This Is What Jeffrey Dahmer's Parents Really Thought Of Him

Among the most notorious serial killers in living memory, Jeffrey Dahmer's deeds shocked the world when everything came to light after his arrest in 1991. As Britannica reports, he was convicted of killing 17 males — murders he committed between the years of 1978 and his capture. The unending trauma of the victims' families aside, how did Dahmer's own closest family try to process everything he did and was? What did Lionel and Joyce Dahmer have to say on the matter after their son's arrest, imprisonment, and murder, as they too sought to comprehend it?

According to Biography, Dahmer was born in Milwaukee in May 1960. He was a bright and busy young boy, until an operation for a double hernia seemed to change something within him. He grew quieter and more isolated, and tensions between his parents (who were separating as he became a teenager and soon divorced) could have contributed.

The torment of Jeffrey Dahmer's parents

In a 2004 interview with Larry King (via YouTube), his father Lionel was asked whether he noticed anything foreboding about the boy Dahmer. At around 12 years old, Lionel explained, Dahmer began collecting dead animals he found on the roadside. His parents knew nothing about this, but he stated, "If I had known about the roadkill ... I would have done something immediately. Intervened." Prior to the age of 12, he would have deemed him, in King's words, "a normal boy," though he added, "except extremely shy."

"Don't disregard shyness. Things can be fermenting in that young mind. Dig." Lionel Dahmer's other comments from the Larry King interview were particularly telling. "I wasn't tuned to that ... in the '50s and '60s, especially with men, you weren't really taught to be a psychologist," he said, per a CNN transcript. 

The picture, then, is of a regretful father who was possibly preoccupied, not noticing the changes coming over his troubled son. Jeffrey's stepmother Shari, also in the King interview, expanded on that. "Anything that we could do to circumvent or prevent another Jeff would be a blessing," she said. Shari explained that she met Jeffrey Dahmer when he was 18, and they shared a cordial if distant relationship.

Joyce Dahmer said her son was not a 'monster'

Jeffrey Dahmer's birth mother, Joyce, moved to California after she and Lionel's divorce but made the flight to visit Dahmer several times while he was incarcerated. In an interview with Hard Copy (via YouTube), Joyce called her son, Jeffrey, a "victim of a compulsion — an obsession." Joyce maintained that she had been a good mother, and that "I knew this had to come from something outside of Jeff." She said it was a societal problem that people blame the mothers when their children become killers, and there is something to be learned from the situation. Joyce said though Jeffrey's story was "unusual," she realized every murderer has parents and extended family who must anguish over the deeds of their loved one. She wondered if she could help them in some way.

Joyce, who was a certified counselor, also was bothered that Jeffrey wasn't receiving any kind of psychological therapy in prison, nor was anyone coming in to study him to see what drove him to do such unthinkable acts, per what she told Hard Copy (via YouTube). She said, "I think Jeff is intelligent enough that if he gets some help he might be able to help people ... I think he has a right as a human being. He's not a monster. He's a human being, and I think he needs some help."

How Joyce Dahmer reacted to Jeffrey's death

Still, the pain of knowing the horrors her son had done, and the backlash from not only the public at large but also at her job where a new boss wanted her to remove Jeffrey's photo from her desk, led to a suicide attempt for Joyce Dahmer, according to Hard Copy. When Jeffrey Dahmer was beaten to death in prison by inmate Christopher Scarver in November 1994, Per All That's Interesting, a distraught Joyce demanded, "I always asked if he was safe ... now is everyone happy? Now that he's bludgeoned to death, is that good enough for everyone?"

Joyce Dahmer died of breast cancer in 2000. According to Distractify, as of September 2022, Lionel Dahmer was living in Ohio with his wife, Shari. In a 1994 tandem interview with Jeffrey and Lionel Dahmer, Lionel told Stone Phillips, "The naive parent in me still says I see an innocent, shy child, a defenseless vulnerable child who I wish I could help now" (via YouTube).

Lionel Dahmer suspected a childhood surgery may have influenced his son later in life

Looking back on Jeffrey's life, Lionel Dahmer also had theories about what may have led his son Jeffrey to such pathological behavior. In an interview on Good Morning America in the 1990s, Jeffrey Dahmer's father revealed his son underwent a double hernia surgery near his genital area when he was just 4 years old (via Newsweek). 

Lionel said, "I think there were several events in his life starting with the hernia operation, his concern about having his penis cut off which he expressed to his mother at the time, I didn't even know about that until the trial in February '92" — perhaps an eerie foreshadowing of Dahmer's later crimes.

In addition to that double-hernia operation, Lionel told GMA Jeffrey took a "blow to the back of the head" at some point that Lionel only found out about later. Though there's no single quantifiable life experience that might make someone engage in serial murder, according to serial killer expert Peter Vronsky speaking with The Guardian, Lionel Dahmer believes these experiences in his son's life may have played a part. In Lionel's opinion "All these things came to a cumulative ending ... I firmly believe it hooked into his sexuality at age 14 or 15," Dahmer's father said in the Good Morning America Interview (via Newsweek).