Jeffrey Dahmer, an American serial killer and sex offender, born May 21, 1960, in Milwaukee Wisconsin. Who murdered 17 men from 1978 to 1991. The son of Lionel and Joyce Dahmer, and older brother of David Dahmer. He had a seemingly normal childhood and high school career. His alleged Asperger’s syndrome and his borderline personality disorder both lead to his killer mindset. The dismemberment, drugging, and taking photos of his victims were all for sexual pleasure. He wanted to keep some of their body parts so he wouldn’t forget him, and they won’t actually leave him, which he feared greatly.
Jeffrey had a fairly normal childhood, at least in the eyes of his parents. He was an energetic and bubbly boy, who enjoyed weekly treats at the soda shop and playing with his dog (Chin, 1994). However, teachers believed differently from his parents, a first-grade teacher thought Jeffrey was neglected at home, describing him as “reserved”. Neither of his parents spent much time with him, his father was trying to earn his chemistry degree, and his mother was often ill. Jeffrey’s parents’ had a fairly rough marriage full of arguing (Biographics, 2018).
As a four-year-old Dahmer was fascinated with animal anatomy, he would help his father with cleaning animal remains out from under their house. He was fascinated by the sounds that the bones made when he dropped them on certain surfaces. He then started collecting animal carcasses whenever he could. Dismembering bodies and keeping them in jars in the shed behind their home. Jeffrey’s father saw this as nothing other than curiosity (Biographics, 2018)
Lionel finished school with a Ph. D. in chemistry, the family moved to Ohio and relocated three times before settling down in Bath, Ohio. After the move, Dahmer started becoming withdrawn and socially awkward. To make him feel better about the move, at seven years old he was given a dog, which was named Frisky.
Also to make Dahmer feel more involved his parents allowed him to name his younger brother. Jeffrey named him David. Lionel forced Jeffrey to interact socially with other children. Jeffrey and his father planted gardens and raised lambs for competition with the local 4H.
At the age of ten Dahmer’s mother, Joyce was hospitalized for anxiety. This was the event that triggered the failure of Joyce and Lionel’s marriage. From birth to six or seven years old, the most important relation to an adult figure a child could have is their mother. Relations between the child and the mother in serial killers was distant and almost neglectful (Gerdes, 2000, p. 99).
Dahmer increasingly became more interested in nature and what animals would look like on the inside. He collected carcasses and skeletons of animals and started dissecting them. In 1975 at the age of fifteen, a head of a dog was found in the woods impaled on a stick. Eric Tyson, who grew up across the street, admitted to police that he and many other neighbors have found many different animals, from frogs to cats, impaled or staked to trees (Goleman, 1991).
An agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation Behavioral Sciences Unit, Robert K. Ressler says, “murderers like this very often start out by killing and torturing animals as kids” (Goleman, 1991).
Around the age fourteen or fifteen, while in high school, Dahmer was figuring out his sexuality. He found that he was only sexually attracted to men. He started to fantasize about killing, dismemberment, and violence intertwined with sex. Since the fantasies were unspeakable he never spoke of them. As time went by Dahmer was traumatized by his sexual fantasies, which led him to become an alcoholic.
His classmates in high school would say he was the class clown. Where the saying “doing a Dahmer” originated. He was always polite to adults, saying “yes ma’am” and “no sir”. He respected the teachers. He dressed nicely. He was fully capable of being an A student, only failing classes because he wasn’t interested in the topic. Most aren’t encouraged to achieve much in life, and are constantly disruptive in school (Gerdes, 2000, p. 104), like Dahmer acting out to be funny and “doing a Dahmer”.
In 1987, Dahmer’s parents ended their marriage and went separate ways. Divorce is hard on a child, most serial killers come from dysfunctional settings, many dysfunctional because of divorce (Gerdes, 2000, p. 100). They argued over custody of Dahmer’s younger brother David and because Dahmer himself was eighteen-years-old, the court was unsure as to which parent he should stay with. The fighting over custody of David led to Dahmer’s feeling of abandonment like they didn’t care about what became of him. His mother won custody of David and moved away to Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. His father disappeared, leaving Dahmer alone in their home in Bath along with his fantasies.
