Sometimes I don't think we are aware of the real horrific events that often inspired great horror fiction and film.
Here are some cases that were the inspiration for some great novels and films:
Burke and Hare at their trial
William Burke and Willaim Hare were two Ediburgh residents who discovered a real money spinner. When a lodger (an old man) happened to die owing Hare money (Hare and his lady friend rented to lodgers), Hare along with Burke decided to give the body over to the medical institute run by Dr. Knox.
They were delighted wtih the money paid for the corpse. Corpses were much sought after for medical research as the only ones available came from executed criminals. Thus a new business was born with two eager entrepreneurs ready to make a go of it.
Now they were not actually grave robbers. They were more like grave fillers as they began to kill for money. Burke by 'burking' (smothering and compressing the chest) and Hare by helping him.
Of course they got carried away and when a popular, very young and very healthy lady turned up dead on the dissection table their numbers were up.
Dr. Knox was a dubious character himself for never once questioning how they were able to get so many bodies for him, but nothing was ever done to Knox.
Burke was hanged and Hare cut a deal and testified against Burke. He was released and was last seen leaving Edinburgh. I personaly don’t think Hare got very far!
Their story and their hideous crimes are thought to have inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Body Snatcher.
The Mary Rogers Murder
The Mary Rogers Case was infamous in New York, there have been books about it and it is still spoken about.
Employed in a cigar store, she was a popular young lady, much admired for her looks. Among her admiring customers were literary greats: James Fennimore Cooper and Washington Irving.
In July 1841 she disappeared. Her body was found three days later, floating in the Hudson River near Hoboken, New Jersey.
Her face was badly battered, her clothes torn. The coroner said there was evidence of a 'man's thumb mark' on her neck. She had been gagged and choked and he concluded she had been 'outraged.'
He did also say there was no evidence of pregnancy which is interesting because there were rumors that she died as a result of a failed abortion.
Her fiance committed suicide by poison which many people felt was telling.
The case was never solved however.
Is Edgar Allan Poe’s sequel to The Murders of the Rue Morgue.
In the story, the body of Marie Rogêt, a perfume shop employee, is found in the Seine River and the media take a keen interest in the mystery.
It features the Detective, Dupin who eventually, unlike the real Rogers case solves the murder.
As Poe wrote in a letter: "under the pretense of showing how Dupin... unravelled the mystery of Marie's assassination, I, in fact, enter into a very rigorous analysis of the real tragedy in New York".
He situated the narrative in Paris using the details of the original tragedy.
Deacon William Brodie
Deacon William Brodie was a respected member of Edinburgh's society, a skilled cabinet-maker and Deacon. What few people knew was Brodie led a secret life as the leader of a gang of master burglars.
He was married but he had two mistresses and a number of children by them that he supported by nefarious means.
As a sideline to his cabinet making he repaired locks which helped him in his thievery!
Brodie's last crime was an armed raid on the King’s Excise Offices. It went wrong. Yet Brodie escaped to the Netherlands, but was arrested and returned to Edinburgh for trial.
There wasn’t any evidence to incriminate Brodie until a search of his house revealed the tools of his thievery. The jury found Brodie and an accomplice guilty.
Both men were hanged.
Brodie was supposed to have bribed the hangman but it didn’t work and he is buried in an unmarked grave.
His unusual double-life might indeed have inspired Robert Louis Stevenson, whose father had had furniture made by Brodie. Stevenson included aspects of Brodie's life and character in his story of a split personality, 'The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde'.
His was a turbulent life lived in cruel times. He fought against the Turks and is considered a hero in his native Romania because of it.
He was engaged in constant battles with the Turks. At one point the Sultan launched a massive invasion of his native land of Walachia.
Vlad finding himself without allies burned his own villages and poisoned the wells along the way, so that the Turkish army would suffer.
But there was more, for the Sultan saw the hundreds of stakes holding the carcasses of Turkish captives, a horror scene which was ultimately nicknamed the "Forest of the Impaled."
This worked and the Sultan withdrew.
Note: Victor Hugo, in his Legende des Siecles (Legend of the Centuries) recalls this particular incident).
Yet Vlad's younger brother, Radu, was persuaded by the enemy to take the Walachian throne.
At the head of a Turkish army and joined by Vlad's detractors, Radu pursued his brother to Poenari Castle on the Arges River.
Vlad’s wife in order to escape capture, committed suicide by hurling herself from the upper battlements, her body falling down the precipice into the river below, a scene depicted in Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula.
Vlad, escaped the siege of his fortress but was assassinated in 1476.
But even when fighting no one he meted out terrible punishments for arbitrary reasons.
He is credited with killing between 40,000 to 100,000 people in this fashion.
Bram Stoker it is thought based his Count Dracula on Vlad and gave us the classic, Dracula.
What has always struck me about Vlad’s staking of victims was that the stake and the idea of staking a vampire through the heart is used in Dracula and in so much vampire viction. I think that is an amazing connection.
Elizabeth Báthory, also known as the Blood Countess was a sadistic sexual murderer, she tortured and killed servants and reputedly bathed in their blood because she thought it beneficial to stay looking young.
The killings and tortures finally caught up with her and she was put on trial.
A servant testified at her trial that the Countess made incantations to her mirror and would gaze into it "for over two hours at a stretch."
Elizabeth's old nurse testified that about 40 girls had been tortured and killed. In fact, Elizabeth killed 612 women -- and in her diary, she documented their deaths. A complete transcript of the trial was made at the time and it survices today in Hungary
In the traditional tale (the non-Disney version ) of the Snow White story, the Queen asks that Snow White's heart (or lungs and liver) be brought to her. When the man ordered to murder the young lady returns with the same items from a deer, the Queen commits what she thinks is an act of cannibalism.
When her crime is discovered she is forced to wear red hot slippers and dance until she drops dead.
That is I believe is a reference to Bathory’s proclivity of burning people for slight infractions.
Yup old Ed is Plainfield, Wisconsin’s infamous one-time resident.
Ed was into necrophilia and murder. Although not a serial killer by police standards as he is thought to have ‘only’ murdered two women, Ed is still considered a murderous deviant.
He murdered two women in his town and had one gutted and hanging in his farmhouse, the other woman was murdered and used to make some trophies.
Ed’s mother Augusta instilled a frightening fear of women in Ed and it is thought that set poor Ed on his road to perdition. Ed’s brother by the way is thought to have been murdered by him although it was never proven.
Ed was arrested and died in the insane asylum.
Within three years of his arrest the novel Psycho written by Robert Bloch was published and the brilliant film by Hitchcock based on that book was released.
The irony here is Ed Gein’s crimes were far worse than Norman Bates’ crimes. His story was far more horrific than the novel, Psycho.
Real horror, fictional horror--horror nevertheless because horror is horror, but I think it is safe to agree that non-fictional horror is by far the worse because it is real!
I think it is quite obvious as to why horror fiction and film exists, if there wasn't horror and evil in the world we as writers could not write about it.