Notorious serial killer Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on May 21, 1960, into the loving household of Lionel and Joyce Dahmer. He wanted for nothing in his formative years, and was a happy child until the age of 6, when a minor surgery to correct a double hernia seemed to effect a change on the boy. Following Dahmer's surgery, which coincided with the birth of his brother, he became increasingly insular and lacking in self confidence.

A career opportunity for his father, around the same time, resulted in the family moving from Iowa to Ohio, and the boy's insecurities deepened. By his early teens, he was disengaged, tense and largely friendless.

Dahmer claims that his compulsions to necrophilia and murder began at the age of 14, but it appears that the breakdown of his parents' marriage, their acrimonious divorce and the psychological stresses associated with these events may have been the catalyst for turning these earlier thoughts into actions.

First Victims

Just after he graduated from high school, in June 1978, Dahmer picked up a hitchhiker named Steven Hicks and took him home to his parents' house, where they drank beer and had sex. When Hicks tried to leave, Dahmer killed him with a blow to the head with a barbell. He dismembered the corpse of his first victim, packed the body parts in plastic bags and buried them in the woods behind his parents' house. It would be another nine years before he encountered his second victim.

Around the same time of his first killing, Dahmer's alcohol consumption had spun out of control. In January 1979, after only one term at The Ohio State University, Dahmer dropped out of school due to his drinking problem. His recently remarried father insisted that he enlist in the Army, and Dahmer was posted to Germany.

Dahmer's drinking problem persisted, however, and two years later, the Army discharged him for alcoholism. It is not believed that he took any more victims while serving in the Armed Forces, and he returned home to Ohio following his discharge, where he exhumed Hicks's remains, pulverized them with a hammer, and scattered the pieces even more widely in the woods.

An arrest in October 1981 for disorderly conduct prompted his father to send Dahmer to live with his grandmother in Wisconsin, but the alcohol problems persisted. His next arrest occurred years later, in September 1986: Dahmer was arrested for masturbating in front of two young boys, and received a one-year probationary sentence.

In September 1987, Dahmer took his second victim, Steven Toumi, whom he met in a gay bar. They checked into a hotel room and drank heavily, and by the following morning, Toumi was dead.

Dahmer claims to have found Toumi dead beside him when he awoke. He bought a large suitcase to transport Toumi's body to his grandmother's basement, where he had sex with and masturbated on the corpse, before dismembering it and disposing of the remains in the garbage.

Arrest and Sentencing

Dahmer's killing spree lasted for 13 years: He sought out mostly African-American men at gay meeting places, lured them home to his grandmother's basement with promises of money or sex, where he would feed them alcohol laced with drugs before strangling them to death. He would then have sex with the corpses and/or masturbate on them, and finally dismember his victims' bodies and dispose of them, usually keeping their genitals or skulls as souvenirs. He often took photos of each victim at various stages of the murder process, so he could recollect each act afterwards and relive the experience. This re-enactment included assembling the skulls and masturbating in front of them to achieve gratisfaction.

Dahmer's grandmother eventually tired of the late nights and drunkenness, although she had no knowledge of the other activities, and forced her grandson to move out in September 1988, but not before he had killed another two victims on the premises.

Around the same time, Dahmer had an extremely lucky escape: An encounter with a 13-year-old Laotian boy resulted in charges of sexual exploitation and second-degree sexual assault for Dahmer. He pleaded guilty, claiming that the boy had appeared much older. While awaiting sentencing for his sexual assault case, Dahmer temporarily moved back in with his grandmother, again putting her basement to gruesome use; in February 1989, he lured, drugged, strangled, sodomized, photographed, dismembered and disposed of Anthony Sears, a young, African-American man and aspiring model.

In May 1989, at his trial for child molestation, Dahmer was the model of contrition, arguing eloquently, in his own defense, about how he had seen the error of his ways, and that his arrest marked a turning point in his life. His defense counsel argued that he needed treatment, not incarceration, and, astonishingly, the judge agreed, handing down a one-year prison sentence on "day release"—allowing Dahmer to work at his job during the day and return to the prison at night—as well as a five-year probationary sentence.

Lionel Dahmer later stated in an interview with CNN that, while his son was incarcerated, he wrote a letter to the court that issued Dahmer's sentence, asking that he get psychological help before being released from prison. However, Jeffrey Dahmer was granted an early release by the judge, after serving only 10 months of his sentence. Dahmer spent three months with his grandmother on his release, during which time he does not appear to have added to his body count, before moving into his own apartment in May 1990.

