Alfredo Ballí Treviño: Uncover the true story that inspired Hannibal Lecter
“Good evening, Clarice.” “Fava beans and a nice Chianti.” That creepy, weird mouth noise – Hannibal Lecter is simply a pop culture icon. You know him from the Thomas Harris novels, the movies starring Anthony Hopkins as the cannibal doctor, or the TV series starring Mads Mikkelsen as the small-screen Lecter. Hey, maybe you’re a total hipster and know him from Michael Mann’s Manhunter, where Brian Cox played him.
Whatever the case, the point is you know Hannibal Lecter, and you probably know him in more than one incarnation. But do you know about the man who inspired Thomas Harris to create the character? Do you know about Alfredo Ballí Treviño, “The Werewolf of Nuevo León”?
The connection between Alfredo Ballí Treviño and Hannibal Lecter was revealed to the mainstream as part of the 25th anniversary edition of The Silence of the Lambs novel. In the preface, Thomas Harris told the story of how, back in his journalist days, he met a “Dr. Salazar” during a visit to Mexico in 1963. Harris was at the Nuevo León state prison in Monterrey to report on an American convicted of murder.
The convicted American was Dykes Askew Simmons, and he had been sentenced to death. Shortly before Harris arrived to meet him, Simmons had tried to escape and had been shot by the guards. The American prisoner would’ve died if not for Dr. Salazar, a fellow prisoner who also served as prison doctor, and who treated his gunshot wounds. Harris was intrigued by the story and requested to meet the doc.
By now, you’ve probably figured out that “Dr. Salazar” was actually Alfredo Ballí Treviño. Harris gave the man an alias during that Silence of the Lambs anniversary preface, but several news outlets were able to extrapolate the details to figure out the doctor’s true identity. Harris’s odd interaction with Treviño, as described by the author, reads like a lost scene between Hannibal & Clarice.
Truth is stranger than fiction
“Do you have sunglasses with you, Mr. Harris? May I suggest that when you interview him (Simmons) that you don’t wear them?” – Come on, tell us that wouldn’t be at home coming out of Hannibal Lecter’s mouth, especially once you learn the reason Alfredo Ballí Treviño suggested that was “Because he (Simmons) might see his reflection in yours.”
“Did you see pictures of the victims: the two young girls and their little brother? Would you say they were attractive boys?”. Alfredo Ballí Treviño’s questions continued, and Harris was fascinated by the man. The author described the unusual doctor as a “small, lithe man with dark red hair” and “a certain elegance about him”. Of course, Harris wouldn’t learn of Treviño’s crimes until long after they’d parted ways.
As reported by Mexicanist, Alfredo Ballí Treviño was twenty-eight in 1959, when he murdered his presumed lover, a twenty-year-old fellow doctor named Jesús Castillo Rangel. The crime shook Monterrey, with the press quickly coming up with several nicknames for the murderous doctor: “The Monster of The Talleres”, “The Vampire Ballí”, “The Killer Doctor”, and, as mentioned, “The Werewolf of Nuevo León”.
According to the reports, Alfredo Ballí Treviño knocked out his victim with an injection of sodium pentothal, cut his throat with a scalpel, bled him, dismembered him, and placed his broken body in a cardboard box. Treviño then put the box in the trunk of his car, drove it to a vacant lot, and buried it. The authorities eventually found the box, which led to the doctor’s arrest.
In a total Hannibal moment, it seems once Alfredo Ballí Treviño was caught, he actually bragged to the police about how good of a job he’d done. Eusebio Lara – the head of the Homicide Squad of the Secret Service at the time – said Treviño boasted of his meticulousness during his confession, and how he had dismembered Castillo Rangel’s body without touching a single bone in his cuts.
After Alfredo Ballí Treviño’s capture, authorities looked into his potential connection with other homicides: a series of murders of young people who’d been found dead on state highways. The accusations were never proven, but that didn’t stop Treviño from being sentenced to death for Castillo Rangel’s gruesome murder. The doctor was confined to the Nuevo León prison where Harris eventually met him.
Even though everybody was fully aware of Alfredo Ballí Treviño’s crimes and how dangerous he could be, it seems the doctor was still able to ingratiate himself with his fellow prisoners and with the prison authorities. Treviño became known for treating prisoners and, according to Biography, was even allowed to pay medical visits to the townspeople on occasion.
Alfredo Ballí Treviño ended up avoiding death in prison, after his lawyer successfully appealed his sentence. Instead, Treviño spent twenty years imprisoned before his release in 1980. The doctor went back to practicing medicine, although it was usually for free, mainly taking care of the elderly. When The Times visited Treviño’s neighborhood in 2013, they found people remembered the doctor fondly, as “a good person”.
Did Alfredo Ballí Treviño know he had inspired the creation of one of the most lauded villains in contemporary literature & film? The doctor died in 2009, and while most reports agree he was unaware of his impact in pop culture, Latin Times claims the opposite. The publication cites an anonymous family friend who said Treviño figured it out when he watched The Silence of the Lambs. And he didn’t mind it.