by Paola Giannetakis
University of Massachusetts
Jeffrey Dahmer murdered and dismembered 17 young men from 1987 to 1991, at the time he was arrested several body parts and skulls were found in his apartment. One of his victims escaped and when police questioned Dahmer, they discovered him to be collecting pictures of dismembered bodies and remains of dead bodies in his apartment. After his arrest he confessed all his homicides and described in details how he dismembered and dispose of them. He has been defined as necrophile, sadist maniac, psychotic, borderline psychopath. He was a loner who used to kill young gay men and conserve souvenir of their bodies. But why he did, is still not completely clear.
Childhood and adolescence
Jeffrey was born on May 21 in 1960, in Milwaukee; his parents were Lionel and Joyce Dahmer. Joyce ‘s father was severely alcoholic and he was distant and uninvolved with her. Joyce had problems during her pregnancy and started taking drugs to treat her sickness. After Jeffrey was born he had problems with his legs and was immobilized until was four months. Despite this problem he seemed to grew up as a healthy beautiful child, his achievement were of his age, but at one point his mother started to refuse to breast feed him. According to Brian Master’s reports, Joyce was showing to have an unstable behavior, continuously lamenting for the neighbor’s noises, and needing to be reinsured from her husband. Since she could not tolerate such stimulations, she increased the consumption of antidepressant and psychotropic drugs.
The couple moved six times in their first years of marriage. In 1962, the family moved in Iowa. Lionel had been accepted to a doctoral program in chemistry; in this period Jeffrey got sick very often and required several injections to treat the infections. When he started to go to preschool, he resulted as being very shy, while his interest for insects and animals was starting to take form, he, in facts, helped his father in nursing a owl they found and then have several animals. In one episode, when Jeffrey was four, Lionel found some dead animals in decomposition and at that time Jeffrey touched the bones and broke them into pieces .He liked to play with small bones, it was a thrilling experience to him. Lionel was almost absent, due to his career, and did not spent any time with Jeffrey, who was beginning to show to be shy and was avoiding those activities usually children love, such as those characterized by physical contacts and competition. At the age of six, in 19 March 1964, Jeffrey undergone hernia surgery, when he woke up from the anesthesia he was worried someone could have cut his genitals, the pain lasted for one week. After a long recovery period his parents remember he turned to be very loner. Meanwhile his mother depression was increasing and so was her consumption of antidepressants. When Lionel completed his doctorate, he found a job in Ohio, so the entire family had to move again. The atmosphere of the Dahmer’s home was of characterized by continuous litigations and quarrels between the parents.
When he started to go to school, he was terrified and avoidant, his teacher told his parents that he was not interested in schoolwork and that is was very shy. Jeffrey was growing more and more isolated, lacking of a parental figure, his father was too involved in his activities, and his mother was suffering from serious psychological problems. Jeffrey showed a low tolerance to frustration, probably as his mother, but on the contrary of her, did not externalize, rather he was showing nothing more then silence; his coping skills were limited to go walking in the woods or exploring animal’s interiors. The arguments between his parents worsened. The disease of his mother and the conflicts within the family reached a critical level, Joyce was sent to a neuropsychiatry structure for one month. According to Masters, Jeffrey felt guilt of his mother sickness; he thought to be the cause of all the problems in his family and had a precocious alienation from his family. This apathy was evident as was his internal suffering, but he was never able to communicate such feelings.
In the coming years, in high school he was considered a strange boy, reserved, who was showing bizarre behaviors, in these years he started to drink a lot, he used to go to school with scotch bottle. Although he did well at school, his behavior was often extreme.
One day in 1975 some guys from the neighborhood walked behind of his house and found the head of a dog impaled on a stick and the body of the animal skinned attached to a tree. Jeffrey although was very obsessed with animal’s bodies, never killed an animal, he was not interested in their suffering, and rather he used to collect dead animals. He was not excited by inflicting pain to an alive creature but to the dismember of the body.
According to Masters this specific type of obsession on knowing life mechanisms are typical of necrophile. (Masters, 1993).
In 1978, during the last year of school the marriage of his parents ended. A few weeks after being abandoned by his mother, Dahmer gave an auto stop to a nineteen-year-old named Steven Hicks and invited him home. The two men drank some beer, chatted and had sex. When Hicks said he had to get back on travel, Dahmer smashed his skull and strangled him. Then dismembered the body and put the pieces into plastic bags. He was eighteen.
