'Clarice' Season 1: Who was inspiration behind fictional serial killer Buffalo Bill? Answer might surprise you

When we rejoin Clarice Starling six months after she killed Buffalo Bill, he is still living rent-free in her head, haunting her nightmares. But who was the fictional serial killer based on?


                            'Clarice' Season 1: Who was inspiration behind fictional serial killer Buffalo Bill? Answer might surprise you
A still from CBS show 'Clarice' and Buffalo Bill from 'Silence of the lambs' (IMDb)
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While gourmet cannibalistic Hannibal Lecter is nowhere on the scene in CBS' 'Clarice', another serial killer haunts our lead protagonist, FBI Agent Clarice M Starling. She might have shot Buffalo Bill and killed him at the end of 'Silence of the Lambs'. But he is still living in her head rent-free, six months later, when we rejoin her on the show. She dreams of moths silencing her, just the way Buffalo Bill silenced his victims. 

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Previous sequels to the story have been so wrapped up in fictional Lecter and "catching" him that we have never really explored how real and terrifying Buffalo Bill was. This might have something to do with the backlash about how transgenderism was seen as the root of his killings.

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However, the author of the books, Thomas Harris, was inspired by real life. Who did he base Buffalo Bill on? The answer might surprise you. His chief "muse" was not one, not two, but three different serial killers. Harris used traits from each of the three to fashion the terrifying character. Though it has to be noted, none of them were reported to be trans. They were Ted Bundy, Gary M Heidnik and Ed Gein.

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Serial killer Inspiration #1 Gary Heidnik

Gary Heidnik built and designed a torture chamber in the basement of his home in North Philadelphia where he lured both prostitutes and mentally challenged adults, holding them captive for sex. Heidnik constructed this house of horrors over the course of several months. He dug up the basement, bought chains to hold down the women and bars for the windows.

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Experts are split on the verdict of whether Gary was pure evil or simply insane. What is certain, was that his goal was to have his own harem. A place where he could have his own “farm” of women who would give birth to his children. He realized that no woman would undergo this voluntarily so he decided to begin abducting them, one by one, in the winter of 1986. 

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Mugshot of Gary Heidnik after his arrest (Wikipedia)

Neighbors and friends thought Heidnik — whose IQ was 148 — was an eccentric oddball, but certainly didn’t consider him capable of the gruesome evil that played out for months in his North Philadelphia cellar. Heidnik's first abductee was a woman named Josefina Rivera. By January 1987, he had kidnapped another four women, whom he held captive in a pit in the basement of his house at 3520 North Marshall Street in North Philadelphia.

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The captives, who were all black women, were raped, beaten and tortured. One of the women, Sandra Lindsay, died of a combination of starvation, torture and an untreated fever. Heidnik dismembered her body, but had problems dealing with the arms and legs, so he put them in a freezer and labeled them "dog food".

He cooked her ribs in an oven and boiled her head in a pot on the stove. Police officers came to his house after his neighbors complained that a bad odor was emanating from his residence, but they left the premises after Heidnik explained: “I’m cooking a roast. I fell asleep and it burnt.” Several sources state that he ground up the flesh of Lindsay, mixed it with dog food, and fed it to his other victims.

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Heidnik also used electric shock as a form of torture. He would get one or more of his victims, usually Josefina Rivera, to help him immerse the other women in a hole filled with water and then apply electric current from a stripped extension cord to the women's chains. Deborah Dudley was electrocuted to death in this way, and Heidnik disposed of her body in the Pine Barrens in New Jersey.

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On January 18, 1987, Heidnik abducted Jacqueline Askins. The youngest of his six victims, Askins was only 18 years old at the time of her abduction. Later, Askins would recount how Heidnik wrapped duct tape around the mouths of the victims and stabbed them in their ears with a screwdriver. On March 23, 1987, Heidnik would abduct Agnes Adams with Rivera's help.

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The next day, Rivera convinced Heidnik to let her go, temporarily, so she could visit her family. He drove her to a gas station and said that he would wait for her there. She walked a block away and called 911. The responding officers, noting chafing from chains on her leg, went to the gas station and arrested Heidnik. Shortly after his arrest in April 1987, Heidnik attempted to hang himself in his jail cell.

