Jeffrey Dahmer is one of America’s most notorious serial killers. Also known as the Milwaukee Cannibal, he committed the rape, murder, and dismemberment of 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991.
After his capture in July 1991, police would find that his apartment was full of dismembered human remains, including a human head in the refrigerator.
Despite his death in 1994, Jeffrey Dahmer continues to haunt the public consciousness, and remains one of the most twisted serial killers ever recorded.
Becoming Jeffrey Dahmer
Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer was born on May 21, 1960 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Some say that he was deprived of love and attention as an infant, with his mother Joyce refusing to breastfeed him.
However, other accounts state that both Joyce and his father, Lionel, doted on Jeffrey. Dahmer himself recalled that his early years were full of “extreme tension”, noting that his parents were constantly arguing.
He was described by one elementary school teacher as a reserved child whom she sensed felt neglected – she thought that this feeling likely stemmed from his mother’s constant illnesses. Nonetheless, Dahmer did have a few childhood friends.
He exhibited an interest in animals at an early age – but only dead ones. His friends would later recall that he collected animal carcasses that he found by the roadside, later dismembering them either at his home or in the expanse of woods behind it.
One friend in particular, recalled that young Jeffrey Dahmer stored the dismembered animal parts in jars in the family toolshed. Whenever he was asked about this, he would explain that he was curious about how the animals “fitted together”.
In one recorded instance, he decapitated the carcass of a dog and nailed the body to a tree before impaling the skull on a stake next to a wooden cross in the woods.
Lionel Dahmer traced his son’s fascination with dead animal bones back to the age of four, when he watched his father removing animal bones from beneath the family home. He recalled that his son was “oddly thrilled” by the sound the bones made, and instantly developed a fixation on playing with and collecting animal bones. This fixation was only foreshadowing what was to come.
In 1970, ten-year-old Jeffrey asked his father a strange question over a chicken dinner. He wanted to know what would happen if the chicken bones were placed in bleach. Lionel Dahmer, who was concerned by his son’s apparent apathy towards most things, was delighted by what he took as Jeffrey’s scientific curiosity, and demonstrated how to safely bleach, and later preserve, animal bones.
This knowledge would be used by Dahmer on many of the animal remains that he continued to collect, and there are theories that he would later use this technique on his victims as well.
The Fantasies Begin
In high school, Jeffrey was an outcast; spending most of his time drinking beer and hard liquor that he would smuggle into the school, in the lining of his jacket, and hide in his locker.
On one occasion, a classmate saw Dahmer drinking a cup of gin and asked why he was drinking in class. Dahmer casually replied, “It’s my medicine.”
Despite his drinking problem, staff knew Dahmer to be a polite and intelligent student– his average grades were attributed to his apathy. He was known to have been a keen tennis player and did a brief stint in the high school band.
Despite being a loner, he became something of a class clown amongst his peers. He was regularly involved in pranks either to amuse other students or simply attract attention. He behaved this way so frequently that it became known as “Doing a Dahmer.”
When he reached puberty, he discovered that he was gay, though he didn’t divulge this to his parents. He is reported to have engaged in a brief relationship with another boy in his early teens, but the pair were never known to have sex.
He would later admit that this was the point at which he began fantasizing about having complete control over a submissive partner – these fantasies would eventually become intertwined with Dahmer’s other obsession. – dissection.
At 16, he conceived a rape fantasy featuring a particular male jogger from his neighborhood, in which he rendered him unconscious and had intercourse with him. In order to enact this plan, he concealed himself in the bushes on the jogger’s usual route with a baseball bat, lying in wait.
Fortunately, the jogger didn’t use that route that day, and Dahmer never attempted this plan again. He would later state that this was his first ever attempt to attack another individual.
In 1977, his parents got divorced, and Lionel Dahmer moved out of the family home. Shortly after Jeffrey’s graduation a year later, Joyce Dahmer was awarded custody of his younger brother David. They vacated the family home to live with relatives, leaving Jeffrey to live there alone. Three weeks later, he would commit his first murder.
The Murder of Steven Hicks
On June 18, 1978, Jeffrey Dahmer picked up an 18-year-old hitchhiker named Steven Mark Hicks, who was trying to get to a rock concert in Lockwood Corners, Ohio.
