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Spiral Into Darkness: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story (Part 3)

Jeffrey Dahmer in his final interview with reporter Stone Phillips in 1994. Photo: A&E Biography, "Jeffrey Dahmer: The Monster Within (1996)."

Last week, I looked into Jeffrey Dahmer’s childhood. This week, I look into the events leading up to his arrest.

Graduation

Jeffrey Dahmer graduated in more ways than one in June of 1978. Even with his poor grades, he managed to receive a diploma from Revere High School. He also graduated from fantasy to reality—he killed his first victim, Steven Hicks.

His drinking spiraled out of control. He told Detective Kennedy, “I couldn’t sleep, thinking about that guy out there in the woods. I would start drinking early in the afternoon and by night time I would be so drunk, I would pass out.” [1] 

Lionel returned with Shari to the house in September 1978. They found Jeffrey disoriented and the house was in complete disarray. The refrigerator was broken and there was nothing but empty bottles of various types of alcohol. Lionel wanted Jeffrey to go to Ohio State University. When Jeffrey failed to show any enthusiasm, Shari decided to enroll him herself and took him shopping for clothes. Once everything was arranged, she and Lionel drove Jeffrey to Ohio State. [2]

Jeffrey lived in a dorm with three roommates. They would later describe Jeffrey’s bizarre behavior. He repeatedly played and sang along to The Beatles’ song, “I Am the Walrus” as he lay on his bed. He was drinking up to two bottles of whiskey a day which made attending classes impossible. Jeffrey recorded his lectures and listened to them while he drank. Once he exhausted the funds his father sent him, he began donating blood to finance his drinking. He did this twice a week. The staff at the university plasma center began marking his fingernails so that he couldn’t donate more than once a week. [3] 

His roommates recalled returning one night to find all of the furniture piled in one corner of the room and pizza all over the walls. Jeffrey also kicked the bathroom wall so hard that he damaged it. He didn’t offer any explanation for his actions. His roommates also believed that Jeffrey stole from them. A watch, radio, and $120 in cash were missing. They found the address of the pawnshop written in one of Jeffrey’s notebooks. His roommates eventually petitioned to have Jeffrey removed from their room. School officials told them that his removal would have to wait until the end of the term. However, Jeffrey’s grades were so horrible that first semester that even Lionel agreed that he should drop out. Jeffrey left Ohio State University during Christmas of 1978. [4]

A teenage boy stands in front of a wooded area in daylight. He wears a blue graduation cap and gown.
Jeffrey Dahmer on his high school graduation day in June 1978. Photo: Screencap from A&E Biography, “Jeffrey Dahmer: The Monster Within (1996).”

In the Army

Once Jeffrey was back home, he resumed his heavy drinking. He also began hanging out with his old drinking partner, Jeff Six. He and Six got into trouble for driving on someone’s front lawn. Jeffrey also borrowed Lionel’s car and couldn’t remember where he left it. Lionel and Shari had to go out looking for it. [5]

Lionel was fed up with his son’s behavior. College didn’t work out so Lionel thought perhaps the military was the answer. He insisted that Jeffrey join the Army. Jeffrey left for boot camp in Alabama on December 29. Lionel and Sherry were married at around this time and Jeffrey missed the ceremony. [6]

Jeffrey told Detectives Kennedy and Murphy about his experiences in the Army. He said that it wasn’t his choice to join. He surprisingly welcomed the structure and discipline that boot camp provided. From Alabama, Jeffrey was sent to Texas where he trained as a medic. He began to forget about Hicks’ murder. Jeffrey was sent to Germany and while stationed there, he reverted to his old ways. He drank excessively even while on duty. He was disciplined so many times for drinking that the United States Army decided to give him a general discharge. In March 1981, he was offered a plane ticket to go anywhere in the United States. Tired of freezing winters, Jeffrey chose Florida. [7]

Jeffrey’s downward spiral continued in the Sunshine State. He got a job at a sandwich shop and lived in a motel. He resumed his drinking which depleted his funds to the point of homelessness. He continued drinking and slept on the beach at night. Jeffrey lived in Florida for six months before he decided to contact his father for help. [8]