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Serial killer Inspiration #2 Ed Gein

Edward Theodore Gein or Ed Gein was also known as the "Butcher of Plainfield" and the "Plainfield Ghoul". He gained widespread notoriety in 1957 after authorities discovered he had exhumed corpses from local graveyards and fashioned trophies and keepsakes from their bones and skin. Gein also confessed to killing two women — tavern owner Mary Hogan in 1954 and hardware store owner Bernice Worden in 1957.

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Gein's pathology seemed to stem from an abusive, ultra-religious mother and an isolated childhood. He inspired other authors besides Harris. While Harris was taken by his habit of fashioning trophies from body parts, Gein's "mother-fixation" would go on to inspire another iconic fictional serial killer — Norman Bates of 'Psycho'. 

A police photo of serial killer Ed Gein and Norman Bates of 'Psycho' (Wikipedia, IMDb)

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It was theorized (but never proved) that Gein killed his own brother because he spoke ill of their mother and then devoted himself to her care. But after she died, it was like he had lost his only true love and was utterly alone. Around this time, he became interested in reading pulp magazines and adventure stories, particularly those involving cannibals or Nazi atrocities. 

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On the evening of November 16, 1957, Gein was arrested on suspicion of the murder of Bernice Worden. Bernice Worden's son was Deputy Sheriff Frank Worden. The Waushara County Sheriff's Department searched the Gein farm where they discovered Worden's decapitated body in a shed on Gein's property, hung upside down by her legs with a crossbar at her ankles and ropes at her wrists. The torso was "dressed out like a deer", according to the first report.

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She had been shot with a .22-caliber rifle, and the mutilations were made after her death. When police searched the house, they found, among other things, a belt made from female human nipples, a corset made from a female torso skinned from shoulders to waist, leggings made from human leg skin and masks made from the skin of female heads.

There was also a wastebasket made of human skin, chair seat covers made from human skin, bowls made from human skulls, a lampshade made from the skin of a human face, and 11 vulvae, including two of underage, possibly 15-year-old girls.

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When questioned, Gein told investigators that between 1947 and 1952, he made as many as 40 nocturnal visits to three local graveyards to exhume recently buried bodies while he was in a "daze-like" state. On about 30 of those visits, he said he came out of the daze while in the cemetery, left the grave in good order, and returned home empty-handed.

On the other occasions, he dug up the graves of recently buried middle-aged women he thought resembled his mother and took the bodies home, where he tanned their skins to make his paraphernalia. According to reports, soon after his mother's death, Gein began to create a "woman suit" so that "he could become his mother — to literally crawl into her skin".

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Serial killer Inspiration #3 Ted Bundy

Who doesn't know Ted Bundy, the most recent serial killer in memory? Theodore Robert Bundy or Ted Bundy confessed to kidnapping, raping and murdering 30 women in seven states between 1974 and 1978 before his execution. However, the true number of his victims is believed to be higher.

He would typically approach his victims in public places, feigning injury or disability, or impersonating an authority figure, before knocking them unconscious and taking them to secluded locations to rape and strangle them.

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He sometimes revisited his victims, grooming and performing sexual acts with the decomposing corpses until putrefaction and destruction by wild animals made any further interactions impossible. He decapitated at least 12 victims and kept some of the severed heads as mementos in his apartment. On a few occasions, he broke into dwellings at night and bludgeoned his victims as they slept.

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A still of Ted Bundy at his trial from Netflix's 'Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes' (Netflix)

After he was jailed and faced murder charges in Colorado, he engineered two dramatic escapes and committed further assaults in Florida, including three murders, before his ultimate recapture in 1978.

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For the Florida homicides, he received three death sentences in two trials. Bundy was executed in the electric chair at Florida State Prison in Raiford, Florida, on January 24, 1989. Author Thomas Harris would attend some of Bundy’s murder trial sessions and even sent him a copy of 'Red Dragon'.

'Clarice' will premiere on Thursday, February 11, at 10/9c on CBS.

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