9 “American Horror Story” Characters Based on Real-Life Killers

    Some of the show's most terrifying villains were inspired by real murderers.

    American Horror Story is one of the most terrifying shows on TV. While many of its sick and twisted characters come from the dark minds of co-creators Brad Falchuk and Ryan Murphy, others are directly based on real-life killers and figures from actual criminal cases. The next season, Cult promises to continue this tradition. Entertainment Weekly reports that Evan Peters will portray Charles Manson, as well as cult leaders Jim Jones and David Koresh. Lena Dunham, meanwhile, will portray Valerie Solanas, the attempted assassinator of Andy Warhol.

    Here are nine AHS characters inspired by murderers who were all too real.

    Related: Watch the Chilling, New Trailer for American Horror Story: Cult


    1. Dr. Oliver Thredson—Ed Gein (Season 2: Asylum)

    american horror story characters oliver thredson ed gein

    Still from American Horror Story via FX. Photo of Ed Gein: Wikimedia Commons

    In Season 2: Asylum, reporter Lana Winters is abducted by deranged killer Dr. Oliver Thredson. Thredson beheads and skins his victims, turning them into furniture, or using their skin and teeth to construct his “Bloody Face” mask. Thredson’s crimes echo those of the notorious real-life killer Ed Gein, who also inspired the fictional characters Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs and Leatherface from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. When police raided Gein’s property in 1957, they found, among myriad horrors, masks made from human faces and furniture made from body parts, including skin and skulls.


    2. Miranda and Bridget Jane—Gwen Graham and Cathy Wood (Season 6: Roanoke)

    american horror story characters nurses gwen graham cathy wood

    Still from American Horror Story via FX. Photo of Gwen Graham and Cathy Wood: Wikipedia

    In the last season of AHS, among the many terrors in Shelby and Matt’s home are the ghosts of two nurses, Miranda and Bridget Jane, who murdered elderly people under the guise of running a nursing home. These fictional nurses are based on the real-life duo of Gwen Graham and Cathy Wood. In the 1980s, Graham and Wood made the news for killing five women while working as caregivers in a Michigan nursing home. Like the Miranda and Bridget characters, Graham and Wood attempted to turn their murders into a game by having their victims’ initials spell out “MURDER.”


    3. Twisty—John Wayne Gacy (Season 4: Freak Show)

    american horror story characters twisty john wayne gacy

    Still from American Horror Story via FX. Photo of John Wayne Gacy: Murderpedia

    One of the most terrifying characters in the entire AHS universe, Twisty the homicidal clown shows up in Season 4: Freak Show. Twisty was inspired by infamous American serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Gacy became known as the “Killer Clown” because he would dress up as character he called “Pogo the Clown” for children’s parties and other events.

    Related: Inside the Demented Mind of John Wayne Gacy, Jr.


    4. James Patrick March—H.H. Holmes (Season 5: Hotel)

    american horror story characters james patrick march hh holmes

    Still from American Horror Story via FX. Photo of H.H. Holmes: Wikimedia Commons

    In season five: Hotel, we learn that the haunted Hotel Cortez, in Los Angeles, was founded by a man named James Patrick March, who used it to hide the evidence of his murderous crimes. March, as well as his Hotel Cortez, is based on real-life serial killer H.H. Holmes and his deadly World’s Fair Hotel, in Chicago, which became known as the “Murder Castle.” Like the fictional March, Holmes used his hotel to commit his murders as well as to hide the evidence.

    Related: Hotel of Horrors: The Murder Castle of Dr. H.H. Holmes


    5. Madame Delphine LaLaurie (Season 3: Coven)

    american horror story characters madame delphine lalaurie

    Still from American Horror Story via FX. Photo of Delphine LaLaurie: Wikimedia Commons

    Kathy Bates portrayed Madame Delphine LaLaurie, in season three: Coven. LaLaurie was a real-life socialite who lived in the French Quarter of New Orleans in the early 19th century. After her home caught fire, authorities entered the LaLaurie mansion and discovered a cavern of horrors. LaLaurie sadistically tortured her slaves: leaving them in cages for days, chaining them to ovens, and subjecting them to all sorts of harrowing torments. This is precisely what Kathy Bates’ LaLaurie does on the TV show, the difference being that she was then made to suffer for her crimes. The real-life LaLaurie escaped to France.

    6. Grace Bertrand—Lizzie Borden (Season 2: Asylum)

    american horror story characters grace bertrand lizzie borden

    Still from American Horror Story via FX. Photo of Lizzie Borden: Wikimedia Commons

    In Asylum, Grace Bertrand is a patient committed for murdering her father and stepmother … with an axe. Clearly, Grace was modeled on the infamous Lizzie Borden, a real-life woman charged with and acquitted for murdering her father and stepmother with an axe.


    7. The Axeman of New Orleans (Season 3: Coven)

    american horror story characters axeman

    Still from American Horror Story via FX

    In Coven, Jessica Lange’s character begins an amorous affair with the Axeman of New Orleans. In fact, the Axeman was a real-life serial killer, who was never caught. He terrorized the city from 1918 to 1919. On March 13, 1919, a letter supposedly from the Axeman claimed that he would kill that very night, sparing only those in buildings where jazz music played. That night, jazz clubs around the city were packed with nervous patrons, and hundreds of jazz bands played in private homes. No one was murdered.


    8. Aileen Wuornos and the Table of Serial Killers (Season 5: Hotel)

    american horror story characters aileen wuornos

    Still from American Horror Story via FX. Photo of Aileen Wuornos: Wikimedia Commons

    The Halloween episode of Hotel featured an entire gathering of real-life serial killers, hosted by James Patrick March, in the Hotel Cortez. Lily Rabe is among the more prominently-featured killers, portraying Aileen Wuornos, but also in attendance at the soiree is Richard Ramirez: the “Night Stalker,” Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, the Zodiac, and Gordon Northcott of the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders.

    Related: Aileen Wuornos: Depraved Serial Killer Or Countercultural Icon?


    9. Countess Elizabeth Báthory (Season 5: Hotel)

    american horror story characters elizabeth bathory

    Still from American Horror Story via FX. Photo of Elizabeth Bathory: Wikimedia Commons

    Lady Gaga won a Golden Globe for her portrayal of “The Countess,” a centuries-old vampiric creature residing in the Hotel Cortez, with a menagerie of children upon whose blood she feeds. Gaga’s character was loosely based on the Hungarian serial killer Countess Elizabeth Báthory, notorious for kidnapping and murdering hundreds of young woman in order to bathe in their blood—and thereby maintain her beauty.

    Related: The Bloody Reign of Countess Elizabeth Báthory

    Featured Still from "American Horror Story" via FX. Photo of Delphine LaLaurie: Wikimedia Commons

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