Mordrake was a real person who lived in the 1800s. According to books, he had an unusual deformity: a small face on the back of his head. Mordrake committed suicide at 23, and unlike on the show, he probably doesn't go around to freak shows on Halloween, killing its performers.
Freak Show: Jimmy Darling and Grady Franklin Stiles, Jr.
Though many performers with ectrodactyly, aka Lobster Claw Syndrome, were prevalent throughout freak-show history, Grady Franklin Stiles, Jr. is clearly a large influence for Jimmy Darling. Born in Pittsburgh in 1937, Stiles was part of a whole family of people who had the condition. He was forced to become a sideshow act at a young age and became an abusive alcoholic — which seems to be the direction Jimmy is headed. He murdered his daughter's fiancé in 1978, and then Grady himself was gunned down by a neighbor in 1993.
Freak Show: Twisty the Clown and John Wayne Gacy
There have been a lot of clown killers throughout history, but none as infamous as John Wayne Gacy. At heart, Twisty the Clown is just an extremely confused and misguided murderer, but Gacy was cold-blooded. His stage name was Pogo the Clown, and between 1972 and 1978, he raped and killed at least 33 young men. He died by lethal injection in 1994, leaving behind a series of haunting self portraits.
Freak Show: Dot and Bette Tattler and Violet and Daisy Hilton
Though conjoined twins Dot and Bette are quite unique, they're probably based on a pair of sisters by the name of Violet and Daisy Hilton. Born in England in 1908, the twins were fused at the pelvis. They came to San Francisco in 1915, and by the '20s, they were successfully performing in vaudeville shows alongside Charlie Chaplin. Following success on stage, their professional lives took a downturn, and they eventually ended up working at a grocery store. Their lives are the subject of a documentary called Bound by Flesh: The Story of Violet and Daisy Hilton.
Hotel: Mr. March and H.H. Holmes
H.H. Holmes is often referred to as America's first serial killer. He was profiled in the bestseller The Devil in the White City, which tells of Holmes's technique of hiding his victims in the walls of the building he was constructing. While Mr. March isn't a direct portrayal, he's certainly inspired by the killer.
Hotel: Aileen Wuornos
Series veteran Lily Rabe guest starred as Aileen Wuornos, the serial killer who was portrayed by Charlize Theron in the 2003 drama Monster. Wuornos killed seven men while working as a prostitute between 1989 and 1990. She was convicted and later executed by lethal injection in 2002.
Hotel: Richard Ramirez
Also known as the Night Stalker, Ramirez (played by Anthony Ruivivar) went on a two-year rampage in California in the '80s. He killed at least 13 people and tortured many more.
Hotel: Jeffrey Dahmer
Seth Gabel played the notorious Jeffrey Dahmer for the "Devil's Night" episode of Hotel. Dahmer is one of the most well-known serial killers in American history, having murdered at least 17 boys and men. He was also known as the Milwaukee Cannibal, as he raped, dismembered, and eventually ate his victims.
Hotel: John Wayne Gacy
While Gacy inspired Twisty the clown, John Carroll Lynch returned to American Horror Story to play the real deal on Hotel.
Roanoke: Miranda and Bridget Jane
Just like the nurses in the first season of AHS, the nurses in Roanoke are also based on real people. Miranda and Bridget Jane are inspired by nurses Catherine May Wood and Gwendolyn Gail Graham, lovers who murdered at least two (possibly up to eight) elderly people in the '80s. They're known as the "Lethal Lovers."
OK, so this is less of a true story and more of a myth. FX confirmed that Lady Gaga's character is named Scáthach. This is a Celtic word for "The Shadowy One," and according to Encylopedia Britannica, Scáthach is a female warrior, one that is known for teaching other warriors. She was especially adept at fighting underwater and pole-vaulting, and she invented a special barbed harpoon. Sounds like we have a lot to look forward to.
Roanoke: Thomasin White
Season six notably features the story of the Lost Colony of Roanoke, a 16th-century colony that vanished from their North Carolina settlement while their leader, John White, was overseas. Obviously, AHS takes some liberties (Pig-Man, the Butcher, whatever Lady Gaga is, etc.), but seeds of a true story are there. According to Encyclopedia Virginia, White was married to a woman named Thomasine. The spelling is different and I'm assuming the real woman didn't murder her whole colony, but she did exist.