All the Real Killers in American Horror Story, Part 3

Season five has so many real killers in it, it gets its own post!

H.H. Holmes

The insane architect of the Cortez, J.P. March (played by Evan Peters) is largely based on a real serial killer: H.H. Holmes (real name, Herman Webster Mudgett).

Holmes built his “murder castle” just outside of Chicago in 1893, just in time for the Columbian exhibition. Like the Cortez, his hotel was a deranged masterpiece designed to confuse, kill, and dispose of its inhabitants. Like March, Holmes would fire contractors who saw too much or asked to many questions – though he would just fire them without pay, not execute them. Holmes’ murder castle had doors that opened onto brick walls, staircases then went to nowhere, sealed rooms with poison gas piped in (and a peep hole where he could watch his victims’ death throes), and a chute for delivering the bodies to the basement, where he could strip their flesh and sell their skeletons to anatomy schools.

The Devil’s Night Guest List

In episode 4, March hosts his annual Devil’s Night dinner, where real serial killers he’s mentored are invited back from the dead. The guest list includes:

  • Jeffrey Dahmer, played by Seth Gabel
  • The Zodiac killer, played by an unknown actor
  • Richard Ramirez, who actually stayed at the Cecil Hotel (see below), played by Anthony Ruivivar
  • John Wayne Gacy, played by John Carroll Lynch. Lynch has played serial killers before, including the main suspect, Arthur Leigh Allen, in the movie Zodiac and Twisty the Clown in season four. But as great an actor as Lynch is, I don’t think he really got Gacy was an outgoing, ambitious glad-hander – someone who recruited prominent men into the Jaycees and hobknobbed with politicians. Lynch portrayed him as a somewhat dull, almost childish character, more like Twisty than the real Gacy.
  • Aileen Wuornos, played by Lily Rabe. Rabe’s Wournos was incredible – maybe even better than Charlize Theron!
  • Gordon Northcott, the Wineville chicken coop murderer, played by Luke Baybak. As an aside, apparently Hazel’s son was one of his victims, as she reveals earlier in the episode. This was one detail that I found, well, off-key. What was the purpose of that scene? Why didn’t Hazel attempt some sort of revenge on Northcott at that evening’s dinner? This just doesn’t make sense!

The Cecil Hotel

Perhaps the most interesting “real killer” in season five is the hotel itself, which seems to be an amalgam of H.H. Holmes’ murder castle and a real hotel in LA called the Hotel Cecil.

The Cecil, also done in the art deco style, was built in 1925. It had 700 rooms and was very tony at the time. But the stock market crash of ’29 caused financial problems for the owners. Soon the neighborhood turned seedy, and the Cecil became a hostel for the shady and sick – much like the Cortez.

Over the years there have been not one, but two, serial killers who have called the Cecil their home. Richard Ramirez lived on the top floor while he was killing in the mid-1980s, and Jack Unterweger murdered three women while living there in 1991.

In addition, there have been 16 unnatural deaths at the hotel, including almost a dozen people who committed suicide and several others who attempted to. In 1962, one woman leapt to her death and landed on a pedestrian, killing him too. One man was fatally pinned to the building by a truck, and in 1994, a 19-year-old woman gave birth in the bathroom and threw the newborn out the window to his death.

Recently, in 2013, the Hotel Cecil tried rebranding itself with a renovation and new name, Stay on Main. But that was not enough to overcome the apparent curse of the Hotel Cecil. On Feb. 19, the naked, decomposing body of Elisa Lam was found in the hotel’s water tank after guests had complained of a foul odor and bad taste in the water. She had been missing for three weeks by then. The last images taken of Lam were hotel surveillance footage that showed her acting very strangely, as though she were afraid someone were following her, though no one else could be seen.

Though the cause of her disappearance and death was ruled accidental, questions still remain. For one, how could Lam have gotten onto the roof, when a locked door and fire escape are the only ways to access the hotel’s roof? The door, which only employees can reach, is also equipped with an alarm. Why didn’t it sound? The water tank itself is also extremely difficult to access, and authorities had a difficult time getting her body out. What really happened to Elisa Lam may never be answered.


Tune in next week for all the real killers in season six!

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