The Terrifying True Crimes That Inspired American Horror Story's Most Haunting Moments

Read on to learn about the serial killers, ghosts and haunted sites that inspired Ryan Murphy's American Horror Story.

By Cydney Contreras Sep 05, 2021 12:00 AMTags
Watch: Macaulay Culkin Joins "American Horror Story" Season 10

If you thought American Horror Story was scary before, just wait till you read about the real-life people who inspired some of the show's most terrifying scenes.

Ryan Murphy modeled his plots after the crimes of America's most infamous serial killers and haunted sites, including Los Angeles' Hotel Cecil. Some are obvious since the characters and places are literally given the same names as their inspiration, while others require a bit more research or a quick scroll through Wikipedia.

Most obvious among the list of real-life characters is Madame Delphine LaLaurie. The serial killer was played by Kathy Bates in season three of the show, becoming one of the actress' most memorable roles to date. Fans were obsessed with Bates' comical yet sinister portrayal of the socialite and slave owner, whose New Orleans home is now a museum.

Other murderers who got their moment in the spotlight include Richard Ramirez (a.k.a. the Night Stalker), Aileen WuornosJohn Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer.

Ranking the Seasons of American Horror Story

Read on to hear of the terrifying stories behind American Horror Story's scariest moments—if you dare.

H.H. Holmes

In the fifth season, Murphy took inspiration from the Chicago-based serial killer H.H. Holmes, who built the infamous murder hotel. He opened the hotel under the guise of housing visitors, but in reality, it was his own personal victim trap. Police reported finding gas chambers, hidden tunnels and a torture chamber after numerous travelers were reported missing.

Richard Ramirez

The Night Stalker made an appearance in Hotel and 1984, sneaking into homes and terrorizing innocents at the behest of the devil.

John Wayne Gacy

Twisty the Clown stood in for this American serial killer, who murdered at least 33 people, in FreakshowJohn Caroll Lynch went on to play Gacy in Hotel.

Madame Delphine LaLaurie

Kathy Bates played the New Orleans socialite in AHS: Coven. In 1834, firefighters responded to an emergency call at her French Quarter home, only to find slaves bound and shackled in the attic. There was evidence that the slaves had been sadistically tortured, but before authorities could take LaLaurie into custody, she and her family escaped to France.

The Hotel Cecil

This downtown Los Angeles hotel has housed serial killers and was the site of numerous suspicious deaths. So, it only makes sense that Ryan Murphy would make this the home of the murderous James March.

The Black Dahlia

In AHS: Murder House and ApocalypseMena Suvari portrayed Elizabeth Short, a Los Angeles woman who was brutally murdered in 1947. Police never found the murderer, but some, including his own son, suspect that Dr. George Hodel was the culprit.

The New Orleans Axeman

For more than a year, beginning in 1918, a serial killer broke into the homes of New Orleans residents, using an axe or a razor blade to murder the inhabitants. Police were never able to catch the crazed murderer and the killings stopped as suddenly as they started. The axeman, played by Danny Huston, is most famous for writing a letter to the police that stated tat he would spare the lives of anyone who played jazz music on the night of March 19, 1919. As such, that night was filled with dancing and jazz music.

The Countess

Though some of Ryan Murphy's characters are based on modern figures, the Countess is an updated interpretation of the Hungarian Countess Elizabeth Báthory, who died in the 17th century. According to, Bathory tortured and killed young women, sometimes eating their flesh and drinking their blood, because she believed it would keep her youthful.

Latest News