The 13th Floor

The Horrifying True Story Behind the Campfire Tale in CABIN FEVER

In Eli Roth’s CABIN FEVER there is a memorable campfire scene where the protagonist, Paul (played by Rider Strong), tells his friends about a gruesome murder at a bowling alley. The friends listen in horror as Paul describes how a disgruntled employee showed up at a place called Lenny Meade’s Brighton Bowl, tied up the people working there, and murdered them one-by-one. The tale made for good storytelling, but did you know that Paul’s story was actually inspired by a real-life quadruple murder?

 

The Brighton Bowl murder story was based on a grisly murder that occurred at a bowling alley in Brighton, Massachusetts, a neighborhood in Boston. The place was actually called Sammy White’s Brighton Bowl, and was owned by former Red Sox catcher, Sammy White.

Sammy White’s was a hotspot for neighborhood kids and families. The bowling alley was a place full of fun, laughs and good-hearted memories. Until, one day when everything shattered. The good times would become overshadowed by a frightening crime that shocked the community.

 

On September 22, 1980, four Brighton Bowl employees were tied up, beaten with a bowling pin, and shot execution style. They were discovered by police lying face down with their hands bound behind their backs. The room was covered in blood from the brutal beatings, and the safe had been emptied. Only a couple thousand dollars was taken.

Police were soon alerted to a man named Bryan Dyer, who previously worked at the bowling alley as a janitor seven years before. He had been fired from Sammy White’s for constantly goofing off on the job, and playing pranks on his co-workers. Two weeks before the horrific killings, Dyer approached bowling alley manager Donald Doroni to ask for his job back. He was turned down.

Broke and angry that he couldn’t get his job back, Dyer showed up at the bowling alley with a gun. He brought the four male employees—brothers David Cobe, 22, and Brian, 23; George Haglestein, 40, and manager Doroni, 40—into the bowling alley repair shop. He handcuffed three of them and bound the fourth with a belt. Then he proceeded to bludgeon them with a bowling pin.

Police believed Dyer beat them for information on how to get into the safe. When he finally learned the combination, he shot the four men and left them for dead. Three of the victims died at the scene, and one died at the hospital.

The disgruntled former employee fled the scene. He was eventually apprehended by police and they found bloodied clothing in his home. Bullets and a gun from the crime were uncovered in his car.

As the police and media delved deeper into Dyer’s past they learned he had a long criminal rap sheet. Six years before the murder he was arrested for having a shootout with police and served time at the high-security Walpole State Prison.

Dyer also had a reputation as a neighborhood boogeyman. People feared him. Rumors swirled that he had killed multiple people in his lifetime—and essentially got away with his crimes. Everyone in town knew he was responsible for the killings because he was crazy.

Authorities suspected that Dyer had help in the murders, but they never found any other suspects. Dyer was convicted of the murders and sentenced to life in prison.

He tried for years to appeal his sentence and get out of jail. The killer even appeared on local news stations claiming his innocence. In one memorable moment, Dyer opened his prison shirt to reveal four bowling pins with the names of his victims tattooed on his chest. Luckily, he never got his appeal. He died in prison in 2011.

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CABIN FEVER changed the story slightly. In the film, the disgruntled employee killed six people by smashing their heads in with a hammer. Then he cut off their limbs and bowled them down the lanes. Paul also mentioned a happy bald guy’s head being found in the ball return—still smiling. Those things didn’t actually happen, but the true crime was just as disturbing.

Sammy White’s Brighton Bowl could never escape the horrifying murders that occurred within its walls. It closed six years later, but the history surrounding the place would live on in the community—and in film. The brutal crime marked a change in life as people knew it in Brighton, a new world where no one was safe.

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