Later he enrolled at Ohio State University and for a while he tried to attend, but only after few months he abandoned his studies and joined the army.
To his comrades he seemed like a normal boy until he began to drink, showing a very different mood, aggressive and arrogant. Although he signed for six years, the Army dismissed him after two. He went to live with his grandmother West Allis, near Milwaukee, and found work at a donation center. In 1985 he was hired as a laborer in the Ambrosia Chocolate Company.
That same year, something else happened. Something decisive and terrible, his disease, remained dormant for almost six years, came back. One night, along with an occasional companion, took a room at the Ambassador Hotel. The two men drank, had sex and then fell asleep. When Dahmer wakened the next morning, the other man was dead and the blood dripped from his mouth. From this point on, he stopped fighting his instincts, he gave up and killed again: again it was a homosexual met in a bar and brought to his grandmother’s house. Dahmer kept his victim’s skull as a souvenir after having cleaned all traces of meat .Not long after another victim followed the previous. (See appendix I).
In subsequent years, Dahmer had several problems with the law. In 1986 he was arrested for indecent conduct after urinating in front of some children. Two years later, for luring a boy of thirteen, he took him in his apartment in Milwaukee, gave him a drink with a sedative and sexually molested him. He was arrested with a second-degree charge for sexual assault and enticement of minors with an immoral intent, he spent ten months in prison before being released in May 1990.
Over the next year, Dahmer murdered three other men. At one point the neighbors noticed the nauseating smell coming from his apartment, but when they knocked on his door to protest, he successfully managed the situation explaining that the freezer was broken and the meat had gone bad. His gentle manner was so convincing that the neighbors believed him. In May 1991, was about to be discovered. Shortly after the midnight on 27, two women saw Dahmer chasing a teenager on the street naked and bleeding. They called the police, but Dahmer was able to escape thanks to his power of persuasion. He convinced the agents that he and the boy were lovers engaged in a harmless quarrel. The police went away, leaving the boy stunned in the control of Dahmer. Later, what remained of the boy was found with the other human remains in Jeffrey’s house.
In the two months that followed, Dahmer had five other victims. Until, one night
Late July 1991, two Milwaukee police officers saw a man staggering towards them with a pair of handcuffs in his wrists. He was gesticulating to stop the car, the man pointed to Dahmer’s home and told a confused story of a white blonde man who wanted to kill and eat him. The officers went to control and discovered the chamber of horrors of Jeffrey Dahmer.
The drawer of the bedroom was filled with Polaroid’s of pieces of human bodies and mutilated bodies; in the freezer they found three human heads a several organs: intestines, lungs, livers, kidneys and heart. Dahmer told police he had put aside the heart “to eat it later.”
Another head was kept in the refrigerator, seven skulls and five complete skeletons were conserved in different points of the apartment, and they also found sexual organs in a pot, bottles of acid, chloroform and formaldehyde.
And all these gruesome trophies were the remains of eleven victims.
“ Cases of serial killing share commonalities and characteristics; anger low self esteem, fantasy, facilitation, and objectification of the victims are all common denominators in understanding the etiological rules of serial murder” (Hichey, 2010)
According to Hickey, Jeffrey can be categorized as a Hedonistic serial killer, and a lust murderer (Holmes and Holmes, 2009), his killings involved sex with the victims often post mortem. He had more then three victims, and the characteristics of his actions evidence both elements of organized and non organized offender (Ressler, 1988, Ressler classifies Dahmer as an organized offender, premeditating his actions, convincing victims to follow him in his home, take advantage of them and dispose of their bodies, he also exhibited patterns of disorganized offenders. He labels him as mix offender (Ressler, 1992).
He was both planning his actions, but same time he was non socially competent, but he had specific victims and specific method. The crime for him represented the climax of an elaborate erotic sexual fantasy. The victims were unknown, and between a crime and the other he had periods of remission that proportionally decreased, the last killings had shorter interval one from the other. He had some type of resistance at the early stage; six years passed from his first victim to the second. But after this point he did not had any moral sense to block him or it was too weak to inhibit his desire, the victims were therefore lived as inanimate objects or inferior and he did not proved remorse. It is obvious that he had extremely aberrant sexual behavior.
The way in which he grown up made him unable to experience something that even vaguely resembled the true love. The psychopathology of Dahmer, as his behavior is polymorphic.
