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10 Facts About Robert Maudsley AKA The Real-Life Hannibal Lecter

by Joe Duncan
fact checked by Jamie Frater

By now, it’s safe to say that most of us have seen the film The Silence of the Lambs. It’s 2017, and even today, this early 1990s classic holds its own as a force to be reckoned with in the horror genre. Hannibal Lecter has become ingrained in American culture as both iconic and legendary.

But few realize that Hannibal Lecter was based on a real-life serial killer named Robert Maudsley, who has also been called the most dangerous prisoner in Britain. While technically a serial killer, Maudsley is anything but your run-of-the-mill Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer.

His story raises both questions and eyebrows about our system and how we distribute punishment and justice. Maudsley only committed one of his murders outside while the rest occurred behind bars.

The parallels between Lecter and Maudsley are striking, even up to allegations of cannibalism, as Maudsley was rumored to have eaten the brain of one of his victims. But the facts aren’t that simple.

Is Maudsley a misunderstood, twisted vigilante who administered some old-fashioned street justice and is buried by an unfair court system? Or is he an atrocious monster whom we should lock up before we throw away the key?

10 Physical And Sexual Abuse

The tragic story of Robert Maudsley, who was born in Liverpool in 1953, begins like too many tales of violence—with the physical and sexual abuse of a child. At age two, Robert was the youngest of four siblings who were taken from his parents’ care and placed in an orphanage, where so many young children discover the darker side of humanity.

But Robert and his siblings’ stay at Nazareth House would be remembered warmly and fondly, and it wasn’t until he went back home to live with his parents at age eight that his life took a turn forever.

This is when the Maudsley children began lives of abuse, both physical and sexual, at the hands of their father. (Altogether, the Maudsleys had 12 children, but it is unclear when the others were born.)

Robert seemed particularly targeted and affected by the physical violence and misery they all had to endure. At 16, he ran away to seek a better life in London.[1]

9 Prostitution

From there, bad turned to worse as a teenage Robert quickly found himself sleeping on the streets of London, occasionally with strange men, and addicted to drugs. Needing to support himself and his drug habit, Maudsley turned to prostitution to pay his way through life.

During this time, he was hospitalized several times for suicide attempts and was seen by psychiatrists. It was here that Maudsley would claim to be hearing voices that told him to kill his parents.[2] He would also begin to talk about the childhood physical abuse and rape that he had endured.

8 The Pedophile Killer

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After having been beaten, raped, and prostituted by older men, Maudsley was picked up for sex at age 21 by a man named John Farrell. During their exchange, Farrell showed Maudsley photos of him (Farrell) committing physical and sexual abuse upon young children. Maudsley flew into a rage, strangling Farrell to death in an instant.

Maudsley was declared unfit to stand trial due to a presumed psychosis at the time of the murder. He was sent to Broadmoor Hospital for the criminally insane. There, in 1977, Maudsley struck again, this time kidnapping and torturing fellow inmate David Francis for nine hours before finally killing the man by smashing his head against the wall.

Here, reports vary. Some say that Francis’s smashed head left some of his brain visible and that Maudsley took a spoon and ate part of the brain while prison guards watched. In this version, the prison guards had been negotiating for the hostage’s life and were unable to stop the murder and cannibalism.[3]

Other reports say that the guards finally broke their way into the cell and found a spoon lodged in the victim’s brain. It was assumed that Maudsley had eaten the missing parts of the brain. Either way, this alleged cannibalism caused some in the news media to dub Maudsley “Hannibal the Cannibal.”

The victim, David Francis, was a convicted sex offender and pedophile. In a bizarre turn of events, Maudsley was found competent to stand trial for Francis’s murder. Maudsley was convicted of manslaughter and transferred from Broadmoor Hospital to Wakefield Prison to do his time among the general population in a high-security prison.

In 1978, Maudsley killed again. This time, he murdered two men in the same day. The first victim, Salney Darwood, was a convicted sex offender who had been locked up for murdering his wife. Maudsley stabbed Salney to death with a prison shank that had been fashioned from a soup spoon.

So far, all of Maudsley’s victims had been convicted sex offenders.

7 The Boondock Saint

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At this point, Maudsley found his second victim of the day—a convicted murderer named Bill Roberts. We know little else about him. Maudsley stabbed Roberts, eventually smashing his head into the wall and killing him.

Then Maudsley calmly walked into the wing office where the guards are housed, placed the makeshift knife on the table, and said, “We’re going to be two short for roll call.”[4]

There’s no denying that Maudsley has committed some terrifying crimes. But if you’ve seen the ’90s action film The Boondock Saints, you can’t help but get this feeling that some street justice is going on here. A serial killer of pedophiles and murderers sounds like a movie or a theme to a great TV show. (Dexter, anyone?)

Maudsley only killed other criminals and not just any criminals. We’re talking about the worst of the worst here. Some, in fact, consider his killings as simply ridding the world of people who make it worse.

6 ‘Blue,’ ‘Spoons,’ And ‘Hannibal The Cannibal’

He has been called “Blue,” “Brain Eater,” “Spoons,” and many more nicknames. But the story of Robert Maudsley takes off when the media dubbed him with a nickname that stuck: “Hannibal the Cannibal.”

Initially, he was called Blue because the face of his first victim, John Farrell, supposedly turned blue as Maudsley strangled him to death. His other nicknames—Brain Eater, Spoons, and Hannibal the Cannibal—are obvious references to his allegedly eating his victim’s brain after his second murder.

