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It rubs the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again.
~ Buffalo Bill's famous quote.
Would you f-ck me? I'd f-ck me. I'd f-ck me so hard.
~ Buffalo Bill's other famous, yet disturbing catchphrase.
Put the f-ckin' lotion in the basket!
~ Buffalo Bill's other famous catchphrase.

Jame Gumb, better known as Buffalo Bill, is the main antagonist of Thomas Harris' 1988 novel The Silence of the Lambs and its 1991 film adaptation of the same name. He also serves as the overarching antagonist in the TV series Clarice.

He is a serial killer who kidnaps women and makes "person suits" of their skins. He is perhaps most famous for his line, "it rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again". Buffalo Bill is based on an American murderer and body snatcher Ed Gein, who also inspired Leatherface from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Norman Bates from Psycho, as well as five other serial killers.

He was portrayed by Ted Levine, who also played Alex Tierney in Death Train, Karkull and Sinestro in Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited, Bloodbath McGrath in Wild Wild West, General Russell Woodman in Evolution, Rusty Nail in Joyride and Ken Wheatley in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.


Gumb kidnaps overweight women so he can remove their skin to fashion a "woman suit" for himself. He kidnaps them by pretending to be injured while moving something heavy, and then knocking them out when they try to help. He then holds them prisoner in his basement for three days, starving them so their skin will be looser and easier to remove. Finally, he shoots or hangs them, and then dumps their bodies. 

He considers himself transgender, but is too disturbed to qualify for sex reassignment surgery. Hannibal Lecter theorizes that Gumb is not really transgender, but rather believes that he is because he "hates his own identity". He puts Death's Head moths in his victims' mouths after he kills them to symbolize the change he wishes to undergo by becoming a woman.

He becomes known as "Buffalo Bill" during his murder spree because of an off-color joke by Kansas City homicide detectives; upon discovering his first victim, the detectives say "This one likes to skin his humps."


Biography in The Novel[]

The novel reveals that Gumb was born in 1948 in California, and was abandoned by his mother, an aspiring actress who descended into alcoholism after her career failed to materialize. The name on his birth certificate was the result of a clerical error that nobody had bovered to correct. Gumb was taken into foster care at age two and lived in several foster homes until the age of ten, after which he was adopted by his grandparents, who became his first victims when he impulsively murdered them at the age of twelve.

After killing his grandparents, he was transferred into a juvenile facility in which he learned to become a tailor. After being released when he was ninteen, he went on to serve in the Navy. After his military service, Gumb began a relationship with a young man named Benjamin Raspail. Raspail later broke up with Gumb, who retaliated by murdering Raspail's new lover, Klaus, and flaying him. Raspail referred Gumb to his psychiatrist, Hannibal Lecter. Following a session with Lecter, Gumb became obsessed with becoming a woman. He applied for sexual reassignment surgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, but failed the psychological exam.

Becoming "Buffalo Bill"[]

Gumb began a relationship with a young woman named Fredrica Bimmel. After she left him, he killed her impulsively, removed pieces of skin from her back and weighed down her body in a riverbed. He then got the idea of creating a "woman suit" so he could, in his mind, become female.

1991 Film Adaptation and Death[]


Buffalo Bill ,dressed as a woman using the skin of one of his latest victims. This scene also known as "Would you f-ck me?".

Gumb's modus operandi is to kidnap a woman by approaching her pretending to be injured, asking for help loading something heavy into his van, and then knocking her out in a surprise attack from behind. Once he has a woman in his house, he starves her until her skin is loose enough to easily remove. In the first three cases he leads the victims upstairs under the belief that they were to be offered a shower, and slips a noose around their necks and pushed them from the stairs, strangling them. In the case of the fourth victim, he shoots and skins her, places a Death's Head moth in her throat and dumps the body.

He is fascinated by the moths' metamorphosis, a process he wants to undergo by becoming a woman. In one of the film's more infamous scenes, he dances around with his penis tucked between his legs, wearing a silk cape which he flourishes like butterfly wings. Gumb thinks of his victims as things rather than people, often referring to his victims as "it", e.g., "It rubs the lotion on its skin, or else it gets the hose again."

The FBI intensifies the manhunt for Gumb when he kidnaps Catherine Martin, the daughter of Republican U.S. Senator Ruth Martin. Then-FBI trainee Clarice Starling enlists Lecter's help in tracking Gumb down, as Lecter had met Gumb while treating Raspail. Lecter gives Starling a series of cryptic clues to Gumb's identity, but never reveals his name in hopes that Starling will figure it out for herself. She eventually deciphers one of the doctor's riddles — "We covet what we see every day" — and realizes that Gumb knew his first victim, Bimmel.

Starling convinces her mentor, FBI Director Jack Crawford, to allow her to follow up on the lead. She travels to Belvidere, Ohio, Bimmel's hometown, to question her family and acquaintances. Over the phone she is informed that the FBI has learned the name of the killer and is deploying to Calumet City, Illinois with the FBI Hostage Rescue Team to take him down.

Buffalo Bill's death (2)

Buffalo Bill's death.

Starling, meanwhile, goes to the house of a Mrs. Lippman, Bimmel's elderly employer, only to find Gumb himself, calling himself "Jack Gordon". Following the elderly woman's death, Gumb inherited her house and began using it as a torture chamber for his victims. Starling realizes who he really is when she sees a Death's Head Moth flutter by, and orders him to surrender. Gumb flees into the basement with Starling in pursuit, and then cuts power to the basement and stalks her with night vision goggles. As he cocks his revolver, Starling instinctively fires at the sound, killing him. Martin is rescued, and Starling becomes a hero, as well as a full-fledged agent.