Modus Operandi and Signature
The MO includes techniques to commit the crime, these techniques may evolve and change, Jeffrey MO was simple, his first objective was to bring home the victim he had chosen, he used to meet possible victims at a gay bar and offer free alcohol and money to shot naked photographs or tell he wanted to make a porn movie. Once alone, he would drug them, and kill them. The majority of his victims were strangled. Signatures are usually actions not necessary to complete the murder. Mutilations are considered paraphilyc footprints, and are extensions of the paraphilyc fantasies they help the offender in realizing his fantasies. Post mortem dismemberment can be considered a signature. (Hickey, 2010). Jeffrey collected trophies (body parts) and souvenirs (pictures) all those were later used for sexual arousal. After the victim death, he could masturbate over the body or have sex with the body, both by sodomization but also penetrating the viscera with his penis. Then he dismembered the body and dispose of the remains according to a project he designed in his mind. He kept parts of the bodies including the skulls, and often-refrigerated organs, which were lately eaten. He worked with several substances to clean the bones from the meat.
Fantasies, paraphilias and homosexuality
Hickey writes that “Fantasies can be reinforced by powerful sex drives that facilitate unusual behaviors “ (Hickey, 2010) and citing Ressler “ sexual murder is based on fantasies”. The purpose of the fantasy is to take control of the victim; the control represents the tentative to take control the killer has sought since childhood experiences. It is know that very few serial killers had a healthy relation with their parents.
Jeffrey as a child was thrilled by interiors of animals, at one point the animal was not enough and during his puberty his fantasies started to be focused on the body of a male, he had few intercourses with a friend, but later he started to preferred a body of an athletic man that should stay immovable as dead, he had fantasies of possessing a body not of loving another person. Especially he used to concentrate over the abdomen. This is explained as a paraphilias, a disorder of sexuality. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV TR), there are several forms of paraphilias: exhibitionism, fetishism, frotteurism, pedophilia, sexual masochism, sexual sadism, transvestic fetishism, and voyeurism. There is also a category for Paraphilic non otherwise specified, including necrophilia, and zoophilia, also according the manual it is not uncommon for an individual to have more than one paraphilias. Jeffrey desired to have someone passively at his disposition. In this perspective he considered himself to be unable in reciprocal relationships thus preferring a passive partner. To kill someone, was the only way to make that person to stay and not leave. He fantasized over creating a slave, a kind of zombie, who could sexually satisfy him and stay with him. He ended up killing his victims but keeping them with him by collecting their flesh and bones and sometime parts of genitals. He was searching some passive sex with someone or better with something. Initially there has been a tentative to control such fantasies, but as the time passed the desire grew intensively and the torment inside his mind did not let any escape.
Paraphilic cannibalism is used to describe a person who gains sexual pleasure from consuming human flesh. Dahmer admitted of having eat only the meat of one of his victims, however in an interview he clearly admitted he used to eat their flesh as it was a way to keep them with him and because this gave him a kind of sexual excitement. (Dahmer A&E documentary)
Jeffrey seemed to enjoy the dismembering of the bodies and used to take pictures of the body parts. This according to Hickey is a souvenir that many serial killer do collect in order to remember the victims and the pleasure they derived from their crimes. (Hickey, 2010)
According to Hickey Dahmer was suffering of necrofetishism, he was fetishist of dead bodies, and he kept dead bodies in his home and slept with them.
Necrophile homicide is when someone kills another person to get his body for sexual pleasure. This type of offender also defined as necrosadist; include Partialism, when he collects specific parts of the body. And is defined cannibal when eats the body parts in order to keep the victims with him. (Hickey, 2010).
Having sex with dead corpses, with viscera can be also seen a denial of his homosexuality, Dahmer expressed blame onto his victims, instead of hating himself. Palermo, during the trial, concluded that these murders were the result of an unconscious hate of his victims, that these murders were the result of his ambiguous homosexuality. Pedophilia is also considered as one type of paraphilias, Dahmer was arrested for molesting children, for exhibitionism and obscene acts in front of them. In conjunction with this, most of his victims were young. Dahmer’s father said Jeffrey was sexually molested at the age of eight. According to the classification of Holmes; Inadequate Pedophiles search for children because they feel weak and unable they feel to be better managing the situation with a child. Sadist child molesters are more likely to focus on young boys and to be fatal to them. They also can mutilate the bodies and are often considered antisocial and sociopaths. Often have criminal records. Dahmer have characteristics of both these type of child molesters. At the time of the charges, three psychologists examined him and they said of him he was angry, evasive, and manipulative.
