Gumb had long felt he was born the wrong sex and desired sexual reassignment surgery. However his history of violence and mental instability prevented this, as psychiatric evaluation is needed, and Gumb was disapproved. As such, Gumb started his career as "Buffalo Bill" whereupon he would kidnap overweight women, then starve them before murdering them, which he would fashion their skin into a "woman suit" for him to wear.
Jame Gumb was born October 25th, 1949, somewhere in California. His unusual first name resulted in a misspelling on his birth certificate, originally supposed to be called James. Having failed in her acting career, his prostitute mother fell into an alcoholic decline, leaving him to be placed in a unsatisfactory foster home at age 2. At age 10, his grandparents retrieved him from the foster home and took him back to their home in Sacramento, where he murdered them impulsively in front of barricading police at age 12. As a result, he was sentenced to six years in Tulare Vocational Rehabilitation, where he was taught how to be a tailor.
Following his release, Gumb worked off the books in at least two restaurants, and sporadically in the clothing business. While beginning work in a Baltimore curio store, he met and began a questionable romantic relationship with a local orchestra flutist, Benjamin Raspail, who financially supported him for some time. The curio store later fired Gumb for some unspecified reason. In anger he killed a bag woman, and managed to intercept a suitcase from his former employer. In his hotel room, crying, he opened up the suitcase. Finding dead butterfies, he searched for possible valueables. A live butterfly flew out of the case, leading to an epiphany for Gumb. He also worked in a clothing store called Mr Hide Inc.
Raspail later ended his relationship with Gumb in favor of a Norwegian sailor named Klaus. Gumb murdered Klaus out of envy, and created an apron from his skin. He took Klaus' decapitated head and inserted a moth in his throat, then placed it within a jar, which he stashed within a car in an impound warehouse owned by Raspail.
Believing himself to be transsexual, Gumb began applications for gender reassignment surgery and applied to schools such as Johns Hopkins. However, all of his applications were declined. The hospitals' vetting process deemed Gumb too psychologically disturbed and not fitting the profile of a true transgender person. Their background checks also uncovered his real name and his criminal record, which he had lied about. Gumb violently assaulted a doctor at Johns Hopkins after being rejected. His failed application for gender reassignment surgery at Johns Hopkins would ultimately lead to him being identified as "Buffalo Bill" by the FBI.
In early 1975 he was introduced to Dr. Hannibal Lecter through Raspail and had just one session. According to Raspail, Gumb would attack gay men. Lecter himself would end up being placed under arrest for his own killing spree including Raspail as his ninth victim. Despite only meeting Gumb in person once, Lecter had been told a lot about him by Raspail in their therapy sessions ("everything but his shoe size", Jack Crawford would later comment).
After Gumb had finished consulting with Dr. Lecter, he started up as a tailor in Belvedere, Ohio. Sometime in 1982 he met an overweight woman, Fredrica Bimmel, whose skin struck his attention. Gumb had then conceived the idea that if he could not become female by legal means, he could make himself into a woman through fashioning together a woman suit made from the skins of real women. He had then set up to take over a property in the town with a large under basement area, where he could hold his victims, starting with Bimmel. Fortunately, in stalking Bimmel, Gumb came to discover that Bimmel's employer, Mrs. Lippman, who was a local, appropriated a house with an old basement that contained many rooms and a large dry well. Before his “Buffalo Bill murders, he kidnapped and hunted young women and killed them, creating “tableaux” and locking them away. Sometime during this period he acquired a poodle who he named Precious. Mrs. Lippman died on a holiday in Florida whilst with Gumb. Gumb inherited everything from Mrs Lippman. Using the alias John Grant he took over the house. He then abducted Bimmel and kept her prisoner in the well. Despite this, they had a strong friendship, even sending notes to each other. Bimmel eventually became the first excoriated victim of Gumb as well as his first "Buffalo Bill" murder.
The Buffalo Bill murders
After Bimmel's murder, he abducted another four women. He targeted larger women, as he needed a suit big enough to fit his bigger male body. He would keep them entrapped in the large dry well in the basement of Mrs. Lippman's home, starving them to loosen their skins and making them clean their skin with lotion before killing them a few days later. He hanged the first two women, luring them to the top of the stairs with the promise of a shower before pushing them off at the top. He shot his subsequent victims with his Colt Python handgun. He then skinned them and added them to his woman suit and disposed of their bodies in lakes. As Bimmel was weighed down, she was actually found third. During this series of killings, Gumb received the nickname "Buffalo Bill", as officers at Kansas City Homicide made a tasteless joke that "this one likes to skin his humps".
A sixth woman was found, with her scalp and two diamond shape pieces of skin from her back removed. Soon after, Gumb abducted Senator Ruth Martin's daughter, Catherine. He had posed as a man with a broken arm who needed help moving a sofa into the back of his van outside her apartment building. Catherine had come to assist him. She was backing into the van with the sofa, when she was asked whether she was a size 14 and was rendered unconscious by Gumb. Her abduction became national news, and her mother made a national televised plea to him to return her daughter and repeatedly used her name in sentences, so as to ensure he would not deem her a mere object, like the other victims, but, rather, see her as a human being. Gumb's plans to kill Martin hit a snag when she managed to lure Precious into the well using a bucket and scraps of food. Martin demanded he hand her down a phone. This threw Gumb into a rage, as he was unwilling to risk harming his beloved Precious whilst killing Martin.
