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Jeffrey Dahmer is most notably known as the infamous Milwaukee Cannibal a.k.a. Milwaukee Monster a.k.a. Cannibal Killer a.k.a... well, you get the idea. Dahmer killed and dismembered approximately 17 young men from 1978 to 1991, even going as far as to preserve their remains, and even eat them. In this article, we will dive deep, deep, DEEP down into the life and crimes of the disturbed Jeffrey Dahmer, and discover how exactly he ended up where he ended up, and what was possibly going through his mind.
In the Beginning
Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer was born May 21, 1960 to Lionel and Joyce Dahmer. As a child, he was very energetic and seemingly happy, however, when he was four years old he had to undergo a double hernia operation which subsequently left him distant and withdrawn. Lionel later wrote in his book A Father's Story: "The little child that once appeared so happy and self-assured had disappeared. He had been replaced with someone else, a different person, now deeply shy, distant, nearly uncommunicative." His father was a chemist, and was working on his PhD at Iowa State University, so the family moved around a lot. Lionel constantly working began to put a strain on his and Joyce's relationship, in addition to her being institutionalized for a recurring mental illness. Following the birth of his baby brother, David, Jeffrey felt more and more disengaged both with the family, and with others.
In high school, Dahmer was shy but likeable. He didn't really have many friends, but despite this, he was known as the class clown. Classmates remember him stumbling through the halls at school, pretending to have seizures, and emitting goat-like bleats (they called it "Doin'-a-Dahmer"), all for the purpose of making others laugh. It was during this time that Jeff began to develop into who he would ultimately become known as. His parents' tumultuous relationship had begun to take its toll on him, and as a result he felt neglected. In the midst of this, Jeff also discovered that he was having fantasies—fantasies that he was uncomfortable with - so he drank his impure thoughts away. He would often come to school drunk, drinking scotch out of a Styrofoam cup claiming "it's my medicine." Jeff discovered that he was homosexual; hiding the fact that you were gay was taboo enough, but Dahmer’s partners in his fantasies were different. He didn't understand it, but anytime he imagined himself with another man, he was unconscious or in worse cases, dead. This chiasmus of homosexual tendencies coupled with homicidal ideation became a nightmare for him. Instead of acting on these frightening scenarios, he continued to dissect roadkill behind his house. It had fascinated him since his childhood, and it was a way for him to appease the thoughts. Jeff would tell friends, "it interests me, what the insides look like," his father was a chemist and taught him how to dissolve the subjects in jars of acid. In retrospect, this could've turned into a nice little hobby for Jeff, he could've gotten into taxidermy or something. But alas, he did not do that. Jeff had entertained his fantasies for long enough, and soon decided that roadkill would not suffice. He wanted something bigger, and he had been eyeing a local jogger who'd jog past his house several times a week. One day, he decided to act on his urges, and lay in waiting in the brush with a baseball bat, keeping an eye out for the jogger. Much to his surprise, the jogger never came. Later when Jeff was asked about the intrusive thoughts he began to have at 14, he explained: "It sure seems like some of the thoughts aren't my own, they just come blasting into my head... These thoughts are very powerful, very destructive, and they do not leave. They're not the kind of thoughts that you can just shake your head and they're gone. They do not leave."
With his high school graduation on the horizon, Jeff's life seemed to be going downhill fast. His parents were getting a divorce, which would be finalized soon. His friends had gotten over his once hilarious shenanigans and began laughing only at his expense. His mother came to him just days before his graduation with the news that she would be moving back to Wisconsin with his brother, David, and that Jeff would watch the house while his father was away. A quote from the book My Friend Dahmer seems to sum it up: "His dad had moved out, his friends had written him off, high school, where at least he was surrounded by people, was ending, and now even his own mother was leaving him behind. His isolation was complete."
After his high school graduation, Jeff had the house to himself. This is when he took his first victim.
