It seems that Ryan Murphy's goal on this season of American Horror Story: Roanoke is to make it the scariest installment yet — and, although we're only a few episodes in, I would like to congratulate him on a job well done. I had just (sort of) recovered from the premiere's rainfall of teeth, twig people hanging from trees, and men swinging pitchforks when Murphy introduced us to a pair of killer nurses on American Horror Story. Matt's vision of two nurses murdering a patient and spraying an "M" on the wall became infinitely creepier when a professor came knocking and explained that the home was once an assisted living facility run by two nurses who systematically murdered their patients. As always, I need to play the "fact or fiction" game — are the killer nurses on American Horror Story based on real people?
Although artistic license was taken, the answer is yes. The murderous sisters, Miranda and Bridget Jane, are based on two young nurses who carried out a series of murders in Michigan. In 1988, nurses Gwen Graham and Cathy Wood were arrested for the murders of five elderly women, according to The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers by Michael Newton. The co-workers developed a romantic relationship and were later convicted for killing several patients in their care.
And that washcloth scene? One patient was really killed in this manner, according to Newton. The other gruesome methods depicted on AHS (such as the rat poison and the shooting) were fictional. Whether or not they planned to spell out "MURDER" like Miranda and Bridget Jane can't be confirmed — but it is inspired by the real story.
According to a New York Times report from 1988, one victim's first name began with an M and another's began with an E. (The other victims' names had not been released at the time of the report.) According to the outlet, Police Chief Walter Sprenger stated that detectives could not confirm whether the intention was to eventually spell out "MURDER." The article also reported that a spokesperson for the nursing home, Alpine Manor, described both women as being "well-liked by patients."
In fact, the nurses' good reputations and their tactic of making the deaths appear to be accidental allowed them to evade detection for several months — The New York Times reported that the killings were carried out between January and April 1987. Even more shockingly, they weren't caught — according to The Tech Times, Wood eventually confessed to her husband and he alerted police. In Oct. 1989, The Los Angeles Times reported that Graham had been convicted of five counts of murder and Wood was convicted of lesser charges because she had testified against Graham. According to the Michigan Department of Corrections, Graham is currently serving five life sentences for first degree murder. Wood was found guilty of second degree murder and is scheduled to be released from Tallahassee FCI on June 6, 2021.
Wood and Graham may be behind bars, but the story of the killer nurses has only just begun on American Horror Story — and I have a feeling it's about to get way scarier.
Images: FX (2)