The Horrific Murders at the Heart of the Candyman Film
The famous cult horror film that is more than just a film.
Candyman is a famous cult horror film from the 1990s. Unfortunately, many people who watch it would not realise that it is based on actual crime incidents. Although not supernatural in origin, they are just as chilling.
The film’s central theme is to look at the plight of black Chicageons over a decade of poverty, police indifference, and drugs. Two prominent murders form the basis for the film.
The Murder of Ruthie Mae McCoy
McCoy was a 52-year-old woman who suffered from paranoia; she lived in an impoverished part of Chicago in the ABLA apartments on Chicago’s south side.
Over the years, racist neglect from Chicago’s housing authority turned the estates from fine homes into a nightmare of crime, poverty and drugs. The buildings contained pitch black stairways, broken elevators and cocaine and PCP addicts.
During a ride back with a friend from a psychiatry appointment, she mentioned that someone had threatened her life. They thought little of it; McCoy was always seeing monsters where there weren’t any, or was she?
On 22nd April 1987, at 2045, she rang 911 and informed them that someone was breaking into her apartment through the bathroom cabinet. A scene portrayed in Candyman. She stated that they had thrown the cabinet down and were climbing through the wall; the dispatcher thought she was crazy.
I’m a resident at 1440 W. 13th St., and some people next door are totally tearing this down, you know — Ruthie McCoy
He would probably not have responded had it not been for McCoy’s neighbours.
At 2102, a next-door neighbour would ring the police stating they had heard gunshots from McCoy’s apartment. At 2104 a second neighbour reported the same; they also said they could hear shouting.
At 2110, four police arrived at McCoy’s door; they pounded on the door and asked dispatch to ring the owner, they got no answer. They then tried to find a key to access the apartments; as they were unsuccessful, they went away at 2148.
The next day, Debra Lasley, a friend and neighbour of McCoy’s, rang the police to say that her friend had failed to visit her in the morning, something she always did. The police and security once again went to check the apartment out but were unable to raise McCoy. The police were eager to kick the door down; security suggested they didn’t as it was likely the resident would sue them for the damage. So they once again went away.
The following day, Lasley once again tried to raise her friend; this time, she contacted the project office at 1300, a carpenter opened the door to McCoy’s apartment. McCoy was found on the bedroom floor, on her side, in a pool of blood. She had a hand over her chest, one shoe on and one-off, magazines and papers were scattered throughout the flat. She had been shot four times. Once through her left shoulder, once through her left thigh and once through the right side of her abdomen. The fatal fourth shot had entered her upper right arm through her chest, severing her pulmonary artery.
The police initially thought McCoy must know her attackers as there was no sign of forced entry, until they went into the bathroom and saw that the killer had removed the bathroom cabinet.
Narrow maintenance passages existed between the apartments; they were a popular way for burglars to enter properties. In addition, the bathroom cabinets, which was held with four screws, were easy to push out to open a door to the apartments.
Candyman’s First Murder
The incompetence of the police would be better placed in a comedy film rather than a 1980s crime. In Candyman, the first victim is Ruthie Jean; she is murdered by someone coming through the bathroom cabinet; she calls the police but dies alone.
It is possible that director Bernard Rose learned of McCoy’s murder after deciding to shoot his movie in Chicago and used it as the basis of one of the early scenes. Others state that John Malkovich was interested in making a movie about the story and shared the details with Rose.
The other central theme of Candyman is the treatment of black men who form relationships with white women. Candyman is a black artist named Daniel Robitaille who falls in love with a white woman. Unfortunately, the woman falls pregnant, and her father finds out about the relationship. Robitaille is then beaten by a gang, covered in honey and stung to death by bees; the Candyman is created.
Horrendously this is also based on an accurate account of the lynch mobs that were common. Forty African American men were lynched to death in 1880; this figure later doubled in 1890.
The Murder of William Bell
On 8th October 1924, William Bell, a thirty-three-year-old Black man, was beaten to death by a lynching mob. The mob attacked him for allegedly attacking a white girl. Following the murder, doctors confirmed that the girl had not been attacked in any way. The worse that had happened to her was that she was surprised when Bell appeared on the picnic ground where she was.
Bell was married; the mob beat him to death by bashing his skull with bats and then threw him in the river. He was one of many stories of Black men who lost their lives in this manner. Some were hung, beaten or other unimaginable methods of torture.
Records show that a man named Otto Epstein was arrested for Bell’s murder. However, it is unclear how much time, if any, he served. Bell has recently been added to a memorial for victims of lynching, after Oprah Winfrey brought his story to the public’s attention.
Not Just a Film
Candyman was my favourite film when I was growing up. I watched it on numerous occasions, never once appreciating how much it was connected to history and true crime.
The crimes used as the basis of the film demonstrate the plight of those deemed disposable victims; black and mentally ill. Having researched the origin of the film, I will watch it now with renewed interest.