What Jeffrey Dahmer's Childhood Was Actually Like

Jeffrey Dahmer is perhaps one of the most infamous serial killers in U.S. history. He not only killed 17 men from 1978 to 1991, but he also had sex with their corpses, dismembered them, kept their body parts in his home, and sometimes cannibalized them. 

Yet for such extreme behavior, Dahmer's childhood upbringing was not out of the ordinary. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on May 21, 1960, to Lionel and Joyce Dahmer, he was described as an "energetic and happy" little boy, according to Biography

His mother said she never noticed anything unusual about her young son, telling Stone Phillips in a video on YouTube that Dahmer was a "wonderful" and "fun" child in the early years.

"We did all the normal things that people do," Joyce said. "No, there was nothing unusual about Jeffrey." 

Biography reported his family noticed a change in him when he was 4 years old following double hernia surgery. After that, he seemed more subdued, and over the years he continued to become withdrawn. 

By first grade after moving to a new school, his teacher would find him extraordinarily shy and "profoundly unhappy," per the Stone Phillips interview.

As the family went through the motions of life, Lionel told Phillips in hindsight he remembers taking Jeffrey fishing as a boy where he seemed "captivated by the gutted fish." After his son's crimes were exposed, he wondered if that was normal child curiosity or "a harbinger of the horror that was later to be found in apartment 213." 

Jeffrey Dahmer's depravities took hold during his teen years

Lionel was probably right about the harbinger of horrors, because Jeffrey Dahmer told Phillips (via Youtube) that as a kid he would ride his bike around looking for road kill. He said he took pleasure in cutting open the animals, adding that it started as a curiosity, then "something went wrong." 

By the time Dahmer was 14, he began having violent fantasies that intermingled with sexual fantasies. It was also during his teen years that his parents' marriage started falling apart, with Lionel and Joyce often having explosive fights that would send Dahmer into the woods to hide out. 

He told Phillips, "I sort of lived in my own little fantasy world when things got too heated in the household. It was just my little world where I had control. Maybe I felt I had no control as a child or young adult, and that got mixed up with my sexuality and I ended up doing what I did. It was my way of feeling in complete control ... I had the final say ... I could completely control a person .... and keep them with me as long as possible, even if it meant just keeping a part of them."