Meeting Clarice Starling
FBI Agent Jack Crawford assigned rookie Agent Clarice Starling to speak to Dr Hannibal Lecter, an insane cannibalistic serial killer, in the hopes he could assist in catching Buffalo Bill (at this point had killed at least five girls). The FBI were unaware that Lecter already knew who Buffalo Bill was. Lecter had once met Gumb years earlier through his patient (and Gumb's lover) Benjamin Raspail. Once he learned of a serial killer who had killed a girl from Ohio and had skinned his victims, Lecter deduced that it was Gumb. He planned to give Starling enough clues with which to catch Gumb, make himself look like a genius for his assistance, and also earn himself more privileges and possibly a transfer (and an opportunity to escape).
Starling spoke with Lecter and entered into a quid pro quo of information for information, whereby she would tell him details about her past in return for his insights into the Buffalo Bill case. Starling revealed the memory of her father's murder. Lecter's hints led Starling to discover Klaus' decapitated head in the vehicle stationed in the storage shed, belonging to Raspail, whom Lecter had killed. Lecter informed Clarice that "Bill" was not a real transsexual and said he may have applied for sex reassignment surgery and been rejected, on the grounds of mental instability.
Lecter suggested that the locations of the victims' bodies were "desperately random" and that "Bill" would have begun by coveting someone he knew. This helped Starling determine that Fredrica Bimmel was his first victim and her body was deliberately weighted down, so she would not to be the first one to be found, thus making it harder for the FBI to deduce that she was from his home town and that he knew her personally. In Bimmel's mouth, a Death's-Head Hawkmoth was uncovered, which was one among the many moths bred by Gumb.
Lecter subsequently escaped from custody, and the FBI feared their last chance of catching Bill before Catherine Martin was killed had passed. Clarice decided to visit Belvedere, Ohio, home of Bill's first victim. Upon coming to the Bimmel house and speaking to her father, she learned about her employer Mrs. Lippman. While looking in Fredrica's room, she found a dress and, while examining it, found markings matching Gumb's latest victim. Meanwhile, Johns Hopkins hospital had finally given the FBI the names of would-be patients whose applications for sex reassignment surgery had been turned down: one of the names was Jame Gumb.
Final Showdown and Death
Starling went to the Lippman house where she was greeted by Gumb, who identified himself as "Jack Gordon". After a seemingly polite exchange in which he offered to look for a contact number for Mrs Lippman's relatives, she noticed a moth fly past her and it dawned on her that Gumb was Buffalo Bill. Their eyes met, and Gumb realised he had just been identified. Ignoring her order to surrender, he disappeared into the house.
Starling pursued him into the basement and found the well where Catherine Martin was imprisoned. She was still alive. Suddenly, Gumb deactivated the power, including the lights. Wearing his night vision goggles, as well as items from his armoire, he watched Starling struggling through the darkness, even getting a thrill from it as "he'd never hunted one that was armed before". He mused to himself that she was too slender to be of any use to him, but was mesmerised by her "glorious" hair. He considered scalping her and wearing the hair as a wig.
He silently approached Starling and cocked his gun. Starling reacted instantly and turned and fired in the direction of the click, hitting Gumb several times in the chest. He died moments later from blood loss. He spluttered his final words to her: "How... does... it... feel... to be... so... beautiful?" Catherine Martin was rescued, carrying Precious in her arms, and returned to normal life. It was said that a fireman who had been ordered to take the dog to a nearby pound instead took it home with him. After Gumb's burial, the tabloids ran stories on him, changing his nickname to "Mr. Hide."
Jame Gumb approaches a woman pretending to be injured, asks for help, then knocks her out in a surprise attack and kidnaps her. As a calling card, he cuts off their dress and throws it out of his van. He takes her to his house and leaves her in a dry well in his basement, where he starves her until her skin is loose enough to easily remove. In the first two cases, he leads the victims upstairs, slips nooses around their necks and pushes them from the stairs, strangling them. He then skins parts of their body (a different section on each victim), and then dumps each body into a different river, destroying any trace of evidence. This MO caused the homicide squad to nickname him Buffalo Bill. One officer quipped it was because he "skins his humps." He also inserts a Death's head moth into the victim's throat because he is fascinated by the insect's metamorphosis, a process that he wants to undergo by becoming a woman. In the case of Gumb's first victim, Fredrica Bimmel, he weighs down her body, so she ends up being the third victim found. In the case of the fourth victim, he shoots her instead of strangling her.
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 realized delusionally that he was transgender and desired to transition. However, due to his early murders, attacks on gay men, and personality tests, he did not meet the requirements for transgender surgery. 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. He also greatly feared rejection, shown in his reaction in killing Klaus. This suggests an extreme form of borderline personality disorder. However, it may be more accurate to suggest that Gumb may have wanted to become his mother, as he would watch home movies of his mother as a ritual before killing, and that he never really knew his mother.
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, using the pronoun "it", in order to make them 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 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 harbored obsessions, such as his desire to be a woman and a keen interest in moths and butterflies, their transformations inspiring him to commit murder. Lecter summed Gumb's pathology as he wasn't born a monster, but made one through years of systematic abuse.
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.
- Buffalo Bill was inspired by real-life serial killers, such as:
- Jerry Brudos, who dressed up in his victims' clothing and kept their shoes.
- Ed Gein, who fashioned trophies and keepsakes from the bones and skin of corpses he dug up at cemeteries. He also made a female skin suit and skin masks. He also desired to become his mother.
- Ted Bundy, who pretended to be injured (using an arm-brace or crutches) as a ploy to ask his victims for help. When they helped him, he incapacitated and killed them, dumping their bodies far away.
- Gary M. Heidnik, who kidnapped and tortured 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 Green River Killer (still unidentified at the time of the novel's writing), who, like Gumb, dumped women's bodies in rivers and inserted foreign objects into their corpses.