All The True Stories, People, And Crimes Referenced In Every Season Of 'American Horror Story'

American Horror Story, the long-running FX horror anthology, is known for its intricate storytelling. How does the series weave together complex characters and storylines throughout its seasons? Because often, American Horror Story characters are based on real people. Sometimes these people are the victim, other times they're the evil mastermind, and still other times they're regular people with an outlandish story to tell.

The real-life horror stories behind AHS paint an undeniably terrifying picture of American history - from recreating Columbine to recounting H.H. Holmes's real-life murder-trap hotel. Inspiration for AHS isn't just limited to real tragedies, however; it also encompasses creepy unsolved mysteries (such as Roanoke) and long-standing urban legends.

Here are the true stories American Horror Story has drawn from to tell its horrifying tales.

  • The Hotel Cortez Is Based On The Real-Life Cecil Hotel ('Hotel')
    Photo: FX

    The real-life Cecil Hotel (now the Stay on Main Hotel) in Los Angeles has been the site of a number of horrific occurrences. The hotel housed two serial killers at separate times - Richard Ramirez (known as the Night Stalker), who killed at least 13 people, and Johan Unterweger, who claimed several victims while living at the Cecil.

    The Cecil also was the setting of the mysterious and highly publicized death of Elisa Lam, who was found in the hotel's water tank after guests noticed low water pressure and a funny taste in the hotel's tap water.

    The hotel also shares a number of similarities with H.H. Holmes's infamous Murder Castle, a hotel he had custom built to make his bloodthirsty hobbies more convenient.

  • James March Is Based On The Hotelier And Serial Killer H.H. Holmes ('Hotel')
    Photo: FX

    Evan Peters's twisted character James March was inspired by the hotelier who is often regarded as the first serial killer in America: H.H. Holmes. Holmes constructed a "murder hotel," perfectly crafted as the ultimate house of horrors, complete with trap doors, hidden rooms, chutes leading down to the basement, and purposefully disorienting hallways.

    Some of the rooms were even equipped to turn into gas chambers on command, with air-tight doors that couldn't open from the inside. Holmes claimed as many as 200 lives, though he only confessed to 28.

  • Angela Bassett's Marie Laveau Was The Real-Life Queen Of Voodoo (Coven)
    Photo: FX

    Angela Bassett's mysterious, ancient voodoo queen was based on a real person renowned in New Orleans history. Marie Laveau was a hairdresser in the French Quarter between the 1820s and 1860s, but she also practiced black magic. Laveau was said to mix elements of Catholicism with voodoo and was known as a nurse and a healer. Today, people still visit her grave and draw three Xs on the side of it, hoping the voodoo priestess will grant them wishes.

  • Lady Gaga's Countess Elizabeth Bathory Was Terrifying IRL (Hotel)
    Photo: FX

    Lady Gaga's American Horror Story debut did not disappoint. Her character, Countess Elizabeth Bathory, was truly terrifying both on the series and in real life. Elizabeth Bathory currently holds the Guinness World Record for "Most Prolific Serial Killer" and was a true sadomasochist. In the 1600s, she became a Transylvanian countess and convinced her husband to build her a torture chamber in their castle.

    Her victims of choice were young, virginal girls, who she'd torture for hours by driving pins through their lips and fingernails and forcing them to cook and eat their own flesh, among other horrors. She'd then bathe in their blood to retain their youthful beauty.

    Eventually, Bathory was found guilty of over 80 counts of murder and was supposed to be executed. Instead, she was imprisoned in a room alone for the rest of her life.

  • Briarcliff Is Modeled After Real-Life Hell-Hole, Willowbrook State School (Asylum)
    Photo: FX

    Briarcliff seems like far too horrible place to be based in any sort of reality, but the story of Staten Island's Willowbrook State School is the stuff of real nightmares. The institution housed thousands of patients over the years, often well over capacity, providing horrific living conditions for the mentally challenged patients. People were sexually abused by the terrifying staff, awful medical experiments were performed on patients, and patients regularly died from neglect and starvation.

    There were no evil nuns, but until Geraldo Rivera did a news exposé in 1972 that effectively got the institution shut down, there was basically no God who was of any help to the poor victims stuck there. 

  • Mena Suvari's Elizabeth Short Is Best Known As The Black Dahlia (Murder House)
    Photo: FX

    Mena Suvari only nabbed a small role in Season 1 of American Horror Story, but it was a historically juicy one. She played the victim of one of the most famous unsolved homicides in American History – the Black Dahlia Murder.

    In real life, Elizabeth Short was a 22-year-old actress who was found brutally murdered in 1947. Her body was chopped in half, but the defining mark of her murderer was the smile carved across her face - also known as a Glasgow smile. The case was never solved, and it was definitely front-page news.