In the pantheon of American serial killers, none are quite as haunting as Jeffrey Dahmer. His crimes extended from rape to depraved murder and mutilation, although he would become famous for his torturous treatment of his victims while they still lived, and what he did with their bodies after.
Dahmer’s killing spree shocked America, becoming known as the Milwaukee Cannibal, or the Milwaukee Maniac. He would go on to reach a level of infamy rivaled only by killers like Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy, but his odyssey of madness begins well before his first murder.
Here are 17 disturbing facts about Jeffrey Dahmer.
1. He Was Neglected As A Child
Jeffrey Dahmer’s childhood stands in stark contrast to many serial killers, possessing a childhood absent of the abuse and violence that would inspire their later crimes, although his early life was far from idyllic.
Born Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer to his parents Lionel and Joyce Dahmer in 1960, sources suggest he was a happy child who nonetheless suffered from neglect.
With Dahmer’s father devoting much of his time to his chemistry degree and later career as a researcher, and a hypochondriac mother who stayed bed-ridden with depression, they gave inadequate attention to their first-born child.
This behavior would culminate in Dahmer’s mother attempting to commit suicide, and much later the end of his parents’ marriage by the end of Dahmer’s time in high school. Dahmer began showing early signs of abandonment from a very young age
2. He Showed Early Signs of Unhinged Behavior
It was perhaps the inattention of his parents that led Dahmer to develop his earliest and strangest habits. Notable for what would come later, Dahmer as a young child had an obsession with the bones of dead animals, searching the family property for what he dubbed “fiddlesticks.”
Eventually, he would tear the bones from the carcasses of animals he had killed.
With the help of his chemist father—who believed he was merely encouraging his son’s natural curiosity—Dahmer’s life took a turn: he developed a technique of bleaching animal bones and preserving remains in formaldehyde, starting his first grisly collection.
In the grimmest indicator of what he would become, Dahmer decapitated a dead dog, nailing the body to a tree and mounting the skull upon a stick; he tricked one of his friends into witnessing his horrid display, feigning that he had stumbled upon it himself
3. Dahmer Was An Alcoholic
Behavior that would mark and trouble Dahmer’s later life was his early dependency on alcohol. By the time he was 14, people noted Dahmer’s frequent drinking, even during school hours, concealing his liquor within an army jacket he wore.
Dahmer himself characterized his drinking as “his medicine” to a classmate, and when confronted by a high school teacher about his drinking implied it suppressed the tension he felt in his family life.
Dahmer’s alcoholism characterized much of his later life. Dahmer enrolled in Ohio State University with his father’s money but dropped out due to his excessive drinking. Dahmer enlisted in the military, before being discharged for, essentially, being an alcoholic.
Afterward, it would become difficult for him to keep a steady job or live on his own, and later Lionel Dahmerwould force him to live at his grandmother’s house. Later, alcohol would enable him to kill, as it suppressed his inhibitions and allowed him to commit his brutal murder spree with ease
4. He Began To View People as Objects
Likely born out of his depersonalization and his obsession with bones and body parts, Dahmer began to view other people as little more than objects. When Dahmer first realized he was gay and began experimenting sexually with other men, he realized early on he disliked the movements his partners made during sex and sought to suppress it.
This interest would have destructive consequences for Dahmer and the people around him. He began sedating men he lured home or met in gay bathhouses, having his way with them sexually, and, ultimately, killing some of them and keeping their body parts as trophies, even treating these trophies as sexual objects.
He also started killing animals, just like the Son of Sam David Berkowitz did to his dog.
This is nothing compared to his treatment of the victims he kept alive.
5. Dahmer Committed His First Murder At 18
By early high school, young Jeffrey Dahmer knew he wanted to hurt people. He developed an obsession with a particular male jogger whose route he had memorized, fantasizing about beating the man unconscious and using his body for whatever sexual purpose he pleased.
He took it as far as waiting for the man on his route, hiding behind bushes with a baseball bat, ready to pounce. On that particular day, however, the jogger did not appear.
Eventually, Dahmer would claim his first victim: a hitchhiker named Steven Hicks, lured to Dahmer’s home with the promise of free alcohol after Dahmer picked him up from the side of the road.
When Steven Hicks decided to leave after a few hours, Dahmer killed him by knocking him unconscious with a dumbbell and strangling him to death.
Making use of his experiences with animal bones, Dahmer would pare the skin off Hicks’ body, dissolve it in acid, then bleach and smash Hicks’ bones, spreading the remains behind the Dahmer family home.
6. He Had Been A Serial Rapist For Years
Although sex and violence seemed to be intertwined in Dahmer’s mind, Dahmer showed clear signs of being a dangerous sexual predator well before his murders came to light. There are some reports he committed sexual assaults as early as his military service, even against fellow service members.
