Before we could have the Fargo TV series paying homage to it (that the Coens think is anything but aces), we had the original Fargo movie back in 1996. It was a brutal film that further propelled the Coen Brothers as kings of comedic violence, and what struck a chord with moviegoers at that time happened before the film even started. We were told that movie was “a true story,” that everything happened in Minnesota in 1987 with just a few tweaks. The label made the horrific actions that followed only more unnerving, only to famously find out from the Coens that it was all made up.
Or so it would seem. Fact is, crucial details from the film do appear to draw from a few real true crime stories. At the very least, these incidents helped shape the Fargo we’ve all come to know.
The Coens focused the film on the kidnapping of Minnesota housewife Jean Lundegaard by two thugs. This criminal act is mirrored in the real kidnapping of Minnesota housewife Virginia Piper, who was also taken from her house by two goons in broad daylight. Piper’s husband, Harry Piper, also paid $1 million for her ransom. Thankfully, things ended better for Piper than Lundegaard, as Piper was found chained to a tree in the woods after the payment.
Circumstances around the real murder of Helle Crafts also bear similarities to Fargo. Crafts, a flight attendant, went missing in 1986, and it was discovered after weeks of searching that her husband had killed her. He had been dodgy about her whereabouts, and the police later found Helle’s human remains that had been fed through none other than a wood chipper.
Not all of Fargo‘s inspirations came from true crime stories, though, don’cha know. Ethan Coen also claims that the hilarious “true coat” scene below stems from his own experience at a car dealership.