The Untold Truth Of Jeffrey Dahmer

Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested at his Milwaukee apartment in 1991, and when the full extent of his crimes came to light, everyone was shocked — even the FBI, who described his apartment as "what could have been the set of a horror movie — numerous body parts belonging to multiple victims." It wasn't until 1992 that prosecutors charged him with 15 murders. Remains of 11 of those victims were still in his apartment at the time of his arrest. Dahmer would ultimately be sentenced to life in prison before being shipped off to Ohio, where he was convicted of one additional murder.

After his conviction, Dahmer spoke about what drove him to kill. He once told Inside Edition (via Oxygen), "It's a process, it doesn't happen overnight, when you depersonalize another person and view them as just an object. An object for pleasure and not a living, breathing human being. It seems to make it easier to do things you shouldn't do." Dahmer explained at his trial he had always known what he was doing "was sick or evil," and continued — "Now I believe I was sick. The doctors have told me about my sickness and now I have some peace."

Jeffrey Dahmer remains one of the most notorious serial killers in US history. So what was never revealed until much later... and how much has the world forgotten?

The unspeakable crimes of Jeffery Dahmer

At the heart of the horrors is, of course, Jeffrey Dahmer himself. When it came time for experts to determine if he was fit to stand trial, forensic psychiatrist Dr. George Palermo spent more than 12 hours interviewing him, and concluded (via the Chicago Tribune) he was "highly intelligent, emotionally tranquil, and his thinking processes were logical and rational." And somehow, that makes what they found in his apartment more terrifying.

When The Associated Press picked up the story of Dahmer's arrest from The Milwaukee Sentinel in July 1991, they reported law enforcement "found 11 skulls scattered in a file cabinet, a closet, a refrigerator, and a freezer, and three headless torsos in a vat in the man's bedroom." That vat, says History, was a 57-gallon drum filled with chemicals that were contributing to the slow decomposition of the bodies inside. There were three heads in the refrigerator, and "evidence" some of the victims had been cannibalized. When police started emptying the apartment, they took out "boxes filled with body parts," and as neighbors started to realize what was happening, the "sounds of sawing [that came] from the apartment at all hours" and the smells became clear. Dahmer's neighbor, Ella Vickers, said, "We've been smelling odors for weeks, but we thought it was a dead animal [...]. We had no idea it was humans."

Just how many humans it was... that was documented in a dresser drawer full of Polaroids.

The harrowing life-and-death struggle that led to Jeffrey Dahmer's arrest

Jeffrey Dahmer's arrest wouldn't have happened... if it weren't for a few Polaroid pictures carelessly left in plain sight. It wasn't until officers got a glimpse of those that they realized something was deeply wrong, as they doubted the man who fled to them for help.

Dahmer was originally arrested in 1988, on charges of (via Time) "fondling a 13-year-old Laotian boy." After 10 months in jail, he regularly met with his probation officer who, in turn, never checked his home. That freedom, History says, coincided with Dahmer the first of the victims later found in his apartment, who had vanished in March 1989. Just two months after that disappearance, Dahmer was before a judge — and promised his child-molesting ways were behind him.

Fast forward to July 22, 1992. That's when Tracy Edwards escaped from Dahmer's apartment, and he later testified (via the Los Angeles Times), "He put his head on my chest, was listening to my heart, and said he was going to eat my heart." After watching Exorcist III, Edwards was able to hit — and flee from — a distracted Dahmer. Heading out into the city, Edwards found a police car and told officers what had happened — and showed them the handcuffs still around his wrist. When he took the doubting officers back to the apartment, Dahmer originally tried to explain the incident away as a "domestic dispute," but that's when officers spotted the pictures. Dahmer was arrested without incident.

Jeffrey Dahmer's childhood was destroyed by a single incident

A 2005 study published in the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology found childhood abuse — including physical, sexual, and psychological abuse — was present in the history of a high percentage of those people who grew up to become serial killers. When it comes to Jeffrey Dahmer, his case is a little unique in that his father wrote a book about raising his son — and the problems he saw from a young age (via Regis University).

In interviews his parents gave after his arrest, they described Dahmer as a toddler: "[he was] a happy young boy who loved animals and nature." But things started changing when Dahmer was just 4-years-old and had surgery to repair a double hernia. Afterwards, he became convinced his genitals had been removed. His father has suggested that was connected to his later habit of castrating his victims, and he's also pointed the finger at other elements of his son's childhood that may have had some severely negative impacts on him.

That includes being witness to the side effects his mother suffered from after starting anti-anxiety medication, along with abandonment issues stemming from parents that largely left him — and later, his little brother — to fend for themselves. Father Lionel Dahmer would later write, "It is a portrayal of parental dread... the terrible sense that your child has slipped beyond your grasp, that your little boy is spinning in the void, swirling in the maelstrom, lost, lost, lost."

