A Victim Almost Escapes
Konerak was only fourteen and he was running for his life. This was his only chance to escape from the horrible-smelling apartment where the creepy blond guy had slipped him some kind of powerful drug. It seemed that luck was with him that he started to come around just as the blond man had left the apartment.
It took all the strength he had to get up and get to the door. He was so disoriented and panicked that it made no difference that he was naked. This was his only chance to survive. He was working strictly on instinct. Just get out of there and run away.
It was just before 2 A.M. and Sandra Smith called 911 to report the boy running around “butt naked.” She didn’t know who he was, but she knew he was injured and terrified.
The paramedics got there first and put a blanket around the naked, dazed boy. Two police officers arrived soon after and tried to understand what was going on with this young man of Asian descent.
Sandra Smith, 18, and her cousin Nicole Childress, also 18, were standing near the boy when the Milwaukee city police arrived. The tall blond man was also standing near the boy. The conversation became heated between the girls, the blond man and the police.
The tall blond man told the police the Konerak was his 19-year-old lover who had been drinking too much. Konerak, who was drugged and incoherent, wasn’t able to contradict the smooth-talking blond man. Dahmer gave the police a picture ID.
The two young women tried to intervene. They had seen the terrified boy trying to resist the blond man before the police arrived. They were angry and upset. The police were ignoring them and listening to the white man instead.
Just to be on the safe side, the two officers went with the boy and the tall blond man to his apartment. The apartment smelled bad, but it was very neat. Konerak’s clothing was folded and placed on the sofa. There were a couple of photographs of Konerak in black bikini briefs.
Konerak sat quietly on the sofa unable to talk intelligently. It’s not even clear that he understood the calm explanation the blond man was giving the police. The blond man was apologizing that his lover had caused a disturbance and promised it wouldn’t happen again.
The police believed the blond man. They had no reason not to — he was well-spoken, intelligent and very calm. The Asian was apparently drunk and incoherent. The officers, not wanting to get in the middle of a domestic argument between homosexual lovers, left the apartment with Konerak still sitting quietly on the sofa. In that neighborhood, the officers felt that there were more pressing things for them to do.
The Body in the Bedroom
What they missed in the apartment bedroom was the body of Tony Hughes, whose decomposing corpse had lain for three days on the bed.
What they missed was the blond man immediately strangling the Asian boy and having sex with his corpse.
What they missed were the photos that the blond man took of the dead boy, the subsequent dismemberment of his body, and the cleaning of his skull to be kept as a trophy.
Jeff Dahmer, mugshot
What they missed was the opportunity to take the name of Jeffrey Dahmer off the ID that the man gave them and run a background check, which would have told them than the calm, well-spoken man was a convicted child molester who was still on probation.
The story didn’t stop there. The two girls who the police ignored went back home to Sandra Smith’s mother, Glenda Cleveland, 36, the woman who lived next to the Oxford Apartments which Jeffrey Dahmer called home. Later, Cleveland called up the officers to find out what happened to the Asian boy. She asked how old the child was. “It wasn’t a child. It was an adult,” the officer said.
When she continued to ask questions, he told her: “Ma’am, I can’t make it any more clear. It’s all taken care of. He’s with his boyfriend and in his boyfriend’s apartment…It’s as positive as I can be…I can’t do anything about somebody’s sexual preferences in life.”
A couple of days later, Cleveland called the officers back after she read a newspaper article about the disappearance of a Laotian boy named Konerak Sinthasomphone, who looked like the boy that had seen trying to escape from Jeff Dahmer. They never sent anybody to talk with her.
Cleveland even tried contacting the Milwaukee office of the FBI, but nothing came of it.
That is, until a couple of months later on Monday, July 22, 1991, when all hell broke loose.
A couple of months later on July 22, 1991, two Milwaukee police officers were driving around in the very high-crime area around Marquette University. The heat was oppressive and the humidity almost unbearable. The smell of the neighborhood was all the more pungent in the heat: the garbage on the streets, the urine and feces left by the homeless, the rancid stink of cooked grease.
Around midnight, as the two officers sat in their car, they saw a short, wiry black man with a handcuff dangling from his wrist. Assuming that this man had escaped from another policeman, they asked him what he was doing. The man started to pour out a tale about this “weird dude” who put the cuffs on him in his apartment. The man was Tracy Edwards.
Edwards’ story smacked of some homosexual encounter that normally the police would avoid, but the two policemen thought they ought to check out this man that had cuffed Edwards who lived at the Oxford Apartments at 924 North 25th Street. The door to Apartment 213 was opened by a nice looking thirty-one-year-old blond man.
Dahmer was very calm and rational. He offered to get the key to the handcuffs in the bedroom. Edwards remembered that the knife that Dahmer had threatened him with was also in the bedroom.
Once of the officers decided to go into the bedroom himself and take a look. He noticed photographs lying around that shocked him: dismembered human bodies, skulls in the refrigerator. When he collected his wits, he yelled to his partner to cuff Dahmer and place him under arrest.
