This Mexican Serial Killer Was the Inspiration for Hannibal Lecter in ‘The Silence of the Lambs’

Lead Photo: Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla
Art by Stephany Torres for Remezcla
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The Silence of the Lambs, the only horror movie to ever win the Academy Award for Best Picture, celebrated its 30th anniversary last year. The film features one of the greatest movie villains of all time in Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a fictional serial killer who ate his victims–at least one with a side of fava beans and a nice Chianti.

Lecter was introduced to audiences in the 1981 novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, and then again in his 1988 novel The Silence of the Lambs. According to Harris, he was inspired to create the Lecter character when he met a serial killer in a Mexican prison in 1963.

Alfredo Ballí Treviño, who was known as the “Wolfman of Nuevo León,” was a former physician from Monterrey sentenced to death for murdering his lover Jesus Castillo Rangel and mutilating his body. He was also suspected of killing several hitchhikers in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Harris met Treviño while working as a journalist on assignment at the Nuevo León State Prison where he was interviewing another inmate. Treviño was known as Dr. Salazar in the prison and talked to Harris about treating the prisoner he was there to interview.

Later, Harris learned that Treviño was also an inmate.

In an interview, Harris remembered Treviño as “a small, lithe man with dark red hair” and said that “he stood very still and there was a certain elegance about him.”

Although Treviño was given the death penalty for his crime, his sentence was commuted, and he was released from prison circa 1980 after 20 years. Once free, he resumed his practice as a doctor. He died of cancer in 2009 at the age of 81.