The fetal pig

Research done by Regis University suggests Jeffrey Dahmer's fascination with death started at about the same time as his hernia surgery — and an incident recounted by his father. Lionel Dahmer says 4-year-old Jeffrey was fascinated with a pile of bones under their home, and while Lionel noticed it, he didn't do anything about it — and Jeffrey's interest in the dead and dying only increased.

When Jeffrey Dahmer was in the ninth grade, he was given a biology assignment that might sound familiar to those of a certain age: the dissection of a fetal pig. He not only happily completed the assignment but kept the skeleton — and that kicked off an obsession with collecting others. At first, those came from along the roadside; Dahmer spent much of his formative years collecting dead animals and mutilating them further. 

The Miami Herald says Dahmer also killed the pets of his neighbors, mounting their heads on sticks. Today, animal cruelty is considered one of the warning signs a child might escalate in adulthood. The FBI started maintaining a database to track instances of animal cruelty in 2016, and stress that instances of abuse need to be reported.

'Somebody else's problem'

John Backderf says he occasionally wondered what happened to his old school chum Jeffrey Dahmer, but it wasn't until 1991 headlines that he learned what his buddy had been up to. Backderf told The Independent, "There was always a darkness about him that was really kind of repellent. [...] I was OK with hanging out with him, if there was other people around. I was never going to be alone with him. And I'm pretty happy I had that instinct, because that could have well been me chopped up in the trunk of his car."

Backderf was already an established artist when he decided to tell his story in the form of the graphic novel My Friend Dahmer. The 2012 work — which was turned into a movie — tried to shine some light on what it was like going to school with him. Dahmer, he says, started acting out in high school: he would fake seizures, and mock locals with disabilities. Backderf and his friends jokingly formed the Dahmer Fan Club. Backderf wrote: "All those things he perfected when he was very young through our goofball antics, he used them when he was a monster. That's a little hard to live with."

And it's also led him to wonder where the adults were. "They didn't care," Backderf says. "They just ... figured, 'Well, next year he'll be somebody else's problem.' And of course he was somebody else's problem."

The first victim

Jeffrey Dahmer's parents finalized their divorce on July 24, 1978 (via the Los Angeles Times). About a month prior to that, he killed his first victim. Steven Hicks had been hitchhiking to a concert, says The New York Times, and when he didn't come home, his parents didn't think anything of it. They reported him missing six days later, but he was already dead.

Months passed... then years. It wasn't until 1991 that law enforcement connected Hicks' disappearance with Dahmer, and it was also then they started taking a close look at Dahmer's 1978 home in Ohio. Hours into the search, they "found more than 50 bone fragments," along with a "'substantial quantity of blood' and a bloody handprint in the crawl space" of the home.

That would quickly escalate to 500 bone fragments, and Dahmer would eventually confess to picking up Hicks, inviting him home for a drink, and smashing him first with a barbell, then destroying his remains with a sledgehammer. And he was nearly caught. Dahmer was pulled over by police when he was disposing of Hicks' body, and officers asked him why he had plastic bags in his car. He convinced them he was just getting some air — and, distraught over his parents' impending divorce — he was taking the garbage to the dump while he was out. Officers let him go.

Jeffrey Dahmer's time in the military

In 2013, The Independent did a profile on those who had been victims of sexual assault while in the military, and among those were two men who had been victimized by Jeffrey Dahmer. Dahmer enlisted and was sent to Germany in 1979, where he was attached to a medic unit. One of the other men in the unit, Preston Davis, says he was drugged then sexually assaulted by Dahmer: "I was raped by Jeffrey. I am just thankful to be alive to tell the story."

After Davis left the Baumholder garrison, he was replaced by a soldier named Billy Joe Capshaw. After being sexually assaulted multiple times, Capshaw jumped from a third-story window, survived, and reported the assaults. Superior officers returned him to the barracks where the abuse continued, and after he left the military, he spent five years locked in his own room. After years of therapy — and a friendship with Dahmer's other victim — he was finally able to talk about what happened. 

Davis says (via The Wrap) Dahmer liked to boast about how he'd killed a man — Hicks — when he was drunk, and he was ultimately discharged because of his alcohol abuse. Davis continued: "I don't consider myself a victim. I'm a survivor."

The boy that raised the alarm

St. Mary's University says Konerak Sinthasomphone was among the 11 victims whose remains were discovered at Jeffrey Dahmer's apartment, and his story starts years prior. The 13-year-old boy Dahmer had been convicted of molesting in 1988 was Konerak's older brother, Keison. The family was told Dahmer was "put away for good," but in 1991, he lured Konerak Sinthasomphone to his apartment with promises he'd pay him for posing for a few photos. Dahmer drugged him, drilled a hole in his skull, and injected him with hydrochloric acid.

He was still unconscious when Dahmer left for the store, and Dahmer was still gone when he woke. Sinthasomphone was running down the street when he came across Nicole Childress and Sandra Smith. They called police, but by that time, Dahmer was on the street again to reclaim his victim. Dahmer claimed the boy was his "houseguest," and was ultimately released by police — who escorted them both back to Dahmer's apartment, then threatened to arrest Smith for her continued insistence that something was deeply wrong. Sinthasomphone was dead half-an-hour later. 

