Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer admitted to slaying 17 young men and boys between 1978 and his arrest in 1991. His horrific crimes, which involved attempted lobotomies to create "living zombies," sex with corpses, dismembering his victims, and cannibalizing parts of their bodies, made him a notorious figure. He told Dateline in 1994 that he killed his victims because he'd wanted to "keep them with me as long as possible, even if it meant just keeping a part of them." Dahmer was sentenced to 16 consecutive life terms — more than 900 years — but being infamous meant his time behind bars would never be that of an average prisoner.
Originally isolated, Dahmer was granted more freedom after one year
In February 1992, Dahmer arrived at Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin. Due to his notoriety — the egregious nature of his crimes had drawn worldwide attention — prison officials felt it was safer to keep Dahmer away from the general population, rather than risk another inmate trying to make a name for himself by attacking the famous serial killer. In protective custody, Dahmer was isolated from other prisoners and had to be shackled when not in his cell.
Dahmer didn't cause any big waves in his first year in prison. So when he requested more freedom of movement and interaction with other inmates, prison officials listened. Dahmer was moved out of his isolated cell to a unit for prisoners with emotional problems. He also ended up being able to attend classes, eat communal meals and perform work duties. However, though he seemed to get along with his fellow inmates, this closer, sometimes unsupervised, contact with others would prove fatal for Dahmer.
Dahmer often indulged in morbid jokes and taunts that linked to his past. He once put up a sign advertising a meeting for "Cannibals Anonymous." He would tell prisoners and guards, "I bite," then delight in any nervous reaction. And the cannibal killer would mold prison food to resemble body parts or severed limbs, with ketchup used as blood, in order to disturb his fellow prisoners. The fake body parts in particular unnerved the inmate who would end up killing Dahmer.
Dahmer had a religious calling and was baptized in prison
Some of Dahmer's time behind bars was spent in religious study; his father, a born-again Christian, had sent him some materials, and the prisoner had followed a Bible correspondence course. In the spring of 1994, Dahmer expressed interest in conversion. Roy Ratcliff, a Church of Christ minister, came to visit him and agreed to help. In May 1994, a robed Dahmer was submerged in a whirlpool bath at the prison and baptized by Ratcliff.
At the time of his religious conversion, many questioned Dahmer's sincerity, as he was a skilled manipulator who'd used his intelligence to get away with crimes in the past. But Dahmer was committed enough to meet the pastor who'd baptized him for weekly Bible study sessions. They last got together five days prior to Dahmer's death. During this meeting, they discussed the Book of Revelation, whose subjects include death, punishment for sins, and damnation.
At a chapel service in July 1994, another prisoner tried to slash Dahmer's throat. But the blade of the homemade weapon broke off, so Dahmer was just scratched. He was sent into temporary isolation afterward but didn't want to remain there. Dahmer offered an explanation that his attacker, a Cuban, had been trying to do something to get deported home. This prompted the prison to label the attack an "isolated incident," and officials therefore decided their famous prisoner could return to live among the general population.
Dahmer was murdered while cleaning the prison's bathroom
On the morning of November 28, 1994, Dahmer was on cleaning duty — which he'd begun three weeks earlier — in the prison's gym bathrooms with two other inmates, Jesse Anderson and Christopher Scarver. The three were left alone for 20 minutes; when guards returned they found the bludgeoned bodies of Dahmer and Anderson, who'd been beaten by Scarver. Dahmer was pronounced dead an hour later; Anderson also ended up dying from the attack. In a 2015 interview, Scarver stated he'd abhorred Dahmer, and raised the question of whether prison personnel, who'd been aware of this, had left them alone on purpose.
Some think Dahmer had a death wish
At his sentencing in 1992, Dahmer had said, "I never wanted freedom. Frankly, I wanted death for myself." He'd later told his pastor, "I think I should have been put to death by the state for what I did." (Wisconsin has no death penalty, so capital punishment was never an option.) And Dahmer's willingness to join the general prison population made some of those who'd known him wonder if he'd deliberately courted death while behind bars. After the fatal attack, his attorney, Gerald Boyle, said, "Dahmer had a death wish, and I know that he didn't have the gumption to do it himself, so I predicted that the day would come when he would be killed in prison."