Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Hannibal Lecter: Origin, Facts and Fiction

Buffalo Bill

Ed Gein
Ed Gein

Thomas Harris clearly used real-life models for the other serial killer in The Silence of the Lambs.  Jame Gumb (a.k.a. "Buffalo Bill") resembles serial killer Ed Gein, who also served as the model for Norman Bates in the movie Psycho.  Gein, who lived in the heartlands of Wisconsin in the 1950s, was a quiet and introverted man who bore the scars of an overbearing mother.  He had considered undergoing a sex-change operation to relieve his misery, but given the strictures of his small-town existence, he ultimately decided against it.  What he did instead was dress in women's skin.  Gein, like Gumb, killed women, skinned them, tanned their hides, and wore the results.  Gein also fashioned lampshades and bracelets out of loose ends, and even made a bowl out of a woman's skull.

Ted Bundy
Ted Bundy

Harris also used a bit of Ted Bundy in the creation of Jame Gumb.  Part of Bundy's MO was to wear a phony cast on his arm and put it in a sling, then ask unsuspecting coeds to help him move something he couldn't possibly manage by himself.    As soon as he lured his target to a secluded spot, Bundy pounced.   Jame Gumb uses the same ploy to capture a young woman in Harris's book, putting a cast on his arm and asking the woman if she'll help him load an armchair into his van.  She does, and once inside the van, she's trapped.

In creating Hannibal Lecter, Harris might have looked to real-life practitioners of anthropophagy (i.e. cannibalism).   David Sexton, author of The Strange World of Thomas Harris: Inside the Mind of the Creator of Hannibal Lecter, writes that Harris once told a librarian in his home town, Cleveland, Mississippi, that Lecter was inspired by a murderer named William Coyne, who had escaped from prison in 1934 and gone on a rampage in Cleveland that included acts of murder and cannibalism.  Coyne's exploits were the stuff of local legend when Harris was growing up and might have planted the seed for Lecter in the author's mind.  Sexton also suggests Welsh killer Jason Ricketts "who murdered and eviscerated a cellmate in Cardiff prison, mistaking his spleen for his heart," as another possible model for Lecter.


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