By the time he joined the active gay community in Milwaukee, he developed a pattern: Dahmer drugged and raped men he met in gay bathhouses. After 12 such incidents, he was finally banned from such establishments.
He was also formally charged with a number of sex crimes over the years: indecent exposure in 1982, disorderly conduct for masturbating in front of children in 1986 (avoiding a repeat indecent exposure charge and getting a light sentence), and a charge for drugging and molesting a 13-year old boy in 1988.
After that last charge, he would have to register as a sex offender, and even his father forced him into counseling; this is likely the first time he was like with borderline personality disorder.
7. His Family Enabled His Crimes
While his family had no direct knowledge or involvement in the crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer, it is hard to deny they enabled these crimes, as early in his life as his father explaining the process of preserving animal bones.
This would extend further as Dahmer aged and his behavior became more erratic and dangerous. When Dahmer was repeatedly charged with minor sex crimes, it was his father who would pay for his defense attorney, and continued providing his son financial support for many years.
Dahmer was also enabled by his grandmother. Dahmer lived in his grandmother’s house for a few years in her West Allis residence after being unable to hold a job. His grandmother did her best to curb his most public impulses but seemed unaware or unwilling to confront his disturbed nature.
Read next: Charles Albright – the serial killer who collected his victim’s eyes.
Dahmer would go on to commit several murders while living in her home, before she requested he move out, owing to the strange men he’d bring back to her home at odd hours, along with his continued inability to quit drinking. Dahmer would move back in with his grandmother briefly, following his parole, before moving into the last apartment of his life at North 25th Street.
8. He Developed A Deadly Pattern
As Dahmer continued to kill, a distinct and deadly pattern emerged: bringing a young man to his apartment on some pretext, either for sex or the offer of money, then drugging the man and killing him, often by strangulation.
Dahmer lured victims such as Raymond Smith, Richard Guerrero, Oliver Lacy, and Matt Turner, all with the promise of money, all of whom he met in gay bars or other queer settings.
Occasionally, he would perform sexual acts on the corpse or pose the body for photographs. Dahmer would proceed to dismember his victim’s bodies in various ways, often paring the skin off or acidifying the skeleton.
Like with his childhood collection of animal remains, Dahmer would bleach the bones or, eventually, store the remains in his refrigerator and freezer.
He kept many body parts as trophies, oftentimes the skulls and penises, keeping them for months on end. When the bones would grow too brittle, Dahmer would destroy and scatter them.
Famously, at some point, he began preserving the flesh and organs of his victims in his refrigerator for later consumption, often tenderizing the meat and eating it with condiments.
9. He Committed His Murder Spree In A Blackout
Jeffrey Dahmer was not in his right mind when he committed his crimes, needless to say. Murder, and perhaps even more so the possession of bodies and body parts, was his obsession and occupied his mind throughout the day.
In one of his earliest murders, the killing of Steven Tuomi, Dahmer claimed not to remember the act at all, saying he went to bed next to Tuomi and woke up next to his brutalized corpse. In times when was alone with his severed heads, he would talk to them.
Dahmer killed only when drunk, the only time he lacked his natural inhibitions.
Dahmer’s last victim, Tracy Edwards, who was able to escape and gain assistance from police, described how Dahmer absentmindedly watched TV and chanted to himself while rocking back and forth.
The whole time Dahmer threatened him with a knife and forced him into handcuffs, according to Tracy Edwards.
10. The Smell of Dahmer’s Apartment Was A Horror Of Its Own
When the manager of Dahmer’s North 25th Street apartment came to Dahmer with complaints of various tenants regarding the overpowering smell emanating from Dahmer’s home, Dahmer blamed the issue on spoiled meat–more than once. It was not technically a lie.
While some claim to have smelled little or nothing while within Dahmer’s apartment, typically police officers visited without growing suspicious or arresting him.
It is hard to look at the collection of bones, body parts, and organs Dahmer had amassed–along with the prominent stories of Dahmer consuming his victim’s flesh–and not imagine the smell of a rotten slaughterhouse.
11. He Turned His Victims Into Zombies
Perhaps the most horrifying aspect of Dahmer’s crimes is his attempts to turn his victims into the perfect sex slave. Victim Errol Lindsey was the first victim that Dahmer experimented on: Dahmer drilled a hole into Lindsay’s skull and injected hydrochloric acid into the wound, torture which Dahmer hoped would make his victims docile and submissive.
In Lindsey’s case, he awoke shortly after, complaining of a headache, before Dahmer sedated and killed him. Dahmer attempted this process multiple times on Konerak Sinthasomphone, before also killing him.