Jeff took his first victim at the ripe age of 18, just days after his high school graduation. He picked up hitchhiker Steven Hicks on his way out of a concert, and invited him back to his house to "keep partying." Dahmer and Hicks drank beer together and chatted, but once Hicks made it clear he wanted to leave, Dahmer wasn't havin' none of it. Jeff hit him on the back of the head with a dumbbell and proceeded to strangle him. Then, he masturbated next to the body—because actually having sex with the body would've been too much—and when he was done, he decided to do what he did best—cut it up. He dismembered the body of Steven Hicks, smashed the bones into pieces with a hammer, scattered them behind his house, then put the remains into several garbage bags to discard later. He'd finally done it. In regards to his fantasies and going through with them, Jeff stated in an interview years later, "I don't know where it came from, I'll probably never know. But I never dreamed it would become a reality." This experience and the realization as to what he had done was both frightening and empowering to Jeff. He was both alarmed and in shock that his fantasy had become a reality.
Jeff would later recount the aftermath of killing Steven Hicks, saying: "Nothing's really been normal ever since then. It taints your whole life. I didn't think I would but it does. It taints your whole life. And I thought that I'd just... try to live as normally as possible and just bury it...the memory of it and everything. But...things like that don't stay buried forever. Like a... like a festering sore it doesn't get better, it just gets worse until finally it ruptures."
After high school, it was expected that Jeff attend college. His dad paid for a semester's worth of classes at Ohio State University, but Jeff's drinking had become so intense that he rarely attended. Frustrated, his dad demanded he do something with his life, like go into the Army. SO, that's what Jeff did. Jeff went into the Army, trained as a medic at Fort Sam Houston, and was stationed in Germany, where he would remain for 3 years. However, it wasn't long before his drinking caught up with him there, too. He was consequently discharged from the Army in 1981. His ex-roommate says he remembers him as a "hard-drinking wimp." When his company commander was asked about Jeff's honorable discharge, this is what he had to say: “The last day just before he left I told him that I know he could have made it in the army, that the only thing he was proving by getting out was that he was a loser. That’s when he flared up and started walking towards me, raising his voice—he says that’s one thing I’ll tell you, I’m not a loser, someday you’ll hear from me, you’ll see me again or you’ll read about me, but someday you’ll hear about me and know that I’m not a loser.” After he had been discharged, Dahmer went to Miami briefly, then came back home to Ohio. Later in the year, Dahmer was arrested for disorderly conduct, this prompted his father to send him to live with his grandmother in Wisconsin. His alcohol consumption was still a continuing problem and he was arrested, again, for indecent exposure. In 1986, he was arrested once again, when two boys accused him of masturbating in front of them, and he received a one-year probationary sentence. It wasn't until September 1987 that Dahmer was able to kill again. His second victim was Steven Tuomi, and together they checked into a hotel room and drank the night away. The next day, Dahmer woke up to find Steven dead. He had beaten him with his bare hands, he had bruises all over him and his chest was caved in. Jeff had no memory of hurting him, and never had any intention to. Flustered, he bought a large suitcase to transport Tuomi's body to his grandmother's basement, where he dismembered it and masturbated onto the corpse before disposing of the remains. Dahmer later stated: "That started everything again. I was just interested in laying with people for the night up to that point. Something broke through and I started... the long slide down. It was an incessant, never ending desire to have someone at whatever cost. Someone good looking. And it just filled my thoughts all day long."
In 1988, Jeff's grandmother had tired of his constant drunkenness and late nights out, and she insisted he move out at once. Little did she know, he had already killed another two victims right under her nose, bringing his body count up to four.
In September 1989, Dahmer made a narrow escape. An encounter with a 13-year-old Laotian boy resulted in charges of sexual exploitation and second-degree sexual assault, to which Dahmer pleaded guilty. While awaiting sentencing, 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 feigned penitence and claimed that he saw the error in his ways and swore he'd change. The defense counsel concluded that treatment was preferred over incarceration, and the judge gave him a one-year prison sentence on "day release"—allowing him to work in the day time and return to the prison at night—as well as a five-year probationary sentence. It was during this time that Dahmer was given a holiday pass on Thanksgiving in order to spend the night with his family, but due to the embarrassment from his conviction, he opted to roam the streets of Milwaukee. He took refuge in a gay bar, where he struck up a conversation with an older white gentleman. Long story short, Jeff woke up and was hog-tied, hung from the ceiling, and was being sodomized with a candlestick. He made so much noise that eventually the guy let him go. It did, however, take him until the next day to "retrieve" the candle.
