The Tragic Story of the Gay Couple in ‘It’ Was Based on the Fate of Charlie Howard

The Tragic Story of the Gay Couple in ‘It’ Was Based on the Fate of Charlie Howard

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The 2017 and 2019 film remakes IT Chapter 1 and IT Chapter 2 have since proven to be beloved horror films (based on the book IT by genre master Stephen King), but did you know that the latter film’s (and book’s) brief gay couple storyline was actually based on a real incident? Yes, that IT true story is based on the tragedy of Charlie Howard of Bangor, Maine.

Before we go much further, we do want to note that this article contains some spoilers for IT: Chapter 2. If you’ve not read the book or seen the film, you may want to turn back now.

Charlie Howard

Charlie Howard (Photo courtesy of Bangor Daily News)

Charlie Howard was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. He was small and frequently bullied for his size, asthma and sexual orientation. Howard was so bullied, he chose not to attend his high school graduation as to spare his family from hearing the torment that filled his school life.

In January 1984, at the age of 23, he moved to Bangor, Maine, after a breakup. He spent a month staying with his friends Paul Noddin and Scott Hamilton, but due to the lack of opportunity, Noddin and Hamilton convinced Charlie Howard to move back home to Portsmouth and live with his family.

But that living situation only lasted a week, and his friends invited Howard back to stay with them. His life was looking up; he’d joined the Unitarian Church as well as a support group. He found people who accepted him for who he was, and was able to get his own apartment and a kitten.

Unfortunately, Howard still faced homophobia from the Bangor community at large. He was frequently jeered and tormented. One day, homophobes even strangled his kitten and left the body on his doorstep.

The IT True Story

The three men who murdered Charlie Howard after a court appearance on July 9, 1984. The suspects are, from left, Daniel Ness, James Francis Baines and Shawn I. Mabry. (Photo courtesy of the Bangor Daily News)

On July 7, 1984 — only six months after he’d moved to Bangor — Charlie Howard left a potluck supper at his support group with a friend, Roy Ogden. Howard and Ogden walked to the post office to pick up Howard’s mail, but on the way there a car full of five high school students slowed down. Those students were Shawn Mabry, 16, Daniel Ness, 17 and Jim Baines, 15, along with two girls.

The trio of boys had harassed Charlie Howard before. Howard started to run when he saw their car. The boys gave chase and caught Howard when he fell. Howard couldn’t catch his breath due to his asthma. The boys started beating and kicking him. Jim Baines suggested they throw Howard over the bridge. The other boys agreed, and Baines and Ness grabbed Howard.

Charlie Howard pleaded for them to let him go, as he couldn’t swim. Baines and Ness weren’t swayed, however, and continued pushing him over the railing. Mabry gave the final push. Roy Ogden was able to run away, and though the trio threatened him, he pulled the first fire alarm he found.

Several hours later, Charlie Howard’s body was found. According to the autopsy, Howard suffered an asthma attack and drowned. Though the boys bragged about their gay bashing of Howard, the next day, the girls in the car told police what happened and Baines, Ness and Mabry were arrested.

The Charlie Howard memorial

On Monday, Oct. 1, 1984, Baines, Ness and Mabry pleaded guilty to manslaughter. They were sentenced to the Maine Youth Center until Feb. 28, 1988, or about three-and-a-half years, however Baines was released after two years, and Mabry after 22 months. July 7, the day Howard died, is now celebrated every year as Diversity Day in Bangor.

The IT version of the Charlie Howard story

Pennywise, the Dancing Clown

The version of the Charlie Howard story that appears in IT Chapter 2 and the book is pretty similar to actual events.

In the book, Don Hagarty and Adrian Mellon attend a fair in the small town of Derry, Maine. The couple are attacked by bullies, but when Mellon refuses to back down, they “beat him, stab him and then toss him off a bridge, leaving him for dead in the shallow water 23 feet below.” Pennywise then eats Mellon while Hagarty and one of the bullies watch.

Many reading the Stephen King book and those who saw the more recent films had no idea that this gut-wrenching scene had been based on a true life incident that King himself had been familiar with.

Had you heard about Charlie Howard and the IT true story?

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