The Head in the Fridge
The placid, rational blond man suddenly turned on them and fought as the other cop tried to cuff him. While the one officer subdued Dahmer, the other one went to the refrigerator and opened it. He shrieked loudly at the face that stared out at him and slammed the door. “There’s a f—king head in the refrigerator!”
A closer examination of the apartment revealed an intimate juxtaposition of the tidy and the unspeakable. While the small one-bedroom flat was neat and clean, especially for a bachelor, and his pet fish well cared for, the smell of decomposition was overwhelming.
The box of baking soda in the refrigerator hardly absorbed the odors of a decomposing severed head. The freezer had three more heads, stored neatly in plastic bags and tied with plastic twisties.
There was a door that led to the bedroom, bedroom closet and bath, which had been outfitted with a dead-bolt lock. Anne E. Schwartz, the reporter who was first on the scene, describes what she saw in her book The Man Who Could Not Kill Enough: “…in the back of the closet was a metal stockpot that contained decomposed hands and a penis. On the shelf above the kettle were 2 skulls.
Also in the closet were containers of ethyl alcohol, chloroform, and formaldehyde, along with some glass jars holding male genitalia preserved in formaldehyde…Polaroid photos taken by Dahmer at various stages of his victims’ deaths. One showed a man’s head, with the flesh still intact, lying in a sink. Another displayed a victim cut open from the neck to the groin, like a deer gutted after the kill, the cuts so clean I could see the pelvic bone clearly.” Some of the photos were his victims before he murdered them in various erotic and bondage poses.
Outside Dahmer’s front door
The police, the county medical examiner, the media, families of missing young men, Jeff Dahmer’s family, the entire city of Milwaukee, and the whole world tried to understand what had really happened in Apartment 213. Eventually the story began to tumble out.
The first person to plumb the depths of Jeffrey Dahmer’s depravity was Detective Patrick Kennedy. A huge bear of a man with dramatic handlebar mustache, he engaged Dahmer’s confidence and was the person to whom Dahmer confessed the details of his thirteen-year killing spree.
While Dahmer had fantasies about killing men and having sex with their corpses as early as age fourteen, he didn’t do anything about it until just after he graduated high school in June of 1978. He picked up a hitchhiker named Steven Hicks when Dahmer was living with his parents in the upscale community of Bath, Ohio. They had sex and drank beer, but then Hicks wanted to leave. Dahmer couldn’t stand the idea of Hicks leaving, so he struck him in the head with a barbell and killed him.
Dahmer’s senior photo
He needed to get rid of the body, so he cut it up, packaged it up in plastic garbage bags, and buried the bags in the woods behind his house. That fall, he attended Ohio State University for a semester but flunked out. At the end of 1978, he left to join the Army and was stationed in Germany. Apparently, he didn’t kill anyone when he was in the Army and this was corroborated by an exhaustive investigation by the German police. After a couple of years, the Army discharged him for alcoholism and he went to live in Florida before returning to Ohio. Once back home, he dug up Hicks’s body, pounded the decomposing corpse with a sledgehammer, and scattered the remains in the woods.
Lust, Booze & Murder
A few months after his arrest in October of 1981 for drunken and disorderly conduct, his father thought it best that Jeffrey go live with his grandmother in West Allis, Wisconsin. Things were calm for a few months, until he dropped his trousers in the company of a group of people. He had apparently had a bit to drink. He kept things under control for another four years until he was again arrested in September of 1986 for masturbating in front of two boys. He was put on probation for a year.
He killed his second victim, Steven Toumi, in a hotel room in September of 1987. The two of them had been drinking heavily in one of the popular gay bars. Dahmer didn’t know how he killed him, but when he awoke, Toumi was dead and blood was on his mouth. He bought a large suitcase and stuffed the body inside. After he took Toumi’s corpse to his grandmother’s basement, he had sex with it, masturbated on it, dismembered it and threw it in the garbage.
Several months later, he selected his third victim, a fourteen-year-old Native American boy named Jamie Doxtator, who hung around outside the gay bars, looking for relationships. Dahmer’s methods had become established by that time. Normally, he would meet and select his prey at gay bars or bathhouses. He would lure his victims by offering them money for posing for photographs or simply to enjoy some beer and videos. Then he would drug them, strangle them, masturbate on the bodies or have sex with the corpses, dismember the bodies and dispose of them. Sometimes he would keep the skulls or other body parts as souvenirs.
More Murders, More Arrests
He practiced this ritual on Richard Guerrero, a handsome young man of Mexican origin, in late March of 1988. Dahmer said he met him a gay bar in Milwaukee, but the young man’s family disputed that their son was anything but heterosexual. By the summer of that year, Dahmer had killed four men. While Dahmer’s grandmother was completely ignorant of the awful things that were happening in her basement, she was fully aware of the noise and drunkenness of Jeff and his male friends. Something had to be done.
