Excerpt from article dated June 19, 2019
…but some people don’t think either of the pair died in that cliff plunge. And, as unbelievable as it is, some think the two—lawman and criminal—are keeping each other company harmoniously to this day. Healthy, and in their own twisted way, happy.
Elaine Komeda was one of Hannibal Lecter’s social circle during the time when he spent his days in his psychiatric practice and his nights hunting the streets of Baltimore as the feared Chesapeake Ripper. She saw him socially and, yes, was invited to one of his now-infamous dinner parties.
Komeda has been one of the few people who unapologetically voices her opinion that Lecter and Graham are both still alive.
I meet Elaine Komeda in a small café which is definitely not in that haunted Maryland city. She does not want me to say which Eastern seaboard city she is in, but if she’s trying to hide, she hasn’t done much to change her style. She looks the same as she did in the photos I’d seen of her: severe dark bob, red lips, impossibly slender and perfectly groomed. I’ve seen photos of her dressed in jewel toned velvet, but here its summer and warm and she’s dressed all in breezy and immaculate white.
When she meets me she shakes my hand while pushing up her large-framed sunglasses so she can look me over. I pass muster and we settle at a table in a quiet corner of the café. We don’t speak until we’ve ordered.
I am slightly in awe of her. She has a presence.
I ask her what she’s hiding from, here in this anonymous town. I think I already know the answer. Many of the people I’ve talked to mentioned the sliver of dread that undercuts their everyday lives. Without a definitive answer, there is no closure.
“I’m not hiding, I’m going incognito. I needed to get away from that…” She waves her hand in the air, and I can sense the invisible cigarette implicit in the gesture. “that scene.” She sips her coffee. “Baltimore is a madhouse right now,” she says as blandly disinterested as if she were describing a crowded black Friday bed linens sale.
When asked if she doesn’t think people have a right to be a little disturbed, seeing as how one of the city’s most prominent members was a murder who was literally blood-thirsty, she huffs dismissively.
“People are using it as an excuse for all kinds of bad behavior,” she says. “A bunch of people who grew up very privileged finally have something happen that deserves some sympathy and they are wringing out every drop. Boo-hoo, you ate human flesh. Being an involuntary cannibal doesn’t have anything to do with why you stole a quarter million dollars from your company and ran off with your boss’ daughter.”
I’m not sure I agree. Getting close to death can make one want to seize the day in impulsive ways. I’m sure Dr. Lecter would, if he were here, explain how normal that reaction is.
We move on. “Doesn’t it bother you that you’ve eaten human flesh?” I ask.
“Oh, it does,” she says. “There isn't a lot of information of what eating human flesh does for one's health. I’m here getting a slew of medical tests right now.”
“How does that make me feel?” she asks archly, bringing up one shapely eyebrow to match the tone. “I don’t feel guilty about it, if that’s what you’re asking. It’s not my fault. It’s Hannibal’s fault.”
It’s the first time the name has been uttered and it brings a chill to the air.
“I feel bad about the victims,” Komeda goes on, “in an abstract way.”
I refrain from pressing her about reports that she once spurred Lecter to throw a dinner party, which certainly cost people their lives. Still, she is right. She wasn’t the one holding the knife and she had no idea what exactly was going on in that kitchen. The fact that she, in a way, was also a victim, an unwitting accomplice by helping dispose of evidence, makes her more sympathetic. For all her outer toughness the fact remains that someone she trusted and thought she knew betrayed her trust in one of the most repugnant ways possible.
“[I feel about Lecter’s victims] how I would feel if I heard about a big earthquake halfway around the world. Hannibal Lecter is much more like a force of nature than anything else.”
“Is? So you do still think he’s alive?”
“Logically, I know he’s a mortal, like you or me,” she says, frowning and sounding unsure of the statement even as she says it. “but I’m trying to imagine what would kill him and it’s hard for me to picture realistically. Falling off a cliff and drowning isn’t it, although it is what I would expect for a dramatic exit. The end of the act, you see, not the end of the play. Just a change of costume and a new set rolled out and then the play starts back up again.”
“If he isn’t dead, where is he?”
“I think they--and it is most certainly they, not he alone—
I interrupt. “They? You think Dr. Lecter and Will Graham left together, each willingly accompanying the other?”
