Art Imitating Life: Horror Movies Based on Real Events Part Two
Welcome back for part two of the short series of movies based on real-life events. The best part of horror movies is that all the scary elements are contained on the screen and can’t hurt us. But what happens when the terror hits too close to home? When the psycho killer in the story is not a creation from some messed up writer’s head but formed from a person from the real world? This article will show more movies that were written based on real-life events and killers.
The Town That Dreaded Sundown
A small, rural town fears for its safety when a masked killer hunts for isolated couples in the middle of the night.
Texarkana is a small town that spreads across the border between Texas and Arkansas. In 1946 the town of Texarkana had a lot to look forward to. The war was over, soldiers had come home, and the love bug hit the town’s youth hard. The most popular place in the cozy town for teenagers to get together with their sweethearts was an out-of-the-way stretch of road called Lover’s Lane. Nowadays, when people hear Lover’s Lane, they imagine a pair of horny teens getting gutted by a crazed killer with a hook for a hand, and this legend was inspired by the events that terrorized the town and its people.
In the spring and early summer of 1946, a “phantom” killer ran amok in Texarkana, suspected of four unsolved murders and a series of related violent crimes. In all, eight people were attacked and five people died in a span of ten weeks. All the victims were in co-ed pairs, all happening at night on the weekends, only adding to the mystery of the killer’s motives. The first three attacks were at Lover’s lane, the final attack taking place in an isolated farmhouse.
The first attack recorded in connection to the Phantom attacks occurred on February 22nd. The first two known victims of the Texarkana Phantom were Jimmy Hollis and his girlfriend Mary Jeanne Lorey. The pair had gone out to Lover’s Lane for some “cuddling” when a masked man with a gun came across their car. The assailant ordered the frightened youths out of their car, where Jimmy was then pistol-whipped. Mary reported that the hit was so hard she thought Jimmy had been shot when the sound she heard was Jimmy’s skull being fractured. Mary was hit in the head next, but not nearly as hard as Jimmy, and then told to run by the masked man. Mary took his advice and ran, with the killer running after her once she got a head start. After catching up with her, the attacker then sexually assaulted her with his gun. This is also the only time reported that anyone was sexually attacked in the string of crimes.
After the teens got checked out in the hospital, both victims were questioned by the police. All details of their attack and their attacker were identical except for one inconsistency: Jimmy reported their attacker as white, while Mary told police she believed their attacker was a black man. At the time of the first attack, the police had no motives or suspects.
The second attack was about a month later, on March 24th. This was also the first double murder to take place, and like the last victims, it was a co-ed couple who went out to Lover’s Lane (about one mile outside of town) for alone time and got more than they bargained for. Richard L. Griffin and Polly Ann Moore were found in the morning during a rainfall. A passing motorist first thought that the couple was asleep in their vehicle until he stopped to look closer and found that they were both sitting in a pool of blood. When police came back to the crime scene, for some reason, they did not tape it off to prevent cross-contamination, so locals flocked to the area to get a look at the grizzly murders. Finding large blood stains outside of the car and no gun in the actual crime scene itself, police were able to rule out murder-suicide and believed the couple was killed outside the vehicle before the killer staged their bodies inside the car. Both victims were fully clothed and found to have been killed by a .32 caliber pistol. Polly was found sprawled out in the backseat face down, but there was no evidence of an assault.
The random attacks put the townspeople into a state of panic. Residents began to arm themselves with weapons and firearms. Stores sold out of guns and ammo, a strict curfew was implemented, and vigilantism became a problem. Teens would pose as lovers in secluded areas hoping to draw out the Phantom and become town heroes.
By the end of March, police had questioned over fifty witnesses concerning the crimes but were no closer to catching a suspect. At the time, investigators had seen no motives or way to connect the victims to a mutual person capable of committing these crimes. These crimes were a hot topic then; everyone was desperate to find the killer and bring them to justice. The string of random attacks was being looked into at the local level and by the state and federal governments.
The second double murder took place on April 14th. Paul Martin and Betty Jo Booker were found dead 2 miles apart from each other. Both victims were found with fatal gunshot wounds that appeared to come from a .32 caliber pistol, which matched the same weapon used in the first double murder. Fingerprints that did not belong to either Martin or Booker on Martin’s car that was left by one of the bodies. Unfortunately, the fingerprints also did not match anything the local police or FBI had on file then.
