The character, contrary to popular belief, was not inspired by Ed Gein or any other well known serial killer; the character Buffalo Bill was inspired by real serials Ted Bundy, Ed Gein, and Garry Heidnik and that’s probably where people get confused. According to the author of Silence Of The Lambs, Thomas Harris, Hannibal the Cannibal was inspired by a surgeon who went by the name “Dr. Salazar”.
The author met this doctor Salazar back in the 60’s while visiting the Mexican Topo Chico Prison, he’d been there to interview another inmate for an article in a magazine. During this interview, this inmate, named Simons, told Harris a story about how he almost died after he’d paid off a guard to help him escape. The officer took the bribe, but had no intention of actually following through with the plan; he shot Simons. A man by the name of Dr. Salazar jumped into action, he quickly performed surgery to save Simons life.
Young Harris was so intrigued, he begged the prison for allowance to interview this doctor Salazar, and his wish was granted. The doctor was very polite, elegant, mannerly, gracious, and extremely intelligent. He’d come from a wealthy family, and it showed; Salazar was everything you think of when you remember the fictional doctor.
Yes, even the Quid Pro Quo scene really happened, Dr. Salazar refused to talk unless Harris told him details about the prisoner he had saved; the way he looked today, about his scar, even asking whether his glasses were symmetrical to his face. Harris was so intrigued by this Dr Salazar who, by the way, had done so much good for the community. He had an office right there at the prison where he treated inmates and the indigent public free of charge; the man was a local hero hero.
When the interview was over, the prison warden walked Harris to his vehicle as he babbled on about how amazing this doctor was. Harris talked about Salazar’s charity, and the warden quickly burst his bubble: the good doctor Harris had been talking to was an inmate.
Salazar was really a convicted murderer who the press had dubbed “The Werewolf of Nuevo Leon”. It’s believed that Dr. Salazar, who’s real name was Dr. Alfredo Ballí Treviño, murdered several hitchhikers, dismembered them, then threw their parts out of his car at night. This could never be proven, but another of his crimes was. The doctor had been sentenced to death for murdering his life partner & fellow Dr. Jesús Castillo Rangel. Rangel had borrowed money from Salazar, his practice wasn’t as successful as his partner’s. During a heated argument over said money, Rangel said he was leaving the relationship, and Salazar snapped; the doctor sedated his lover with more than one drug, dragged him to the tub, and slit his throat with a scalpel and drained all the blood from his victim’s body. He then dissected the remains, Jesus was cut into tiny pieces. Next Salazar placed his lover’s remains in a box, drove to a family member’s farm, and paid a field hand to help bury said box, which he said contained toxic waste. Another worker thought something was amiss with the situation and notified the authorities, the doctor was soon arrested and sentenced to death.
After 2 decades in prison, in 2000, Salazar, who had been sentenced to death, was somehow released – likely due to bribes. Either way, he opened his medical practice back up and dedicated his life to caring for the poor, even once wheelchair bound. He only stopped working when he finally passed away in ’09 from prostate cancer.
This is where Thomas Harris received his inspiration for one of the most epic characters of all time.