In spite of the fact that Dahmer already had another body in his apartment, the officers testified (via The New York Times) they believed the two had "a caring relationship." Officer Joseph Gabrish said, "We're trained to be observant... I've been doing this for a while, and usually if something stands out, you'll spot it. There just wasn't anything there."

Jeffrey Dahmer's desire for 'zombie sex-slaves'

Jeffrey Dahmer's crimes weren't actually driven by anything as straightforward as a need to kill and cannibalize; there was something much more complicated at work.

When he confessed, it was in a 145-page missive (via Psychology Today) where he shared the fact that unresponsive bodies and dismembering the dead "aroused him." That was just the beginning. Autopsies (via Acad Forensic Pathol) performed on the remains recovered from his apartment revealed he'd drilled holes in the skulls of his victims — while they were alive, based on signs of healing. When detectives confronted Dahmer, he admitted he had been experimenting — by varying the number and size of drill holes, and the liquids he then injected into his victims' brains, he'd hoped to turn them into "zombie sex-slaves."

At his trial, jurors were presented with the idea that Dahmer did what he did because he didn't want to be alone (via the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University): the creation of his zombie slaves would mean he had "people who would be there for him," and claimed it was a similar need that drove him to keep the skulls and eat parts of his victims. That way, they "would become alive again in him."

Here's what his parents thought

Jeffrey Dahmer's parents have spoken out about their son, and his father — Lionel — even wrote a book in an attempt to make sense out of what had happened. In it (via Oxygen), he said he "blamed himself for Jeffrey's (severe) flaws," particularly his own "negligent" nature. 

Jeffrey's mother, Joyce Flint, said in 1993: "I wake up every morning and for a split second, I don't know I'm Jeffrey Dahmer's mother, and then it all floods in." She later told Hard Copy, "I still love my son. I've never stopped loving my son." Flint died of breast cancer in 2000, and in reporting her death, Deseret says she spent much of her life working as a case manager for the Central Valley AIDS team. She also founded an HIV community center called The Living Room, and associates described her as "just this wonderful person."

Jeffrey Dahmer's stepmother, Shari, has also spoken about her infamous stepson. She says (via In Touch Weekly), "He was very vulnerable. He needed love and he needed attention." She adds that they did try to get him psychiatric help after he left the military, and when asked why they hadn't changed their names, she adds: "I didn't feel ashamed. We were not guilty. [...] Because we were not involved, we didn't feel ashamed in that respect."

Here's how much Jeffrey Dahmer made while in prison

After Jeffrey Dahmer's confession and conviction, came jail — and while he was there, he started receiving a ton of fan mail. His father wrote (via Oxygen) that he was baffled by it: "Clearly, some of these people believe that in some bizarre way, my son could rescue them from lives in which they felt trapped. It demonstrated a level of sympathy and pity that I simply could not reach..."

In 1994, The Associated Press reported that Dahmer had already received a shocking $12,000 in letters that were sent to him from across the globe. Some sent him money to spend on creature comforts, while others sent donations as gifts — with at least one woman hoping that the $350 she sent him would encourage him to learn about Christ. 

The New Statesman took a look at some of the so-called serial killer fandoms and found a secret Facebook group filled with Dahmer fans. As a play on his cannibalism, they called themselves "McDahmer's," and when the paper spoke with one member (49-year-old "Geri"), she revealed that she felt connected to Dahmer because they shared "a great hobb[y]" of dissecting animals. She explained, "It's not that I agreed with what he did, but I understood the triggers. Society has a lot to answer for in terms of how people turn out."

Why Christopher Scarver killed Jeffrey Dahmer

Jeffrey Dahmer was ultimately sentenced to 16 consecutive life terms, says Biography, and at first, he spent some time in protective custody. After a year in jail, he asked to be returned to a more communal area, and he started to spend time — sometimes, unsupervised — with other prisoners. That's where things went sideways.

There was an attempt on his life in 1994, at a chapel service the newly-baptized Dahmer was attending. Then, on November 28, 1994, Dahmer was bludgeoned to death by another inmate named Christopher Scarver. Scarver later talked to the NY Post and explained why he'd done it, saying: "He crossed the line with some people — prisoners, prison staff. Some people who are in prison are repentant — but he was not one of them." Scarver wasn't the only one unnerved by Dahmer, he said. Dahmer was well-known for hanging up signs for "Cannibals Anonymous," and reminding guards and fellow inmates alike that, "I bite." He made severed limbs out of his food while in the mess, added ketchup for blood, and taunted those around him.

Scarver said that he had gone out of his way to avoid Dahmer, but then he found himself on bathroom-cleaning duty with him. He was poked in the back, and when he confronted Dahmer with his crimes — and Dahmer confirmed that he was guilty — Scarver said, "He ended up dead. I put his head down."