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10 Real-Life People Who Inspired Characters on American Horror Story

4. The Axeman, played by Danny Huston in American Horror Story: Coven, was a real-life serial killer known as the “Axeman of New Orleans.” He is believed to have killed at least six people and injured six others. The Axeman was never identified, and the murders remain unsolved. 

Axeman (Danny Huston). Image credit: 20th television

The Axeman of New Orleans was active between May 1918 and October 1919. During this period, the city of New Orleans and surrounding communities as far as the neighboring town of Gretna were paralyzed by fear.

Italian-Americans and Italian immigrants were the primary targets of this serial killer, who would break into Italian grocery stores in the dead of the night and attack the grocers and their families.

The Axeman, as the name suggests, attacked his victims with an ax, which sometimes belonged to the victims themselves. Usually, the killer would remove a panel on the back door of the victim’s home, and proceed to attack one or more residents with an ax or straight razor.

There never seemed to be any financial motivation behind these crimes as the killer never robbed these homes. However, since most of the victims were Italians, many people believed that the attacks were ethnically motivated.


The Axeman killed at least six people and injured six others. The attacks were particularly vicious. In one instance, the killer used the victim’s own ax to fracture his skull and then cut his throat with a razor.

The Axeman then proceeded to slash the throat of the victim’s wife, who choked on her own blood as she bled to death. The Axeman was never identified or caught, and the crimes stopped as mysteriously as they started. (1, 2)

5. Josef Mengele was a German physician and SS officer during World War II. He was notorious for performing deadly experiments on prisoners at the Auschwitz concentration camp, and he also selected people to be killed in gas chambers. The character of Dr. Arthur Arden in American Horror Story: Asylum was based on Mengele. 

Josef Mengele
Dr. Arthur Arden in Asylum (Image to the left), Josef Mengele at Auschwitz in 1944. Image credits: 20th television, Bernhard Walther or Ernst Hofmann or Karl-Friedrich Hòc/ via Wikipedia

Josef Mengele, a German physician and SS officer, began his career as a researcher. During World War II, he was served as a battalion medical officer and was later transferred to Auschwitz as part of the Nazi concentration camp’s service.

There, he saw an opportunity to perform genetic research on live human subjects. He focused his experiments on dwarfs, twins, and people who had physical abnormalities and had no care for the health and safety of the victims.


Although his research subjects were housed and fed slightly better than other prisoners and temporarily spared from the gas chambers, Mengele was described as a sadistic, extremely antisemitic individual who lacked empathy and was responsible for the deaths of numerous prisoners whom he killed via deadly experiments, beatings, shootings, and lethal injections.

He believed that Jews were a dangerous and inferior race and should be eliminated completely. He was known as the  “Angel of Death.”

In American Horror Story: Asylum, the sadistic Dr. Arthur Arden, played by James Cromwell, was based on the real-life monster, Mengele. Dr. Arden, although fictional, was no less horrifying than his real-life counterpart. (1, 2)

6. Twisty the Clown on American Horror Story: Freak Show was based on several real-life clown killers, one of whom was John Wayne Gacy, a serial killer and sex offender who murdered and assaulted at least 33 young men and boys. 

John Wayne Gacy
Twisty the Clown in Freak (Image to the left), John Wayne Gacy – a serial killer.  Image credits: 20th television, White house photographer/ mrssatan via Wikimedia

Twisty the Clown on American Horror Story: Freak Show is unquestionably the stuff of nightmares. Although Twisty is a fictional character, there have been several real-life clown killers who served as an inspiration for the murderous clown on the show. One of those was John Wayne Gacy, who is by far the most notorious of all clown killers.

Born in 1942, Gacy was an American sex offender and serial killer, who was also known as the “Killer Clown.” He murdered and assaulted at least 33 boys and young men.

A regular performer at charitable events and children’s hospitals, Gacy had different “personas” including “Patches the Clown” and  “Pogo the Clown.” He was also an active member in his local community as a building contractor and Democratic Party precinct captain.

In Gacy’s own words, he committed all of his murders at his ranch house in the village of Norridge. He would lure his victims to his house, dupe them into wearing handcuffs, and then rape and torture them before killing them either by strangulation or asphyxiation using a garrote.

He buried 26 of his victims in the crawl space under his home. He buried three others elsewhere on his property. He discarded four victims in Des Plaines River.

Gacy was first convicted in 1968 for the sodomy of a teenage boy and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but he only served 18 months. He killed his first victim in 1972 and was again arrested in 1978. In 1980, he was sentenced to death and was executed by lethal injection in 1994. (1, 2)

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