Even if you are not into true crime, you probably know the names of a few serial killers like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. These serial killers, particularly Jeffrey Dahmer, have been the center of television shows, documentaries, and even the lyrics in pop songs.
Why does his name and story pop up everywhere? It’s not because he killed the most people out of any serial killer or is the “first” serial killer. Dahmer killed 17 people between 1978 and 1991. But he didn’t just kill them. After they were dead, Dahmer dismembered and even ate the bodies. The shocking nature of this case is what makes it so fascinating.
What’s more, Jeffrey Dahmer doesn’t appear to be the average serial killer. He was a timid man who didn’t endure the abuse or wildly traumatic experiences that other serial killers may use as an “excuse” for their later crimes. In interviews, he gave clear, straightforward answers about his horrific crimes, in some cases admitting his wrongdoing.
The story of Jeffrey Dahmer is a wild ride, and it’s more squeamish than many stories of serial killers. Get ready to hear the real story of one of the most infamous serial killers and cannibals of all time.
A Normal Childhood
Jeffrey Dahmer was born on May 21, 1960 in Wisconsin. His parents lived comfortably. While most serial killers have a record of surviving abuse or other traumatic experiences, there’s not much to say about Dahmer’s childhood that could point to his later crimes. Dahmer claimed that he was never abused or molested throughout his lifetime. Although his mother suffered from mental illness and likely took prescription medication that affected Dahmer’s development, all appeared normal throughout his early life.
Jeffrey Dahmer was a shy child, but his interest in taxidermy and dead animals may have pointed to his later crimes. Violence against animals, setting fires, and persistent bed-wetting are all common signs among serial killers. Other strange behaviors in his teenage years, including drinking alcohol in class, pointed to issues, but they were largely ignored by friends, classmates, and family. At age 17, his parents divorced and his mother left his father and Jeffrey while taking his younger brother with him.
Inside, Dahmer started to have fantasies that involved sexual control and dominance. Not knowing how to act on these desires, he began to use violence. At age 18, Dahmer picked up a hitchhiker who was on his way to a rock concert. The two spent some time at Dahmer’s house - when the hitchhiker wanted to leave, Dahmer killed him.
After Dahmer dismembered the body, he put the hitchhiker into a garbage bag and drove to take him to a dumpster. Along the way, he was stopped by police - but he was let go. He scattered the bones of his first victim in the woods near his home.
By this time, Dahmer’s father and stepmother noticed that he was acting out. They unsuccessfully tried to enroll him in college, took him to psychiatrists, and eventually encouraged him to join the military. During this time, Dahmer didn’t commit any homicides, although multiple roommates claimed that he drugged, sexually assaulted, and tortured them. He was discharged from the army due to excessive drinking, and ended up moving in with his grandmother.
A Life of Crime
During this time, Dahmer tried various methods to suppress his urges and bizarre fantasies. He kept a mannequin in his bed, exposed himself to women and children, and started drugging men at bath houses throughout the Chicago and Milwaukee area. After giving one of the men too much of the drugs that he used, he was banned from the bath houses.
Around this time, Dahmer got a job at a chocolate factory.
Shortly after, he brought a man to a hotel and drugged him. The next morning, the man was dead, beaten to death by Dahmer. He claimed he had no recollection of killing the man, and hadn’t planned on killing him when the man was brought home. From then on, he started going on a wild killing spree that would later label him a “serial killer.”
He took two victims in 1988. During this year, he also moved out of his grandmother’s house. His family members were disturbed by some of the smells coming from the basement, but assumed it had to do with Jeffrey’s old habit of experimenting with roadkill. They didn’t suspect that he was actually disposing of multiple bodies.
After sexually assaulting a 13-year old boy in 1989, Dahmer was arrested and convicted of second-degree sexual assault. Due to delays in his sentencing, Dahmer was sent to live at his grandmother’s home for a period of months. During that time, he took another victim. The victim’s head and genitals were preserved after Dahmer disposed of the body. Shortly after, he was sentenced to five years’ probation. His sentencing included work release and mandatory time in counseling due to his remorse in front of the judge.
In 1990, Dahmer moved into an apartment and killed an additional four men. All of these men had come to Dahmer’s home voluntarily, and didn’t anticipate the violence that would take place when they arrived. He had already developed a ritual where he would watch “The Exorcist” before killing his victims.” During this year, he started to change the way he treated his victims after he killed them. He photographed their bodies, storing their bones in a filing cabinet and other parts of the body in a freezer. If not stored, the body parts were placed in vats of acid.
Dahmer planned to build a “memorial” to these victims in the form of an altar. Sketches of this altar showed his desire to paint their skeletons and lay out their skulls on the altar. This bizarre “connection” to his victims grew into even more sickening rituals as he began to cook and eat the remains of his victims. Dahmer would go so far as to look at pictures of his victims while he ate their bodies.