His crimes were mostly ignored outside of the prison system. In fact, he was left to rot in prison for the rest of his life until British papers dubbed him “The Real-Life Hannibal Lecter” after the third and fourth murders.[5]

5 The Most Dangerous Prisoner In Britain

Photo credit: The Independent

Maudsley also earned the title of Britain’s most dangerous prisoner.[6] As he is such a serious threat to others, it has been ordered that he cannot even see other prisoners and is to be housed permanently in solitary confinement.

Maudsley went 12 years without a haircut because no prison barber would so much as touch him. He has to be escorted by six guards every time he steps outside his isolation cell for his one hour of exercise per day.

But is this label of “most dangerous prisoner” truly deserved?

4 The Silence Of The Lambs

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Maudsley’s nickname “Hannibal the Cannibal” is also an obvious reference to the special bulletproof cell constructed for him by the British prison system. He calls the double-sized cell, “the glass cage.” He has to stay there for the rest of his days.

It is 4.3 meters (15 ft) by 5.5 meters (18 ft) with a small hole through which prison guards can pass him food and other items. The glass is made from Perspex, and a large steel door locks him inside.

The only furniture is a table and chairs made of compressed cardboard and a concrete slab for him to sleep on.[7] It looks almost identical to what would later become the set where Hannibal Lecter was housed in the movie The Silence of the Lambs.

The parallels between Maudsley and Hannibal Lecter don’t stop at glass cages and alleged cannibalism. Both men possess extraordinary intelligence and enjoy classical music.

3 Extreme Isolation

It is in this concrete tomb that Robert Maudsley will likely spend the rest of his days. He is one of approximately 60 “lifers,” prisoners in the United Kingdom who will never get out. In fact, all photos of Maudsley are over 20 years old. No media outlet has been inside to photograph him in decades.

Maudsley holds the record for the longest stay in solitary confinement, which is 14,235 days (about 39 years) as of June 27, 2017. The extreme isolation has seemingly worn on Maudsley. He is quoted as saying:

I am left to stagnate, vegetate, and to regress; left to confront my solitary head-on with people who have eyes but don’t see and who have ears but don’t hear, who have mouths but don’t speak. My life in solitary is one long period of unbroken depression.

He made a request to the British prison system for a pet budgie (a type of parrot) or, if that couldn’t be granted, a cyanide capsule so that he could take his own life.[8]

2 No Proof Of Cannibalism

Although the media, especially the British tabloids, claimed for decades that Maudsley was a cannibal who ate part of his second murder victim’s brain, these statements are not supported by the evidence. It seems that Maudsley became a victim of media sensationalism when he was dubbed “Hannibal the Cannibal.”

The autopsy report on David Francis, the second murder victim, did not show evidence of cannibalism. According to the Press Gazette, the British tabloid Daily Mail, which had reported the allegation of cannibalism, added this notice to their database in 2009 for future reference and informed major newspaper groups of the change:

An article on Broadmoor of 24 November 2008 stated that, after Robert Maudsley and another patient [David Lant] had tortured and killed a pedophile in 1977, the “man’s skull had been cracked open like a boiled egg, with part of the brain missing and a spoon hanging out of the cranium.”

We have now been informed that the autopsy report into the death made clear that the “skull is intact and the brain shows no gross evidence of injury.”[9]

In addition, received this email from a man claiming to be a guard during Maudsley’s later murders:

I was a prison officer at Wakefield prison for over 28 years. I was on duty on the Saturday morning when Maudsley killed Darwood and Roberts. I then had the dubious honor of supervising Maudsley on a great many occasions until I retired in 2005.

For the record (this will burst a lot of bubbles!), Maudsley NEVER ate anybody’s brains. This was a myth that grew up following the manner in which he killed his second victim in Broadmoor.

In Broadmoor, inmates are only allowed to eat with a plastic fork and spoon, unlike a normal prison where they have a plastic knife. Maudsley and Cheeseman (the other hostage taker) took an inmate hostage and barricaded themselves in a cell.

He fashioned a makeshift weapon by snapping the blade of a spoon down the middle to create a rough pointed weapon. He killed this inmate by ramming the spoon deep into the victim’s ear, penetrating the brain. Needless to say, when he pulled it out, it was covered in gore which was allegedly his brains. None of it was ever eaten.

With regards to the statement about crushing skulls like eggshells, this was what he did to Darwood when he swung him round the cell with a garrotte and smashed his head against the wall.

I realize this blows a perfectly good myth wide open and will probably never get printed, but at least you now know the truth. Finally, I always addressed him as Robert when in casual conversation.

The email was signed Peter Northrop.

1 He’s Surprisingly Normal

For a cannibal, a serial killer who specializes in murdering pedophiles, and a person who’s spent almost 40 consecutive years in total isolation, Robert Maudsley is surprisingly normal in a lot of ways. He enjoys classical music, poetry, and art and, as we’ve discussed, has a high IQ. He’s also made a request to take college courses at Open University.[10]

He has a Playstation 2 and a television and spent his 64th birthday inside his isolation cell playing Call of Duty. One would expect that someone treated this way for almost four decades—locked in a hole with almost no outside communication—would be a babbling madman, not a 64-year-old playing Call of Duty.

So, is Robert Maudsley a victim of the system? Or a tried-and-true monster who needs to be locked up and never released?

I generally like to write about the darker side of humanity, horror, murder, true crime, and more. I own several horror-themed Facebook pages which have a collective post reach of well over 100,000 viewers, Murderworks Horror, and Serial Killer Memes, among others.

fact checked by Jamie Frater