“Of course. Otherwise they would have found two bodies on the bluff. Or three.”
Her words bring me back. Mrs. Komeda doesn’t know, could have no way of knowing, that I went to that cliff-side house after it was cleared as a crime scene. Shattered glass covered with sheets of plywood. Blood seeped into the pavers of the patio, staining them an ominous black. Once the cops finally found this place, there wasn’t much left of the Dragon. But there was, as they feared, only one body.
There was Blood. Lots of blood, tarry and stinking, and broken glass inside and out. A crumpled suit jacket with dark red swaths on the belly area of the lining and a bullet hole in the back. A hatchet with a stained blade. Lab tests would show that all three were wounded; all three bled. Although Lecter and Graham spilled their blood at the crime scene there was not enough there to say they had bled out and died. The wounds were survivable if they got immediate medical care. And one of them was a doctor.
I come out of my reverie to find Mrs. Komeda looking at me, inquisitive.
“So how did they get off the bluff?” I ask, hoping my voice didn’t tremble.
“They had someone waiting for them.”
This startles me out of my walk down memory lane. This is the first time I heard the suggestion that someone else aided Lecter and Graham after their escape. I wonder how credible it is. I didn’t hear anything like this from my law enforcement sources, but then again this is just the kind of thing they’d keep under wraps. Especially since many of them stick firmly to the idea that Lecter and Graham drowned and that someday their bodies would be found, washed up on a desolate stretch of beach.
I ask Mrs. Komeda who she thinks would have helped them.
“I’m going to guess a burly Russian ex-pat. A sailor. As big as a house and quietly menacing. Hands like catcher’s mitts with tattoos on the backs of them.”
She spread her dainty hands out as if she expected green-blue prison ink to sprout there. She shrugged. “Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the person helping them out was the opposite of that.” She sees the incredulity on my face. “You would be surprised. I’ve socialized with Hannibal a bit. I know people will hate to hear me say anything positive about him, but he was very good company. He was charming and had that knack of making you feel special. Hell of thing to have that kind of magnetism. Hannibal has friends in the most unlikely of places.”
Maybe he did at one time, when he was still the philanthropic psychiatrist whose eccentricities were limited to his bold sartorial choices and skull-based interior decorating style.
I feel myself wanting to dash cold water on Komeda’s fairytale.
“They could have died in the water. Or one killed the other later and is on the run.”
She looks annoyed and then looks away. I feel I have disappointed her.
“I’m not here to argue details or talk forensics,” she says, scrunching her nose slightly in distaste as if the mention of forensic science was obscene. “Talk to the FBI for that. I’m telling you what I think happened knowing what I know about Hannibal. He and Will Graham survived and ran off together.”
“Where are they now?”
“Florence,” she says, as if it were the most obvious answer in the world.
"Why Florence of all places?"
“To set things right. Hannibal revisited his old stomping grounds and from what I heard, Will Graham was right on his heels. But it was wrong, all wrong. He had his psychiatrist with him and then he went and got himself kidnapped and dragged back to the states and thrown in jail for years. He never got to finish the trip the way he wanted, on his own terms and he always always does everything on his own terms. So he’ll try to do it over again. He’ll keep doing it over again until he gets it right. He wouldn’t be able to resist doing it all over again the right way, with the right person, stopping at all the same places, visiting all the same haunts. Eating the same food.”
I do a better job of masking my disbelief this time.
“They are both very well known in Florence,” I say. “It’s highly likely they would be recognized, especially if they are still together.”
“Risky, dangerous, foolhardy, all of that,” she says. “Risk gets the blood pumping. Hannibal could not have carried on the way he did without loving risk, without getting his jollies by balancing on that knife edge of getting caught. There is no other way to explain serving the evidence of his crimes, literally on a silver platter to his friends, some of whom were officers of the law.”
I look at Mrs. Komeda’s hands around her coffee cup, her impeccable pink manicure, the heavy rings that stay perched on her bony fingers. If I didn’t know myself I would think I felt shy, slightly embarrassed in anticipation of the line of questioning I’m going to pursue.
“How close do you think he and Will Graham are? Some have called them Murder Husbands.”
