Notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer shocked the world when he was arrested in 1991, as much for the heinous crimes he committed against his victims, as for the fact that he killed 17 men and boys over more than 13 years without capture.
Well-mannered, soft-spoken and pleasant in appearance, Dahmer barely escaped arrest on multiple occasions during his murderous spree, in which he lured men often on society’s fringes back to his home where he would kill and perform acts of necrophilia and cannibalism with their remains, often preserving body parts as mementos. Details of Dahmer's crimes were sourced from FBI files.
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Here’s a timeline of Dahmer’s murders—some of the most shocking ever committed in modern history:
June 1978: Dahmer kills his first victim
“I always knew that it was wrong. The first killing was not planned,” Dahmer told Inside Edition in 1993. “I was coming back from the shopping mall back in ’78. I’d had fantasies about picking up a hitchhiker, and taking him back to the house, and having complete dominance and control over him.”
The hitchhiker was 18-year-old Steven Hicks, Dahmer’s first victim. Dahmer took Hicks to his parent’s house in Ohio where he strangled and beat him with a barbell before dismembering the body and placing it in trash bags. “No one. No one had a clue as to what was happening for over a decade,” Dahmer said of what would transpire following his first killing.
Dahmer would not murder again until 1987. In the intervening years he had joined the army and was stationed for a time in Germany, eventually being discharged due to problems with excessive drinking. Of those nine years without a victim, Dahmer said the urge was always there; what he lacked were the right circumstances. “There just wasn’t an opportunity to fully express what I wanted to do. There was just not the physical opportunity to do it then.”
September 1981: Dahmer returns to Ohio following a military discharge
Dahmer briefly returned to Ohio to live with his parents following his military discharge, but was arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct, for which he was fined and received a suspended jail sentence. Hoping his grandmother would be a tempering influence on their son's ongoing drinking, Dahmer's parents sent him to live with her in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
August 1982: Dahmer is arrested
Arrested for indecently exposing himself at Wisconsin State Fair Park, Dahmer was convicted and fined $50.
August 1986: He is charged with disorderly conduct
Arrested for masturbating in front of two boys, Dahmer told authorities he was merely urinating. Charged with disorderly conduct, he was sentenced to one year of probation and to undergo counseling.
September 1987: Dahmer kills his next victim, nine years after his first
After taking Steven Tuomi, 24, back to a hotel room, Dahmer says he awoke the following morning to find Tuomi dead alongside him in bed. Dahmer would later tell authorities he had only planned on drugging Tuomi and had no recollection of beating him to death with his fists. Placing the body in a suitcase, Dahmer transported it to his grandmother’s basement where, a week later, he dismembered it and placed it in the trash, except for the head which he retained for a further week before boiling it in industrial detergent and bleach, eventually pulverizing the brittle skull.
October 1987: Dahmer lures in another victim
Dahmer brought 14-year-old James Doxtator to the basement of his grandmother’s house after promising him $50 in exchange for posing for nude photos. After drugging him, Dahmer strangled Doxtator, disposing of his body in similar fashion to that of Tuomi.
March 1988: Dahmer meets his next victim outside a gay bar
Richard Guerrero met his killer outside a Milwaukee gay bar. Dahmer offered Guerrero $50 to return to his grandmother’s house and spend the night with him. After drugging Guerrero with sleeping pills, Dahmer strangled him before performing sexual acts on the corpse. This time, Dahmer dismembered the body within 24 hours—but hiding his killings and the dismemberments was becoming increasingly difficult.
September 1988: Dahmer is arrested for sexual assault
Dahmer’s grandmother had become annoyed with his bringing men to her house late at night—and with the foul smells emanating from the basement—so she eventually told him to move out. Within days of securing a one-bedroom apartment, Dahmer was arrested and charged with second-degree sexual assault and enticing a child for immoral purposes after luring 13-year-old Keison Sinthasomphone back to his apartment, where he drugged and molested the boy before his intended victim escaped, taking his story to the police. Dahmer spent a week in jail before being released on bail.