The last “attack” in the string of violent crimes differed greatly from the one previously committed. Virgil and Kathy Starks were spending the night in their little isolated farmhouse, with Virgil sitting downstairs in his armchair and Kathy upstairs sleeping. Suddenly in the night, two shots came from outside the home, both hitting Virgil in his head where he sat in his armchair, killing him instantly.
Kathy woke up from the noise and came rushing downstairs to see Virgil slumped over, dead in their living room. Kathy fled to the kitchen to reach the landline to call the police. From the kitchen, Kathy Starks was shot at twice while she was in the kitchen, the bullet hitting her in the cheek and existing under her left ear. Kathy ran out of the house, leaving some of her teeth behind in the home, and made it to a neighbor’s home, where she got help.
After police got on the scene, there was evidence that the killer had entered the home after Kathy had escaped. Cash and jewelry were left alone, but the killer made his mark on the walls. Using Virgil Stark’s blood, the killer dipped their hands in the poor old man’s bodily fluids and made handprints around the living room.
Because of how the last attack was carried out, it was believed that the Starks were terrorized by a copycat and not the killer who had committed the earlier murders. The last couple were attacked in their home, the couple were much older than the rest of the victims, and the gun used was not a .32 caliber.
For a long time, the biggest suspect in these crimes was a common thug named Youell Swinney. Swinney was known in the area for stealing cars; surprisingly, three of the crimes involved stolen cars. While in police custody for a separate crime involving a stolen vehicle, Swinney started talking, making it sound like he was a murderer. His wife and partner in crime, Peggy, was lied to by police saying Youell was being held for murder. Under this pretense, Peggy began crying and confessed that he was the Phantom Killer the detectives sought. After some time in custody, Peggy’s story began to change, and not only this, but Youell’s prints also did not match anything that was found at any of the murder scenes.
To this day, the Phantom Killer was never caught, and the crimes remain unsolved. The town of Texarkana plays The Town That Dreaded Sundown in an outdoor event every year. The case still remains open even though the trail has gone cold in hopes of bringing the killer or killers to justice.
A manager is forced to confront an employee that she has been led to believe is in trouble with the law, but is the officer on the phone who he claims to be?
Compliance is a unique film in terms of the idea the story takes. While it is not scary regarding some dark force haunting the characters, a creature is not stalking them, and a killer is not on the loose, but the biggest enemy is the human psyche itself.
The movie’s main story is the famous Mount Washington, Kentucky, incident at a McDonald’s in 2004. During this event and many others, a fake cop would call different establishments to accuse employees of stealing and have a manager conduct a strip search over the phone. This would sound strange to many, as it should be, as an officer of the law would never have a non-law enforcement person do this. Ever.
The series of incidents is now known as The Strip Search Phone Scams. An anonymous person would call restaurants and inform managers that they were officers of the law who knew someone in the restaurant who had committed a crime and must be taken to the side. The caller would briefly describe the “guilty” person’s appearance, and it was usually so general or vague that it could fit anyone who happened to be there at the time. The poor victim would be placed under “citizen’s arrest” under the direction of the cop on the phone before being held against their will and forced to undress by the establishment’s manager. This experience was terrifying and scarring for the person accused of a crime and illegally strip-searched. The calls had been going on for a surprisingly long time, at least between 1994 and the last incident in 2004. Over this decade, dozens of calls were made, and the victims of the scam were all women who were employees and customers between the ages of fourteen to forty-two.
A few notable incidents took place before the famous Mount Washington Incident. One such incident occurred in a McDonald’s in February 2003 in Hinesville, Georgia. A manager received a call from an “officer” and was informed that one of their female employees was suspected of stealing money. The manager took the employee to the restroom to isolate them and had them strip down for a full body cavity search. For reasons unknown, the manager also had a male janitor come into the bathroom to help with the search. The janitor “helped” with the conduction of the search by probing the accused employee’s vagina with his fingers to “search” for who knows what. Very helpful with that search and citizen’s arrest.
Another incident occurred on June 3rd, 2003, at a Taco Bell in Juneau, Alaska. Just like the other times, a caller claimed to be investigating drug abuse at the establishment and convicted the manager on duty for taking aside a fourteen-year-old customer who matched the description given over the phone. No information is recorded if the child was alone or if the manager questioned if they had the authority to question the minor without her parents present, but it was an ugly incident all around. The minor was forced to strip down to be searched, and to take it a step further; the child was made to perform lewd acts at the caller’s request.