“The media has called them Murder Husbands.” She fixes me in her gaze for a moment, then lets me off the hook. “Not without reason, perhaps.” She shifts in her seat. “My mother always said you never really know what goes on in a marriage. These two are married. They have forsaken all others and I can’t see what could part them now other than death.”
“That never broke them up before. A separation is not a divorce.”
“Do you think they, Graham and Lecter, are out there killing people?”
Mrs. Komeda shook her head, setting her straight, jet black hair swinging. “That I can’t say. Hannibal has someone with him now. I don’t really know much about Will Graham but he seems unstable, unpredictable. I don’t know…” her crimson mouth twisted in a wry grin “how well they play together.”
While no one else seems as matter-of-fact about a murderous couple tearing through Europe, Komeda is not alone in her opinion that Lecter and Graham are still alive and together. She isn’t even alone in her belief that it is former FBI special agent Will Graham, and not confirmed serial killer-cannibal Hannibal Lecter, who is the real wild card.
For my next interview, I returned to Baltimore, somewhat shaken in the absolutes I thought I understood…
* * *
Outside of the café, the reporter tucked away his recording device and looked at his watch. He had an appointment in Baltimore and just enough time to get there. But something made him pause.
“Mrs. Komeda,” he said, “totally off the record--Do you really think Lecter and Graham went to Florence? Honestly, I’m having a hard time picturing that. Lecter takes risks, but he isn’t that reckless. Make me understand why you think that so strongly.”
She smiled. He thought he knew more about what Hannibal was like than she did. He was trying to be diplomatic. How adorable.
“You’re interviewing everyone you can, right?” she said, “And I’m sure you’ve heard many theories. You’re starting to think these men are enigmas, even to the people who knew them best. And they are, but that’s not the reason the stories differ so wildly. What stories people tell you, they tell you more about the person telling the story than the subjects of the story. The people who told you Hannibal and Will’s bodies are at the bottom of the ocean wish they were dead. They can only get out of bed in the morning if they have the idea in their heads that Hannibal and Will Graham are dead and the world is a safer place.”
“But what does that mean, Mrs. Komeda, that you imagine this…honeymoon? For lack of a better term.”
“I think it’s the perfect term,” she said mildly. “They were called Murder Husbands even before they eloped. It’s not mutual fear that’s keeping them together, its love. They share a passion. It is dark but it is powerful.”
The reporter regretted saying this would all be off-record.
“My version has them running away together, happily ever after,” Mrs. Komeda said. “Maybe, despite my three marriages, I’m the one who is the hopeless romantic. There’s someone out there for everyone and if a cannibal serial killer can find their soulmate and their attraction can overcome the fact that his soulmate is the cop trying to put him in jail, well then it should be a piece of cake for the rest of us.”
“But in your version, people will die,” the reporter said. “Hannibal Lecter will kill again and he will mutilate and eat these corpses. This is not a romantic ending, Mrs. Komeda. It is not happily ever after for the victims they will hurt.”
“But still,” she said, shrugging, “it is the story that I choose to believe.”
“But as the author of that story, what does that say about you, Mrs. Komeda?”
She slipped on her sunglasses and her face was unreadable. “It means that I am a sentimentalist and somewhat ruthless. Hannibal and I have that in common.”
“What else do you have in common?” He was getting somewhat heated, the color rising in his cheeks. Mrs. Komeda’s cool unflappability was getting to him.
“Loyalty,” she said. “We will never let a friend down.”
He had a horrible thought.
“Mrs. Komeda, do you know where Hannibal Lecter is right now?”
“I told you Hannibal has many friends in a variety of places,” Mrs. Komeda said. “You’d probably be surprised at how loyal some people are to him still, how willing they are to help. Anyone who has a dark side feels the call of the void from time to time. That’s a fact that won’t make it into many stories: that someone, a ‘normal’ person like you or me could see exactly what Hannibal is and still be drawn to him in spite of that, or maybe even because of that. The people who feel that way won’t admit it and the people who don’t won’t be able to admit to themselves that it could be possible.” She smiled again. “It’s just too horrific to contemplate.”
With that she glided away and the reporter was left alone with his interview notes and the unshakable feeling that wherever Lecter and Graham were right now, they were not in Florence.
(podfic by Caveat_Lector found here http://archiveofourown.org/works/7343233)