The author behind one of the most unforgettable villains of cinematic history has finally revealed the real-life killer behind his chilling creation.
Thomas Harris, who rarely gives interviews, has previously never spoken about what inspired his cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter, as portrayed in the classic Silence of the Lambs by Anthony Hopkins.
But he has now revealed the character was inspired by a real-life doctor and murderer he met while visiting a Mexican prison in the 1960s
Harris met the doctor at the Nuevo Leon State Prison, at Monterrey, Mexico, as a 23-year-old journalist. The author was at the prison to interview Dykes Askew Simmons, a former mental patient who was under the death sentence for killing three people.
But he met ‘Dr Salazar’ after learning he had apparently saved the life of Simmons when he had been shot during an attempt to escape from the prison about a year earlier.
Writing in the introduction to The Silence of the Lambs 25th anniversary edition, part of which has been published in The Times, Harris explains how he was introduced to the killer doctor by a prison warden, who failed to tell him of his violent past.
The author recalls interviewing Dr Salazar, which he later explains is not his real name, about how he treated the gunshot wounds and stopped the bleeding.
But he describes how the conversation took a much darker twist when the doctor began questioning the journalist on Simmons’s disfigured appearance, the nature of torment and the murderer’s victims.
It was not until Harris left the doctor’s office that he learned of Dr Salazar’s history from the prison warden. The doctor was a murderer and the warden told Harris: ‘He will never leave this place. He is insane.’
Harris says the doctor served 20 years in prison, but also provided the inspiration behind his most famous creation.
He explained while writing his novel he needed to create a character with a ‘peculiar understanding of the criminal mind’, adding: ‘It was not Dr Salazar. But because of Dr Salazar, I could recognise his colleague and fellow practitioner, Hannibal Lecter.’