These are just two of dozens upon dozens of calls that were made during this ten-year period, and the actual number of times this happened is probably unknown for the fact; that many would probably be too embarrassed to report the incident or too afraid to go forward to proper authorities. To an outsider, it’s all obvious that these calls were scams, and any person with sense would realize that an officer of the law would not call an establishment and have them make a citizen’s arrest, so how is it that the caller was able to manipulate so many people over a long period of time? It’s not that uncommon, and there is an experiment that can explain these behaviors.
The Milgram Shock Experiment was a social experiment that showed how willingly the general public was to obey officials of authority. People were trapped in chairs and given “shocks” administered by a third party under the direction of an authority figure. Even when the third party was hesitant to “shock” the person strapped to the chair, they felt influenced by a person in charge to do so. No one was hurt in the experiment since no shocks were administered, but it showed that every day people are willing to carry out orders, even at the expense of hurting others, if led by an authority figure.
The movie is based on the event in Mount Washington in 2004. The assistant manager of McDonald’s at the time, Donna Summer, was on duty when a call came in. A gentleman named “Officer Scott” introduced himself as a police officer who needed Summer’s help with cornering an employee who was wanted by the law. Over the phone Officer Scott described a woman who was suspected of theft (he never revealed who she stole from), and the description matched employee Louis Ogborn, who was eighteen at the time of the incident.
Not wanting to disobey orders from an officer of the law, Summer pulled Ogborn into her office, made the child strip down until she was naked, and took things one step further by locking Ogborn’s clothes in her vehicle. Afterward, Summer called in her fiance Walter Nix Jr to aid in the investigation (unsure of why she needed assistance from someone who was not a staff member). For other unknown reasons, Summer left Nix alone in the office with Ogborn, where things started taking a turn for the worse.
While alone in the office together, Nix made Ogborn do jumping jacks while naked, had her finger herself and expose herself for the “search,” and ordered Ogborn to sit on his lap and kiss him. It is not known if Ogborn was ordered to do this by Officer Scott or if Nix felt a sense of power over Ogborn and used the situation to his sick advantage. Reportedly, Ogborn was then ordered by the caller to perform oral sex on Nix, which he did not stop.
While the sexual assault occurred, Summer called management to understand what to do with Ogborn and who exactly Officer Scott was or wasn’t. It took several hours and many calls before Summer realized Officer Scott was a fake. The whole incident was then reported to the real police, who led an investigation to catch the crazy person behind the Strip Search Scam calls once and for all.
With the combined efforts of the Mount Washington, Panama City, and Massachusetts police David R. Stewart was brought to justice for the prank call that had stripped people of their peace of mind. Stewart was insistent upon arrest that he was not in possession of the phone card used to make the calls, but one was found in his home. Not only was the phone card located in his home, but police also came across a huge collection of police magazines, police-style uniforms, guns, holsters, and even applications for different police departments in his home. It made sense why he always identified himself as an officer of the law over the phone; he had a police fantasy.
Unfortunately, after the Mount Washington call, Louise Ogborn developed PTSD and could not attend college in the fall of that year as she had planned. For her involvement, Donna Summer was only sentenced to a year of probation.
A woman checks into a cheap model run by a man with mommy issues and has no way to check out.
Psycho is a horror masterpiece directed by the brilliant mind of Alfred Hitchcock. The fantastic lighting setup and music in this movie make it so powerful for viewers and have made it survive all these decades as a must-see for horror fans. The audience was intrigued by Norman Bates, a lonely man who seemed to have a caring relationship with his mother. But underneath that facade was a man scarred by his mother, and that relationship later shaped him into a monster. While we can think of some mama’s boy who wouldn’t hurt a fly, this can’t be said for all men with strange relationships with their mothers. Norman Bates’ character might be unique in horror cinema, but he was heavily based on an even weirder American serial killer: Ed Gein.
While the name Ed Gein may not be as mainstream in the serial killer world as Ted Bundy or Ricard Ramirez, many fans of true crimes will recognize the name. Not only did Ed Gein inspire the character for Norman Bates, but he was also the basis for other pop culture classic characters such as Buffalo Bill of Silence of the Lambs and Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The reason for this? Ed was most famous for one act: a grave robber who made items out of human corpses.
Gein did not have a loving home life growing up. His mother, Augusta Gein, was the mother from hell. She was ultra-religious and thought everyone but herself was a filthy sinner. She believed this to the point where she drilled into her sons that all women were dirty harlots and she was the last godly woman left on earth. When Ed and his older brother, Henry, were young, Augusta preached to them that sex was the root of all evil. She wouldn’t allow Ed to befriend the wicked sinners at school, resulting in Ed being super alone and isolated from everyone in their small town.