March 1989: After killing his fifth victim, Dahmer begins to keep trophies
Aspiring model Anthony Sears, 24, became Dahmer’s fifth victim after they met at a bar. Dahmer, fearing his apartment was being watched by the police, brought Sears to his grandmother’s basement to be drugged and strangled. Sears was the first victim from whom Dahmer took trophies, storing and preserving Sears’ head and genitals, which he kept in a wooden box. For a time, he stored the box in his work locker.
May 1989: Dahmer is sentenced to 12 months in jail with work release
Sentenced to 12 months of jail time and five years of probation for second-degree sexual assault, Dahmer was permitted work release in order to keep his job as a mixer at Ambrosia Chocolate Factory, while also being required to register as a sex offender. Paroled from jail two months early, Dahmer rented an apartment at 924 North 25th Street in Milwaukee.
May 1990: Shortly after his release, Dahmer kills again
Just months after being released from jail, Dahmer killed Raymond Smith, a 32-year-old prostitute he had offered $50 for sex. After drugging Smith at his North 25th St. apartment, Dahmer strangled him with his hands before taking Polaroid pictures of the corpse in suggestive poses. Dismembering the body in his bathroom, Dahmer boiled the remains, dissolving them in a container of acid except for Smith’s skull, which he kept in a cabinet alongside Sears’ skull. When neighbors complained of the smell emanating from his apartment, Dahmer told them his refrigerator was broken and he was waiting to get it fixed.
June 1990: Dahmer kills again and attempts to preserve the body
After killing 27-year-old Edward Smith, Dahmer attempted to retain the body by keeping it in a freezer for several months. The frozen corpse was eventually discarded, with Dahmer telling authorities he was upset he did not get to keep any of Smith’s body parts due to degradation in the freezer.
September 1990: Dahmer claims two more victims, but deviates from his previous methods
Ernest Miller, 22, had his throat slashed after being promised money to join Dahmer at his apartment. A lack of sleeping pills forced Dahmer to change his method of killing. Dahmer kept parts of Miller’s body to eat, something he was doing increasingly, and he painted and displayed Miller's head in his apartment.
Three weeks later, Dahmer killed 22-year-old David Thomas. Later, he said he came to realize during their encounter that he was not attracted to Thomas, but he still drugged and killed him, then disposed of his body, intentionally not keeping any parts.
February 1991: A tenth victim is murdered
Dahmer picked up 17-year-old Curtis Straughter at a bus stop, offering him money in exchange for nude photos. Dahmer continued his rituals with his tenth victim: offers of cash to a stranger, drugging and strangling his victim before taking photos, dismembering and keeping body parts for cannibalism and trophies. Following his arrest, Dahmer said eating his victims was a compulsion, a way of “making me feel they were a part of me.”
April 1991: Dahmer attempts to put a victim into a "zombie-like" state
After drugging 19-year-old Errol Lindsey, Dahmer drilled a hole in his skull, into which he poured hydrochloric acid in an attempt to produce what Dahmer would describe as a “zombie-like” state in his victim. Lindsey regained consciousness before Dahmer drugged him further, and then strangled him and flayed the corpse with the intention of retaining Lindsey’s skin.
May 1991: He narrowly escapes capture
Dahmer’s next victim, 31-year-old Anthony Hughes, was dead, but still intact on the floor when he lured 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone to his North 25th St. apartment. After photographing and drugging Sinthasomphone, Dahmer again tried to render his victim brain dead by drilling into his skull and inserting acid, leaving the drugged body alongside Hughes’ corpse while he left the apartment for a few hours.
Returning in the early hours of the following morning, Dahmer discovered a groggy Sinthasomphone sitting outside the apartment building with three women huddled around him. Telling the women Sinthasomphone was his friend, Dahmer attempted to lead the boy back to the apartment to the dismay of the women, who informed Dahmer they had already called the police.
