The True Story That Inspired One Of American Horror Story: Roanoke's Storylines

american horror story roanoke

To be expected, American Horror Story: Roanoke has not only pulled in references from the anthology's past seasons, but it is also doing as those seasons did by drawing from real-life incidents to spice up the storytelling. And while the overall backbone of this season comes from the Lost Colony of Roanoke legends, there was a specific story arc in the second episode that owes its origin to history: the killer nurses.

So not only did the nurses also halfway tie back into Murder House via the Richard Speck homage, among other things, but it also brought a light veil of fictionalization to the tale of serial killers Gwendolyn Graham and Cathy Wood. The exact details behind the case are unknown, and a lot of it is testimonial, but basically Graham and Wood were friends and lovers who used their jobs as nurse aides to commit a string of murders, smothering five elderly patients over the span of a few months. Sound kind of familiar?

ahs nurses

To bring it home even more, Cathy Wood claimed they turned their victim-choosing into a game, where the goal was to spell out "M-U-R-D-E-R" with the first letters of their victims' names. Ding ding ding! You'll recall that Cuba Gooding Jr.'s Matt was affected by a vision of the letters that was later explained by Denis O'Hare's bearded doctor. Like the real-life killers, the American Horror Story: Roanoke nurses didn't get to actually finish their goal of spelling the word out. (And there are fan theories out there about the lettering used in the show, too.)

But while the actual women chose to put another theme to their crimes that wasn't as complicated as acronyms, thus leaving it unfinished, that probably isn't how it happened on the show. Graham and Wood eventually split up and moved on with their lives before the cops figured things out and arrested them, and in exchange for a lighter sentence, Wood offered up a lengthy confession that placed her former lover as the real ringleader behind the murders, according to the New York Times. We probably won't get that part of the story in Ryan Murphy's universe, either.

American Horror Story has gone all over the place with its real-life references in the past. Remember when Murder House gave us the murder of Sal Mineo? That was weird. And many of Freak Show's elements and characters were based on sideshows of the past. Not to mention Madame LaLaurie, Marie Laveau, Elizabeth Short, the Axeman and all of the serial killers at Mr. March's Halloween dinner in Hotel. Are more true stories on the way? You betcha.

With many of its secrets still intact, American Horror Story: Roanoke airs Wednesday nights on FX. Make sure all of your own healthcare professionals are on the up and up and head to our fall premiere schedule to see what else is coming to your televisions later this year.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native and an Assistant Managing Editor with a focus on TV and features. His humble origin story with CinemaBlend began all the way back in the pre-streaming era, circa 2009, as a freelancing DVD reviewer and TV recapper.  Nick leapfrogged over to the small screen to cover more and more television news and interviews, eventually taking over the section for the current era and covering topics like Yellowstone, The Walking Dead and horror. Born in Louisiana and currently living in Texas — Who Dat Nation over America’s Team all day, all night — Nick spent several years in the hospitality industry, and also worked as a 911 operator. If you ever happened to hear his music or read his comics/short stories, you have his sympathy.