Who Was Jeffrey Dahmer?
Jeffrey Dahmer was an American serial killer who took the lives of 17 males between 1978 and 1991. Over the course of more than 13 years, Dahmer sought out men, mostly African-American, at gay bars, malls and bus stops, lured them home with promises of money or sex, and gave them alcohol laced with drugs before strangling them to death. He would then engage in sex acts with the corpses before dismembering them and disposing of them, often keeping their skulls or genitals as souvenirs. He frequently took photos of his victims at various stages of the murder process, so he could recollect each act afterward and relive the experience.
Dahmer was captured in 1991 and sentenced to 16 life terms. He was killed by fellow prison inmate Christopher Scarver in 1994.
Childhood and Family
Dahmer was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on May 21, 1960, to Lionel and Joyce Dahmer. He was described as an energetic and happy child until the age of 4, when surgery to correct a double hernia seemed to effect a change in the boy. Noticeably subdued, he became increasingly withdrawn following the birth of his younger brother and the family's frequent moves. By his early teens, he was disengaged, tense and largely friendless.
Dahmer claims that his compulsions toward necrophilia and murder began around the age of 14, but it appears that the breakdown of his parents' marriage and their acrimonious divorce a few years later may have been the catalyst for turning these thoughts into actions.
By the time of his first killing, Dahmer's alcohol consumption had spun out of control. He dropped out of Ohio State University after one quarter term, and his recently remarried father insisted that he join the Army. Dahmer enlisted in late December 1978, and was posted to Germany shortly thereafter.
His drinking problem persisted, and in early 1981, the Army discharged him. Although German authorities would later investigate possible connections between Dahmer and murders that took place in the area during that time, it is not believed that he took any more victims while serving in the Armed Forces.
Following his discharge, Dahmer returned home to Ohio. An arrest later that year for disorderly conduct prompted his father to send Dahmer to live with his grandmother in Wisconsin, but his alcohol problem continued and he was arrested the following summer for indecent exposure. He was arrested once again in 1986, when two boys accused him of masturbating in front of them. He received a one-year probationary sentence.
Jeffrey Dahmer’s Victims
Dahmer murdered 17 men between 1978 and 1991. He was careful to select victims on the fringes of society, who were often itinerant or borderline criminal, making their disappearances less noticeable and reducing the likelihood of his capture. He lured them to his home with promises of money or sex, then strangled them to death. He engaged in sex acts with their bodies and kept body parts and photos as souvenirs.
First Four Victims
Dahmer’s first murder occurred just after graduating high school, in June 1978, when he picked up a hitchhiker named Steven Hicks and took him home to his parents' house. Dahmer proceeded to get the young man drunk; when Hicks tried to leave, Dahmer killed him by striking him in the head and strangling him with a barbell.
Dahmer dismembered the corpse of his first victim, packed the body parts in plastic bags and buried them behind his parents' home. He later exhumed the remains, crushed the bones with a sledgehammer and scattered them across a wooded ravine.
It wasn’t until September 1987 that Dahmer took his second victim, Steven Tuomi. They checked into a hotel room and drank, and Dahmer eventually awoke to find Tuomi dead, with no memory of the previous night's activities. He bought a large suitcase to transport Tuomi's body to his grandmother's basement, where he dismembered and masturbated on the corpse before disposing of the remains.
Only after Dahmer killed another two victims at his grandmother’s home did she tire of her grandson's late nights and drunkenness — although she had no knowledge of his other activities — and she forced him to move out of the premises in 1988.
Sexual Assault Charges
That September 1989, Dahmer had an extremely lucky escape: An encounter with a 13-year-old Laotian boy resulted in charges of sexual exploitation and second-degree sexual assault for Dahmer. He pleaded guilty, claiming that the boy had appeared much older.
While awaiting sentencing for his sexual assault case, Dahmer again put his grandmother's basement to gruesome use: In March 1989, he lured, drugged, strangled, sodomized, photographed, dismembered and disposed of Anthony Sears, an aspiring model.
At his trial for child molestation in May 1989, Dahmer was the model of contrition, arguing eloquently, in his own defense, about how he had seen the error of his ways, and that his arrest marked a turning point in his life. His defense counsel argued that he needed treatment, not incarceration, and the judge agreed, handing down a one-year prison sentence on "day release" — allowing Dahmer to work at his job during the day and return to the prison at night — as well as a five-year probationary sentence.
Years later, in an interview with CNN, Lionel Dahmer stated that he wrote a letter to the court that issued the sentence, requesting psychological help before his son's parole. However, Dahmer was granted an early release by the judge, after serving only 10 months of his sentence. He briefly lived with his grandmother following his release, during which time he does not appear to have added to his body count, before moving back into his own apartment.
Last 13 Victims
Over the following two years, Dahmer's victim count accelerated, bringing his total from four to 17. He developed rituals as he progressed, experimenting with chemical means of disposal and often consuming the flesh of his victims. Dahmer also attempted crude lobotomies, drilling into victims' skulls while they were still alive and injecting them with muriatic acid.
On May 27, 1991, Dahmer's neighbor Sandra Smith called the police to report that an Asian boy was running naked in the street. When the police arrived, the boy was incoherent, and they accepted the word of Dahmer — a white man in a largely poor African-American community — that the boy was his 19-year-old lover. In fact, the boy was 14 years old and a brother of the Laotian teen Dahmer had molested three years earlier.
