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The real horrors behind this season of 'American Horror Story: Hotel'

Lily Rabe plays Aileen Wuornos (left, standing) and Seth Gabel plays Jeffrey Dahmer (right, standing) on last week's episode of American Horror Story: Hotel.


Lily Rabe plays Aileen Wuornos (left, standing) and Seth Gabel plays Jeffrey Dahmer (right, standing) on last week's episode of American Horror Story: Hotel.



American Horror Story has a penchant for sneaking references to pop culture and real events into its anthological series. "Murder House" had the Black Dahlia and references to the Richard Speck massacre. "Asylum's" Kit and Alma Walker were loosely based on real-life couple Barney and Betty Hill, who claimed to be abducted by aliens in 1961. "Coven" was packed with characters based on real people like Madame Delphine LaLaurie, Marie Laveau and the Axeman of New Orleans. "Freak Show" featured real people with real deformities and adapted others into figures like Edward Mordrake and Grady Franklin Stiles, Jr., who had Lobster Claw Syndrome.

Then there's the fifth season, "Hotel." This season is so chock full of influences and references it's hard to keep track of them all. The hotel where the entire season revolves around, the Hotel Cortez, bears a striking resemblance and similar storylines to L.A.'s notorious Cecil Hotel.

Real: L.A.'s Cecil Hotel

Well, the Hotel Cortez isn't a real hotel, but shares quite a few similarities to the Cecil Hotel. Built in the mid 1920s, the Cecil Hotel (now called Stay on Main) is a small, budget hotel that quickly gained a reputation for housing transients. Multiple murders and suicides happened in its early years (some rumors, some confirmed), and at times housed serial killers Richard Ramirez and Jack Unterweger in the 1980s.

In 2013, the body of 21-year-old Canadian student Elisa Lam was found decomposing in one of the hotel's rooftop water tanks. According to a story from CBS Los Angeles, a hotel maintenance worker discovered Lam's body after guests complained about a lack of water pressure.

Police treated Lam's death as unusually suspicious since falling into a covered water tank behind a locked door on the hotel's roof seemed pretty improbable. Lam was last seen on elevator security tape pressing multiple buttons and acting erratically. The most disturbing part was that Lam's body remained in the water tank for more than two weeks while guests continued to shower, brush their teeth and drink the tap water.

Not real: pasty vampire children playing pacman and eating candy in a secret game room.

Real: AHS hosts America's most notorious serial killers

The ghosts of infamous serial killers may not gather together for a bloody feast every year on Halloween, but their murders and heinous acts were very real.

James Patrick March (not a real guy) hosted a handful of famous serial killers at his annual Devil's Night dinner in last week's episode. He called them "the definition of American dream" and bragged how they all sought his homicidal advice at some point.

Aileen Wuornos (Lily Rabe): One of Florida's most infamous female serial killers, Wuornos is believed to have murdered seven men between 1989 and 1990. She became the second woman to be executed by Florida in 2002 at the age of 46. Besides Rabe portraying her on Hotel, Charlize Theron played Wuornos in the movie Monster.

Jeffrey Dahmer (Seth Gabel): Also known as the Milwaukee Cannibal, Dahmer murdered and dismembered 17 men between 1978 and 1991. He was sentenced to 16 life imprisonment terms but was beaten to death by a fellow inmate in 1994. Because of the brutality and disturbing details about his life and slew of murders, Dahmer is frequently analyzed, portrayed and written about in academia and pop culture.

Richard Ramirez (Anthony Ruivivar): Nicknamed The Night Stalker, Ramirez was a serial rapist, murderer and Satan worshiper. He was convicted of 13 murders in California and was sentenced to death. Ramirez died at age 53 before he could be executed.

John Wayne Gacy (John Carroll Lynch): Gacy is the second killer clown Lynch has played for the American Horror Story series (He played Twisty in "Freak Show"). Gacy was known as the Killer Clown because of his act as Pogo the Clown at charitable events and children's parties. He was convicted of murdering 33 men and boys between 1972 and 1978 then burying bodies on his property and disposing of others in the Des Plaines River in Wisconsin. He spent 14 years on death row before being executing in 1994.

Zodiac Killer: Never identified, Zodiac was the nickname given to a mass murderer responsible for a slew of killings in California in the 1960s. He claimed to have killed 37 people, but only five were confirmed. He gained infamy by writing letters to police and local newspaper boasting of the killings and promising more deaths.

Check out Florida's lengthy list of serial killers:

Not real: Ancient blood virus and vampirism. There are some people who have a fetish for drinking human blood, but we aren't getting into that.

Real: The Wineville Chicken Murders

Miss Evers, Mr. March's devout maid, told us the story of her son's disappearance in the 1920s. Albert was just one victim of Gordon Northcott, the man responsible for the Wineville Chicken Murders. Though many more bodies were found underneath Northcott's chicken coop, he was only convicted of three murders. Northcott was accused of kidnapping, rape, and dismemberment of young boys. Not long after his execution in 1930, the California town was renamed Mira Loma. 

Not real: Frosted tips still being trendy. Sorry, Max Greenfield.

Contact Chelsea Tatham at or on Twitter @chelseatatham.


[Last modified: Wednesday, November 4, 2015 11:36am]


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