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- "I couldn't find any meaning in my life when I was out there. I'm sure as hell not going to find it in here. This is the grand finale of a life poorly spent and the end result is just overwhelmingly depressing... it's just a sick, pathetic, wretched, miserable life story, that's all it is. How it can help anyone, I've no idea."
- —Jeffrey Dahmer
- "I don't care if I live or die. Go ahead and kill me..."
- —Jeffrey Dahmer's last words
Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer (May 21th, 1960 - November 28th, 1994) also known as the Milwaukee Cannibal, was an American serial killer and sex offender, who committed the rape, murder and dismemberment of 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991, with many of his later murders also involving necrophilia, cannibalism and the permanent preservation of body parts—typically all or part of the skeletal structure.
Diagnosed by psychologists and prison psychiatrists as suffering from a borderline personality disorder, Dahmer was found to be legally sane at his trial. Convicted of 15 of the 16 murders he had committed in Wisconsin, Dahmer was sentenced to 15 terms of life imprisonment on February 15, 1992. He was later sentenced to a 16th term of life imprisonment in relation to an additional homicide committed in the state of Ohio in 1978.
Dahmer was born in West Allis, Wisconsin, the son of Joyce Annette (née Flint) and Lionel Herbert Dahmer, an analytical chemist. Seven years later, his brother David was born. Joyce Dahmer reportedly had a difficult pregnancy with her elder son. When Jeffrey was eight years old, he moved with his family to Bath, Ohio. Dahmer grew increasingly withdrawn and uncommunicative between the ages of 10 and 15, showing little interest in any hobbies or social interactions. He biked around his neighborhood looking for dead animals, which he dissected at home (or in the woods near his home). In one instance, he put a dog's head on a stake. Though fundamentally an outcast at Revere High School, Dahmer nonetheless became something of a cult figure among some students due to his impressions of his mother's interior decorator, who suffered from cerebral palsy. Dahmer began drinking in his teens and was an alcoholic by the time of his high school graduation.
In 1977, Lionel and Joyce Dahmer divorced. Dahmer attended The Ohio State University, but dropped out after one quarter, having failed to attend most of his classes. He was drunk for the majority of the term. Dahmer's father then forced him to enlist in the Army. Dahmer did well at first, but he was discharged after two years because of his alcoholism. When the Army discharged Dahmer in 1981, he was provided with a plane ticket to anywhere in the country. Dahmer later told police he could not go home to face his father, so he headed to Miami Beach, Florida, because he was "tired of the cold." He spent most of his time there at a hospital, but was soon kicked out for drinking. After coming home, he continued to drink heavily, and he was arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct later in 1981.
In 1982, Dahmer moved in with his grandmother in West Allis, where he lived for six years. During this time, his behavior grew increasingly strange. His grandmother once found a fully dressed male mannequin in his closet; Dahmer had stolen it from a store. On another occasion, she found a .357 Magnum under his bed. Terrible smells came from the basement; Dahmer told his father that he had brought home a dead squirrel and dissolved it with chemicals. He was arrested twice for indecent exposure, in 1982 and 1986; in his second offense, he masturbated in front of two boys.
In summer 1988, Dahmer's grandmother asked him to move out because of his late nights, his strange behavior, and the foul smells from the basement. He then found an apartment on Milwaukee's West side, closer to his job at the Ambrosia Chocolate Factory.
On September 26, 1988, one day after moving into his apartment, he was arrested for drugging and sexually fondling a 13-year-old boy in Milwaukee. He was sentenced to five years' probation and one year in a work release camp. He was required to register as a sex offender. Dahmer was paroled from the work release camp two months early, and he soon moved into a new apartment. Shortly thereafter, he began a string of murders that ended with his arrest in 1991.
Dahmer committed his first murder in the summer of 1978, at the age of 18. His father was away on business and his mother had moved out, taking his brother with her; Dahmer was left behind, alone. That June, Dahmer picked up a hitchhiker named Stephen Hicks and offered to drink beer with him back at his father's house, planning to eventually have sex with him. When Hicks tried to leave, Dahmer bludgeoned Hicks to death with a 10 lb. dumbbell, striking the back of his head, later saying he had committed the crime because "the guy wanted to leave and [he] didn't want him to." Dahmer buried the body in the backyard. Nine years passed before he killed again; in September 1987, Dahmer picked up 26-year-old Steven Tuomi at a bar and killed him on impulse; he later said he had no memory of committing the crime.