Dahmer eventually convinced attending police that Sinthasomphone was his 19-year-old boyfriend and that they had quarreled after drinking too much. Amid protests from the women, the officers escorted Dahmer and Sinthasomphone back to the apartment, where Dahmer produced the Polaroids he had taken earlier as proof of their relationship. Categorizing the event as a domestic dispute, the three officers left Sinthasomphone with Dahmer in the apartment, which they noted had a strange odor.
Dahmer once again drilled Sinthasomphone’s head and injected it with acid, this time with fatal results. By coincidence, Sinthasomphone was the younger brother of the boy Dahmer had molested in 1988—a crime for which he was convicted—though according to Dahmer, he had no idea of their connection. After dismembering their bodies, Dahmer kept the skulls of both Hughes and Sinthasomphone.
June 1991: Dahmer lures in another victim with the promise of a photo shoot
Dahmer met 20-year-old Matthew Turner in Chicago and persuaded him to travel to Milwaukee for a photo shoot. Once again, Dahmer drugged, strangled and dismembered his victim, keeping the head and internal organs in plastic bags in his freezer.
July 7-19 1991: Three more victims are killed
Choosing another victim from Chicago, Dahmer promised Jeremiah Weinberger, 20, a weekend away at his apartment in Milwaukee. Dahmer did not commit the murder until the day following their arrival, when Weinberger voiced his intention to leave.
Days later, after agreeing to pose nude, 24-year-old Oliver Lacy accompanied Dahmer back to his apartment, where Lacy was drugged and then administered chloroform over the course of a day in an attempt to render him alive, but unconscious. After strangling Lacy, Dahmer had sex with the corpse, storing the head and heart in the refrigerator and the skeleton in a freezer.
Four days after murdering Lacy, Dahmer was fired from his job. The same day, Dahmer lured Joseph Bradehoft, 25, to his apartment, strangling him and laying the body on the bed where it remained for two days. He then placed Bradehoft’s head in the refrigerator.
July 22, 1991: Dahmer's killing spree comes to an end
Two Milwaukee police officers were flagged down by an agitated man with handcuffs attached at one wrist. Tracey Edwards, 32, told the officers a “freak” had placed the handcuffs on him and that he had spent the better part of the evening trying to escape from a nearby apartment where he was being held captive.
Dahmer had met Edwards earlier that day, and persuaded him to accompany him to his apartment. Upon entering, Edwards immediately noticed a foul smell and stacked boxes of hydrochloric acid. Dahmer had tried to place handcuffs on Edwards, succeeding only in fastening one wrist before he brandished a knife, pulling Edwards toward the bedroom where Dahmer said he intended to take nude pictures.
Continually repeating he was Dahmer’s “friend,” Edwards waited until his captor had a lapse of concentration whereupon he punched Dahmer in the face. In the confusion Edwards fled through the front door, eventually flagging down the police car.
Upon their arrival at his apartment, Dahmer invited the attending officers inside, admitting it was he who had placed the handcuffs on Edwards and that the keys were in his nightstand. On entering the bedroom, one officer noticed a partially open drawer filled with Polaroid pictures of numerous bodies in differing states of dismemberment. Brandishing the images, the officer returned to the living room, reportedly saying to his partner: “These are for real.”
Seeing the images, Dahmer attempted to escape, but was quickly subdued by police, who immediately called for assistance. When authorities opened Dahmer’s refrigerator door, they found the severed head of a Black male on the bottom shelf.
Authorities would discover four other severed heads in Dahmer’s kitchen, two human hearts in the refrigerator, seven skulls in Dahmer’s bedroom, as well as an entire human torso in his freezer. Further investigation at the apartment would reveal preserved sexual organs, two entire skeletons, severed hands and a further three torsos submerged in acid.
Asked following his arrest if he was glad it was over, Dahmer stated he was not glad, that he liked his lifestyle and found it “exciting and thrilling,” according to FBI files. When authorities asked Dahmer if it would be possible to lead a normal life if he were ever released, the murderer responded that the best place for him was prison—because if he ever got out, he would go right back to the same behavior, including killing. Sentenced to 16 consecutive life terms, Dahmer was killed by fellow prison inmate Christopher Scarver in 1994.