Known as the “Milwaukee Cannibal” due to his affinity for ingesting human flesh, Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer was a serial murderer and sexual offender that was responsible for the deaths of 17 boys and men between 1978 and 1991. Dahmer was eventually convicted of 15 of those murders and received a life sentence for each in February of 1992 after he was classified as legally sane enough to participate in a trial. When he submitted to psychological evaluations, it was determined Dahmer, who was born in 1960, suffered from a borderline personality disorder. This mental state was the culprit for his preservation of the body parts of his victims, digesting their organs and participating in necrophilia. The case gained worldwide attention due to the sheer monstrosity of the crimes and the lurid details accompanying them. Dahmer, however, only served two years of his sentence, as he suffered his own demise at the fists of fellow inmate Christopher Scarver in 1994. This paper will examine various aspects of Dahmer’s behavior and the nature of his crimes.
Experts claim behavior of this nature commences with specific activities throughout childhood that present themselves and develop throughout time. In Dahmer’s case, he appeared to be a normal child until his recovery from hernia surgery when he was 6 years old. By the time he was eight, his parents noticed he experienced difficulty developing social relationships and participating in group events. In other words, he was aloof, withdrawn and did not participate openly in conversation. By age 13 he developed a problem with alcohol that eventually led to a schism with his father and being kicked out of the Army for alcoholism. Although Dahmer did not kill animals while growing up, he was fascinated with them and would strip the skin from roadkill as well as other various dead animals he discovered.
He was also known amongst his high school classmates as a strange individual that occasionally enlisted in prankish behavior to attract attention. Only three weeks after graduating from high school, Dahmer committed his first murder. The victim, 18-year-old Steven Hicks, was hitchhiking to a concert and was lured to Dahmer’s home under the pretense of drinking then listening to music. When Hicks decided he wanted to leave, Dahmer struck him in the back of the head with a 10 pound dumbbell, masturbated over the body, then proceeded to cut the remains in pieces. He burned the flesh with acid and smashed the bones with a sledgehammer before burying the pieces under his home. In later testimony Dahmer admitted he had sexual fantasies about domination and when he was 16 had entertained the notion of killing, but did not follow through with it. Prior to the murder, he possessed no criminal history.
Many experts feel Dahmer does not the general profile of a serial killer. He really experienced no true problems with his home life, as his parents were loving and supportive until their divorce when he graduated from high school. He appeared to not endure any true obstacles to his health or well-being other than circumstances he brought on himself through his own anti-social behavior. His fascination with animals was certainly odd, but he claims it stemmed from his father removing a den of rodents beneath the house when he was 10.
Many serial murders engage in destroying animals and graduating to humans. They also experience a traumatic event or events in their childhood that guide their development. Dahmer certainly does not fit that profile. He does, however, exhibit traits of killing for sexual excitement, as he normally had sex with his victims prior to strangling them and relished the sense of power and control while killing them. For example, his drilling of holes in his victims’ skulls and them filling them with acid to damage their brain materials was a way of preserving control.
Dahmer was diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder and this situation does exhibit characteristics such as antisocial behavior. In Dahmer’s case, he felt an overwhelming loneliness after his hernia surgery that could never be satisfied throughout his entire life. Through his inability to develop relationships, as he had difficulty even making eye contact with people, this only increased his lack of association with others. Therefore, he was unable to feel something for individuals or identify with them in any way. They were merely vessels to fulfill his intense need to not be abandoned and to be allowed to be in control.
His extensive alcohol abuse is another characteristic of a mental illness, as many people that suffer from these types of disorders are often addicts. Ultimately, Dahmer’s mental disease and his lack of treatment of it led to his becoming a mass murderer. He enjoyed the feelings of power, control and sexual fulfillment so intensely shortly before he was apprehended, he was murdering a person weekly. He even told the police, he could not seem to stop himself. This is another divergence from the general profiles of a serial killer, as many often still will not reveal all the details of their crimes despite being caught.
For instance, Ted Bundy claimed he committed many more murders than he was blamed for, but would never reveal that number or the nature of the crimes. Dahmer on the other hand, was very free with information about himself, why he killed and what he did during the murders. There was no compulsion on his part to keep secrets, which again sets him apart from many other serial killers.
In yet another aside from the general typecast of a serial killer, Dahmer did not loathe his victims. In fact, it was quite the opposite, as Dahmer admitted he was attracted to them because he did like them. He did, however, have a specific physical type he was drawn to as he preferred men who were younger, had a nice physique and were not hirsute. His victims all ranged in age from 14-31 and he was not racist. In fact, a majority of his victims were African-American. Shockingly enough, they were not all homosexual either. What Dahmer was seeking was not an extensive homosexual relationship but to slake his thirst for power and control. Therefore, it did not matter to him whether his victim was heterosexual or not.
There were also circumstances or personality characteristics Dahmer sought when selecting his victims. He often picked up hitchhikers or men at gay bars or gay events. He wanted a person that was totally submissive, would be willing to take a risk and didn’t require a lot of effort to be swayed. Dahmer did not have extensive time on his hands to stalk his victims, as he did hold down a regular job six days a week.
Just as his urge to kill was impulsive, so was the need to do so. He simply could not waste time on platitudes. He also desired victims that might possibly not be in the best financial situations, such as those that did not have cars or might be a little down on their luck. This made it easier for him to talk them back into coming to his home. They might not possess the resources to engage in other activities.
Forensic Description of Said Violence
Due to the numerous photographs of his victims that Dahmer took before and after murdering them and which were discovered in his home when he was apprehended on July 22, 1991, police were able to piece together exactly what transpired for the majority of the murders. Dahmer strangled his victims and then dismembered them so he could keep a part of them with him forever. Strangulation also suggests an intimacy with violent sexual fantasies, which Dahmer also exhibited, often giving his victims drugs in their drinks so they could not resist his advances.
Upon examination of Dahmer’s residence, the police discovered photographs of a human skeleton hanging in his shower, heads in the freezer and in kitchen cabinets and of Dahmer cutting up his victims. The home held two heads in the refrigerator, two torsos in the freezer, four other torsos captured in some sort of receptacle, seven bodies with the skin completely stripped from them, pieces of genitals and a plethora of pictures. The arresting officers also discovered some type of shrine which Dahmer claimed was a place where he could honor the acts he committed.
Due to the nature of Dahmer’s crimes, the murder victims did not necessarily carry wounds and since the bodies were virtually destroyed by him, it would be difficult to assess that. Certainly there would be ligature marks or bruising from the apparatus used, but those could have been eradicated by Dahmer’s use of acid to melt skin and bone. He also disfigured the bodies by removing their limbs and drilling holes in their skulls. He wanted to completely possess each victim and this way of murdering then disposing of them illustrates that concept completely. He acknowledged to police part of his motive was to keep them with him forever. He was deeply afraid of abandonment and that was one of the primary reasons he developed into a serial murderer.