After the Tuomi murder, Dahmer continued to kill sporadically: two more murders in 1988, and another in early 1989, usually picking up his victims in gay bars and having sex with them before killing them. He kept the skull of one of his victims, Anthony Sears, until he was caught.
In May 1990, he moved out of his grandmother's house for the last time and into an apartment that later became infamous: Apartment 213, 924 North 25th Street, Milwaukee. Dahmer picked up the pace of his killing: four more murders before the end of 1990, two more in February and April 1991, and another in May 1991.
In the early morning hours of May 27, 1991, 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone (the younger brother of the boy whom Dahmer had molested in 1988) was discovered on the street, wandering naked, heavily under the influence of drugs and bleeding from his rectum. Two young women from the neighborhood found the dazed boy and called 911. Dahmer chased his victim down and tried to take him away, but the women stopped him. Dahmer told John Balcerzak and Joseph Gabrish, police officers dispatched to the scene, that Sinthasomphone was his 19-year-old boyfriend, and that they had an argument while drinking. Against the protests of the two women who had called 911, who recognized him from the neighborhood and insisted that he was a child and couldn't speak English, the officers turned him over to Dahmer. They later reported smelling a strange scent while inside Dahmer's apartment, but did not investigate it. The smell was the body of Tony Hughes, Dahmer's previous victim, decomposing in the bedroom. The officers did not make any attempt to verify Sinthasomphone's age or identity, nor locate someone who could communicate with him, and failed to run a background check that would have revealed Dahmer being a convicted child molester still under probation. Later that night, Dahmer killed and dismembered Sinthasomphone, keeping his skull as a souvenir.
By summer 1991, Dahmer was murdering approximately one person each week. He killed Matt Turner on June 30, Jeremiah Weinberger on July 5, Oliver Lacy on July 12, and finally Joseph Brandehoft on July 19. Dahmer got the idea that he could turn his victims into "zombies" — completely submissive, eternally youthful sexual partners – and attempted to do so by drilling holes into their skulls and injecting hydrochloric acid or boiling water into the frontal lobe area of their brains with a large syringe, usually while the victim was still alive. Other residents of the Oxford Apartments complex noticed terrible smells coming from Apartment 213, as well as the thumps of falling objects and the occasional buzzing of a power saw. Unlike many serial killers, Dahmer killed victims from a variety of racial backgrounds.
On July 22, 1991, Dahmer lured another man, Tracy Edwards, into his home. According to the would-be victim, Dahmer struggled with Edwards in order to handcuff him, but ultimately failed to cuff his wrists together. Wielding a large butcher knife, Dahmer forced Edwards into the bedroom, where Edwards saw pictures of mangled bodies on the wall and noticed the terrible smell coming from a large blue barrel; the barrel was filled with potent acid which dissolved human bodies to sludge for disposal via the apartment toilet. Edwards punched Dahmer in the face, kicked him in the stomach, ran for the door and escaped. Running through the streets with handcuffs still hanging from one hand, Edwards waved for help to a police car driven by Robert Rauth and Rolf Mueller of the Milwaukee police department. Edwards led police back to Dahmer's apartment, where Dahmer at first acted friendly to the officers. However, Edwards remembered that the knife Dahmer had threatened him with was in the bedroom. When one of the officers checked the bedroom, he saw the photographs of mangled bodies and called for his partner to arrest Dahmer. As one officer subdued Dahmer, the other opened the refrigerator and found a human head. Further searching of the apartment revealed three more severed heads, multiple photographs of murdered victims and human remains, severed hands and penises, and photographs of dismembered victims and human remains in his refrigerator.
The story of Dahmer's arrest and the inventory in his apartment quickly gained notoriety: several corpses were stored in acid-filled vats, and implements for the construction of an altar of candles and human skulls were found in his closet. Accusations soon surfaced that Dahmer had practiced necrophilia and cannibalism. Seven skulls were found in the apartment. A human heart was found in the freezer.
Trial, imprisonment, and death
Dahmer was indicted on 17 murder charges, later reduced to 15. Dahmer was not charged in the attempted murder of Edwards. His trial began on January 30, 1992. With evidence overwhelmingly against him, Dahmer pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. The trial lasted two weeks.
