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Jeffrey Dahmer: The truth behind one of America's most prolific serial killers

The serial killers's early life is the prime focus a new critically acclaimed biopic from the UK, My Friend Dahmer
UPDATED JAN 31, 2020
(Source: Police Department)
(Source: Police Department)

The fascination with serial killers can be gauged from the number of works they inspire or are based on.

There have been many serial killers over the years who have captured the imagination of the world, and their vile actions have been the subject of many a documentary, film, and TV series.

We all are familiar with Jack the Ripper, John Wayne Gacy, Myra Hindley, and Ian Brady, but one of the most hardened serial killers to have walked the world was American Jeffrey Dahmer.

Dahmer was behind a series of murders in Ohio and Wisconsin, with all of his victims being men. He was convicted of 15 murders and was jailed for life only to meet his end at the hands of inmates who killed him.

Now a critically acclaimed biopic from the UK, My Friend Dahmer, focuses on his early life, to explain the mind of one of the most notorious serial killers the world has known.

How it all began: Dahmer's animal obsession

Born on May 21, 1969, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer had a relatively normal childhood before he went through a double hernia surgery. His father, chemistry student Lionel Dahmer, and his mother, teletype machinist Joyce Annette, described him as being happy before the surgery.

Young Dahmer's mood took a dark turn when his mother, who suffered from severe anxiety problems, would often fight with his father. Life at home became quite tense when this started happening. His mother even tried to take her own life by overdosing on pills (meant for her medication) that she was hooked on to.

His serial killer ways started at an early age. Dahmer was a withdrawn and shy student in elementary school and he took a liking to animals. Not in the cuddly sort of way, unfortunately. The young boy and his friends would often dismember helpless creatures. Dahmer's obssesion with the animals were their bones.

Once, the budding serial killer even decapitated a dog's carcass and nailed its skull to a tree. His parents failed to see all these early warning signs, with Lionel Dahmer even encouraging his son's obsession thinking it was all done in the name of science. He even showed young Dahmer how to dissolve chicken bones in bleach after his son asked him how to get rid of bones when he was only 8-years-old.

Alcohol and Dahmer's closeted homosexuality

When he was in high school, Dahmer was considered a paraiah and he developed an unhealthy alcohol problem by the time he was 14-years-old. In spite of being known as an extremely intelligent young boy, he got average grades at school. It was during this time of internal struggle in his life that he figured out he was gay but he hid it well from his family. He is known to have had a very brief relationship with another young boy but it was never consummated.

After the relationship fizzled out, it is said that Dahmer started having fantasies about rape, which was mixed with dominance and sadism.This amalgamated with his interest in butchering and mutilating innocent animals. Dahmer first thought of trying out his sick fantasies on an attractive stranger whom Dahmer saw jogging quite often and started obsessing over.

Shortly before Dahmer graduated from school, his parents got divorced. His mother was given custody of David, his younger brother. By the time Dahmer reached the age of an adult, he had lived alone in the old family home for sometime before deciding to move in with his mother and brother into their home that they shared with some relatives.

The birth of a monster: Dahmer's first victim

Shortly after he gratuated from high school in 1978, Dahmer met 18-year-old hitchhiker Steven Mark Hicks. He baited the young hitchhiker and took him back to the now-empty Dahmer home with the promise of having a good time over a couple of drinks. 

Hicks went along with Dahmer and after spending some time together, he tried to leave the home. Dahmer, realising his opportunity was sliiping away, clobbered young Hicks on the head with a dumbbell and then strangled him to death. The budding serial killer masturbated on Hicks' corpse before dissecting the body and burying it in his garden in a shallow grave.

His work done for the moment, Dahmer left and returned to the grave a few weeks later. He dug up the body, removed the flesh from the bones and dissolved it in acid. Dahmer crushed the bones and scattered the bone powder in the woods nearby.

Time in the Army

Dahmer was a student at the Ohio State University but he dropped out soon due to his alcoholism. His father suggested that he join the army, which Dahmer did.

The young man did very well in the army in the beginning and displayed performances; but then the other side of him slowly started emerging again.