After finishing his sentencing, Jeff decided to get his own apartment at the Oxford Apartments in Milwaukee. This is the apartment where he would eventually kill most of his victims. In late May of 1990, he began his vicious killing spree. He started with Raymond Smith, then four days later, killed Eddie Smith, then killed five more before landing on 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone, who was the brother of the Laotian boy Jeff was charged for. Konerak was drugged and experimented on. The experiments were to drill a hole in the cranium, pour either boiling water or muriatic acid into the hole, and induce a zombie-like state. He did this because he wanted to be in complete control of his victims, he wanted their only purpose to be to please him. The experiment didn't exactly go as planned when Jeff stepped out to buy beer and Konerak made a break for it. He stumbled down the street, naked and bleeding from both his anus and his head, rambling in Laotian, when two women spotted him and immediately called 911. The police arrived, and so did Jeff, shocked by the situation that had unfolded before him, Jeff calmly and coolly began to sweet talk his way out of it. He stated that Konerak was his 19-year-old boyfriend and that they had been drinking and had a lovers' quarrel and that there was really nothing to worry about. The police complied and "returned the young boy back to his boyfriend" as they said in the dispatch call amidst giggles. Jeff was floored by what had just happened, he was so close to being caught. He took Konerak back up to his apartment, killed him and stored his head in the freezer. Between June 30 and July 19, he would kill four more men. Souvenirs of his victims would adorn his counter tops and the inside of his fridge, torsos would be dissolving in a 50-gallon drum full of acid. By this time, his compulsions had completely consumed him. He no longer got enjoyment out of normal things and it required more and more deviant behavior to satisfy him each time. He would later profess: “I was completely swept away with my own compulsion. I don’t know how else to put it. It didn’t satisfy me completely so maybe I was thinking another one will. Maybe this one will, and the numbers started growing and growing and just got out of control, as you can see.”
The Beginning of the End
Dahmer's final intended victim was Tracy Edwards. He had planned on luring him just like he lured everyone else—with promises of alcohol and money for a few photographs. They rode the bus together back to Jeff's apartment and as soon as he opened the door, Edwards recounts that the smell was so bad, he didn't know how Jeff could put up with it. What he didn't know was that the smell was coming from the three torsos that were dissolving in a metal barrel next to the door, while Dahmer's refrigerator held a secret stock of two human hearts, a bag containing bicep muscle, another bag of various organs and flesh, and a set of severed hands. Edwards and Dahmer listened to music and drank beer, but when Jeff tried to handcuff him to "have some fun", Edwards broke free. Dahmer attacked him with a kitchen knife, yelling "I'm gonna cut your heart out!" according to Edwards. But a phone call interrupted them, and strangely enough, Jeff answered it. As soon as he answered it, Edwards reportedly got out of there, running a couple of police officers down to help get him out of his handcuffs. He lead them back to Dahmer's apartment where Dahmer greeted them pleasantly. When they forcefully entered the apartment and began scouring the premises, they uncovered over 70 Polaroids that Dahmer had taken of his victims in various stages of decay, in bizarre, unnatural positions, as well as the physical remains. Dahmer knew this was it, that there was no sweet talking his way out of this one. He was cuffed almost immediately—but not without putting up a fight. Dahmer reportedly let out a scream when they cuffed him, and proceeded to resist arrest with three police officers holding him down.
Detective Pat Kennedy was responsible for Jeff pretty much from the moment he was arrested, and it was his job to get a confession out of him. Jeff's logic was: since they had already caught him, and they already had all the evidence, there was no point in lying and he should just confess fully and try to help them with as many details as possible. If it hadn't been for this mindset and Jeff's compliance, we might not have as many alluring explanations and pieces of testimony today.