When a person visualizes killing somebody over and over, eventually a time similar to their fantasies will be presented, and they’ll act on their fantasies. The killer may dissociate from the crime, either fully, or partially. The dissociation, when a person enters their subconscious that is not accessible by the conscious process, it allows for a person to avoid the presence of feelings and memories (Gerdes, 2000, p. 108). When the killer returns to reality, they are often overcome with guilt, surprise, and dismay about their actions. The killer usually becomes repulsed, and there is also a sense of satisfaction, peace, and excitement present. Serial killers like Dahmer usually find a profound feeling of peace when they kill, and they are more likely to kill again to fulfill that feeling of peace (Gerdes, 2000, p. 112-113). Pornography, alcohol, and drugs can act as facilitators, although the factors that would initiate their homicidal behaviors are unclear. When there is nothing to stand in the way of the person, serial killers would act more and more on their fantasies to make them come true. Sometimes reality is different than the fantasy, so the murderer would repeat the activity until it is as accurate as possible with their fantasy (Gerdes, 2000, p. 109).
Children that are unable to develop social skills, also have trouble with sexual skills. Instead of going out to parties in the future they are turning in on themselves and developing fantasies. The fantasies then would replace human encounters. The child eventually becomes dependent on those fantasies in the future (Gerdes, 2000, p. 102). People that are sexually dysfunctional have difficulty maintaining mature and consensual sexual experiences.
His first victim, Steven Hicks, was a hitchhiker that Dahmer picked up. They had a few drinks in Dahmer’s home. Steven thought it was time to leave, and Dahmer with his new sense of abandonment was afraid of him leaving. To keep Steven from leaving, Dahmer crushed his skull with a barbell, then strangled him to death. Dahmer then dismembered Steven, putting his pieces into plastic bags, then burying them. He would later dig up Steven’s body and crush his bones into dust and spread it around the woods behind his house.
After the killing of Steven Hicks, Dahmer was snapped back into a sense of normalcy. He tried going to college and ended up signing into the military for a six-year term as a combat medic in Germany. After about two years the army discharged him due to his excessive drinking. He started to turn his life around after moving to Wisconsin to live with his grandmother until he was arrested for public indecency (Biographics, 2018). He got a job at Ambrosia Chocolate Factory as a store clerk.
Dahmer picked up his next victim, Steven Tuomi, from a local gay bar. Dahmer has no recollection of killing Steven. Dahmer only remembers waking up next to Steven, dead. Dahmer then headed out to the store to buy a large suitcase to fit Steven’s body in. He took his body to his grandmother’s basement and dismembered Steven, so he would fit in the suitcase and dispose of it (Biographics, 2018).
During his killing period, he had an incident at his work as a clerk at the Ambrosia Chocolate Factory. Where he drugged and did sexual things to a thirteen-year-old. He received five years probation, one year at a work release camp, and he had to register as a sex offender (Crime Museum).
Dahmer’s grandmother started to report discoveries to Lionel. She found a stolen male mannequin in his closet, along with a .357 Magnum underneath his bed. The were untraceable smells coming from her garage (Chin, 1994). Dahmer was able to claim two other victims while living with his grandmother until she kicked him out because of his drinking and late nights out. She never knew about Dahmer’s doings (Biographics). Being kicked out by his own grandmother solidified the feelings of being unwanted.
In 1986 Dahmer was arrested for molesting a teenager. His father told the authorities that he was sexually molesting by another boy in the neighborhood when he was eight years old (Goleman, 1991). Being molested at a young age dents the development of one’s sexual behavior, making it hard to have relationships like Dahmer did. Many serial killers are sexually driven. Domination is crucial in crimes with a sexual theme. Sadistic sex expresses how one has control of the other. In serial murder, the killing of their partner enhances the sense of control (Gerdes, 2000, p. 91).
Dahmer’s preferred method of killing was strangling because he thought it was the most humane and least painful way to kill them. He didn’t want them to suffer (2018, April 25). He would only strangle them when they were unconscious, so they could have a peaceful death.
He killed two others in 1988, one in 1989, and claimed four in 1990. He lured men from bars who he then drugged, raped, and strangled. Some victims he had sexual intercourse with, even after they were dead. He took photographs of his victims throughout the entire process (Crime Museum). Dahmer had a specific body type he would look for, he liked long, lean, smooth, and muscular body types. He killed a total of at least seventeen men from 1978-1991. All following the same body type, and motive. Dahmer even practiced cannibalism, with some victims. He never wanted his victims to leave him and he believed that they could be a part of him, so he ate them (Goleman, 1991). He even mummified body parts of his victims so he could keep the most attractive parts of each person with him.