Dahmer changed this process for the last victim he practiced this on, Jeremiah Benjamin Weinberger. Dahmer injected boiling water into his skull in place of hydrochloric acid. Weinberger, like all of Dahmer’s victims experimented on in this way, did not last more than a couple of days before passing.
12. Dahmer Killed The Brother Of A Previous Victim
Konerak Sinthasomphone was a 14-year-old Lao teenager, and the younger brother of the boy Dahmer had been arrested for assaulting back in 1988.
Although neither of them knew of this connection when Dahmer offered Sinthasomphone money in exchange for a nude photoshoot back at Dahmer’s apartment, not knowing that Dahmer still had the body of Tony Hughes, lying on his bedroom floor, already three days dead.
Sinthasomphone would end up seeing Hughes’ body, according to Dahmer, but he was already sedated and had had acid injected into his skull; the boy did not react to the lifeless body or the situation he had ended up in.
13. The Police Could Have Stopped Him Sooner
Dahmer had a lengthy arrest record and was already registered as a sex offender, but despite being on the police’s radar as a sexual predator was able to rack up a high body count. The most egregious episode of police misconduct in the Dahmer case came after his kidnapping of Konerak Sinthasomphone.
Sinthasomphone, despite having hydrochloric acid injected into his skull, managed to escape the apartment while Dahmer was away and find help from three women, who noted his condition and called the police. Dahmer intercepted the boy right before police arrived, however.
Despite the fact Sinthasomphone was a young boy and bleeding from multiple areas, including his rectum, as well his incoherent speech, Dahmer convinced the police that Sinthasomphone was his boyfriend and they were in the middle of a domestic dispute.
Even as the women who called for help and arriving firefighters protested, the police escorted the boy and Dahmer back to Dahmer’s apartment.
Police entered the apartment, and despite the infamous smell and that Tony Hughes was still dead in the other room, they ended up giving Sinthasomphone back into the custody of his captor and ensuring his eventual demise.
The officers responsible would be briefly fired from the police force for this incident, before being reinstated to the Milwaukee Police, with back pay.
14. He Would Keep Trophies Of His Victims
When Dahmer was at last arrested and his apartment searched, a medical examiner was quoted as saying, “It was more like dismantling someone’s museum than an actual crime scene.”
Dahmer liked to play favorites with his victims. Dahmer victim and aspiring model Anthony Sears was noted by Dahmer to be “exceptionally attractive,” and was the first victim for which Dahmer permanently kept body parts: his skull and penis, preserved in acetone.
In contrast, Dahmer decided victim David Thomas “wasn’t my type,” and while he killed Thomas, he kept none of the body parts.
By the end of his sordid saga, Dahmer had amassed a collection of body parts in his fridge and all over his apartment: four severed heads, two skeletons, seven skulls, two hearts, a piece of human muscle, one pair of severed hands, two preserved penises, a piece of scalp, and four dismembered torsos.
15. He Photographed Most Of His Crimes
Milwaukee Police knew there was more to the story Tracy Edwards had told them when they discovered in Jeffrey Dahmer’s apartment, a polaroid collection, which he’d developed over years. At that point, he was finally caught, providing all the evidence they needed.
Dahmer had meticulously cataloged the violence he committed, the dead bodies of his victims, his dismemberment process, and its aftermath, eerily fulfilling the promise of nude photographs that had lured many of the young men to his apartment.
16. He Designed A Shrine Dedicated To His Crimes
When asked what he intended to do with his collection of human parts, Dahmer described and even drew the altar he had intended to build: adorned with all the skulls he had obtained and the two complete skeletons at both ends, lined with burning incense and lit by blue globe lights.
Dahmer intended to place a large black chair in front of it, from which he could observe this altar, a monument to his horrific crimes.
He claims it would be a shrine to himself, a place of meditation, where he could feel powerful and could “feel at home.”
17. Jeffrey Dahmer Was Killed In Prison
Dahmer was finally arrested in 1991, leaving 17 dead bodies in his wake. After Dahmer’s trial, he would end up imprisoned in Wisconsin’s Columbia Correctional Institution, where he would spend the brief remainder of his life.
Prison offered him a form of stability; Jeffrey Dahmer’s parents maintained regular contact with him and he became a born-again Christian. He no longer cared about life, however, often telling his mother it did not matter what happened to him now.
Dahmer’s death came in late 1994. Jeffrey Dahmer entered a shared work detail with fellow inmates Jesse Anderson and Christopher Scarver, only just beginning their work before Scarver pulled out a metal pipe he had concealed.
Dahmer was bludgeoned to death by fellow inmate Scarver, in late 1994, before Scarver, himself a purported schizophrenic, turned the pipe on Anderson, who was otherwise uninvolved. According to Scarver, Dahmer did not call for help and made no noise as he fell; Dahmer died quietly.
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