So, on September 25, 1988, Jeffrey moved into an apartment on North 24th Street in Milwaukee. The very next day, he got into serious trouble. He offered a thirteen-year-old Laotian boy $50 to pose for some pictures. He drugged the boy and fondled him, but did not get violent or have intercourse with him. By incredible coincidence, the boy’s last name was Sinthasomphone; he was the older brother of the boy that Dahmer would kill in May of 1991.
The boy’s parents realized there was something wrong with their child and took him to the hospital, where it was confirmed that he had been drugged. The police picked up Dahmer at his job at the mixer of Ambrosia Chocolate. He was arrested for sexual exploitation of a child and second-degree sexual assault. On January 30, 1989, he pleaded guilty, although he claimed that he thought that the boy was much older than he was.
While Dahmer awaited sentencing and was living again at his grandmother’s house, he met a black homosexual named Anthony Sears, 24, at a gay bar. Like the others, he offered the aspiring black model some money to pose for photos. When they reached Dahmer’s grandmother’s house, Sears was drugged and strangled. Dahmer had sex with his corpse and then dismembered it.
Anne Schwartz describes what happened next: “…he kept the head and boiled it to remove the skin, later painting it gray, so that in case of discovery, the skull would look like a plastic model used by medical students. Dahmer saved the trophy for two years, until it was recovered from Apartment 213 on July 23, 1991. Later he explained that he masturbated in front of the skulls for gratification.”
A True Psychopath
Gerald Boyle, Dahmer’s lawyer
On May 23, 1989, Dahmer’s lawyer Gerald Boyle and Assistant D.A. Gale Shelton presented their arguments to Judge William Gardner. Shelton wanted a prison sentence of at least five years. “In my judgment it is absolutely crystal clear that the prognosis for treatment of Mr. Dahmer within the community is extremely bleak… His perception that what he did wrong here was choosing too young a victim, — and that that’s all he did wrong, — is a part of the problem… He appeared to be cooperative and receptive, but anything that goes below the surface indicates that the deep-seated anger and deep-seated psychological problems that he is unwilling or incapable of dealing with.”
Three psychologists examined him and concurred that Dahmer was manipulative, resistant and evasive. Hospitalization and intensive treatment was recommended.
Boyle, the defense attorney argued that Dahmer was sick and needed treatment, not prison. He praised the fact that he had held a job. “We don’t have a multiple offender here. I believe that he was caught before it got to the point where it would have gotten worse, which means that it is a blessing in disguise.”
Dahmer himself spoke in his own defense, blaming his behavior on alcoholism. He was articulate and convincing, for someone who had secretly murdered several men by that time. “What I have done is very serious. I’ve never been in this position before. Nothing this awful. This is a nightmare come true for me. If anything would shock me out of my past behavior patterns, it’s this.
“The one thing I have in my mind that is stable and that gives me some source of pride is my job. I’ve come very close to losing it because of my actions, which I take full responsibility for… All I can do is beg you, please spare my job. Please give me a chance to show that I can, that I can tread the straight and narrow and not get involved in any situation like this ever again… This enticing a child was the climax of my idiocy… I do want help. I do want to turn my life around.”
A marvelous performance by a true psychopath! The judge fell for it, stayed his sentence, and put Dahmer on probation for five years. He was ordered to spend one year in the House of Correction under “work release,” which allowed him to go to work during the day and return to the jail at night.
The Killing Binge
After ten months, the judge granted him early release, despite a letter from Dahmer’s father urging him not to release him until he received treatment. He went to stay with his grandmother in early March of 1990, but his stay there was conditional upon him finding his own place to live.
On May 14, 1990, Dahmer moved to 924 North 25th Street, Apartment 213, and the killing began in earnest.
During the following fifteen months, Dahmer went on a killing binge that cost twelve men their lives. The pace of Dahmer’s murders accelerated to a frenzy in May-July of 1991 when he was killing almost at a rate of one man a week. All but three were black; one was white, one was Laotian and one was Hispanic. Most, but not all, were homosexual or bisexual. The youngest was Konerak, age fourteen, and the oldest was thirty-one. Many of the victims lived what police call “high-risk” lifestyles. Most of the men had arrest records, often for very serious crimes, like arson, sexual assault, rape, and battery. The listing below appears in Anne Schwartz’s The Man Who Could Not Kill Enough:
- Edward Smith June, 1990
- Ricky Lee Beeks July, 1990
- Ernest Miller Sept., 1990
- David Thomas Sept., 1990
- Curtis Straughter Feb., 1991
- Errol Lindsey April, 1991
- Anthony Hughes May 24, 1991
- Konerak Sinthasomphone May 27, 1991
- Matt Turner June 30, 1991
- Jeremiah Weinberger July 5, 1991
- Oliver Lacey July 12, 1991
- Joseph Bradehoft July 19, 1991
Dahmer’s ritual for luring, murdering and disposing of his victims was usually the same. He invited the men to his apartment to watch sexually-explicit videos or to pose for photos. He crushed up his prescribed sedatives and served them in drinks. Once drugged, Dahmer strangled them with his bare hands or with a leather strap. He frequently had sex with the corpses and later masturbated on them.