The police escorted Dahmer and the boy home. Clearly not wishing to become embroiled in a homosexual domestic disturbance, they took only a cursory look around before leaving.
Once the police left the scene, Dahmer killed the boy and proceeded with his usual rituals. Had they conducted even a basic search, police officers would have found the body of Dahmer's 12th victim, Tony Hughes.
Before he was finally arrested, Dahmer killed four more men.
The Crime Scene at Jeffrey Dahmer’s Arrest: Refrigerator and Polaroids
Dahmer's killing spree ended when he was arrested on July 22, 1991. The body parts found in Dahmer’s refrigerator and Polaroid photographs of his victims became inextricably associated with his notorious killing spree.
Two Milwaukee police officers were led to Dahmer when they picked up Tracy Edwards, a 32-year-old African American man who was wandering the streets with handcuffs dangling from his wrist. They decided to investigate the man's claims that a "weird dude" had drugged and restrained him. They arrived at Dahmer's apartment, where he calmly offered to get the keys for the handcuffs.
Edwards claimed that the knife Dahmer had threatened him with was in the bedroom. When the officer went in to corroborate the story, he noticed Polaroid photographs of dismembered bodies lying around. Dahmer was subdued by the officers.
Subsequent searches revealed a head in the refrigerator, three more in the freezer and a catalog of other horrors, including preserved skulls, jars containing genitalia and an extensive gallery of macabre Polaroid photographs of his victims.
In 1996, following Dahmer’s death, a group of Milwaukee businessmen raised more than $400,000 to purchase the items he used for his victims — including blades, saws, handcuffs and a refrigerator to store body parts. They promptly destroyed them in an effort to distance the city from the horrors of Dahmer's actions and the ensuing media circus surrounding his trial.
Trial and Imprisonment
Dahmer’s trial began in January 1992. Given that the majority of Dahmer's victims were African American, there were considerable racial tensions, so strict security precautions were taken, including an eight-foot barrier of bulletproof glass that separated him from the gallery. The inclusion of only one African American on the jury provoked further unrest, but was ultimately contained and short-lived. Lionel Dahmer and his second wife attended the trial throughout.
Dahmer initially pleaded not guilty to all charges, despite having confessed to the killings during police interrogation. He eventually changed his plea to guilty by virtue of insanity. His defense then offered the gruesome details of his behavior, as proof that only someone insane could commit such terrible acts.
The jury chose to believe the prosecution's assertion that Dahmer was fully aware that his acts were evil and chose to commit them anyway. On February 15, 1992, they returned after approximately 10 hours' deliberation to find him guilty, but sane, on all counts. He was sentenced to 15 consecutive life terms in prison, with a 16th term tacked on in May.
Dahmer reportedly adjusted well to prison life, although he was initially kept apart from the general population. He eventually convinced authorities to allow him to integrate more fully with other inmates. He found religion in the form of books and photos sent to him by his father, and he was granted permission by the Columbia Correctional Institution to be baptized by a local pastor.
How Jeffrey Dahmer Died
Jeffrey Dahmer was killed on November 28, 1994, by his fellow prison inmate Christopher Scarver.
In accordance with his inclusion in regular work details, Dahmer was assigned to work with two other convicted murderers, Scarver and Jesse Anderson. After they had been left alone to complete their tasks, guards returned to find that Scarver had brutally beaten both men with a metal bar from the prison weight room. Dahmer was pronounced dead after approximately one hour. Anderson succumbed to his injuries days later.
In 2015, Christopher Scarver spoke to the New York Post about his reasons for killing Dahmer. Scarver alleged that he was disturbed not only by Dahmer's crimes, but by a habit Dahmer had developed of fashioning severed limbs from prison food to antagonize other inmates.
After being taunted by Dahmer and Anderson during their work detail, Scarver said that he confronted Dahmer about his crimes before beating the two men to death. He also claimed that prison guards allowed the murders to happen by leaving them alone.
Jeffrey Dahmer’s House
In August 2012, nearly two decades after his death, it was reported that Dahmer’s childhood home in Bath, Ohio — where he committed his first murder in 1978 and buried his victim's remains — was on the market. Its owner, musician Chris Butler, stated that the property would make a great home, as long as the buyer could "get past the horror factor."
In March 2016, Butler put the house up for rent for $8,000 for the week of the Republican National Convention. As of July 2017, the house was no longer listed on the market, according to Zillow.com.
Jeffrey Dahmer Movies and Books
Well-known books about Dahmer include:
- The Jeffrey Dahmer Story: An American Nightmare, by Donald A. Davis. It was published just a few months after Dahmer’s arrest, in November 1991.
- The Shrine of Jeffrey Dahmer, by Brian Masters, which was published in 1993.
Notable films on Dahmer’s life and killing spree include:
- Dahmer, a 2002 biographical film starring Jeremy Renner
- The Jeffrey Dahmer Files, a 2012 documentary covering the summer of Dahmer’s 1991 arrest.
- My Friend Dahmer, a 2017 film about Dahmer’s alcoholic pre-killing teenage years based on the 2012 graphic novel of the same name by Derf Backderf.
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