The court found Dahmer sane and guilty on 15 counts of murder and sentenced him to 15 life terms, totaling 957 years in prison, which was the maximum penalty available as Wisconsin abolished capital punishment in 1853. At his sentencing hearing, Dahmer expressed remorse for his actions, and said that he wished for his own death. In May of that year, Dahmer was extradited to Ohio, where he entered a plea of guilty for the murder of his first victim, Stephen Hicks.
Dahmer served his time at the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin, where he ultimately claimed a born-again Christian. Roy Ratcliff, a local preacher from the Churches of Christ, met with Dahmer and agreed to baptize him.
Dahmer was attacked twice in prison, the first time in July 1994. An inmate attempted to slash Dahmer's throat with a razor blade while Dahmer was returning to his cell from a church service in the prison chapel. Dahmer escaped the incident with superficial wounds. While doing janitorial work in the prison gym, Dahmer and another inmate, Jesse Anderson, were severely beaten by fellow inmate Christopher Scarver with a broomstick handle on November 28, 1994. Dahmer died of severe head trauma while on his way to the hospital in an ambulance. Anderson died two days later from his wounds.
Coming forward to speak for the first time in 21 years, in 2015 Scarver gave an interview to why he killed Dahmer. According to him Dahmer's attempts at remorse were all for show, and in reality he enjoyed terrifying the other prisoners. He had a habit of arranging his food so it resembled body parts, then drowning it in ketchup to resemble blood while reminiscing about his victims. Such acts apparently even frightened the guards.
Pathology and Mental Health
Prior to his 1992 trial, Dahmer underwent multiple psychiatric examinations and although the experts' conclusions were not always in agreement - one thing was clear: Dahmer was afflicted with complicated, comorbid psychopathologies. Dahmer displayed a tendency to experience recurrent depressive affect, worthlessness, low self-esteem, suicidal ideation and a strong fear of abandonment. Three psychologists who evaluated Dahmer after his 1988 arrest for molestation described him as being uncooperative, angry, resistant to change, evasive, manipulative, emotionally unstable, and lacking insight; each of these traits is commonly associated with borderline personality disorder. Despite thore experts' disagreements upon whether Dahmer was sane or insane, they all essentially agreed that Dahmer suffered from major depressive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, substance use disorder, sexual paraphilias, and borderline personality disorder.
Borderline personality disorder Dahmer was repeatedly diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, which is defined by the DSM-IV-TR as "A pervasive pattern of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affects, and marked impulsivity that begins by early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts." Following his 1991 arrest, Dahmer completed the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI); the results of which indicated that he was sane, was conscious of the difference between right and wrong, capable of dissimulation, and generally maladjusted. The MMPI revealed Dahmer as alienated from both others and from himself, as strongly depressive and hopelessly oriented toward the world and other humans, and filled with specific paranoid fears of others' hostility. Dahmer's MMPI scores suggest that these characteristics conclusively demonstrated that he was a deeply troubled man who was unable to control his impulses.
Although in the years immediately following his birth he was doted upon by his parents, by the time he was approximately 4 years old, his mother had little time for her son. Moreover, his father was seldom at home as he studied for his PhD in chemistry. As a result, Dahmer received little affection or nurturing throughout his childhood from either parent and he is known to have had difficulty making or maintaining friendships. Moreover, by the time Dahmer was 8 years old, his family had moved home on 6 separate occasions. When his brother, David, was born in 1966, much of his parents' attention was focused upon the needs of their younger child, possibly increasing his sense of neglect.
Reportedly, Dahmer struggled to accept his homosexuality. He did not divulge to his father and stepmother that he was homosexual until after his 1988 arrest for molestation. Although he later recalled the frank manner in which he informed his parents as to his sexual orientation, his probation officers did note repeated inferences of Dahmer's conflicts regarding his sexuality: the first recorded instance in which Dahmer indicated to his probation officer that he had fully accepted his homosexuality was in January, 1991.
In reference to his 1989 plea for clemency regarding his conviction for molestation, Dahmer had stated: "What I've done has cut both ways. It's hurt the victim, and it's hurt me.... I don't know what I was thinking when I did it. I know I was under the influence." Perceiving oneself as the victim of one's own crimes and externalizing blame onto others or onto substance abuse are typical borderline defenses. Dahmer told his probation officer that his life lacked purpose; a sign of the chronic emptiness experienced by someone with BPD. Moreover, Dahmer had a strong reason to both hate and fear abandonment. During his parents' bitter divorce in 1978, they fought over custody of Dahmer's younger brother. Having just turned 18 at the time of the finalization of his parents' divorce, Dahmer was considered an adult and thus did not require legal custody. Left alone in the house with neither food nor money and only sporadic contact with his father (who resided in a nearby motel), Dahmer committed his first murder— an experience which he later described as one which "tainted" his life.
