10 Disturbing Facts About Serial Killer Jeffrey Dahmer
Few serial killers have shocked the nation—even the world—like Jeffrey Dahmer. His numerous crimes were almost unbelievably grotesque and extreme, yet they occurred in an ordinary apartment building, right under the noses of his neighbors. After Dahmer, it became a little bit harder to trust the apparently normal people around us. That mild mannered fellow we see walking his dog every day—does he have a secret? What does he keep in his refrigerator? It would not be an exaggeration to say that something about the story of Jeffrey Dahmer has gotten under our collective skin.In spite of his great notoriety, Dahmer remains very much a mystery. By all accounts his upbringing was unremarkable and his family not very different from the others in his Ohio town. But something obviously went very, very wrong inside Jeffrey Dahmer. His case was bizarre in many ways, even beyond the overwhelming bizarreness of his crimes. Here are some of the strangest and most disturbing facts about Jeffrey Dahmer.
10As a Child, He Was Fixated on Dead Animals
Although he experienced a relatively normal childhood, Dahmer’s family and friends noted that little Jeffy had a number of … peculiarities. When his father, Lionel, once cleaned the remains of dead rodents out from under the house, four-year-old Jeff couldn’t help but play with them, happily running his hands through the bones. He seemed enthralled with the clattering noise they made. His father, interpreting this at the time as a sign of normal childhood curiosity, was only creeped-out in restrospect.
From the age of six on up, signs of Dahmer’s future psychopathy only increased. He’d had a fairly minor hernia surgery that seemed to go well, but family members reported that his personality was forever altered afterwards. He became quiet and focused inward, spending long periods alone. His parents say he seemed to disconnect from him at this time. He also took up a new hobby around this time: collecting roadkill and animal skeletons. He’d clean the flesh off the bones with acid from a toy chemistry set. His pals at the time said he appeared to be obsessed with what went on underneath the animals’ skin. He stabbed frogs on sticks and preserved insects in bottles. By the time high school rolled around, he was considered undeniably eccentric, and classmates took note of how suddenly studious he became when it was time to dissect a fetal pig in biology class. Word was he also played the clarinet.
9He Committed His First Murder Within Weeks of High School Graduation
Dahmer started drinking alcohol at the age of 13, and by the time he was ready to graduate he was a hardenedalcoholic. Even though he frequently drank while he was at school and spent many of his educational hours three sheets to the wind, he graduated on time with the rest of his class–clearly those were the days long before No Child Left Behind. He claims to have begun having sexual fantasies involving dead bodies during high school, and blames some of it on the stress of his parents’ dissolving marriage. Of course, many of us deal with our parents’ divorces without resorting to necrophilia and alcoholism, but different strokes for different folks.
Still, it must have been a surprise for Dahmer when, during that first post-school summer vaycay, he suddenly found himself with a real live dead human body of his very own. Though the story didn’t come out until many years later, that 1978 murder would be the first of many to come. The incredibly unlucky victim was a 19-year-old named Steven Hicks, who had been hitchhiking when fate put Dahmer into the first car that pulled over for him. Dahmer took Hicks back to his father’s house, gave him a few beers, had sex with him, and when Hicks decided to get back on the road, smashed the young man in the back of the head with a barbell. Hicks got buried in the back yard, and Dahmer had a new pastime. He went on to join the Army. When he got back, kicked out for alcoholism, he dug Hicks’s body up and sprinkled it around in the woods.
8He Might Have Killed the Son of America’s Most Wanted Host John Walsh
Although the official story states that Dahmer did not kill anyone after Hicks until 1987, rumors persist that Dahmer may have been responsible for a number of unsolved murders that took place during the early half of the 80’s. Dahmer was briefly stationed in West Germany at this time, working as a medic. While he was there, five murders involving mutilation reportedly occurred and remain unsolved. A friend of Dahmer’s also claimed that the budding serial killer murdered a hitchhiker while in Germany–the same MO he used in his very first murder.
However, the more shocking, and possibly less plausible, suspicion is that Jeffrey Dahmer killed six-year-old Adam Walsh. Walsh was abducted from a department store in Florida in 1981, strangled and beheaded. The young boy’s murder horrified the nation and galvanized his father John, who went on to bring attention to many other crimes via the television show America’s Most Wanted. Dahmer was living nearby at the time, and two witnesses claim to have seen him with the boy. The decapitation was certainly up Dahmer’s alley, although Walsh was considerably younger than Dahmer’s other victims.
This crime was eventually pinned on killer Ottis Toole who confessed to it–and then retracted it, and then confessed again. Toole and his partner in crime, Henry Lee Lucas, together confessed to over a hundred murders. Some doubt remains, however, that Toole killed anyone at all. He may have just liked the attention he got when he confessed. Don’t we all?
In any event, Dahmer denied killing Walsh. As he himself pointed out, he confessed to everything else, why hold this one back? Notably, though, Florida had the death penalty, which Ohio and Wisconsin did not.
