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In the novels
Chilton is first introduced in Red Dragon as the pompous, incompetent director of a sanitarium near Baltimore, Maryland, acting as the jailer for the cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lecter. When FBI profiler Will Graham goes to Lecter for advice on capturing another serial killer, Francis Dolarhyde, Chilton makes an unwelcome attempt to question Graham about Lecter's psyche. When Dolarhyde learns of Graham's visits with Lecter, the two killers attempt to correspond through the classifieds of a tabloid; a cleaning crew finds one of Dolarhyde's letters, hidden within Lecter's toilet paper spool. Chilton informs Graham and his partner, Jack Crawford, of the discovery. Lecter's reply is intercepted and revealed to contain Graham's home address, which Dolarhyde uses to track down Graham in the novel's climax.
The Silence of the Lambs
In The Silence of the Lambs, Chilton allows an FBI trainee, Clarice Starling, to interview Lecter about another serial killer, "Buffalo Bill." He makes a clumsy pass at Starling on their first meeting, and she quickly rejects him. Chilton gradually grows jealous of Starling's success, where he has failed, in moving Lecter to share information. He eventually uses a recording device to eavesdrop on their interviews, from which he learns of Crawford's offer to transfer Lecter to a better prison facility in exchange for Buffalo Bill's identity. Chilton learns that the offer is false but sets it up anyway, then quickly hogs the spotlight as the plan's architect. Lecter is transferred, but gives false information: he claims that the killer's name is "Billy Rubin," a pun on bilirubin, which is exactly the shade of Chilton's hair. Lecter gives Starling the real information needed to track down Buffalo Bill. Afterwards, Lecter makes a bloody escape from custody after using an improvised handcuff key made from a pen tube and paper clip that he had concealed for several years and was able to use only when transferred to police custody. While still on the run, Lecter sends a letter to Chilton, with a promise of gruesome vengeance.
Chilton does not appear in Hannibal; the hospital has been shut down by the time the novel's events take place. Hannibal mentions that Chilton disappeared while on vacation in Jamaica seven years earlier. It is strongly suggested that he was killed by Lecter.
In other media
The films portray Chilton in the same manner as the novels, though some scenes with the character are altered in their adaptations. In Silence of the Lambs, for example, instead of the bilirubin pun and its specific disparaging of Chilton, Lecter supplies the name "Louis Friend" (an anagram of "iron sulfide", i.e. fool's gold) and Lecter's handcuff key is improvised from a pen stolen from Chilton shortly before Lecter's escape. While the novel leaves Chilton's demise at Lecter's hands an open question, the ending of the film shows Lecter sitting in a small cafe, contacting Starling to tell her that "I'm having an old friend for dinner." He then proceeds to follow Chilton through a small Caribbean village as the credits roll.
In the television adaptation Hannibal, Chilton is portrayed by Raúl Esparza. He first appears in the episode "Entrée", in which his patient Dr. Abel Gideon (Eddie Izzard) kills a nurse after Chilton influences him into believing that he is the serial killer known as the Chesapeake Ripper. Gideon eventually learns the truth and suffers an identity crisis, and he escapes to seek revenge against all of his previous psychiatrists, including Chilton. Gideon kidnaps and tortures Chilton, intending to leave his organs as a 'gift basket' for the real Ripper. Gideon is forced to flee from the police after having removed some of Chilton's less vital organs, leaving him alive but in critical condition.
Chilton reappears in the second season, with one less kidney and walking with the aid of a cane. Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) - who has been falsely accused of the Ripper murders - is now a patient under Chilton's custody. He successfully appeals to Chilton's vanity and convinces him to help expose Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen). Through Chilton's resources, Graham is able to regain key memories, including the fact that Lecter is the Chesapeake Ripper, and that Gideon knows it. Armed with this knowledge, Graham points out to Chilton that both he and Gideon claim to know who the Ripper is, and he further tempts Chilton with the intriguing possibility that the two of them might independently name the same person. Lured by the prospect of being the one to discover the Ripper's identity, Chilton bring Gideon back into his custody, though Gideon does not cooperate and is eventually murdered by Lecter. In the episode "Yakimono", Lecter frames Chilton for his crimes. Chilton tries to seek refuge with Graham, who has been exonerated, but Graham calls Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), who arrests Chilton. During Chilton's interrogation, a surviving Ripper victim, Miriam Lass (Anna Chlumsky), is observing behind a one-way mirror. Upon hearing Chilton's voice, Lass experiences a false memory (implanted by Lecter during her imprisonment) of Chilton tormenting her. Lass shoots Chilton in the face through the mirror. It is left unclear at that point whether he died or not.