Dahmer lured the young man to his house under the pretext of drinking together. According to Dahmer, they spent several hours drinking and listening to music until Hicks wanted to leave. “I didn’t want him to.” Dahmer would later say.
He bludgeoned the youth with a 10lb dumbbell, striking him twice from behind. Once Hicks was unconscious, Dahmer used the bar of the dumbbell to strangle him to death. Afterward, he stripped the man’s clothes off and masturbated while standing over the corpse. Hicks was just three days shy of his 19th birthday.
The next day, Dahmer dissected Hicks’ body in the crawl space beneath the house and buried the remains in a shallow grave in the yard. Apparently, he wasn’t finished, because he unearthed the remains several weeks later to strip the flesh from the bones and dissolve it in acid before flushing the solution down the toilet.
He crushed the bones with a sledgehammer and scattered them to hide all evidence of the crime.
Six weeks after Jeffrey Dahmer disposed of Steven Hicks’ body, Lionel Dahmer moved back into the family home with his new fiancée, only to discover that his eldest son had been living there alone.
He paid for his son to enroll at Ohio State University that August. Dahmer hoped to major in business, but his first and only term at Ohio State was completely unproductive. He failed Introduction to Anthropology, Classical Civilizations, and Administrative Science.
The only class that he passed was Riflery, in which he received a B-. His GPA was .45/4.0. Despite the fact that his father had paid for a second term, Jeffrey Dahmer dropped out of university after three months.
In January 1979, upon his father’s urging, Dahmer enlisted in the US Army. He trained as medical specialist at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas. On July 13, 1979, he was stationed in Baumholder, West Germany, where he served as a combat medic.
According to published reports, he was an “average or slightly above average” solider. Two other soldiers would later claim to have been raped by Dahmer while stationed there; one stated in 2010 that Dahmer had repeatedly raped him over a 17-month-period, while the other believes that Dahmer drugged him and raped him inside of an armored personnel carrier in 1979.
His alcohol abuse was again his undoing. He was deemed unsuitable for service and discharged in March 1981. He received an honorable discharge, however, because his superiors believed that his issues in the army didn’t apply to civilian life.
He returned to the United States and decided to move to Miami Beach, both because he wanted to make a life on his own and because he couldn’t return and face his father. He found a job at a sandwich shop and rented a room in a nearby motel.
This wouldn’t last long, however. He spent the bulk of his wages on liquor and was eventually evicted from the motel room for non-payment. Initially, he slept on the beach while continuing to work at the sandwich shop, but he eventually caved and called his father, asking to return home to Ohio.
He would move around for a while, getting a job as a mixer at the Milwaukee Ambrosia Chocolate Factory in 1985 while living with his grandmother. After being propositioned by a man in a library, Dahmer began to frequent Milwaukee’s gay bars, bookstores, and bathhouses – these would eventually become his hunting grounds.
On November 20, 1987, Dahmer met 25 year old Steven Tuomi at a bar. He persuaded the man to return with him to Milwaukee’s Ambassador Hotel, where Dahmer had rented a room.
The way Jeffrey tells it, he had no intention to murder Tuomi – he just wanted to drug him, and then rape him once he was unconscious. In the morning, however, Dahmer said that he woke up to find himself lying on top of Tuomi – the man’s chest had been “crushed in” and he was covered in bruises.
Blood also trickled from the corner of his mouth. Dahmer stated that his fists and one of his forearms were also extensively bruised, but he had no memory of killing Tuomi.
To dispose of the body, he purchased a large suitcase and used it to transport the man’s body to his grandmother’s residence, where he lived at the time. He then severed the head, arms, and legs from the torso and cut the flesh up until it was small enough to pack into garbage bags.
He would dispose of everything but the head immediately – he kept the head for a total of two weeks, during which he boiled the head in a mix of industrial detergent and bleach in an effort to preserve it and use it for masturbation.
However, the bleaching process made the skull too brittle to serve Dahmer’s purpose, so he pulverized it and disposed of the remains.
Following this murder, Dahmer would begin to actively seek men to rape and murder. He would typically encounter them in or around gay bars or other hot spots, and would lure them to his grandmother’s home before drugging them, having sex with them, and strangling them.