Before any cleanup began, Dahmer reached for his Polaroid to capture the entire experience so that he could remember each and every murder. Then he cut open their torsos. He was fascinated by the color of the viscera and sexually aroused by the heat that the freshly-killed bodies would give off. Finally, he would dismember the men, photographing each stage of the process for future viewing pleasure.
He disposed of most of the bodies, experimenting with various chemicals and acids that would reduce the flesh and bone to a black, evil-smelling sludge, which could be poured down a drain or toilet.
Some parts of the bodies he chose to keep as trophies, frequently the genitals and heads. The genitals were preserved in formaldehyde. The heads were boiled until the flesh came off. Once the skulls were bare, he painted them with gray paint to look like plastic.
Not unusual with necrophiliacs is cannibalism. Dahmer claimed that he ate the flesh of his victims because he believed that the people would come alive again in him. He tried various seasonings and meat tenderizers to make the human flesh more tasty. Eating human flesh gave him an erection. His famous freezer contained strips of frozen human flesh. He had tried human blood too, but it did not appeal to his taste buds.
Like Ed Gein, he tried to perfect the art of preservation and taxidermy so that he could practice the state-of-the-art techniqiues on his victims.
Control was an all important issue for Dahmer. He could not tolerate rejection or abandonment. Even in his homosexual relationships, he did not want to please his sexual partner; he just wanted to have his own pleasures. Pleasure to Dahmer meant performing oral or anal sex on his partner, whether alive or dead.
This absolute need for control led him down some pretty weird roads. One of them was a kind of lobotomy that he performed on several of his victims. Once they were drugged, he drilled holes in their skulls and injected some muriatic acid into their brains. Needless to say, it caused death right away in a few victims, but one supposedly functioned minimally for a few days before dying.
Not surprisingly, his need for control led him to dabble with Satanism. In fact, just having the bodies of his victims around him made him feel “thoroughly evil.” “I have to question whether or not there is an evil force in the world and whether or not I have been influenced by it. Although I am not sure if there is a God,” Dahmer said,” or if there is a devil, I know that as of lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about both.” He had plans to create a shrine in his apartment, featuring all of his trophies, his statue of a griffin, and incense burned in the skulls of his victims, so that he could receive “special powers and energies to help him socially and financially.”
Why does a Jeffrey Dahmer happen? How does a man become a serial killer, necrophiliac, cannibal and psychopath? Very few convincing answers are forthcoming, despite a spate of books that propose to explain the origins of the problem.
Many of the theories would have you believe that the answers can always be found in childhood abuse, bad parenting, head trauma, fetal alcoholism and drug addiction. Perhaps in some cases, these are contributing factors, but not for Jeffrey Dahmer.
His father, Lionel Dahmer, wrote a very sad and poignant book called A Father’s Story, which explores the very common phenomenon of parents trying desperately to give their child a good upbringing, and discovering to their horror that their child has built a high wall around himself from which their influence is progressively shut out. While fortunately, most parents do not have a Jeffrey Dahmer to raise, too many have seen their children succumb to drugs, alcohol, and crime, despite their very best and often frantic efforts to intervene.
“It is a portrayal of parental dread… the terrible sense that your child has slipped beyond your grasp, that your little boy is spinning in the void, swirling in the maelstrom, lost, lost, lost.”
Lionel seems to be fairly straightforward in recognizing the negative influences in Jeff’s life. No family is perfect. Jeff’s mother had various physical ailments and appeared to be high strung, coming from a background in which her father’s alcoholism deeply affected her life.
Lionel, a chemist who went on to get his Ph.D., stayed at work more often than he should to avoid turmoil on the home front. Eventually, the marriage dissolved in divorce when Jeff was eighteen. However, none of this commonplace domestic discord accounts for serial murder, necrophilia, or Jeff’s other bizarre behaviors.
A Happy Little Boy
Jeff Dahmer was born in Milwaukee on May 21, 1960, to Lionel and Joyce Dahmer. He was a child who was wanted and adored, in spite of the difficulties of Joyce’s pregnancy. He was a normal, healthy child whose birth was the occasion of great joy. As a tot, he was a happy, bubbly youngster who loved stuffed bunnies and wooden blocks. He also had a dog named Frisky, his much-loved childhood pet.
Despite a greater number than usual of ear and throat infections, Jeff developed into a happy little boy. His father recalled the day that they released back into the wild a bird that the three of them had nursed back to health from an injury: “I cradled the bird in my cupped hand, lifted it into the air, then opened my hand and let it go. All of us felt a wonderful delight. Jeff’s eyes were wide and gleaming. It may have been the single, happiest moment of his life.” The family had moved to Iowa, where Lionel was working on his Ph.D. at Iowa State University.