While he was in Baumholder in West Germany for a year and a half, it is reported that Dahmer raped two soldiers, one being a continuous victim of Dahmer for as long as he was stationed there. He was discharged in 1981 because he was said to be unfit for service. This was allegedly because of his alcoholism, which was still a problem at this time in his life.

Dahmer did not want to disappoint his father, who was the one who asked him to join the military in the first place, so he moved to Miami Beach, Florida. Unfortunately, his alcoholic tendencies just wouldn't let go of him and before he knew it, all his money washed away in his addiction. Eventually, he called his father and asked for help. 

It was at this time that Dahmer moved to Ohio to live with his father and his stepmother.

Dahmer's first arrest

In 1981, Dahmer was arrested for the first time for drunk and disorderly behaviour which led to an unsuccessful attempt by his father and stepmother to get him off the bottle. He was sent to live with his grandmother in Wisconsin shortly after. Initially, everything went well because he loved his grandmother and things looked as if they would turn out for the better for the troubled young man.

Then, one year later, Dahmer was arrested for indecent exposure in a public park after he was fired from his job as a phlebotomist. A phlebotomist is a person who draws blood from a patient for clinical or medical testing, transfusions, donations, or research. 

In 1985, the soon-to-be out of the closet homosexual started exploring the vibrant gay scene in Wisconsin. Contrary to popular belief, Dahmer was not arrested for drugging and raping other customers at some of the bathhouses that he used to regularly visit. He had been banned from various bathhouses for twelve different instances of being inappropriate. He continued to, however, lace the drinks of his victims with sleeping pills at hotels and then raped them when they were unconscious. Dahmer is said to have not liked it when his partners moved when they were having sex. 

In 1986, he was arrested after he was caught masturbating close to two young boys but he was only charged with disorderly conduct and got one year of probation as a sentence.

Incident at The Ambassador Hotel: Dahmer's second victim

One evening, in 1987, he met 25-year-old Steven Tuomi at a bar in Wisconsin. Dahmer convinced the young stranger to go back with him to The Ambassador Hotel with the pretence that they would have a couple of drinks together, like his first victim, but the real plan was to drug and rape him.

The morning after the two young men went to the hotel, Dahmer claimed that he woke up and found Tuomi dead underneath him. Tuomi had his chest crushed and severely bruised in some places. Now-18-year-old Dahmer also claimed that he did not remember how Tuomi died but he had a rough idea of how when he looked at his fists. He put the dead 25-year-old's body into a large suitcase and took it to his grandmother's house.

Once there, he started dismembering the body and putting the pieces into garbage bags. For the second time, Dahmer snapped the bones of his victim. He kept the skull for two whole weeks this time as a stimulus for masturbation. Eventually, he threw that into the trash as well. 

Steven Tuomi's remains were never found by the authorities.

The killing spree: Dahmer's many victims (that we know of)

From 1988 onwards, Dahmer went on a rampage and sought out victims to kill on a regular basis. Here is a list of his other victims that we know of:

James Doxtator

Dahmer told the 14-year-old male prostitute that he would pay him some money so that he can take nude photos of the boy at his grandmother's house in Wisconsin. The serial killer then drugged and strangled the young prostitute. Dahmer proceeded to dismember and dispose of the corpse in the trash. He kept the skull for some time, as usual, and then threw it away later. Doxtator's remains were never discovered.

Richard Guerro

His second victim in 1988 was a 22-year-old bisexual man whom he had paid to have sex with. Dahmer drugged and strangled Guerro as well. The victim's body was cut up and disposed of with the skull being kept again for sometime. No remains were found in this case as well.

Anthony Sears

Dahmer's next victim was killed in 1989. A 24-year-old modelling hopeful, Sears too was taken to the serial killer's grandmother's home.

Dahmer was thrown out of the house for some time because his granmother did not like the fact that he brought young men back to the home at night. There was also the issue of the horrid smell coming from the basement. Dahmer moved back into the house after he was convicted in a case of molesting a teen. 

The serial killer and the aspiring model engaged in oral sex for some time before he too was drugged and then strangled. His body was disposed of just like the previous victims except this time, Dahmer kept the head and the genitals in acetone jars. The authorities found these jars in a filing cabinet when they searched the residence later.