He would kill James Doxtator on January 16, 1988, Richard Guerrero on March 24, 1988, and Anthony Sears on March 25, 1989 – whose skull, scalp, and painted genitals he would keep throughout the rest of his crime spree – in his grandmother’s house before relocating to an apartment at 924 North 25th Street in Milwaukee in May 1990. It was here that he would commit the rest of his murders.
Within one week of moving into 924 North 25th Street, Jeffrey Dahmer killed his sixth known victim, Raymond Smith. He lured the man to his apartment with the promise of $50 for sex, but would only drug him and strangle him, as he had all the others.
He would take several photos of Smith’s body in suggestive positions before dismembering him in his bathroom. He would kill 11 more men this way: Eddie Smith on May 24, 1990, Ernest Miller on September 3, 1990, David Thomas on September 24, 1990, Curtis Straughter on February 18, 1991, Errol Linsey on April 7, 1991, Tony Hughs on May 24, 1991, Konerak Sinthasomphone on May 27, 1991, Matt Turner on June 30, 1991, Jeremiah Weinberger on July 7, 1991, Oliver Lacy on July 15, 1991, and Joseph Bradehoft on July 19, 1991.
On May 27, 1991, Dahmer left his apartment to purchase more alcohol; he had 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone captive inside. When he returned, he found the youth sitting naked on the street, speaking in Laotian with three concerned young women.
Dahmer attempted to explain that the boy was his friend and tried to take him back to his apartment – however, the three women had already phoned 911. Two officers arrived, but dismissed the incident after Dahmer told them that the boy was his 19-year-old boyfriend who had drank too much following a fight.
They allowed Dahmer to take the Sinthasomphone back to his apartment, where he would soon meet his death. Four more young men would die the same way before Dahmer’s crimes were discovered.
Apprehending the Milwaukee Cannibal
As time went on, it became increasingly difficult for Dahmer to conceal his crimes. His neighbors at the Oxford Apartments were complaining to the manager that foul smells were coming from Apartment 213, as well as the sounds of falling objects and, alarmingly, a chainsaw.
The manager, Sopa Princewill, contacted Jeffrey Dahmer about these complaints on several occasions – Dahmer would initially excuse the odors by saying that his freezer had broken and its contents had spoiled.
Later, he would say that the odor had returned because some of his fish had died, and he’d take care of it.
On July 21, 1991, Dahmer approached three young men, offering them $100 to accompany him to his apartment and pose for nude photos, drink beer, and keep him company. One of the trio was 32-year-old Tracy Edwards, and he agreed.
When he entered the apartment, Edwards noticed the foul odor, as well as several boxes of hydrochloric acid on the floor, which Dahmer said he used to clean bricks. After making small talk, Dahmer showed Edwards his tropical fish.
While the man was distracted, Dahmer handcuffed one of his wrists, unsuccessfully attempting to handcuff the other. Dahmer would take him to the bedroom, where he noted posters of nude males on the walls and a tape of The Exorcist III playing on the TV. He also noted the blue 57-gallon drum in the corner, which emanated a foul odor.
After repeatedly attempting to appease Dahmer, Edwards waited for his opportunity to escape before punching Dahmer in the face and running out the front door. He flagged down two Milwaukee police officers at the corner, and led them back to Dahmer’s house of horrors.
Dahmer invited the officers inside, where they found disturbing evidence, including a large knife under the bed and hundreds of photos of dismembered bodies. When Dahmer saw one of the officers holding the photos, he fought to resist arrest, though they quickly overpowered him.
They cuffed his hands behind his back and called for backup. While they were waiting, one of the officers opened Dahmer’s fridge, revealing a severed head of a man sitting on the bottom shelf. Dahmer, pinned to the floor by the other officer at this point, turned his head and said, “For what I did, I should be dead.”
A detailed search of Dahmer’s apartment found four severed heads in the kitchen, seven skulls – either painted or bleached – in his bedroom, two human hearts and a portion of arm muscle in the fridge, and an entire torso in the freezer, plus a bag of human organs.
They also discovered two entire skeletons, two severed hands, two severed penises, and a mummified scalp. The 57-gallon drum that Edwards had seen contained three further torsos that he was in the process of dissolving in acid. The chief medical examiner responsible for the remains later said, “It was more like dismantling someone’s museum than an actual crime scene.”
Dahmer was questioned by Detective Patrick Kennedy about the evidence found in his apartment. Numerous interviews conducted with Dahmer numbered nearly 60 hours. He waived his right to have a lawyer present, instead stating that he wanted to confess to the horror that he had perpetrated.