When Jeff was four, his father swept out from under their house the remains of some small animals that had been killed by civets. As his father gathered the tiny animal bones, Jeff seemed “oddly thrilled by the sound they made. His small hands dug deep into the pile of bones. I can no longer view it simply as a childish episode, a passing fascination. This same sense of something dark and shadowy, of a malicious force growing in my son, now colors almost every memory.”
At the age of six, he was found to be suffering from a double hernia and needed surgery to correct the problem. He never seemed to recover his ebullience and buoyancy. “He seemed smaller, somehow more vulnerable… he grew more inward, sitting quietly for long periods, hardly stirring, his face oddly motionless.”
In 1966, Lionel had completed his graduate work in Iowa and gotten a job as a research chemist in Akron, Ohio. Joyce was pregnant with their second son, David. By that time, Jeff was in the first grade and “a strange fear had begun to creep into his personality, a dread of others that was combined with a general lack of self-confidence. He was developing a reluctance to change, a need to feel the assurance of familiar places. The prospect of going to school frightened him. The little boy who’d once seemed so happy and self-assured had been replaced by a different person, now deeply shy, distant, nearly uncommunicative.”
Lionel suspected that the move from Iowa to Ohio was the causative factor, and Jeff’s behavior was a normal reaction to being uprooted from familiar settings and placed into entirely new ones. Lionel, too, had suffered from shyness, introversion and insecurity as a child and had learned to overcome these problems. He figured his son would learn to overcome them too. What he didn’t realize was that Jeff’s boyhood condition was far graver than his and that “Jeff had begun to suffer from a near isolation.”
In April of 1967, they bought a new house. Jeff seemed to adjust better to this move and developed a close friendship with a boy named Lee. He was also very fond of one of his teachers and took her a bowl of tadpoles he had caught. Later, Jeff found out that the teacher had given the tadpoles to his friend Lee. Jeff sneaked into Lee’s garage and killed all the tadpoles with motor oil.
Things did not get better with time. “His posture, and the general way in which he carried himself, changed radically between his tenth and fifteenth years. The loose-limbed boy disappeared, and was replaced by a strangely rigid and inflexible figure.
He looked tense, his body very straight. He grew increasingly shy during this time and when approached by other people, he would become very tense. More and more, he remained at home, alone in his room or staring at television. His face was often blank, and he gave the more or less permanent impression of someone who could do nothing but mope around, purposeless and disengaged.
He had one friend, who drifted apart from him at age fifteen. Lionel found out at Jeff’s trial that during this period, Jeff would ride around with plastic garbage bags and collect the remains of animals for his own private cemetery. “He would strip the flesh from the bodies of these putrescent road kills and even mount a dog’s head on a stake.” There has been the suggestion that Jeff tortured animals, but that is unlikely. He enjoyed a dog and cat as pets in his childhood and kept pet fish as an adult. His fascination was with dead creatures.
Isolated by Sexual Fantasy
Jeff grew more passive and isolated. “His conversation narrowing to the practice of answering questions with barely audible one-word responses. He was drifting into a nightmare world of unimaginable fantasies. In coming years those fantasies would begin to overwhelm him. The dead in their stillness would become the primary objects of his growing sexual desire. His inability to speak about such strange and unsetting notions would sever his connections to the world outside himself.”
While other boys pursued careers, education, the creation of homes and families, Jeff was completely unmotivated. “He must have come to view himself as utterly outside the human community, outside all that was normal and acceptable, outside all that could be admitted to another human being.” One would expect that a person harboring the fantasies of death and dismemberment that swirled around in Jeffrey Dahmer’s head as a teenager would show some outer signs of mental illness. But Jeff just became more isolated and uncommunicative. Far from rebelling, he never argued with his parents because nothing seemed to matter to him.
In high school, Jeff had average grades and participated in a few activities: he played tennis and worked on the school newspaper. However, his classmates considered him a loner and an alcoholic, who brought liquor into the classroom. He actually had a prom date, whom he later invited to his parents’ house for a seance.
His classmates remember a stunt he pulled when he got himself included in the yearbook photo of the members of the National Honor Society, of which he was not a member. The yearbook staff caught the prank in time and blacked out Jeff’s picture.
As Jeff became more passive, the passions between Lionel and Joyce increased, culminating in divorce when Jeff was almost eighteen. A custody battle began over David. Some months later, Lionel remarried. Whatever Lionel missed about Jeff’s alcoholism, his new wife Shari did not.
Lionel and Shari convinced him to try the idea of college. In the fall of 1978, they drove him to Ohio State University, but he stayed drunk the whole semester and flunked out. By this time, his drinking problem was well understood, but he would not seek help for it. Lionel read him the rules: Jeff had to either get a job or join the Army. When Jeff refused to get a job and stayed drunk most of the time, his father drove him down to the recruiting office to join the Armed Forces in January of 1979.