Raymond Smith

Dahmer was released from prison a year after he was convicted of the molestation offence. After coming out, he drugged and strangled a 32-year-old male prostitute, Raymond Smith, at his new apartment. He kept Smith's head and disposed of everything else.

Edward Smith

The same year, 1990, Dahmer drugged and strangled his 27-year-old acquaintance at his apartment. He accidentally damaged the skull so he couldn't preserve it. All of the remains were disposed of. The authorities never found Smith's remains.

Ernest Miller

Dahmer next victim was a 22-year-old dancer in 1990. He told Miller that he would pay him to listen to his internal organs. It was at this time that the serial killer's cannibalistic fetish arose. Dahmer had allegedly started performing oral sex on Miller before he cut open his carotid artery. Once the dancer was dead, he posed the naked corpse and took pictures before dismembering it. While he was cutting up the body, Dahmer spoke to Miller's head which was kept nearby. He kept Miller's skeleton in a drawer and kept his flesh, including the heart, in the refrigerator for consumption later.

David Thomas

Dahmer lured a 22-year-old to his home again under the pretext of paying him for nude photos in 1990. He drugged and strangled him, as was his MO at this point, and took photos of his process of dismemberment. Dahmer was not attracted to Thomas so he disposed of all body parts. The authorities could not find any remains.

Curtis Straughter

In 1991, he took home a 17-year-old whom he met at the bus stop and promised to pay him for nude photos and sex after. Dahmer drugged and handcuffed the teen before he strangled and then dismembered him. He kept the skull, hands and genitalia.

Tony Hughes

The same year, Dahmer took home a deaf-mute 31-year-old man by promising payment for nude photos using handwritten notes. The serial killer strangled the man and left his decaying corpse in the apartment for a few days before he dismembered the corpse and kept his skull.

Konerak Sinthasomphone 

In 1991, Dahmer took home the younger brother of the boy that he had gone to prison for molesting in 1988. He promised the young man money for nude photos. The man drugged Sinthasomphone and drilled a hole on the side of his head. He then injected hydrochloric acid into the man's brain and left him in the apartment to go get beer. When he was about to arrive at his apartment, he found the young man naked and disoriented on the street outside. A group of women were taking care of him and Dahmer convinced them that he was the boyfriend. The women reluctantly left the drugged man in Dahmer's car. When they went back to the apartment, Dahmer gave Sinthasomphone another injection which ended up killing him. He dismembered the body but kept the skull.

Matt Turner

The 20-year-old was convinced to go back to Dahmer's apartment with him from a bus stop at the Chicago Pride Parade on the pretext of a paid photo shoot. He was drugged, strangled and dismembered. Dahmer kept the head, internal organs, and the torso.

Jeremiah Weinberger

The 23-year-old met Dahmer in Chicago and agreed to spend a weekend with him in Wisconsin. Dahmer drilled holes in the man's skull and injected it with boiling hot water. He dismembered the corpse and kept his torso. Out of all of his victims, Dahmer remembered Weinberger very well because he was the only one to have died with his eyes wide open.

Oliver Lacy

The 24-year-old bodybuilder was lured to Dahmer's apartment for a photoshoot like the other victims. He was also drugged, strangled, and dismembered. The head and heart were kept inside the refrigerator while the bones were used to building a shrine.

Joseph Bradehoft

The last victim that Dahmer is said to have killed was 25-year-old father-of-three Joseph Bradehoft. The young father had been looking for work at the time to support his family before he came across Dahmer. Little did he know that he would never get to see his family again. Dahmer drugged and strangled him like his other victims but his corpse was left on the bed under a sheet for days. Dahmer finally dismembered him and kept the head in the refrigerator.

The monster is finally caught

The same year that Dahmer took 7 victims, he approached some men to pose for nude pictures, as was the way he initiated all the killings. Out of the group, Tracy Edwards was the one who agreed to go back to the apartment with Dahmer. Once there, he saw boxes of hydrochloric acid and noticed a horrid smell in the house. Dahmer handcuffed one of Edwards' wrists and was taking him to the bedroom for the alleged photos. 