Dr. Wahlstrom, a psychiatrist, who provided a diagnosis during the trial, claimed tat Dahmer was a psychotic, a man suffering from long time of a mental illness never cured for. His fantasies about creating a zombie were clear evidence of these hallucinating beliefs.
Dr Palermo also testified in court and provided a picture of Dahmer as being a sadist maniac, he added that the aggressiveness and anger feelings are those who pushed him to kill, the sexual desire was only a vehicle for these feelings to be externalized. As Dahmer was considered unable to build any kind of relationship, this frustration grew up and ended as anger and hate. He killed those men because he wanted to destroy the attraction he had for them. He could such destroy the part of himself he hated most.
Dr Park Dietz, described Dahmer as premeditating with attention his crimes. As one organized offender, he lured his victims during weekends, preparing his sedative powders to add them into this victim’s cocktail. He added that Dahmer was always empowering himself with alcohol because otherwise he would not be able to kill. He was a Paraphilic, but not a sadist, since he tried to avoid sufferings to his victims. Dietz considered the deliriums of creating a zombie as a result of a sane mind. (Masters, 1993)
What are known is that Jeffrey’s mother was disturbed to a certain degree and that his father was almost absent.
Anders, studied relations’ disturbance during infancy, he classified relational disorders as those situations in which the relation between child and caregiver have distorted interactional models, these are difficult to be modified and lead to regulation disorders in children. Anders says that a balanced relationship between caregiver and child is based on synchronicity and reciprocity, a mother who suddenly refuse to provide his child with breast feeding is alike a mother who refuse to hold physically the child. What is known is that when the dyad is maladjusted a series of disorders in children may develop. The Feeding scale is a measure that analyze the feeding styles and the behavior of the mother in the nurturing, according to results of some studies, is evident how in contexts in which the children and the mother show to have maladaptive feeding patterns, child are more likely to be distant from mutual involvement .The Still Face paradigm, is a tool that evidenced how children of 6 months are able to recognize their mother’s depression. They are less likely to react to stressors, because already over stimulated on this sense. Jeffrey’s apathy and avoidant behavior could be a result of his mother being clearly disturbed herself. Measuring the impact on Jeffrey development is difficult but should be taken in consideration. The environment in which he grew up can be considered as characterized by several risk factors on developing psychological related impairments. Jeffrey also feared to be alone. After his parents divorced he was left alone from his mother without food, he was immature and his father found him after two weeks in a total mess. In these two weeks alone he killed his very first victim. (Masters, 1993).
Under psychodynamic terms, Jeffrey grew up conditioned by the association of death with pleasure, he started with an excitement for internal bodies of the animals, then in puberty viscera and bones became the object of his sexual pulsions. Normally children focus their primary sexual pulsions toward their opposite sex parent, then gradually move it toward one of their peers. This is known as Oedipal stage. According to psychodynamic theories, those children who do not healthy resolve the oedipal conflict are more likely to suffer of psychological disorders. In his sick development, his libido was focused on visceral and organs and bones. In a process known as fetishism, the pulsions are directed toward an unusual object. Therefore he could achieve satisfaction and sexual gratification only in presence of death.
His father said that as a young child Jeffrey avoided eye contact, he exhibited difficulties in the interaction with other children, and seemed to be emotionally distant (Masters, 1993). Jeffrey was lacking social skills; he did not know hot to handle relations with others. Despite this evident difficulty no concrete intervention was offered to him.
Jeffrey inability to build relationships, worsened after his adolescence, as a young adult he did not had friends, his homosexual encounters never tied him in a relationships. He was not close with his parents. He was alone with his fantasies.
Schizoid disorder of personality, according to DSM IV, is characterized by
“A lack of interest in social relationships, a tendency towards a solitary lifestyle, secretiveness, and emotional coldness”
This pattern is also similar to autistic children; a functioning type of autism is the Asperger’s syndrome of which some scholars believe he was suffering.
Jeffrey’s isolation from his peers and the lack of the normalizing effect peers may produce could have empowered his abnormal, fantasies. Dahmer’s lack of social skills was evident he was unable to tie with others and in this sick development he substituted partners with corpses.