Drunk and Deadly
From that time until Jeff’s final arrest in 1991, life was a rollercoaster for Lionel and his wife. Jeff would appear to be doing well, and then it would become clear that he wasn’t. He seemed to enjoy the Army, but then he was discharged early for habitual drunkenness. He then moved in with his grandmother and got a job, but then he was arrested for drunkenness and disorderly conduct. The offenses got worse as his alcoholism and emotional problems intensified: indecent exposure, then child molesting and finally, the most horrible discovery of all, when the police arrested him for multiple murders. Each time, Lionel stood by him, paid for the lawyer, urged him to seek treatment and crossed his fingers that Jeff would improve. Each time, his hopes were dashed by some fresh and more serious difficulty. Lionel began to understand that his son was completely beyond his reach.
As early as 1989, when Jeff was facing sentencing for child molestation, Lionel felt that his “son would never be more than he seemed to be — a liar, an alcoholic, a thief, an exhibitionist, a molester of children. I could not imagine how he had become such a ruined soul… For the first time, I no longer believed that my efforts and resources alone would be enough to save my son. There was something missing in Jeff…. We call it a “conscience”… that had either died or had never been alive in the first place.”
Dr. James Fox, dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University in Boston and recognized expert on serial killers, claims that “There was nothing we could do to predict this [tragedy] ahead of time, no matter how bizarre the behavior. He also noted that while Jeffrey was devastated when his mother left him, it would be wrong to blame his parents for what he had become. “Ever since Sigmund Freud, we blame everything bad that kids do on their parents… The culprit is Dahmer. Not his father, not his family, not the police.”
Fox believes that Dahmer is an unusual serial killer. “He fits the stereotype of someone who really is out of control and being controlled by his fantasies. The difference is that most serial killers stop once the victim dies. Everything is leading up to that. They tie them up; they like to her them scream and beg for their lives. It makes the killer feel great, superior, powerful, dominant… In Dahmer’s case, everything is post-mortem… all of his ‘fun’ began after the victims died… He led a rich fantasy life that focused on having complete control over people… That fantasy life, mixed with hatred, perhaps hatred of himself which is being projected into his victims. If he at all felt uncomfortable about his own sexual orientation, it is very easy to see it projected into these victims and punishing them indirectly to punish himself.”
Serial murder, psychopathology, necrophilia, cannibalism — none of these phenomena is unique to modern times. The answers to explain these phenomena go in and out of fashion. Today, genetics is gaining ground over behaviorism in explaining why people become criminals. In the case of Jeffrey Dahmer, it may be the only explanation.
Trial Begins with Heavy Security
Dahmer being led into court
The security surrounding the trial of Jeff Dahmer was unique in Milwaukee’s history: “The courtroom was swept for bombs by a dog trained to sniff for explosives, and everyone allowed into the courtroom was searched and checked with a metal detector… In the courtroom, an eight-foot-high barrier was constructed from bullet-resistant glass and steel, designed to isolate Dahmer from the gallery.” (Schwartz).
Of the 100 seats that were available, 23 were for reporters, 34 for the families of Dahmer’s victims and the remaining 43 for public spectators.
The key players in this legal drama, besides Jeff Dahmer himself, were Judge Laurence C. Gram, Jr., District Attorney Michael McCann, and defense lawyer Gerald Boyle, who had defended Dahmer in the past. Lionel and Shari Dahmer attended every day.
Dahmer’s father & step-mother in court
The Insanity Defense
On July 13, 1992, Dahmer ignored his lawyer’s advice and changed his plea to guilty, but that he was insane. According to Don Davis in The Milwaukee Murders, “the declaration turned the case on its head. Now, instead of having to prove his man did not commit the murders, defense attorney Gerald Boyle would unroll one of the goriest tapestries ever seen in an American courtroom. His task was to convince the jury that Dahmer was crazy, because only an insane person would do the things he did.”
Mike McCann, on the other hand, needed to prove that Dahmer was not legally insane — that he knew what he was doing was wrong, but did it anyway. In others words, Dahmer was an evil psychopath who lured his victims and murdered them in cold blood.
The pool of prospective jurors was warned, “You’re going to hear about things you probably didn’t know existed in the real world. In this case,” Boyle told them, “you’re going to hear about sexual conduct before death, during death, and after death. Will you be so disgusted by that you won’t be able to listen?” Together, Boyle and McCann discarded potential jurors who were prejudiced against homosexuals or who didn’t have any use for psychiatrists.
Anne Schwartz remembers the second day of jury selection before the prospective jurors were called into the room. Boyle held up a tabloid newspaper that read “Milwaukee Cannibal Killer Eats His Cellmate. “We all laughed,” Schwartz recalled, “especially Jeffrey Dahmer… He was an attractive man when he laughed…I could see how so many were taken in by him.”
On January 29, 1992, the jury and two alternates were selected. Only one black person was selected, which caused a protest among the family members. The entire case had seriously polarized the community along racial lines, from the moment the public heard Glenda Cleveland’s story, through the discovery that most of his victims were black. Now, it seemed as though this jury of six white men and seven white women was just another example of racial injustice.
