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‘American Horror Story': The True Story Behind the Killer Nurses

The nurses that tried to spell ”MURDER“ on ”American Horror Story“ were inspired by actual nursing home murders in Michigan

(Spoiler alert: Please do not read on if you haven’t watched this week’s episode of “American Horror Story.”)

“American Horror Story” doesn’t just go to horror movies for inspiration. It goes to the history books as well. “Coven” took two figures from New Orleans’ dark past, the voodoo priestess Marie Laveau and infamous slave torturer Delphine LaLaurie, and brought them to the 21st century. “Freak Show” adopted the tale of Edward Mordrake, a man who was said to have had a second face that whispered evil things to him at night.

Now, a week after introducing the lost Roanoke Island colony, “My Roanoke Nightmare” has introduced two killer nurses inspired by an actual murder case that involved a twisted lesbian couple in an assisted living home.

In this week’s episode, Matt saw a vision of two nurses sadistically killing an old lady and spraying an “M” on the wall. Later, he and Shelby discovered a video of the former tenants of one of their houses: a professor who came to the house in 1997 and was driven into an underground bunker by whatever unnatural force is now tormenting our protagonists.

The professor explains in the video that he came to the house to do research on the two nurses, who turned the house into an assisted living home that would be the stage for their killing spree. The nurses killed five of their elderly patients, whom they specifically selected based on their first names. After each kill, they spray painted the first letter of their victim’s name on the wall, aiming to spell out “MURDER.”

The official story is that they fled the authorities before killing someone whose name started with “R.” The professor believed that the nurses were actually killed by a greater evil, possibly Kathy Bates and her occult colony.

The nurses are based on Gwen Graham and Cathy Wood, two Michigan nurses who were arrested in 1988 and convicted of the murders of five elderly women while working in a nursing home. According to Michael Newton’s “Encyclopedia of Serial Killers,” Graham and Wood fell in love with each other while working at the nursing home and began dreaming up plans of killing off the patients that were too weak to defend themselves.

Unlike on “AHS,” Graham and Wood’s plans to spell out “MURDER” with their kills simply fell through because the patients with suitable names wouldn’t go quietly. One aspect of the crime that “AHS” did faithfully recreate was Graham’s murder of one of her patients by choking her with a washcloth. While “AHS” showed other patients dying in more macabre ways like rat poison or a gunshot to the head, the washcloth kill actually happened because Graham and Wood wanted to make sure it looked like their victims died of natural causes. Their ploy worked, as they avoided suspicion and were even said to have been liked by the patients, according to a New York Times report of their arrest.

Eventually, the relationship between Graham and Wood fell apart, in part because Graham was tired of doing all the kills while Wood kept watch and wanted Wood to kill someone to prove her love. Eventually, Wood spilled her story to her ex-husband, who later notified authorities. In 1989, Wood pleaded guilty to second degree murder charges and was sentenced to 20 to 40 years in prison. In exchange for avoiding a life sentence, Wood testified against Graham, who was convicted and sentenced to six consecutive life terms.