In May 1991, Dahmer had a close call. One of his victims, who was fourteen years old, escaped but was hurt enough that he couldn’t get far. The police were called by some neighbors and passersbys. The boy was unable to coherently explain anything to the cops. When asked, Dahmer lied about the boy’s age and said they were a couple that was in a domestic dispute. The boy was left with Dahmer and was later killed in the ritualistic ways of Dahmer’s life (Biographics, 2018).
Jeffrey Dahmer was caught on July 22, 1991. The body parts were found by authorities, and he later confessed to seventeen murders and was sentenced fifteen life sentences. He wasn’t caught before because his caseworker failed to do home visits like they were required to when he was on probation (Waxman, 2016). When with the fourteen-year-old boy, the police escorted both Dahmer and the boy to Dahmer’s apartment. They failed to do a basic search, and Dahmer was able to freely keep killing (Biographics, 2018).
Dahmer is said to have borderline personality disorder. Borderline personality disorder in a person is shown through impulsive behaviors, feelings of low self-worth, intense mood swings, and issues with interpersonal relationships (Dangerous Minds). People with borderline personality disorder tend to avoid possible “abandonment”, unstable family relations, intense anger issues, and trust issues (NIMH). Dahmer had a sense of abandonment when his parents divorced and left him alone in their family home. He had issues with creating relations with people in fear of abandonment. He killed some victims because he didn’t want them to leave him and increase his senses of abandonment.
It has been argued that Dahmer should be diagnosed with schizotypal personality disorder. A schizotypal personality disorder is characterized by disturbed thoughts and behavior, unusual fears and beliefs, and difficulty forming and maintaining relationships (Psychology Today). People with schizotypal personality disorder are uncomfortable in close relationships, have eccentric behavior, and have unusual perceptions of reality (Psychology Today). Dahmer was plagued by his fantasies, and disturbing thoughts, he acted out frequently, and he always had issues with relationships.
To explain Dahmer’s actions, it is believed that he had Asperger’s Syndrome. This wasn’t a true diagnosis due to the fact that this belief was established post-mortem. Asperger’s Syndrome is within the autism spectrum, it is described as a mild form of autism. People with Asperger’s often don’t know how to socially interact with others, and are socially awkward; they lack empathy, some are borderline obsessive, they possess excellent language skills, but are unable to understand subtleties of language; they also tend to have average or above average IQs (Autism Society). People diagnosed with Asperger’s compelled to follow routines. Asperger’s was and is something that a lot of criminals that have committed horrible acts have in common. Many who think and act like Dahmer have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (Jeffrey Dahmer and Asperger’s Disorder).
Through life, Dahmer is seen to have a set routine for things like, how he dismembered his victims, how he ritualistically saved the skulls of his victims, and how he preserved their body parts. Having a routine for everything is a part of having Asperger’s and Dahmer shows this (Jeffrey Dahmer and Asperger’s Disorder).
Due to the fact that people with Asperger’s have trouble with social interactions can explain why Dahmer was an isolated and reserved child. Dahmer had difficulty interacting with peers and was seen as awkward. This gave him more time to be alone, dissecting animals, preserving them, and collecting animal bones (Jeffrey Dahmer and Asperger’s Disorder).
Dahmer was borderline obsessive, he was obsessed with keeping his victims’ skulls especially the more attractive ones. As a child, he liked to repeatedly drop animal bones just for the sound, which then prompted him to collect animal bones and carcasses. He always took pictures of his victims in different poses and when in the process of dismemberment. He would then use those images for future references. Another thing that played into his obsessiveness is the urge to be in control (Jeffrey Dahmer and Asperger’s Disorder).
Dahmer had a fairly lonely childhood, although at the moment it seemed very normal. He had a hard time with alcohol. He struggled with social interactions and sexual interactions, making it difficult to have close relationships. His mental disorders made it hard to socialize and created abandonment issues, pushing him to kill, just in order to keep his victims with him. Interacting with his unconscious victims and the dismembering of their bodies filled his sexual desires and fantasies.