The Real Life Smiley Face Killings May Be The Inspiration Behind AHS: Cult's Murderous Calling Card

Fans of American Horror Story have been delighted (and repulsed) by the sinister group of trypophobia-inducing clowns that have been on a murder rampage throughout the series' sixth season. As much as most of us want to believe a group so diabolical could never exist outside of the confines of a Stephen King novel (hello, Pennywise, our old friend), it's possible that the Smiley Face Killers are actually real - and still out there.

The Smiley Face Murder theory was developed by Kevin Gannon and Anthony Duarte, two retired NYPD detectives who pieced together evidence from a string of murders involving college-aged men who appeared to have drowned. What linked these murders together? Graffiti of a smiley face left near all the crime scenes. If that sounds familiar, it's because it is. The connections between the Smiley Face Murders and American Horror Story's latest season abound. Though there are a number of American Horror Story theories about who's actually responsible for the murders on the show, a smiley face is always used by the killers to mark a family.

From Elizabeth Short's character in Murder House to Coven's absolutely diabolical Delphine LaLaurie, there are number of real-life stories used in AHS. Out of all the true story influences in AHS, the Smiley Face Murder Theory may be one of the least known. Is this truly where Ryan Murphy drew inspiration, and is the murderer still out there?


  • The Disappearance Of Chris Jenkins Led To The Theory

    The Disappearance Of Chris Jenkins Led To The Theory
    Photo: William Ramsey Investigations / YouTube

    In 2003, University of Minnesota student Chris Jenkins disappeared and was found dead four months later floating in the Mississippi River. Though police initially thought Jenkins accidentally drowned (hello, stereotyping drunk college kids), detectives Kevin Gannon and Anthony Duarte knew better. The pair had been studying a string of mysterious deaths of college-aged men across the country for the better part of a decade.

    It started with Patrick McNeill, who drowned in New York City in 1997. The trail eventually led them to Jenkins, whose body position and a wealth of physical evidence proved the student's death wasn't an accident. There were upwards of 40 alleged victims, all who appeared to have accidentally drowned.

  • A Graffiti Smiley Face Was Found At Almost Every Crime Scene

    A Graffiti Smiley Face Was Found At Almost Every Crime Scene
    Photo: New Dawn Films / YouTube

    Just as the murderous cult in American Horror Story paints smiley faces on the doors, windows, or walls of their murder scenes, the real-life smiley face killers marked their territory. Over 22 smiley faces cropped up in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Wisconsin and Iowa – proving the murders were a whole lot more widespread than the killing spree in American Horror Story.

    In the real-life case, the size and color of the faces were always different, unlike the smileys in AHS, which are always red (barring the initial face Kai drew in steam on the window at the gym). Despite the small differences, Gannon and Duarte still believed it all came from the same group of killers. The only thing more AHS would be clown masks.

  • The Smiley Face Murder Theory Alleges A Group (Or Cult) May Be At The Helm

    The Smiley Face Murder Theory Alleges A Group (Or Cult) May Be At The Helm
    Photo: FX

    Though it was initially believed that this string of murders came from the same killer, as of 2008, Gannon and Duarte insisted there had to be more people involved. Can you say murder cult? Okay, so Gannon and Duarte never said it was a cult per say, but they do believe people are working together across different states.

    "…There's such a wide range of states the killings are through," Gannon told Good Morning America. "Besides the fact that we have multiple victims on the same night."

  • The Murders Are Believed To Have Been Committed In The Same Gruesome Way

    The Murders Are Believed To Have Been Committed In The Same Gruesome Way
    Photo: FX

    Unlike how the murders happen in a wealth of different ways on AHS – from being buried alive to a staged murder-suicide – the detectives who created the Smiley Face Murder Theory believe the real-life murders all had a similar pattern. The killer would drug and abduct a victim, throw them into the back of a truck, then drive around for hours while torturing them before throwing them into a body of water (like how Jenkins was left in the Mississippi River). All of the victims are believed to be male, and most of them were thought to be "accidental drownings."

  • The Word "Sinsiniwa" Was Found At One Of The Crime Scenes

    The Word "Sinsiniwa" Was Found At One Of The Crime Scenes
    Photo: New Dawn Films / YouTube

    In addition to smiley faces, detectives also found the word "sinsiniwa" near the murder site of 24-year-old Matt Kruziki in Iowa. Sinsiniwa means "Rattlesnake" or "Home of the Young Eagle," and Gannon and Duarte both believed this term was significant and suspicious. Bloodhounds eventually tracked the scent of Kruziki to where detectives believe Kruziki's body was thrown into the water. Ironically, it was on Sinsiniwa Avenue. They believed the killers were taunting them, but naysayers of the theory think it's just coincidence.

    According to a research brief from the Center for Homicide Research, the term sinsiniwa is common in graffiti throughout the Midwest and is the name of a number of streets, commercial businesses, schools and even a river.

  • Hardly Any Of The Murders Showed Physical Signs Of Trauma

    Hardly Any Of The Murders Showed Physical Signs Of Trauma
    Photo: New Dawn Films / YouTube

    A mysterious detail in the smiley face murder theory is that none of the actual murders showed any signs of trauma, though victims were alleged to have been tortured for hours. The Center for Homicide Research believes this discredits some of detectives' theory because victims of torture usually do have visible signs of trauma. There was only evidence of trauma present in the case of Patrick McNeill, but he was one of the few who was killed before his body was dumped. For this reason, most of the cases were dubbed accidental drownings.

    If you look at American Horror Story so far, one of the cases involved a similar idea. A couple is buried alive in living room caskets rather than murdered in some violent way. Though this was certainly torture, there would only be evidence of a struggle - not trauma, like a crack over the head or a stab wound.