Unspeakable Times

The Real-Life Inspirations Behind Hannibal Lecter

Thomas Harris's inspiration for entertainment's most notoriously terrifying fictional serial killer is wrapped up in the stories of several, real-life psychopaths. Dr. Hannibal Lecter is decidedly more terrifying than Dexter Morgan, Norman Bates, and Patrick Bateman, who are a few of the best fictional serial killers ever created. The cannibalistic doctor may be make believe, but Hannibal Lecter's inspirations really did live... and kill.

The writers, filmmakers, and actors who have encountered the character look to people like Alfredo Ballí Treviño and Ted Bundy to make Lecter as horrifyingly real as possible. Many of the killers who inspired Lecter share his smooth personality, his witty intellect, and occasionally his taste for human flesh. 

Lecter made his first appearance in Harris's 1981 novel, Red Dragon. A movie adaptation soon followed as 1986's Manhunter, as well as Harris's next novel, the 1988 sequel, The Silence of the Lambs. Harris's books were quite popular, but Manhunter failed at the box office and it wasn't until the 1991 film adaptation of The Silence of the Lambs that movie audiences really got a taste of Lecter's charm. Since then the character has appeared in several other films, as well as Hannibal the TV series and is considered the number one movie villain by the American Film Institute. 

Harris's evil yet compelling creation has become legendary, but many are still wondering: What or who inspired the birth of Hannibal Lecter?