7Dahmer Killed Three People While Living With–His Grandmother
In 1982, Dahmer moved to West Allis, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee, in order to live with his aged grandmother, Catherine Dahmer. His Milwaukee years were characterized by increasingly strange behavior. One of his first acts upon returning to his birth state was to purchase a .357 Magnum for “target practice.” His father forced him to get rid of it–clearly, Lionel didn’t buy the target practice excuse. Dahmer once stole a department store mannequin and brought it home for sexual purposes. When his grandmother found it, he told her it was just a prank. In 1983, he got a job at a Blood Plasma Center. He reportedly stole a vial of blood, took it home and drank it. His family, while most likely aware that Dahmer had problems, were unable or unwilling to face how truly disturbed the young man was.
In fact, when Dahmer was arrested for masturbating in front of two young boys, Lionel believed the whole thing was a big misunderstanding. The fact that his family had a tendency to look the other way probably made it easy for Dahmer, once he killed a man in a Milwaukee hotel, to take the body back to Gramma’s house and dismember it. Lionel even reports finding a mysterious metal box in the basement–the basement smelled pretty horrible by this point–and asked Jeffrey to open it for him. Jeff refused, saying he’d show him later. When he did, the next day, the box contained only slightly embarrassing porno mags. Of course, if Lionel had opened the box when he first found it, he’d have been confronted with the awful sight of a decapitated human head.
Perhaps if he had insisted on looking in the box, all the horrible events that eventually occurred could have been avoided. Instead, Dahmer killed and cut up two more men right under his family’s noses before getting his own apartment.
6Dahmer Really, Really, Really Wanted a Zombie
After his final arrest, Dahmer confessed that he attempted a primitive lobotomy on several of his victims. He drilled into their skulls while they were alive, even going so far as dripping acid into the holes. This technique didn’t exactly work the way Dahmer intended. Each of his victims died within two days. It must have been an unimaginably horrible experience for them.
Some experts at the time speculated that if Dahmer could have just made himself a perfect zombie sex slave, he wouldn’t have had to go through all the trouble of murdering them in the first place. Dahmer himself even argued that his desire to have a zombie of his very own meant that he wasn’t really a necrophiliac. All he wanted, you see, was a sex slave. He wanted to have complete control over his sexual partners, and understandably, living non-zombies weren’t always so into that. However, the majority of necrophiliacs express the desire to have a sexual partner who will never, ever reject them or resist. So, zombie-love is perfectly compatible with necrophilia, even if the person would be technically alive.
Fascinated by this idea, author Joyce Carol Oates wrote a novel called Zombie, which was loosely based on Dahmer’s experimentation. It was a big seller.
5Yes, He Really Ate His Victims
They didn’t call him The Milwaukee Cannibal for nothing. The man who would be the last person to be invited back to Dahmer’s bachelor pad managed to escape, one handcuff dangling from his wrist. He told the police some weirdo had done it–some weirdo who said he wanted to the man’s heart–then asked the cops to remove handcuff. Since the police didn’t have the key, they went back to the apartment. A cursory search of Dahmer’s apartment revealed what was, simply, a slaughterhouse.
Polaroids were scattered around. One of the cops picked some up, looked at them and realized that he was looking at pictures of dismembered body parts. A fifty gallon drum in the corner was giving off an unbelievable stench. And then, someone looked in the fridge. On the bottom shelf was a man’s decapitated head. In the freezer they found, alongside the ice cream and Hot Pockets, three more heads. Jars held other bits and pieces, preserved in liquid.
After his arrest, he readily admitted to cooking and eating some of his victims. He ate some liver, a little bit of heart and someone’s biceps, among other choice morsels. But why? What compels a person to eat another? Cannibalism may be the last, most powerful taboo among the great majority of mankind. The feeling of crossing an almost uncrossable line might have been thrilling. After all, plenty of people commit murder. Not many go full-buffet on their victims.
One awful cannibalism footnote: One of his neighbors described Dahmer as a pleasant, quiet man who once offered her a sandwich. To be polite, she took it. It wasn’t bad at all.
4One of His Victims Escaped–But the Police Brought Him Back
While every single element of the Jeffrey Dahmer story is tragic, one small part of it is painfully sad. One day in 1991, just a few months before Dahmer was finally caught, people living in the vicinity of Dahmer’s apartment building spotted a young naked boy running into the street. He appeared to be distraught and bleeding. Police were called. Dahmer met them and claimed the boy was his adult lover. The boy, a 14-year-old Laotian, was clearly frightened of Dahmer and the neighbors tried to intervene. Instead, the police walked to boy back to his doom, then bid the cannibal and his prey a good evening.
Dahmer admitted later that the boy lived only a couple of hours longer.
If the police had instead taken the boy to a shelter, or even just had a look around Dahmer’s apartment, the kid would have had a chance. Some have accused the police of racism or homophobia. It’s true they chose to listen to the white murderer rather than the black neighbors or the brown boy. And perhaps they were reluctant to get involved in a “gay squabble.” However, it’s pretty certain the police did not know what fate they were returning the boy to. They had to live with that the rest of their lives.