Evil or Sick?Boyle’s defense consisted of some forty-five witnesses that would attest to various aspects of Dahmer’s bizarre behavior and try to show that Dahmer’s sexual and mental disorders prevented him from understanding the nature of his crime. Every hideous detail of what Dahmer allegedly did with his victims and every nightmarish thing that ever entered his head was fair game. The goal was to convince the jury that such alleged actions and such alleged thoughts did not happen with a man that was sane.
Boyle threw the question out to the jury: “Was he evil or was he sick?” Had the jury at that point in time taken a vote, it’s very possible that they would have agreed with Boyle insanity defense.
Finally, it was McCann’s turn to present his case. Dahmer, he told them, was a “master manipulator and deceiver who knew exactly what he was doing every step of the way, able to turn his urges on and off as easily as flipping a light switch. Did he attack other soldiers while he was in the army? Other students while at Ohio State University? The deaths, he said were not the acts of a madman, but the result of meticulous planning.” (Davis).
Dahmer in Court
The battle of psychiatrists over whether Dahmer was legally responsible and able to control his actions seemed to confuse the jury.
Finally, in his summation, Boyle drew a chart for the jury that took the form of a wheel. The hub of the wheel was Jeff Dahmer and all of the spokes coming out from the wheel were the elements of his deviance. He read them off quickly:
“Skulls in locker, cannibalism, sexual urges, drilling, making zombies, necrophilia, drinking alcohol all the time, trying to create a shrine, lobotomies, defleshing, calling taxidermists, going to grave yards, masturbating…..This is Jeffrey Dahmer, a runaway train on a track of madness…”
McCann rebutted, “He wasn’t a runaway train, he was the engineer!” He was satisfying his extraordinary sexual cravings. “Ladies and gentlemen, he’s fooled a lot of people. Please don’t let this murderous killer fool you.”
The jury deliberated for five hours and decided that Jeff Dahmer did not deserve to spend the rest of his life in a hospital, but in a prison cell. On all fifteen counts, Dahmer was found guilty and sane.
Anne Schwartz, who covered the Dahmer story for the Milwaukee Journal from its discovery through the trial, was “astonished at how normal this man looked and sounded…The day Jeffrey Dahmer was sentenced, I heard him read his statement to the court calmly and eloquently, and I wondered how easily I could have been conned.
End of the Road
“His apology, covering a thirteen-year bloodbath, ran four typewritten pages:
“‘It is now over. This has never been a case of trying to get free. I didn’t ever want freedom. Frankly, I wanted death for myself. This was a case to tell the world that I did what I did, but not for reasons of hate. I hated no one. I knew I was sick or evil or both. Now I believe I was sick. The doctors have told me about my sickness, and now I have some peace. I know how much harm I have caused… Thank God there will be no more harm that I can do. I believe that only the Lord Jesus Christ can save me from my sins… I ask for no consideration.”
He was sentenced to fifteen consecutive life terms or a total of 957 years in prison.
Dahmer adjusted very well to prison life at the Columbia Correctional Institute in Portage, Wisconsin. Initially, he was not part of the general population of the prison, which would have jeopardized his safety. As it was, he was attacked on July 3, 1994, while attending a chapel service, by a Cuban whom he had never seen before.
Dahmer, the model prisoner, convinced the prison authorities to allow him more contact with other inmates. He was able to eat in communal areas and he was given some janitorial work to do with other teams of inmates.
For some incredible reason, he was paired up with two highly dangerous men on a work detail: Jesse Anderson, a white man who had murdered his wife and blamed it on a black man, and Christopher Scarver, a black delusional schizophrenic who thought he was the son of God, who was in for first-degree murder. It’s not difficult to imagine how Scarver viewed Jeff Dahmer, who had butchered so many black men, and Anderson. It was a disastrous combination.
On the morning of November 28, 1994, the guard left these three men alone to do their work. Twenty minutes later, the guards came back to find Dahmer’s head crushed and Anderson’s fatally injured body nearby. A bloody broom handle seemed to represent Scarver’s statement on the subject. Jeffrey Dahmer was pronounced dead at 9:11 A.M.
Did Dahmer Find God?
John Wayne Gacy
A solar eclipse darkened the sky in the middle of the day on May 10, 1994, the day that John Wayne Gacy was executed. To many, the astral event seemed appropriate, if not altogether supernatural. Some also deemed it a celestial condemnation of an event taking place not far away — the full-immersion baptism into the Christian faith of another notorious serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer. He sought to affirm his newfound faith and a minister, Roy Ratcliff, was accommodating him.
