History Uncovered Episode 7:
The Real-Life Stories Behind ‘Candyman’

Published September 29, 2023

In 1987, Ruthie Mae McCoy was found murdered inside her Chicago apartment after telling police that someone was trying to break in through her bathroom mirror — and with that, the story of Candyman was born.

On the night of April 22, 1987, Ruthie Mae McCoy called 911 at around 8:45 p.m. to report that someone was trying to break into her Chicago apartment through the bathroom mirror. She made two separate calls to the police that night, and two neighbors who heard her screaming called 911 as well — but nobody came to her aid. McCoy was found dead in her apartment two days later, lying in a puddle of blood.

She had been shot four times by two young men who had indeed come into her apartment through her bathroom mirror. If this sounds like something out of an urban legend, that’s because it soon became one.

Five years later, Ruthie McCoy’s murder helped inspire the classic horror film Candyman.

In Candyman, an anthropology student named Helen is gathering urban legends for her thesis when she stumbles across the story of the Candyman, a sort of cross between Bloody Mary and the Hookman killer. He appears when you say his name into a mirror five times, then guts you with his hook hands.

The janitors at Helen’s school tell her about a woman named Ruthie who they believe was killed by the Candyman. In the movie, they say Ruthie heard banging and smashing like someone was trying to make a hole in the wall, so she called 911 — but they didn’t believe her.

The True Story Of Candyman

David WilsonThe ABLA Homes in Chicago’s South Side, where Ruthie Mae McCoy and 17,000 others lived.

The parallels between Ruthie McCoy’s real-life murder and Candyman‘s fictional Ruthie Jean are striking, but though 52-year-old McCoy had schizophrenia and her neighbors often saw her talking to herself or cursing strangers on the street, what she reported in her frantic 911 calls was all too real.

But one question looms: How exactly did Ruthie McCoy’s actual killers break in through her bathroom mirror?

A reporter for the Chicago Reader discovered that bathroom cabinet break-ins were quite common and well-known by residents of the Abbott Homes apartments, where McCoy lived. Apparently, the bathroom cabinets had been installed back-to-back with a two-foot-wide pipe chase running between apartments. They were loosely attached to the walls with just six flimsy nails to make it easy for plumbers to access the pipes for repairs.

Gang members had discovered the pipe chases about a year and a half before McCoy’s death and routinely used them to break into neighboring apartments. Some residents put furniture in front of their bathroom doors at night to protect themselves and their families from intruders.

But while echoes of McCoy’s murder appear in Candyman, it’s just one of many stories that may have inspired the famous film.

Go inside more of the real-life stories behind Candyman.

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