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Serial Killer Files: Jeffrey Dahmer, Part 1—Early Life and Family

A Deep Dive into the Life and Mind of Infamous Serial Killer Jeffrey Dahmer, Also Known as the Milwaukee Cannibal...

Jeffrey Dahmer at one of his final trials.

In the first part of this Serial Killer File we look at the early life and family of Jeffrey Dahmer, The Milwaukee Cannibal, asking the question: what drove him to the crimes that he is well known for to this day?

His obsession with domination of his victims is one of the more horrendous acts he performed. Wanting to keep his victims in a submissive state and then just wanting to keep them...

The Dahmer Family

Dahmer family portrait.

Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer was born on May 21st 1960 at the Evangelical Deaconess Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The first son of Joyce Annette Dahmer and Lionel Herbert Dahmer, he was doted on as a child by both parents.

Joyce Dahmer (Mother)

Joyce Annette Dahmer (Flint) was born on February 7, 1936 in Columbus, Wisconsin. Working as a teletype machine instructor up until the birth of her first son, Jeffrey Dahmer, followed by being a dedicated housewife. 

She was known to be irritable as a person, always looking for attention from people around her. This often lead to tension between her and her husband. She was a troubled woman, especially a few years after Jeffrey's birth, often being on bed rest recovering from a numerous amount of illnesses. 

There are records and statements claiming that there were multiple times where she would work herself into such a state of anxiety simply to get attention from her husband. One such time, Joyce attempted suicide with an overdose of Equanil pills that she had unfortunately become addicted to.

Joyce sadly died on November 27, 2000 (Aged 64) from breast cancer.

Lionel Herbert Dahmer (Father)

Lionel Dahmer was born on the 29th of July, 1936 (Aged 81) in West Allis, Wisconsin.

When Jeffrey was a child, his father wasn't around much and when he was, tensions were high. Although he doted on his first son as any father would, he spent months away at a time getting his degree in chemistry at the Marquette University.

Other family members worth mentioning are David Dahmer (Born December 18, 1966, aged 50), Jeffrey's brother, and Catherine Dahmer (1904-1992), Jeffrey's grandmother.


Young Dahmer's school photo.

As a young child Dahmer was described as being a very happy child, spending lots of time outside and showing a deep interest in animals. Friends of Dahmer's at the time recall how he used to collect large insects, dragonflies and butterflies, which he then placed in large jars to observe.

This continued until Dahmer reached the age of 4 and had to undergo a double hernia surgery. After this, teachers noted that he was much more "timid and quiet." On his first grade report, his teacher noted that she sensed Dahmer felt neglected and alone. She also stated that she believed this sense of neglect stemmed from his mother's constant illnesses. Nevertheless, Dahmer did have a small group of friends and spent a lot of his time in school with them.

After his surgery his interest in animals did continue, occasionally taking his friends with him to collect dead animals from the road-side. Dahmer would take the animals back to his tool-shed at home and spend time dismembering them, often remarking how he wanted to understand how they worked. One friend vividly remembers a specific instance where Dahmer took the head of a dog and impaled it on a stake at the back of his house. He began to become more and more fascinated by the dismemberment of animals, losing friends because of it, leading to a very solitary existence.

In 1968 the family relocated to Bath, Ohio. Over a family dinner two years later, Dahmer had asked his father what would happen if he submerged the chicken bones in bleach. His father took this as an interest in biology and chemistry, and became rather excited to show him, already concerned about Dahmer's solitary life and attitude. Dahmer would later use the techniques his father taught him on his human victims.

High School and Teenage Years

Dahmer at age 17 posing for his high school picture.

We all knew a Jeffrey Dahmer in school, an outcast, didn't really fit in anywhere. Dahmer was 14 the first time his drinking in lesson was noted by someone other that fellow students. He smuggled alcohol of all kinds into school in the lining of his army style jacket. On one occasion, a classmate noticed Dahmer drinking a cup of gin in class to which Dahmer casually remarked, "it's my medicine." 

Other than his drinking being noted by both pupils and teachers, Dahmer was generally regarded as a polite boy. He was quiet but also extremely intelligent, his grades only getting better over time. He also took part in school activities despite his solitary nature, playing tennis and even at one point being a member of the high school band.

When Dahmer hit puberty it was very difficult for him. Realising he was homosexual for the first time, he felt the need to hide it, not telling his parents or anybody close to him. He did, however, have a very brief relationship with a male also in his school, though the two never did anything of a sexual nature.

Despite Dahmer's tendency to be an introvert, he managed to gain a reputation as the class clown, often playing pranks and acting a fool. It is quite possible he learnt this behaviour from his mother, acting out to get attention. His grades suffered due to his alcohol use and consistent silly behaviour, which became known as 'pulling a Dahmer'. His parents hired a tutor for Dahmer but unfortunately he only had limited success.

It was 1977 when Dahmer's parents began to attend counselling for their marital issues to hopefully save their marriage. The counselling was ultimately unsuccessful and they made the mutual decision to end their marriage. Although the decision was mutual, it didn't take long for the now separated couple to being to quarrel, often in front of their sons. in 1978, Lionel Dahmer moved out.

The same year, Dahmer graduated high school with average grades and not many plans. Joyce gained custody of her youngest son David and due to the fact that Dahmer had just turned 18, he was not subject to custodial considerations and had the ability to move freely.

The Lucky One

At the age of 16, Jeffrey began to have sexual fantasies about domination and submission. He imagined and lusted after having a completely submissive partner whom he could have complete control of. These thoughts later became entwined with his fascination of dissection. 

On one rather famous occasion Dahmer had taken a fancy to a local jogger, creating multiple rape and dissection fantasies for him in his mind. Dahmer became fascinated with the idea of rendering the jogger unconscious and making use of his body.

Dahmer had made the decision to make his first attack, and laid in wait in the bushes next to the jogger's regular route. His plan was to use a baseball bat to render the man unconscious and then play out his many fantasies.

Lucky for the jogger, he did not pass this route on this day as he was sick. He was extremely lucky and Dahmer did not attempt to implement this specific plan again.

In later interviews, Dahmer was very clear that this jogger was his intended first victim.


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