Reclusive author Thomas Harris has finally revealed the inspiration behind his most famous character, revealing creepy cannibal Hannibal Lecter was actually based on a murderous Mexican doctor.

The infamous character first appeared in Harris' 1981 thriller Red Dragon and the book spawned a series of follow-ups and movie adaptations, including Oscar-winning 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs.

Harris has now told the story which inspired him to create the character of Lecter, most famously played on screen by Sir Anthony Hopkins.

The writer claims to have encountered a strangely suave doctor during a visit to a jail in Mexico in the 1960s to interview a prisoner. Harris, who was working as a journalist at the time, believed the well-spoken man was treating the prisoner he had been sent to interview, but later found out the doctor was a crazed murderer.

In the foreword to the 25th anniversary edition of The Silence of the Lambs, Harris writes, "Dr. Salazar was a small, lithe man with dark red hair. He stood very still and there was a certain elegance about him... (After talking to him for a while)... the warden walked me out. I thanked him for his time... I asked how long Dr. Salazar had worked there. 'Hombre (man)! Don't you know who that is?'... The warden turned to me on the steps, 'The doctor is a murderer. As a surgeon, he could package his victim in a surprisingly small box. He will never leave this place. He is insane...'"

The creepy doctor provided the inspiration for the character of brilliant psychiatrist and cold-blooded killer Lecter.