Hannibal Lecter: Origin, Facts and Fiction
Another Russian, Andrei Chikatilo, was dubbed the "Russian Hannibal Lecter" by virtue of the incredible number of murders he committed. Fifty-three young women and children of both sexes died at his hands, and cannibalism was part of his signature. Described as mild-mannered and effeminate, Chikatilo was active from the late seventies to the early nineties. He was convicted in 1992 and put to death with a single bullet to the back of the head. Killing was the only way Chikatilo could achieve sexual gratification. When he was active, he was known as the "Forest Strip" Killer because of his preferred location for committing his crimes. Harris might have been aware of this killer when he was writing Red Dragon, the first book in the series, but again the victimology does not match Lecter's.
The aristocratic Lecter would not stoop so low as to kill simply to achieve orgasm. Look at his attitude toward Miggs, his neighboring inmate at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, when Miggs has the audacity to flick semen at Clarice Starling. The next day Miggs is mysteriously found dead in his cell, having swallowed his own tongue. When Starling asks the doctor if he's responsible, Lecter pointedly ignores the question.
Harris could certainly have had Albert Fish (a.k.a. the Gray Man) in mind when he was putting together Lecter. Fish was an old man when he was caught in 1934, and his penchant for writing letters about his crimes gives a unique insight into his mania. Unlike the other serial killer/cannibals mentioned so far, Fish, who targeted children, did not kill for sexual gratification. He killed for the indescribably sweet taste of a rump roast butchered from a child. Lecter brings all the skills of a trained French chef to his cannibalism, and Fish also relished the preparation of freshly slaughtered young humans. He described in one of his letters the joys of eating one little boy's "pee wee" and the succulent stew he prepared from the ears, nose, face, and belly. The roasted gluteus maximus was the piece de resistance, of course. "I never ate any roast turkey," Fish wrote, "that tasted half as good as his sweet fat little behind did."
Fish, who frequently beat himself with a homemade cat-o'-nine-tails, was convicted of killing ten-year-old Gracie Budd in 1934 and sentenced to death by electrocution, a punishment that apparently appealed to him. A Daily News reporter who covered the trial wrote that Fish's "watery eyes gleamed at the thought of being burned by a heat more intense than the flames with which he often seared his flesh to gratify his lust."
But Fish was more pathetic than demonic, a broken-down old man who had spent a lifetime nurturing his unhealthy predilection in secrecy. None of the cannibals mentioned here comes close to the sweep and panache of Hannibal Lecter whose literary antecedents certainly include Dracula, Sherlock Holmes, and Milton's Satan. The real-life cannibals do not share Lecter's victimology or his MO. Perhaps to get to the root of Dr. Lecter's origins, it would be helpful to profile him as the FBI's Investigative Support Unit would.