Although Dahmer was insistent he had had no hatred or animosity towards any of his victims, some doctors theorized he projected his self-hatred as to his sexual orientation onto his adult victims through his actions — a classic borderline personality disorder defense.
The forensics team that examined Dahmer's apartment and possessions following his arrest and who conducted the autopsies upon the remains of his victims he had opted to preserve or otherwise store as opposed to destroy or discard, concluded that the murders were rooted in an unconscious hatred of his victims and were the result of Dahmer's "ambivalent homosexuality." All agreed that he suffered from borderline personality disorder.
Substance use disorder and Alcoholism Dahmer had a long history of substance abuse and dependence. By his early teens, Dahmer was considered a loner who was known to drink heavily and was prone to act the fool in order to attract attention. This alcohol abuse increased throughout his years at Revere High School, and occurred during the time his parents' marriage had begun to deteriorate. The separation was also difficult for Dahmer as he witnessed fierce arguments between his parents over who would achieve custody of his younger brother, David. Although he was by then in his mid-teens, his parents did not vocalize concerns over his own living arrangements.
Dahmer's heavy drinking continued throughout his sole term at Ohio State University: his three roommates later harked to being unnerved at his unremitting intake of hard liquor, which often resulted in his being too inebriated to attend classes. On the occasions Dahmer was able to attend classes or lectures, the alcohol abuse would continue, and occasionally resulted in his passing out on his way back to his dormitory.
After dropping out of the University of Ohio in the fall of 1978, Dahmer enlisted in the army. Here, his alcohol abuse was again noted: two fellow soldiers noted he concealed alcohol upon the barracks inside a briefcase which opened into a portable bar that included a martini kit. While stationed in Germany, Dahmer's alcohol abuse escalated from initial evening and weekend binge drinking to almost constant alcohol abuse. Inevitably, his performance as a medic deteriorated as a result of this behavior; Dahmer was repeatedly reprimanded for disobeying orders; failing to report for duty; and reporting to work late, intoxicated or in improper uniform. In February 1981, the army placed Dahmer in a drug rehabilitation program, but within a short period a counselor recommended he be declared a "failure." On March 24, 1981, Dahmer was honorably discharged from the army due to alcohol and drug misuse.
Dahmer's subsequent violent behavioral pattern in which he had to drink himself almost into a stupor in order to commit murder was not borne from instrumental aggression, but from a desperate attempt to prevent abandonment.
In addition to alcohol, Dahmer was also a heavy user of marijuana and amphetamines. He was also an occasional user of both cocaine and benzodiazepine—a minor tranquilizer Dahmer is also known to have used to sedate his victims. (Dahmer had a preference for either triazolam (Halcion) or temazepam (Restoril).
Paraphilias Dahmer readily admitted to having engaged in a number of paraphilic behaviors, including necrophilia, exhibitionism, hebephilia, fetishism, pygmalionism, and erotophonophilia. He is also known to have several partialisms, including anthropophagy (also known as cannibalism). One particular focus of Dahmer's partialism was the victim's chest area. By his own admission, what caught his attention to Steven Hicks hitchhiking in 1978 was the fact the youth was bare-chested; he also conceded it was possible that his viewing the exposed chest of Steven Tuomi in 1987 while in a drunken stupor may have led him to unsuccessfully attempt to tear Tuomi's heart from his chest. Moreover, almost all the murders Dahmer committed from 1990 onwards involved a ritual of posing the victims' bodies in suggestive positions—many pictures taken prior to dismemberment depict the victims' bodies with the chest thrust outwards.
Dahmer also derived sexual pleasure from the viscera of his victims; he would often masturbate and ejaculate into the body cavity and at other times, literally used the internal organs as a masturbatory aid. According to the testimony of several experts who testified at Dahmer's trial, he was not a sexual sadist. Dr. Park Dietz — testifying on behalf of the prosecution — stated: "He [Dahmer] did not torture and took steps to prevent suffering."