The second episode of American Horror Story: Roanoke began to explore some of the history of the creepy house that protagonists Shelby, Matt, and Lee definitely regret moving into. While it seems the source of the house's evil may lie in the colonial era mystery that gave the season its name, there's a lot more darkness lurking within its walls. In Episode 2, Matt and Shelby discover a tape created by a former inhabitant of the house that's very revealing. The man in the tape, Dr. Elias Cunningham, looks unhinged: his beard is wild and overgrown, he's holed up in the basement, and he's talking a mile a minute. AHS often takes inspiration from real life true crime, but is Dr. Cunningham's story based in reality? Is Elias Cunningham real on American Horror Story?
Despite the disclaimer at the start of every episode that proclaims the following is based on true events, it doesn't look like most of the main characters of AHS: Roanoke are based on real people. In the world of the show, Dr. Cunningham was a professor who came to the house in the '90s to write a Helter Skelter-style book about a pair of sister nurses who ran a retirement facility out of the house. However, instead of caring for their elderly patients, the sisters just tortured and killed them. There doesn't seem to be any record of a Bradley University-affiliated professor with a penchant for true crime who went missing in the '90s. Dr. Cunningham definitely looks like an invention of the show.
However, murderous sisters Miranda and Bridget were inspired by real life people even though the details of their crimes may seem almost too unique to be anything but fiction. Gwendolyn Graham and Cathy Wood weren't sisters, but they were a pair of nurses who fell in love in the 1980s and killed five old women at the nursing home where they worked. Much like the the sisters on AHS, Graham and Wood also killed their patients in a specific order with the intention of spelling out the word MURDER using the first letter of their victims' names. Both on the show and in reality, the nurses only got as far as spelling out MURDE. Instead they decided to alter the phrase "I'll love you forever and a day" to suit their relationship, counting each murder as a day: Wood wrote a poem to Graham that ended "I'll love you forever and five days."
While Dr. Cunningham isn't based on a real person, a man named Lowell Cauffiel did write a true crime book about Graham and Wood in 1992 called Forever And Five Days. However, it doesn't look like doing so drove Cauffiel over the edge; he's still alive and working.