The Gruesome Debate That Took Place Over Jeffrey Dahmer's Brain

There's a long history of preserving and studying the skulls and brains of particularly heinous murderers going back to the 3rd century B.C., according to the National Library of Medicine. While in the past, authorities often just purloined the wanted body parts after they executed the criminals, in modern times, the process isn't so simple. Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer's brain is one example. But in this case, it was a family feud that led to Dahmer's brain being held in limbo even as the rest of his body was cremated. His divorced parents fought over what to do with the organ, per The Washington Post.

After police found body parts in Jeffrey Dahmer's Milwaukee, Wisconsin, apartment in 1991, the serial killer eventually admitted to murdering and sometimes cannibalizing, 17 men and teen boys, according to the Associated Press. Dahmer's killing spree, which began in 1978, centered in the U.S. Midwest and his victims were mostly young Black men who he would lure back to his home before drugging and strangling them to death, according to History.

Jeffrey Dahmer Became Evidence in His Own Murder

Jeffrey Dahmer pleaded guilty by reason of insanity to 15 of the 17 murders but a jury found him sane, according to History. On February 17, 1992, a judge sentenced Dahmer to 15 consecutive life sentences, per CBS News. He would serve a little over two years in prison. A fellow inmate named Christopher Scarver beat Dahmer to death as the serial killer, 34, cleaned a bathroom at the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin, on November 28, 1994, per History.

Because investigators considered Dahmer's body as evidence in his own murder, they held on to it for more than a year, according to The New York Times. Dahmer's brain sat in a jar of formaldehyde at the Dane County Medical Examiner's Office in Madison, Wisconsin, where it had been since his autopsy, per The New York Times. After Scarver's conviction for Dahmer's murder — he claimed God told him to kill Dahmer and another inmate, per History — authorities released the corpse to Dahmer's parents. Both his father, Lionel Dahmer, and his mother, Joyce Flint, agreed on what to do with their son's body, but the brain was a very different matter.

Jeffrey Dahmer's Brain Goes to Court 

Jeffrey Dahmer's body was cremated, with half the ashes going to his mother, Joyce Flint, who lived in Fresno, California, and the other half going to his father, Lionel Dahmer, who lived in Akron, Ohio, per the Associated Press. Flint wanted the brain of her son to be used for medical research to determine whether there were biological factors that led to his murderous spree, according to The Washington Post

"I want something useful to come from the nightmare," she told the Associated Press in September 1995. "This is the last and only thing I can do." Her husband, who she had been divorced from since the late 1970s, disagreed, saying he simply wanted to put what his son had done behind him, per the AP.

The case went to the Wisconsin state court and in December 1995, a judge ordered Jeffrey Dahmer's brain to be cremated, according to the Los Angeles Times. The scientists at Fresno State University in California never got the chance to examine Dahmer's brain as they had hoped to, per The New York Times. Dahmer himself seemed to believe that what led him to kill and cannibalize his victims was biological. "I hated no one. I knew I was sick or evil, or both," he said during his sentencing, per CBS News. "Now I believe I was sick."