Edwards noticed that the inside of the room had nude male posters and a large gallon drum with a foul smell coming from within. Dahmer also had the film The Exorcist III playing on the TV. The serial killer threatened Edwards with a knife but the quick thinking man was able to convince Dahmer that he was his friend and that he should calm down.  They walked into the living room when Edwards said he wanted to use the restroom. 

The second time that he requested to use the restroom, fortunately, Edwards noticed that Dahmer's attention was momentarily somewhere else. He punched the serial killer in the face and ran from the apartment where he was able to flag down two police officers.

He told them the unbelieveable story and the police officers immediately went to the apartment. Once there, they found many Polaroid photos of Dahmer's dismembered victims. Dahmer tried to escape but was easily over-powered and arrested. The officers found the severed head of one of the victims in the fridge and soon found preserved body parts for more victims. They found seven skulls in the apartment as well.

Dahmer exclaimed while he was pinned down: "For what I did, I should be dead." 

He was taken to the station and interrogated for many weeks before finally admitting to have killed 16 men, dismembering their bodies and performing necrophilic acts with of their bodies. He reasoned later on that he had been "swept along" with what he called an obsessive desire to be with someone; whatever the cost may be.

Dahmer also told the officers that he had been keeping the bones of the victims so that he could build a shrine in the apartment. He also told them that he would keep a throne of black leather and sit on it. Dahmer confessed that this special spot in his house would have been a place for him to meditate and draw his power from.

Dahmer finally goes to trial

The serial killer pleaded guilty to insanity on 15 counts of murder. He was tried in court in 1992 to see if he suffered from a mental health disorder or if he had enough of reasoning ability to not give in to his impulses. Both of these cases were argued in the court with the defense lawyers describing him as having borderline personality disorder, schizotypal personality disorder, necrophilia, alcoholism, and psychotic disorders. The prosecution then argued that he was actually rational and not a sadist. They also argued that he was very aware of the difference between right and wrong.

Many psychologists and experts diagnosed Dahmer and all of them, in varying degrees, said that he was mentally ill but was sane and was fully aware of what he had done.

The court, in the end, ruled that Dahmer was legally sane and that he was not suffering from any mental disorder when he committed the 15 murders. He was sentence to life behind bars with an additional 80 years for all the sentences he received. Wisconsin had abolished the death penalty at the time so he was not sentenced to death, as would have been the case if the law was still in place.

Years in prison

The convicted serial killer started devoting himself completely to Christianity and was recognised as a born-again Christian while in prison. He was even baptized while locked up. He started keeping in contact with his father and stepmother regularly and also started corresponsing with his mother with whom he had been estranged since 1983. He told his mother that he was not concerned about what happened to him while in prison.

Dahmer survived an attempt on his life in July 1994 when an inmate tried to slash his throat. He escaped with superficial wounds.


On November 28, 1994, Dahmer was on cleaning duty in the prison when he was murdered by Christopher Scarver and Jesse Anderson, his fellow inmates. The serial killer was bashed in the head with a metal bar and his head was repeatedly hit againt the walls of the showers that he was cleaning at the time. He was immediately taken to the hospital but died from his injuries. Scarver told investigators that Dahmer did not make a sound while he was being attacked by the two inmates.

Scarver also claimed that a fight had broken out when other inmates in the prison made fun of Dahmer but he had cornered Dahmer with a newspaper cut-out of his crimes before he killed him in the shower. He claimed that Dahmer was not regretful for the crimes he committed and that he was hated by the other inmates as well as the prison staff. Everyone in the prison intentionally left Dahmer alone with Scarver because everyone knew that he hated the serial killer.

Dahmer was not given a service and his body was cremated, as per his wishes.

After his death

An auction took place in 1996 and Dahmer's estate was divided between the families of most of the victims. His possessions were all destroyed and buried. The site where he committed all the murders was demolished the year he was imprisoned.

Lionel Dahmer and his second wife, Shari, have maintained that they still love Jeffrey even after everything. They wrote a book on his life and gave the proceeds from it to the families of all the victims. Joyce, Dahmer's mother, was livid after her son died and told the media: "Now is everybody happy? Now that he's bludgeoned to death, is that good enough for everyone?" She attempted suicide again but failed and eventually died in 2000 of cancer.

His younger brother whom he named, David Dahmer, now lives under a new name in anonymity.