In the tradition of books that should have been articles, Ratcliff (with Lindy Adams) writes in Dark Journey, Deep Grace (Leafwood) about his seven-month experience as Jeffrey Dahmer’s spiritual mentor, starting with his baptism. He provides a lot of filler with his own background, the tenets of baptism, and the details of Dahmer’s arrest and trial, already rehashed in dozens of accounts. What will interest readers, which takes up only about twenty percent of the spare 174 pages, is Dahmer’s take on a few Bible verses and his reaction to what Ratcliff teaches him. Even so, there’s not much substance to it. Despite Ratcliff’s statement that he had come to know Dahmer quite well, as a “friend and brother in faith,” he fails to effectively convey it.
Book cover: Dark Journey, Deep Grace
Ratcliff insists several times that he seeks no publicity, and yet he allowed a reporter to interview him after the baptism and People magazine to photograph him after Dahmer’s murder. Now he publishes a book that sheds almost no light on Dahmer as a person. It’s likely readers will see through his naivete especially when he claims that his meeting with the notorious killer was the high point of his week, apparently more exciting than ministering to church members. It’s certainly not because of Dahmer’s biblical insights or intellectual acumen.
Apart from this slightly disingenuous tone, one can’t fault Ratcliff’s decision to baptize Dahmer, since Dahmer admitted remorse and a desire to follow the path of righteousness. Ratcliff even knows that many prisoners will fake this or merely be attracted to the structure of religion after the complete lack of it in their criminal lives. Yet the tenets of his faith do allow for someone to be washed clean in the eyes of God once faith has been proclaimed. No matter who might criticize this, Ratcliff is following what he genuinely believes.
But the presentation of his book is nevertheless deceptive. There’s very little about Ratcliff’s face-to-face encounters with Dahmer, and almost no appreciation for the type of person Dahmer was. “After his arrest,” Ratcliff writes, “a veil was lifted. He began to see order and design in the universe. He began to see the case for God.” Maybe.
Throughout Dahmer’s lifetime, he was an accomplished liar, and there’s no indication in his discussions with Ratcliff that he has arrived at any profound insight about what he did. The appearance is this: Dahmer killed seventeen young men, kept body parts around, cannibalized human remains, and enjoyed sexually violating the dead. He deprived these victims of their lives. He deprived families of their loved ones. And with baptism, he learns, he can undo all of that and still get to heaven. What a deal!
Yet, were he free again post-baptism, would he look for an opportunity to take up where he left off, or would he resist all that and continue in this new life of faith? Ratcliff seems uncomfortable on this issue. The point for him appears to be whether Dahmer is spiritually clean, not whether he’s safe.
Frankly, it’s not all that interesting to read Dahmer’s simplistic theological arguments. Once he’s locked up, without access to victims, no one is surprised that he might have turned to the Bible. It happens all the time with inmates. How sincere was he? How much did the love of God penetrate and motivate his day-to-day affairs? There are no answers in this book, aside from something “in his eyes.” If readers are looking for a genuine case of a serial killer who’s been cured, they won’t find it here. In fact, between the lines, self-serving behavior is still evident.
In one instance, Ratcliff sympathizes with Dahmer over the fact that some attorney funneled his meager prison wages to relatives of victims. Dahmer whines about how this makes his life difficult. Ratcliff agrees and seems to think the attorney is the bully. “Is the point of prison to torment him over and over again?” he asks. There’s also an odd moment when Dahmer mentions that some guys in the prison make it difficult for him to live his faith. As if! Ratcliff never seems to get the “poor me” attitude as that of a psychopath who wants life organized around his own needs. Thus, he’s in no position to judge Dahmer’s sincerity. He simply doesn’t have the necessary knowledge to do so.
Since Ratcliff offers only idealistic notions about what can happen to a baptized soul, we don’t really know what happen to Dahmer’s, in terms of a life-changing shift. That’s unfortunate, because given the utter heinousness of his acts, it would have been instructive to learn more about how he viewed them (and himself) from a spiritual perspective. He should have been horrified. He should have wanted to digest all this with a spiritual mentor. Yet with Dahmer, apparently, one gets only distance. He certainly kept Ratcliff at arm’s length with words and arguments. Supposedly the minister met with Dahmer nearly every week for seven months, but all he can offer is a few brief, superficial conversations.
It seems that the sun’s eclipse on the day Gacy died and Dahmer got saved was more than a metaphor about these two. Ratcliff also seems somewhat blinded. He doesn’t know, for example, why Dahmer never told his father, whose gestures were instrumental to his conversion, that he had become a Christian. In fact, Ratcliff knows very little about Dahmer outside the frame of what he wants to see.
Book cover: A Father’s Story
Readers who seek insight ought to pick up the book by Lionel Dahmer instead. This one is less than persuasive. In fact, some readers might not be too pleased with Ratcliff’s platitude to Dahmer, “It’s amazing how God can use bad things in our lives to bring about the good things he wants to bless us with.” I’m all for second chances and self-recreation, but the lack of depth in Ratcliff’s spiritual conversations with a man who raped and cannibalized corpses prevents this book from making any contribution to our understanding of Jeffrey Dahmer. That’s disappointing.