What makes the story even stranger, if that’s possible, is that Dahmer was arrested for molesting the 14-year-old’s brother a few years before, in 1988. He’d offered to pay the boy for posing for pictures, took the kid back to his place and got him drunk on Irish Creme and sedatives. When the boy got home, his parents took him to the hospital. Dahmer was given an 8-year sentence. However, the sentence was somehow reduced to ten months, so Dahmer was back in the game in less than a year. Yet another example of a time when the Milwaukee Cannibal was very, very lucky.
3He Was Murdered By a Fellow Murderer
Of course, luck has a way of drying up eventually, and indeed Jeffrey Dahmer’s luck–if you could call it that–vanished in the blink of an eye. He brought it on himself. During mid 1990-1991, the last year before his arrest, Dahmer killed a dozen men. It was as if he was trying to get caught, or at least he knew it was inevitable. He didn’t seem to try very hard to keep his awful hobby under wraps. Neighbors noticed smells.
His arrest was only the beginning of his bad luck, however. At his trial his claims of mental illness were rejected. While clearly all was not copacetic in Dahmer’s head, he knew right from wrong, he planned his murders and took some pains to keep them secret. Therefore he was found guilty of fifteen separate murders and sentenced to a whopping 940 years in prison. Being neither Methuselah nor Moses, he would never see freedom again, and thank goodness.
He had served just under three years when he and two other inmates were taken to a gymnasium bathroom in order to clean it. When the guards’ backs were turned, one of the other inmates, a murderer serving a number of life sentences, took a broken broom handle and began beating Dahmer the other prisoner. Dahmer was dead by the time the guards returned; the other prisoner was alive but died at the hospital. It’s hard to imagine how frenzied an attack would have to be to kill two fully grown, hardened murderers with something as flimsy as a broom stick.
Dahmer had been isolated from the other prisoners for his first year behind bars, but then joined the general population a short time before he was killed. Since he had earlier been attacked by a man with a plastic knife in the prison chapel, it’s unclear why anyone would think leaving him alone in a bathroom with two killers would be a good idea. Or maybe that was the point.
2Some Professionals Think He Had Aspergers
While it might be a dubious proposition to diagnose someone posthumously, let alone someone they’ve never met, a group of working psychiatrists wrote a paper arguing that at least part of Dahmer’s “problem” was rooted in an autism spectrum disorder. Not every autistic person becomes a criminal, let alone a deeply freaky cannibalistic murderer, so it might seem on the surface to be a pointless exercise. However, the idea that a certain amount of sense can be made of the person and killer that Dahmer became might be helpful in understanding the pathology of serial killing. In any event, pointing out the early signs that Dahmer showed might help other professionals spot when another child is starting to go off the rails.
That said, the argument they present is pretty convincing. If a teenage Dahmer showed up at a present-day psychiatrist’s office, they would no doubt notice a particular constellation of symptoms. Dahmer was socially awkward, had a limited palette of facial expressions and appeared stiff and mechanical. All these do point to Aspergers Syndrome. Moreover, he had obsessive interests–he collected body parts–which is also characteristic of an autistic disorder. The psychiatrists paint a rather complete picture of Dahmer’s pathology, which happens to line up with Aspergers very closely.
However, this does raise the inevitable question: What made Dahmer different from the vast majority of harmless autistic people? And whatever these differences are, might those be the real problem? The authors of the paper address this glancingly by suggesting that his Asperger’s characteristics might have interacted in dangerous ways with Dahmer’s alcoholism, his depression, his family environment and perhaps other individual mental quirks. Certainly, it’s an interesting avenue for study as we try to figure out what makes these human monsters tick.
1He Starred in a Comic Book After His Death
In 2012, Jeffrey Dahmer became the “hero” of an underground comic book by cartoonist John “Derf” Backderf. Derf, a writer of daily comics as well as graphic novels, happened to grow up in the same town as Dahmer. In fact, they went to high school at the same time. In fact, they were friends.
Well, “friends” in as much as anyone could be friends with the odd, asocial, deeply alcoholic young Jeff Dahmer. Derf’s book is a compelling and even sympathetic look at the alienated young loner who went on to commit some of the most atrocious crimes the world has ever seen. We see Dahmer trying in his painfully awkward way to make friends and to fit in, and we see him fail to do it. We also see the world Derf and Dahmer grew up in as one utterly without adult supervision. Some of us feel nostalgic for the days before “helicopter parenting,” but you can be sure that if a kid like Jeff Dahmer showed up in the school system today, his road-kill collecting habits alone would send up some major red flags.
Ultimately, Derf’s story is about the small part he and his friends played in Dahmer’s alienation. Dahmer was a weird kid who was fun for a while, but who no one really wanted to hang out with. Derf appears to carry a little bit of guilt about that–did he and his friends help turn Dahmer bad? In the end, it’s probably an unanswerable question.
To most of us who live basically fulfilling lives filled with friends, family and lovers, the idea of murdering the people we are attracted to and them cutting them into seems… beyond bizarre. The serial killer holds endless fascination for this reason. How different are they from us, really? How do they become that way? If Jeff Dahmer, the product of a more or less normal family, can go so far off the reservation, what’s stopping us?
Hopefully, Dahmer is a monster for the centuries–one whose like we will not see again in our lifetime.