Jeff was in the thick of it now, and he knew it. All of his dark, fetid secrets would be out in the open for the whole world to analyze and dissect. That, in and of itself, made him very uncomfortable. He was always a very private person, never over-sharing facts about himself in any regard, always keeping to himself. When he was first incarcerated, the media circus that ensued was so foreign to him that he didn't know how to handle it. In all of his court appearances, he opted not to wear his glasses, because he couldn't see people's faces and make eye contact with them. Eye contact made him most uncomfortable. During his court appearances, Dahmer was almost entirely taciturn, even taking several public denunciations from victim's family members without a word.
Dahmer had initially tried to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, but the psychologists insisted that Jeff was fit to stand trial. Dahmer was repeatedly diagnosed with borderline personality disorder—a trait of which is a pattern of seeking or needing exclusive friendships or romantic relationships. Dahmer took this trait to the extreme when he attempted to create "zombies" who would be totally compliant sexual partners. His ultimate expression of exclusivity was, of course, homicide and cannibalism. Dahmer was also diagnosed with Schizotypal Personality Disorder. The most significant factor that made his StPD so evident was his shrine, and that is usually the reference point for his delusions and ultimate diagnosis.
Dahmer perceived that a shrine built for himself - containing 10 skulls, two whole skeletons, a lamp with blue lights, a plush chair, burning incense, a plaque, shower curtain drapes, black table with griffins, and a black and white carpet—would somehow help him become at one with himself and allow him to draw personal and spiritual power, also connecting him to his victims in an impossibly intimate way.
Some other indicators of StPD that contributed to his overall diagnosis:
- Ideas of reference
Finding power and personal identity in films with characters having control and possession of others (Star Wars and the Exorcist), beliefs that he could obtain similar strength through admiration.
- Bizarre or strange mannerisms/thoughts/speech
Word choices that don't seem fitting ("all baloney no", "hush hush"), awkward gait/walk, particularities in everyday activities (like only sitting in a certain spot, and standing if that spot is taken), flat or inappropriate facial expressions (also a Schizoid personality trait, another diagnosis he received), belief that consuming victims made them closer to himself, attempt to wear another man's skin.
- Inability to build solid personal relationships (no friends, detached from family), paranoia (multiple locks on the door).
Let it also be noted that, post incarceration Dahmer's views on religion swayed a lot. He went from believing in evolution to Creationism. Many with StPD can be hyper-religious, complete heretics, or fixed in certain beliefs and cannot be swayed.
After each count of murder, Dahmer was declared legally sane by the judge, stating that he knew right from wrong at the time of the crimes, and could have adjusted his behavior to conform to the law. Dahmer was sentenced to 15 terms of life imprisonment on February 15, 1992. When asked if he felt relieved to have been caught, Dahmer said: “it was out of control; it felt like it was out of control,” he continued “I think in some way I wanted it to end, even if it meant my own destruction.”
Nearly two years later, in 1994, Dahmer would be killed by fellow inmate Christopher Scarver.
When all was said and done, this was what Jeffrey had to say in regards to his life: "This is the grand finale of a life poorly spent and the end result is just overwhelmingly depressing... a sick pathetic, miserable life story, that’s all it is.”
Jeffrey Dahmer Fun Facts
- Jeff had air fresheners throughout his apartment, when tenants in the Oxford Apartments complained about the smell, he blamed it on his freezer breaking and meat spoiling.
- Jeff worked at Sunshine Subs (a sandwich shop) when he went to Miami immediately following his discharge. He also worked at a blood plasma center as a phlebotomist in Wisconsin. His last job was as a mixer at the Ambrosia Chocolate Factory.
- Jeff didn't like the taste of blood. It's a common misconception that he enjoyed it. When he worked at the blood plasma center, he took a vial of blood up to the roof and drank it, he said he spat it out and didn't like it.
- Jeff took up smoking in the Army and when he returned home he was smoking a pack a day.
- He once made a sexual advance on his brother David when he was 24 and David was 18. They were sharing a bed when Jeff made his move, he said about the situation: "He didn't go for that at all, that's for sure. He told me so in the morning." Jeff said that he made an apology to his brother, and that he felt embarrassed and disappointed.
- Jeff once said: "It would have been better if I'd just stuck to the mannequins, much, much better." (Once, when Jeff was living with his grandmother, he brought home a mannequin to gauge if it gave him the same sexual satisfaction as a real person.)