Our Billy wasn't born a criminal, Clarice. He was made one through years of systematic abuse. Billy hates his own identity and he thinks that makes him a transsexual. But his pathology is a thousand times more savage and more terrifying.
~ Hannibal Lecter on Buffalo Bill.

Jame Gumb, although intelligent, showed signs of violence at a young age when he murdered his grandparents at age 12. Due to being abandoned by his mother and other unpleasant experiences during childhood, he developed a delusion that he was transgendered and desired to transition. However, due to his early murders, attacks on gay men, and personality tests, he did not meet the requirements as transsexual. Benjamin Raspail, his former lover, described Gumb as neither being gay or transsexual, but as an extremely disturbed man who had no sense of self and took on any identity that he felt suited him at the time. This suggests an extreme form of Borderline Personality Disorder.

One of his more disturbing personality traits is that he did not view people as beings with feelings. He referred to his victims as things or creatures, in order to make it easier to kill. He showed sadistic delight in hunting his victims in his basements, enjoying the distress he was causing as they wandered aimlessly in the dark. However, Gumb was not averse to positive feelings. He loved his mother, despite his awful upbringing. He did enter relationships with Raspail and later on Frederica Bimmel, the first in the "Buffalo Bill" killings. He also adored his poodle called Precious, and would have her close by him at all times. When Precious was kidnapped by Catherine Martin, he was distraught and was brought to tears, and threatened to kill Martin should she harm Precious. He also harboured obsessions, such as his desire to be a woman and a keen interest in moths and butterflies, their transformations inspiring him to commit murder.

Despite his delusional and psychotic episodes, he showed to be an intelligent, ruthless man. He was proficient at disguise, using many false aliases to hide his true identity. He often pretended to be injured to lure women into his van, wearing an arm cast with a crow bar hidden in it. He was an excellent tailor, using his experience from his previous employment to gruesome effect as Buffalo Bill. He also had forensic knowledge, knowing that dumping his victims into water removed any trace of him.


Don't you hurt my dog!
~ Buffalo Bill
~ Buffalo Bill
How does it feel to be so beautiful?
~ Buffalo Bill's last words in the novel after being shot by Clarice.



  • After his death, Buffalo Bill received a new nickname; "Mr. Hyde".
  • As he obtained the role of Buffalo Bill, Ted Levine actually investigated and studied the history of real-life serial killers in order to get ready for the role. Interestingly, various elements of Buffalo Bill's M.O. were based upon six real-life serial killers:
    • Jerry Brudos: dressing up in victims' clothing and keeping their shoes.
    • Ed Gein: fashioning trophies and keepsakes from the bones and skin of corpses dug up at cemeteries and making a female skin suit and skin masks. He also inspired Norman Bates of Psycho, Leatherface of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Garland Greene of Con Air, and Dr. Oliver Thredson of American Horror Story.
    • Ted Bundy: luring victims to their demise by pretending to be injured (using an arm-brace or crutches) as a ploy to ask a select few of his victims for help or assistance. When they stopped to help him, he would knock them unconscious, kill them, and dispose of their bodies far away.
    • Gary M. Heidnik: kidnapping six women and holding them prisoner as sex slaves.
    • Edmund Kemper: killing his grandparents as a teenager "just to see what it felt like".
    • Gary Ridgway: dumping women's bodies in rivers and inserting foreign objects into their corpses. Also that the police questioned another serial killer (Ted Bundy) for information about how to catch him, though Gumb was killed instead of being captured.
  • Despite that fact that Hannibal Lecter explicitly states that Buffalo Bill isn't actually transgender, and that Bill is just a psychopath who is stealing another people's struggle to justify his barbarism (and Agent Clarice Starling echoes this train of thought by noting that statistically transgender people are far less likely to commit violent crimes), some people consider that Buffalo Bill's claims to be transgender in both the book and the film have vilified the transgender community since the release of the book, given Bill's nature as a psychopathic predator. Filmmaker Lilly Wachowski, one of the directors of The Matrix trilogy along with her sister Lana, specifically criticized the character's film depiction in The Hollywood Reporter article in which she came out as transgender.
  • Although Ted Levine and Scott Glenn (who plays Jack Crawford) never shared scenes together, they would eventually face off in the sixth season finale of Monk, where Captain Leland Stottlemeyer (Levine) has the corrupt Sheriff John Rollins (Glenn) arrested.

External Links[]


           HannibalTitle Villains

Hannibal LecterGarret Jacob Hobbs† • Francis Dolarhyde† • Paul Krendler† • Buffalo Bill† • Mason Verger† • Rinaldo Pazzi† • Cordell Doemling† • Vladis Grutas† • Grutas' Group† (Petras Kolnas† • Zigmas Milko† • Enrikas Dortlich† • Bronys Grentz† • Kazys Porvik†) • Paul Momund† • Dieter† • Louis Ferrat

Hannibal Lecter/LecktorFrancis Dolarhyde† • Paul Krendler† • Buffalo Bill† • Mason Verger† • Rinaldo Pazzi† • Cordell Doemling† • Vladis Grutas† • Grutas' Group† (Petras Kolnas† • Zigmas Milko† • Enrikas Dortlich† • Bronys Grentz† • Kazys Porvik†) • Paul Momund† • Dieter† • Louis Ferrat

Hannibal LecterAlana BloomGarret Jacob Hobbs† • Abigail Hobbs† • Abel Gideon† • Tobias Budge† • Randall Tier† • EvaClark IngramEldon StammetsElliot Buddish† • Tobias Budge† • Matthew BrownLawrence WellsKade PrurnellMason Verger† • Rinaldo Pazzi† • Matteo Deogracias† • Tommaso† • Francis Dolarhyde

Paul Krendler