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Buffalo Bill

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

Jame Gumb, better known as Buffalo Bill, is the primary antagonist of the book The Silence of the Lambs and its 1991 five Acamdey-Award winning film adaptation. He is a psychopathic ruthless and violent serial killer whose enjoying of kidnapping women and making 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".

He was portrayed by actor Ted Levine.

Character Overview

Gumb kidnaps overweight women so he can starve them. He starves them so that their skin is much looser so after he murders them he can more easily remove their skin to fashion a "woman suit" for himself. He considers himself transsexual, but is too disturbed to qualify for sex reassignment surgery. 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.".

Character History

Biography in The Novel

The novel reveals that Gumb was abandoned by his mother — an alcoholic prostitute who misspelled "James" on his birth certificate — and was taken into foster care at age two. He lived in foster homes until the age of 10, after which he was adopted by his grandparents, who became his first victims when he impulsively murdered them at the age of 12. After being released from a juvenile facility when he was 19, he went on to serve in the Navy.

He began the "Buffalo Bill" murders by killing a girlfriend named Fredrica Bimmel. Hers is the third body found and the only one Gumb attempts to hide, by weighing it down in a riverbed.

In the 1991 Film Adaptation and Death

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 serial killer Hannibal Lecter's help in tracking Gumb down, as Lecter had met Gumb while treating Benjamin Raspail, Gumb's one-time lover. 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 Belvedere, 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.

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.



  • The various elements of Buffalo Bill's M.O. were based upon six real-life serial killers:
    • Jerry Brudos, who would dress up in his victims' clothing and keep their shoes.
    • Ed Gein, who fashioned trophies and keepsakes from the bones and skin of corpses who he dug up at cemeteries. He also made a female skin suit and skin masks.
    • Ted Bundy, who pretended to be injured (using an arm-brace or crutches) as a ploy to ask a select few of his victims for help or assistance. They helped him, and this was when he subsequently incapacitated and killed them, dumping their bodies far away.
    • Gary M. Heidnik, who kidnapped six women and held them prisoner as sex slaves.
    • Edmund Kemper, who, like Gumb, killed his grandparents as a teenager "just to see what it felt like."
    • Gary Ridgway, the then-unidentified Green River Killer, who, like Gumb, dumped women's bodies in rivers and inserted foreign objects into their corpses.


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