Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Hannibal Lecter: Origin, Facts and Fiction


Behavioral science has taught us that serial killers aren't born that way; they're formed by a combination of factors that begins in childhood.  The blueprint for a serial killer's rampage is his inner fantasy life, which is a direct response to traumatic events that occurred when he was a child or young adult.  Hannibal Lector's life-defining trauma happened at the age of six when he witnessed the death of his beloved sister Mischa.

In Hannibal, Thomas Harris presents us with a dream that Dr. Lecter has when he dozes off during an airplane flight.  It's his memory of an event that happened during World War II.   His parents have been killed, their estate taken over by "deserters."  The children are locked in a barn.

The mixed bag of deserters who used the remote hunting lodge ate what they could find.  Once they found a miserable little deer, scrawny, with an arrow in it, that had managed to forage beneath the snow and survive.  They led it back into the camp to keep from carrying it...

They did not wish to fire a shot and managed to knock it off its spindly legs and hack at its throat with an axe, cursing one another in several languages to bring a bowl before the blood was wasted.

There was not much meat on the runty deer and in two days, perhaps three, in their long overcoats, their breaths stinking and steaming, the deserters came through the snow from the hunting lodge to unlock the barn and choose again from among the children huddled in the straw.  None had frozen, so they took a live one.

They felt Hannibal Lecter's thigh and his upper arm and chest, and instead of him, they chose his sister Mischa, and led her away.  To play, they said.  No one who was led away to play ever returned. 

Hannibal held on to Mischa so hard, held to Mischa with his wiry grip until they slammed the heavy barn door on him, stunning him and cracking the bone in his upper arm.

They led her away through snow still stained bloody from the deer.

He prayed so hard that he would see Mischa again, the prayer consumed his six-year-old mind, but it did not drown out the sound of the axe.  His prayer to see her again did not go entirely unanswered—he did see a few of Mischa's milk teeth in the reeking stool pit his captors used between the lodge where they slept and the barn where they kept the captive children who were their sustenance in 1944 after the Eastern Front collapsed...

Mischa's horrible slaughter and consumption by the deserters formed the fantasy that shaped Hannibal Lecter, a revenge fantasy.  In his dream, the deserters are crude and uncouth.  They're not soldiers but deserters, cowards, ignoble by definition.  They take over Lecter's parents' property and relegate the young residents to the barn.  Their breath stinks.  They butcher a deer as Neanderthals would.  They screech like greedy vultures when they see the spilled blood seeping into the snow.


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