The Terrifying Hannibal Lecter Was Based On A Real Criminal

“Remarkable boy. I do admire your courage. I think I’ll eat your heart.” —Dr. Hannibal Lecter, Red Dragon (2002)

In A Nutshell

One of the all-time scariest fictional villains, Hannibal Lecter has terrified moviegoers and book lovers for over 30 years. However, what’s even scarier is the fact that the liver-eating cannibal was based on a real killer. Alfredo Balli Trevino was a Mexican doctor who met Thomas Harris in the 1960s and left a very strong impression on the young writer.

The Whole Bushel

In 1981, Thomas Harris published his second novel, Red Dragon, introducing the world to Hannibal Lecter. Three more novels, five movies, and one TV show later, and the world is still obsessed with the charming cannibal killer. However, there’s one question that’s haunted fans for a very long time. Was the character of Hannibal Lecter inspired by a real-life murderer? And if so, who? Plenty of names have been tossed around over the years, including Jeffrey Dahmer and Albert Fish. Of course, there’s one man who knew the answer, but Thomas Harris preferred to keep his mouth shut, letting readers fight it out among themselves.

All that changed in 2013. When the 25th anniversary edition of The Silence of the Lambs novel was released, Thomas Harris included a new introduction that sent shivers up and down the spines of Hannibal fans. According to the author himself, Lecter was based on a little-known Mexican murderer he dubbed “Dr. Salazar.” The two met in the early 1960s when Harris was a journalist doing a story on Dykes Askew Simmons, an American murderer serving time in a Monterrey prison. While visiting the Mexican penitentiary, Harris learned Simmons had once been shot trying to escape. Critically wounded, the American was taken to Dr. Salazar who performed life-saving surgery. Intrigued, Harris wanted to interview the surgeon, mistakenly assuming Salazar was a prison doctor. It was an understandable assumption. Since he had medical training, Salazar worked with the poor and even had his own office inside the prison.

When the two finally met, Harris shook hands with “a small, lithe man with dark red hair.” He later described Salazar as a man who stood very still and had “a certain elegance about him.” The men began talking, but very quickly, Harris lost control of the conversation. Salazar began probing the writer, asking questions about Simmons’s victims and lecturing about the nature of torment. When the interview was over, Harris asked the warden about Salazar’s medical career. The shocked official replied, “Hombre! The doctor is a murderer! As a surgeon, he could package his victim in a surprisingly small box. He will never leave this place. He is insane.”

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However, there’s one last question: Who is Dr. Salazar? According to both The Times and Mexican author Diego Enrique Osorno, Salazar’s real name was Alfredo Balli Trevino, and the evidence is pretty conclusive. Trevino was a surgeon and convicted murderer, he was in jail during the ‘60s and, most importantly, he treated Dykes Askew Simmons while in prison. But what did the good doctor do to end up behind bars?

On October 9, 1959, Trevino and his lover, Jesus Castillo Rangel, had a fight. Some say Rangel wouldn’t loan Trevino any desperately needed cash. Others claim Rangel wanted to end their relationship. Whatever happened, Trevino knocked Rangel unconscious, slit his throat with a scalpel, chopped him up into little pieces and put the bloody chunks into a box. With the help of an accomplice, Alfredo buried the remains, but he was eventually found out and sentenced to death. Fortunately for Trevino, his sentence was commuted, and he eventually left the prison in 2000. A free man, he continued his medical practice, helping the poor until he passed away in 2009. Despite his good deeds, chances are good he would’ve loved swapping stories and sharing a nice Chianti with everybody’s favorite cannibal.

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