esther in Orphan 2009

The True Story Behind ‘Orphan,’ Explained

A grown woman posing as a child? Not as unlikely as you think.

Imagine the horror that would come from adopting a child, only to find out they’re a grown woman looking to scam you. Not to mention potentially murder you. 

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Orphan (2009) is one of those horror movies that turns the creepy kid trope on its head. Horror movies based on a true story have appealed to horror fans who want the scariest movies. In most cases, Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) would be possessed by an entity or just a very murderous child. But for the movie to slowly reveal who she really is, makes it especially scary. Her motivations to seduce the father and get rid of his family are…disturbing. In the end, she dies, but she left enough damage behind. There’s even an upcoming prequel to explain how she came to America in the first place. 

However, the biggest question is: was this movie inspired by a true story? And how much of it is fictional? 

What’s the real-life inspiration?

Surprisingly, Orphan (2009) is based off of the true story of a real-life woman, Babora Skrlová, who was found living in Norway, posing as a 13-year-old boy named Adam. At the time, the 33-year-old woman was pretending to be a child all to avoid giving testimony or being arrested for charges of child abuse. But it wasn’t the first time she posed as a child.

Trigger warning below, as the crime involves abuse of minors.

Skrlová first pretended to be a child while living in the Czech Republic in 2007. Skrlová had gone to live with the Mauerova sisters (Katerina and Klara) and Klara’s two young sons as an adopted daughter. Details are slightly unclear, some reports say that the Mauerova sisters were aware of her true identity, others that she was scamming them, but what followed was horrific abuse for the young boys living in the household. Skrlová began staging accidents around the house, blaming the children, as well as pushing the Mauerovas into escalating, and disgusting, punishments.

Without going into too much detail, the children were subjected to extreme violence and abuse—often locked in small spaces, cages, or the basement, and starved. After a year of torture, a neighbor reported the abuse, and Klara Mauerova was arrested.

After the arrest, Katerina placed Barbora in an orphanage under the name Anicka (again, while they denied it, it has been claimed that she did so knowing Skrlová’s true identity). From there, Skrlová escaped to Norway—where she was enrolled in school and believed to be a 13-year-old boy. Skrlová was later found, arrested, and put on trial for her crimes. All three women were sentenced to prison for between 5 and 10 years (which, given the nature of their crimes, is far too short).

(featured image: Warner Bros. Pictures)

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Vanessa Maki
Vanessa Maki (she/her) is a queer Blerd and contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She first started writing for digital magazines in 2018 and her articles have appeared in Pink Advocate (defunct), The Gay Gaze (defunct), Dread Central and more. She primarily writes about movies, TV, and anime. Efforts to make her stop loving complex/villainous characters or horror as a genre will be futile.