He readily admitted to all of his known murders, including that of Steven Hicks in 1978. He confessed to rendering the victims unconscious before strangling them and doing various things with their bodies before disposing of them.
He even admitted to consuming the hearts, livers, biceps, and portions of thigh belonging to victims that he killed during the previous year.
On July 25, 1991, Jeffrey Dahmer was charged with four counts of murder. He would be charged with 11 more murders on August 22. On September 17, he was also charged with the murder of Steven Hicks by Ohio authorities, after investigators identified two molars and a vertebra found behind Dahmer’s family home with X-ray records of Hicks.
He would not be charged with the murder of Steven Tuomi, because the Milwaukee District Attorney only brought charges in cases that could be proved beyond reasonable doubt. He was also not charged for the attempted murder of Tracy Edwards. At a preliminary hearing on January 13, 1992, Dahmer would plead guilty by reason of insanity to 15 counts of first-degree murder.
His trial began on January 30, 1992 – he had waived his right to an initial trial establishing guilt by pleading guilty on January 13, so the issue debated was Dahmer’s mental health.
The prosecution claimed that any disorders that Dahmer suffered from didn’t make it so that he wasn’t aware of the morality of his actions or that he was unable to resist his impulses.
The defense argued that he couldn’t control his obsessive impulses, and thus, his crimes were committed under diminished responsibility. Specifically, defense experts claim that Dahmer’s necrophilia was what made him insane – his compulsion to have sex with corpses was obvious evidence of a paraphilia that he could not control.
After two weeks of trial testimony, Jeffrey Dahmer was ruled sane at the time of his crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment plus 10 years on the first two counts and life imprisonment plus 70 years for the other 13.
The death penalty was not an option, as it had been abolished in Wisconsin in 1853. On May 1, 1992, Dahmer would stand trial in Ohio for the murder of Steven Hicks. His court hearing, which lasted a mere 45 minutes, consisted of Dahmer pleading guilty and being sentenced to a 16th term of life imprisonment.
Prison and Death
Dahmer was transferred to the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin shortly after his sentencing.
For the first year, he was kept in solitary confinement due to concerns for his safety in the prison population. He was transferred to a less secure unit with his consent after that year, where he was assigned to a daily work detail cleaning the toilet block.
He converted to Christianity shortly after his confession and was baptized in May 1994. He remained fixated on the concept of death, but now, it was his own. His family stated that Dahmer was ready to die, and accepted whatever he would endure in prison.
He was attacked by another inmate in July 1994, who attempted to slash Dahmer’s throat with a razor embedded in a toothbrush as Dahmer returned to his cell from the prison chapel. Dahmer received only superficial wounds from this attack, but he wouldn’t be so lucky the next time.
On November 28, 1994, Dahmer left his cell to conduct his daily work detail, accompanied by fellow inmates Jesse Anderson and Christopher Scarver. They were left unsupervised in the prison gym showers for only 20 minutes, but that was enough.
At 8:10 am, Jeffrey Dahmer was discovered on the floor of the gym bathroom, apparently having been beaten severely about his head and face with a 20-inch-long metal bar. He had also been slammed against the wall repeatedly during his assault.
Though he was still alive when found and was rushed to the hospital, The Milwaukee Cannibal was pronounced dead an hour later. Jesse Anderson had also been beaten, and died of his injuries 2 days later.
Christopher Scarver, who had been serving a life sentence for murder, stated that he had attacked Dahmer first while he was cleaning a staff locker room, and Anderson as he cleaned the inmate locker room.
Scarver, who is thought to have been schizophrenic, returned to his cell and told a guard, “God told me to do it. Jesse Anderson and Jeffrey Dahmer are dead.”
Despite his early death, Jeffrey Dahmer continues to loom large over the public’s consciousness. The unique gruesomeness of his crimes has left an indelible mark that has cemented The Milwaukee Cannibal in the annals of true crime.
His name is often one of the first to come to mind when the words “serial killer” are mentioned, and screencaps of his face have even begun appearing in modern memes. A film based on his teenage years called My Friend Dahmer was just released in 2017, and there appears to be no end to his appearances in modern pop culture.
He remains one of the most notorious serial killers ever recorded.