While Augusta isolated her boys, she is not to be confused with a loving mother. Even though she was overprotective, she never had any kindness in her heart for her children. Augusta would physically beat the boys without ever informing the children of what they did wrong. Since she was so obsessed with the idea of purity and was repulsed by anything having to do with sex, when she caught Ed masturbating at the age of twelve, she squeezed his genitals as punishment.
Even with all the abuse, Ed would recall his mother in a loving way. He took care of her in Augusta’s twilight years, not that she cared, and when Augusta finally died, Ed went off his rocker. Shortly after her death, Ed began displaying schizophrenic behavior, such as hearing his mother’s voice and having intense visual hallucinations.
What’s so unusual about Ed Gein is that most of his victims were not alive since he is more known for grave robbing than anything. It’s known that Ed killed at least two people, but he is suspected of also killing his older brother Henry. Henry’s brother was reported missing, and somehow Ed was able to lead a search party to his body. While Henry’s body was found on a piece of burnt earth, Henry himself had no burns. What was found was that Henry’s head was bruised as if he was beaten. While his death was suspicious, no one ever blamed Ed for his death since Ed was seen as helpless and extremely socially awkward.
After Augusta’s death, Ed wanted to be around a woman’s body, but not for sexual reasons. Since his mother told him that sex was for sinners, he had no real sexual desire for women, but his other feelings were even creepier. The first body he dug up was that of a local townsperson. Her body had only been put to rest earlier that day when Ed disturbed her resting place.
After this, Ed would regularly remove the bodies of middle-aged women from their graves. More than likely, he did this because of his mommy issues and unresolved trauma from his upbringing. In some cases, he wouldn’t take the whole corpse but only certain body parts of whatever projects he had going on at the time.
When police raided the Gein home, they found plenty of macabre art projects. This is the part where the idea for Buffalo Bill took form. At his residence, police found what was believed to be a human body suit made from a mashup of female corpses. Leggings made from the victim’s skin, a vest created from a woman’s torso, and a collection of masks made from faces. The body suit was far from his only art project, as police found soup bowls made from skull caps, a shoebox full of noses and vulvas, and a lampshade made from a torso. Ed also experimented with his fashion by making a belt out of nipples. It’s incredible that Ed made all these crafts without being caught for grave robbing.
His first female (live) victim was Mary Hogan, a local free-spirited businesswoman who ran a bar in town. Because Ed’s father was an alcoholic, he never went crazy with the booze, but he had a fondness for Mary since she resembled Augusta (much to her misfortune). Not much information is available surrounding her murder, but it is known that she was killed with a .22 rifle, and her body was taken back to Ed’s shop of horrors. Ed made no attempt to hide his tracks, but the police didn’t find any leads at the scene of the crime other than blood behind the bar and missing cash. Needless to say, the police were not the most ambitious department.
Ed’s final victim, and the one who put a nail in his coffin, was Bernice Worden, another local middle-aged businesswoman resembling Ed’s late mother (the mommy issues ran DEEP in Ed).
Like many other women in town, Bernice was creeped out by Ed and rejected his attempts at asking her out. While Ed never seemed too heartbroken over being turned down, Bernice was never off his radar. On the morning of her murder, Ed visited her hardware store under the guise of a shopping trip. During his trip, he asked to view a display rifle, and while Bernice’s back was turned, he loaded the weapon with a .22 bullet and shot her in the head. Before leaving the store, Ed slashed her throat like a hunter would a deer, leaving blood everywhere.
Before police caught up with him, Ed loaded Bernice’s body into her vehicle and began to butcher her. He rigged her body up like a deer, drained her corpse of blood, and cut up her body like a hunter after a kill. He probably treated her body like this since her murder occurred on the first day of deer season.
Meanwhile, Bernice’s son entered the family store after a day of deer hunting to find the floor stained with his mother’s blood. Like Mary Hogan’s murder, Ed did not bother cleaning up after himself. What separated this crime scene from the first one was a clue leading police straight to Ed: his name was written on a receipt left on the counter.
After Ed’s arrest, the police found Bernice’s body in the dark at the Gein home, along with her entails wrapped up neatly in packages and the rest of Ed’s twisted art pieces.
Ed was found unfit for trial due to his schizophrenia and died years later in a mental institution.
The Gein family home was burned down by vandals who were never arrested for the crime. More than likely, this is because the townsfolk wanted to erase the dark history the Geins’ left behind.
It is interesting to read about the history that brought to life classic horror cinema and developed psychological thrillers that were more terrifying once you get to the story’s core. It shows that sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction, and life can be the basis for great storytelling.