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Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s horror anthology series American Horror Story is known for its over-the-top and campy story lines. While much of what happens may seem completely outlandish, Murphy often draws inspiration from true events, twisting real life “freaks,” murderers and victims to the needs of each season’s plot.
1. Marie Delphine LaLaurie
Coven’s LaLaurie was a real socialite in the early 1800s who is known for taking great pleasure in torturing and abusing her slaves. She would bound, torture and starve them. Her horrendous behavior wasn’t exposed until her home burned down, she then fled the city to hide from the public’s disgust. Her home still stands and can be visited in New Orleans today but is said to be haunted.
2. Jimmy Darling Is Based Off The Real Lobster Boy
Grady Stiles Jr. was born in 1937 with the congenital disorder ectrodactyly. The affliction was said to run in his family for a century, causing his hands to resemble “lobster claws.” Though he toured with the circus he wasn’t such a nice person, nor as heroic as Freak Show’s Jimmy Darling. Stiles Jr. was a known alcoholic, abusive to his family and convicted of murdering his daughter’s fiance. He received 15 years probation.
3. Edward Mordrake
Edward Mordrake isn’t just a character on American Horror Story: Freak Show, he is real and a part of recorded history though no photographs of him exist. Mordrake, an English aristocrat, actually did have a face on the back of his head that could not speak or eat, it did however laugh and cry. Mordrake wanted it removed and believed it whispered to him at night. Mordrake committed suicide at the age of 23.
4. The Axeman of New Orleans
The Axeman was was a real serial killer who murdered most of his victims between 1918 and 1919. He would break into the homes of New Orleans residents by going through the backdoor and would then slash them with an axe or razor. He killed 12 people and was never caught even after penning a letter to the public, “They have never caught me and they never will. They have never seen me, for I am invisible, even as the ether that surrounds your earth. I am not a human being, but a spirit and a demon from the hottest hell. I am what you Orleanians and your foolish police call the Axeman.” In his letter he said he would only spare the lives of residents who played Jazz music because, bizarrely enough, he was a fan.
5. The Black Dahlia
Murder House’s Elizabeth Short was an aspiring actress whose body was found dismembered by a housewife in 1947 in Los Angeles, California. She was just 22. Her killer was never found but her strange and mysterious murder, which left her mouth slit three inches on either side to appear as though she was smiling, made news around the nation. The media nicknamed her “The Black Dahlia.”
6. Murder House’s Tate Langdon
Tate Langdon’s school shooting murder-suicide was inspired by the Columbine High School Massacre. In 1999, teenagers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 12 students and 1 teacher then committed suicide.
7. Marie Laveau
Marie Laveau was another real life inspiration for Coven. The Louisiana Creole practiced voodoo in New Orleans in the mid-1800s. Laveau is famous for courting a multiracial following of both blacks and whites despite the explicit racism of the time. Her tomb can still be visited today.