Sadism and control
The sadistic pleasure is not achieved only inflicting pain.
It also has much to do with the assertion of power, the desire to dominate, to reduce a victim in a state of total submission. Some psychiatrist defined Dahmer as a sadist others did not. What is known is that even if he used Halcyon to sedate his victims, he did tremendous mutilations of their body’s dead or alive, the use of sedation could only mean that was a result of his sense of inferiority and insecurity; he felt unable to overwhelm them. The psychological reasons for sadism could be identified as the result of psychological suffering, he grew up considering himself of poor value and, as a defense mechanism, he refugee in himself, but his self esteem and self concept were diminished, at this point, a known coping skill is to attribute others the same poor consideration. This belief facilitates to consider others as objects to take for satisfaction. The only way to overcome that sense of impotence is to take control over another human being.
In the most extreme form, Dahmer was trying to create a slave, by transforming a man into a completely passive object, like a doll that could belong to him entirely. He was incapable of normal human relations with consenting partners then sought gratification with inanimate bodies, which could not opposed resistance.
Depression and alcohol dependence
Dahmer seemed a depressed individual since his childhood; his brother reported he never smiled. He had not interest in his age typical activities and his emotions were flattened.
Dahmer had a long history of abuse of alcohol he used to drink during classes, he was required to detoxicate from it but never really succeeded. He was dishonorably discharged from the Army for alcohol abuse (Masters, 1993).
Paraphilias are comorbid with alcohol abuse and with depression: alcohol is used as a self-medication; it helps the individual to lower or avoid painful emotions. (DSM-IV-TR) Alcohol also helps the paraphile to increase disinhibition and help him to engage in heinous actions that he could possibly feel unable to commit when sober. According to defense expert, Wahlstrom, Dahmer had to drink to murder his victims, since he did not like to kill. (Masters, 1993)
Despite the more or less notorious professionals, who contributed to explain the behavior of Jeffrey Dahmer; the information at disposition does not completely clarify his profile. He exhibits characteristic of organized non-social offender and also of asocial offender. Some considered him sadist, pedophile, hedonistic serial killer, but also he wanted to completely control his victims. What is more powerful then eat another person’s body? By annihilating his victims and dispose of their bodies at his will, he got what he desired. He lived between delirium and rationality, being concrete and hallucinated at the same time. To explain why he did and what he did is not a simple task; Ressler said that a category for him has yet to be defined. In attempting a discussion; both nature and nurture contributed to a development of a personality disorder, in comorbidity with abnormal fantasies and fetishism that ended up in necrophilia, necrofetishism and necrophagia. He wanted to control completely his victims, choosing them, killing them, and eating them. Rationally he managed his actions to obtain what he desired. He was seriously sick, and his sickness progressively devoured his integrity, he lost any moral sense or respect for other’s lives.
Jeffrey Dahmer victims
Date of death
Stephen Hicks 19 June 6, 1978
Steven Tuomi 26 September 15, 1987
James “Jamie” Doxtator 14 January 1, 1988
Richard Guerrero 25 March 24, 1988
Anthony Sears 24 March 25, 1989
Eddie Smith 36 June 1990
Ricky Beeks 27 July 1990
Ernest Miller 22 September 1990
David Thomas 23 September 1990
Curtis Straughter 19 February 1991
Errol Lindsey 19 April 1991
Tony Hughes 31 May 24, 1991
Konerak Sinthasomphone 14 May 27, 1991
Matt Turner 20 June 30, 1991
Jeremiah Weinberger 23 July 5, 1991
Oliver Lacy 23 July 12, 1991
Joseph Bradehoft 25 July 19, 1991
Source: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeffrey_Dahmer
Note: There are date discrepancies between different sources on victim’s lists.
Masters, Brian. (1993). The Shrine of Jeffrey Dahmer. Hodder & Stoughton.
Ressler, Robert, Shachtman, Tom, & Yaakov, Juliette. (1992). Who ever fight the monsters. Hw Wilson Co.
Eric Hickey, W. (2010). Serial murderers and their victims. Belmont, Ca: Wadsworth.
DSM-IV-TR Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. (2000). American Psychiatric Association.
Judith L. Rapoport, Deborah R, Ismond, (1996). DSM-IV Guida alla diagnosi dei disturbi dell’infanzia e dell’adolescenza. Masson.
A&E Jeffrey Dahmer: The Monster Within DVD