Dahmer killed one more person in 1991 before he tried something new with his victims. With his next two victims, he attempted to make them “zombies,” somewhere between life and death. He did this to try and fulfill a sexual fantasy about having sex with a zombie. Both times, he failed and the victims died.
In May 1991, he tried again. He attempted to drill a hole into the head of a 14-year-old boy. Dahmer didn’t know that this boy was actually the younger brother of a boy Dahmer had molested a few years earlier. But when Dahmer left his apartment to go buy beer, the boy escaped. An eyewitness called the police, who came to Dahmer’s home. Dahmer wasn’t fazed by the close encounter and told the police that the two were engaging in consensual, sexual activities.
The police left the 14-year-old child with Dahmer in his apartment. They failed to look around and see that Dahmer’s previous victim was in the next room where they discussed Dahmer’s supposed relationship with the teenager. When neighbors inquired as to the age of the child and whether or not he was actually safe with Dahmer, police assured them that everything was “taken care of.” The day after this encounter, Dahmer killed the 14-year-old boy. Over the next two months, he killed another three victims.
At this point, neighbors contacted their landlord to report on a foul smell coming from Dahmer’s apartment. Three times, he made excuses for the smell, including telling his manager that his fish had recently died. Eventually, these excuses stopped working for the manager, and Dahmer was told that he was going to be evicted.
During this time before his eviction, Dahmer kills one more victim - his 17th. On July 22, 1991, three days after the man was killed, Dahmer would be arrested.
Dahmer took a man back to his home on July 22, 1991. Early in the encounter, he told the man that he was going to eat his heart. But Dahmer had run out of drugs to render the man unconscious, and only managed to get one handcuff on the man’s hand. The man was able to escape and ask the police about how to get the handcuff off.
The police were not able to get the handcuffs off, so they went to Dahmer’s apartment to look for the key. In plain sight, the officers saw the photographs that Dahmer had taken of his victims. These photos included evidence that Dahmer had killed and dismembered multiple victims. At this point, Dahmer was finally put in handcuffs and taken into custody for the murders.
When investigators searched the house, they found all of the remains and evidence of Dahmer’s recent killings.
The next day, Dahmer decided to give a complete confession to the police about everything he had done: murders, dismemberment, cannibalism, and all.
Life After Arrest
Before the case went to trial, Dahmer gave a confession that lasted for over 160 pages. In this confession, he was willing to confess to every single detail of the killings and dismemberment that he could remember. He recalled it all with frightening accuracy - although he couldn’t remember the names of the men that he killed. Dahmer claimed to also not remember the night that he killed his second victim.
When his trial started, Dahmer had been charged with 15 counts of murder. (One count of murder was charged in another state. Dahmer could not remember killing his second victim, and since there was no physical evidence of the killing at the time, he was not charged for the crime.) His parents attended the trial. Dahmer pleaded guilty but on the grounds of insanity, but he told the jury that he did not wish for any sort of freedom. He believed that he deserved the death penalty.
The state of Wisconsin had abolished capital punishment over 60 years earlier, so Dahmer was not able to get the death penalty. He was, however, sentenced to 15 life sentences plus another 70 years. (He was sentenced to a 16th life imprisonment when he was convicted for his first murder in the state of Ohio.)
While in prison, Jeffrey Dahmer spent his first year in prison in solitary confinement for the safety of his fellow inmates, but was eventually released to a less secure area. He became a born-again Christian, reading the Bible and visiting with a pastor frequently. He was even baptized. But even with the possibility of a new life ahead of him, Dahmer felt that he was ready to die for his crimes.
Death and Infamy
In 1994, Dahmer was working a shift in the Columbia Correctional Institution when he was beaten to death by a fellow inmate. The inmate took the lives of Jeffrey Dahmer and another prisoner, and received two consecutive life sentences for his crimes in addition to the sentence that he was already serving. This was not the first time that someone attempted to take Dahmer’s life in prison, but he did not seem resistant to these acts of violence against him. Dahmer’s body was cremated and his parents received his ashes.
In the short years between his conviction and his death, Dahmer gave multiple TV interviews that have been broadcast on various news channels throughout the years. He’s been the subject of multiple documentaries, movies, and TV shows.There were plenty of times that correctional officers and the criminal justice system could have saved the lives of many by keeping Jeffrey Dahmer in jail. Red flags were everywhere. Police and authorities visited his apartment multiple times, even leaving a minor child with him. But his parents and those close to him were easy to deny that this timid, mild-mannered boy could be such a horrific criminal. Today, he remains one of the most notorious serial killers in modern history; not just for the crimes that he committed, but also for the timid manner and matter-of-fact confessions surrounding those crimes.