Killing Spree

Over the 15 months that followed, up to the time of his capture, Dahmer's victim count accelerated; 12 more lives were taken using his modus operandi. Necrophilia is generally associated with issues of exercising control over victims. Dahmer developed these rituals as he progressed, experimenting with chemical means of disposal, and he also consumed the flesh of his victims. He attempted crude lobotomies, drilling into victim's skulls while they were still alive, injecting them with Muriatic acid to see whether he could extend his control to the living. Most of these victims died instantly, but he claimed that one victim had survived for a number of days in a zombie-like state, with limited motor function. He was careful to select victims on the fringes of society, who were often itinerant or borderline criminal, making their disappearances less noticeable, and his likelihood of capture that much less. There have been claims that he was racially motivated, as most of his victims were African-American. However, it is equally likely that his victims were simply part of the demographic among residents of the poor neighborhood in which Dahmer lived, and not carefully selected. This racial motive did, however, figure largely in the case of his 13th victim, a 14-year-old Laotian boy who was, coincidentally, the younger brother of the boy he had been convicted of molesting three years earlier.

Close Call

On May 26, 1991, Dahmer's African-American neighbor, Sandra Smith, called the police to report that a young Asian boy was running naked in the street. When the police arrived, the boy was incoherent, and they accepted the word of Dahmer, a white man in a largely poor African-American community, that the boy was his 19-year-old lover who had had too much to drink, over the protestations of Smith and her daughter, who could clearly see that the boy was terrified of Dahmer. Smith's subsequent enquiries, through the local authorities, were also not taken seriously.

The police escorted Dahmer and the boy home and, clearly not wishing to become embroiled in a homosexual domestic disturbance, took a cursory look around before leaving. Once the police left the scene, Dahmer strangled the boy and proceeded with his usual rituals. Had they conducted even a basic search, police officers would have found the body of Dahmer's 12th victim decomposing in the bedroom, and enough photographic evidence to immediately arrest the serial killer.

Arrest and Imprisonment

Dahmer's luck finally ran out on July 22, 1991, when two Milwaukee police officers picked up Tracy Edwards, a young African-American man who was wandering the streets with a handcuff dangling from his wrist. They decided to investigate the man's claims that a "weird dude" had drugged and restrained him, and arrived at Dahmer's apartment, where he calmly offered to get the keys for the handcuffs.

Edwards claimed that the knife Dahmer had threatened him with was in the bedroom and, when the officer went in to corroborate the story, he noticed photographs of dismembered bodies lying around, which included one of a head in the fridge. He shouted to his colleague to restrain Dahmer, who fought back fiercely, but was nevertheless subdued.

A subsequent search revealed the head in the fridge, as well as three more in the freezer, and a catalogue of other horrors, including preserved skulls, jars containing genitalia, and an extensive gallery of macabre photographs.

Given that the majority of Dahmer's victims were African-American, there were considerable racial tensions, and his trial began on January 13, 1992 under the strictest of security, which included an eight-foot barrier of bullet-proof glass, that separated him from the gallery. The inclusion of only one African-American on the jury provoked further unrest, but fortunately this was contained and short-lived. His father Lionel and his second wife attended the trial throughout.

Despite having confessed to the killings during police interrogation, Dahmer initially pleaded not guilty to all charges. However, against the advice of his legal counsel, he changed his plea to guilty by virtue of insanity. His defense then offered every gruesome detail of his behavior, as proof that only someone insane could commit such terrible acts, but the jury chose to believe the prosecutor's assertion that Dahmer was fully aware that his acts were evil, but that he chose to commit them anyway, returning after only five hours deliberation to find him guilty, but sane, on all counts, on February 17, 1992.

Dahmer was sentenced to 15 consecutive life terms, or 957 years in prison.

Death in Prison

Dahmer reportedly adjusted well to prison life, although he was initially kept apart from the general population. He convinced authorities to allow him to integrate more fully with other inmates. He found religion in the form of books and photos sent to him by his father, and he was granted permission by the Columbia Correctional Institution to be baptized by a local preacher.

On November 28, 1994, in accordance with his inclusion in regular work details, he was assigned to work with two other prisoners, one of whom was a white supremacist murderer, Jesse Anderson, and the other a delusional, schizophrenic African-American murderer, Christopher Scarver. Twenty minutes after they had been left alone to complete their tasks, guards returned to find that Scarver had crushed Dahmer's skull and fatally beaten Anderson with a blunt object (stories conflict as to whether the weapon was a broom handle or a weight bar from the prison gym).

Following his death, the city of Milwaukee was keen to distance itself from the horrors of Dahmer's actions, and the ensuing media circus surrounding his trial. In 1996, fearing that someone else might purchase Dahmer's fridge, photographs and killing tools collection and start a museum, they raised more than $400,000 to buy his effects, which they promptly incinerated.*

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