Lionel refused to send Jeffrey any money. Instead, he purchased a plane ticket for him to come home to Ohio. In September 1981, Jeffrey arrived in Ohio. Once alone in the house, he decided to dispose of Steven Hicks’s remains which were in a drainage pipe on the Dahmers’ property. Only bone was left which Jeffrey smashed with a rock. He then scattered the fragments into the woods surrounding his parents’ property. [9]

Jeffrey was arrested for disorderly conduct in October 1981. Lionel pushed Jeffrey to try Alcoholics Anonymous but it didn’t help. Lionel was once again at a loss. Jeffrey’s drinking was causing trouble for Lionel and Shari. Lionel decided that Jeffrey would move in with his mother, Catherine Dahmer, in West Allis, Wisconsin. Lionel figured that he and Shari could finally have some peace while Jeffrey could help out his elderly mother. [10]

A white house on a tree-lined street.
Jeffrey Dahmer’s grandmother’s West Allis, Wis. home. Photo: Screencap from A&E Biography, “Jeffrey Dahmer: The Monster Within (1996).”

To  Grandmother’s House

After moving in with his grandmother, his Army medical training landed Jeffrey a job at the Milwaukee Blood Plasma Center. He worked as a phlebotomist collecting blood from donors. Working as a phlebotomist made Jeffrey curious about drinking blood. He admitted he tried it but didn’t like the taste. Jeffrey also enjoyed shooting during his time in the Army and purchased a .357 Magnum. His grandmother didn’t like having the gun in the house so Lionel took the gun and sold it.  [11]

The plasma center wasn’t pleased with Jeffrey’s job performance and fired him after 10 months. A couple of months before his termination, on August 7, 1982, he was arrested at the Wisconsin State Fair. Jeffrey was charged with disorderly conduct—specifically for urinating in public. The arresting officer said that Jeffrey exposed himself in front of 25 people including women and children. [12]

Jeffrey was hired at the Ambrosia Chocolate Factory on January 14, 1985. He worked six nights a week, from 11:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m. According to Masters, Jeffrey exposed himself six more times and wasn’t caught. He also engaged in frotteurism which is when someone purposely rubs their general or groin area against a random, unsuspecting person.

During this time, he stole a male mannequin. Jeffrey admitted he hid in the department store until closing. Once the store was locked up for the night, he slipped a sleeping bag cover over it and carried it out of the store. He took the mannequin to his grandmother’s house and used it as a sex toy. When his grandmother saw the mannequin and asked him about it, he got rid of it. Later, when Dahmer recalled the incident, he remarked, “It would have been better if I just stuck to mannequins.” [13]

Another bizarre and twisted incident to add to the list would be when Jeffrey’s younger brother, David, came to visit. They had to share Jeffrey’s bed. It turns out that even his brother wasn’t safe from him; Jeffrey admitted he tried to touch his brother as he lay beside him. Needless to say, David was upset. He confronted Jeffrey the next morning about it then dropped the issue. [14]

According to more than one source, Jeffrey said that it was a trip to the public library that was the catalyst for him fully embracing Milwaukee’s gay club scene. A young man dropped a crumpled ball of paper on his desk as Jeffrey was reading. He opened the paper and read “If you want a b***j** meet me in the men’s room, five minutes.” [15]  When he looked for him, the young man was gone. After this incident, Jeffrey felt that he could no longer suppress his homosexuality. 

He began to indulge in pornography. He built up a collection of gay porn that he kept in his grandmother’s fruit cellar. He had been a compulsive masturbator since adolescence. He admitted at one point he was up to three times a day.  

In his book, Dahmer Detective, Detective Patrick Kennedy quotes Dahmer as saying that, “This was when I decided to give in to the dark side. Grandma’s way was not working; I was lonely, so I decided to indulge my sexual lust and fantasies.” [16] Opening up the flood gates of his repressed sexuality, unfortunately, opened up to the darkness of Jeffrey’s violent and deadly association with sex.

A middle aged man with dark hair and bushy mustache wearing a business suit.
Detective Patrick Kennedy was the first person to interview Jeffrey Dahmer. His experiences were published posthumously in the book Dahmer Detective (2016). Photo: Screencap from A&E Biography, “Jeffrey Dahmer: The Monster Within (1996).”

Poor Impulse Control

In late 1985, Jeffrey began to frequent bathhouses—common meeting places for gay men during the 1960s and 1970s. Besides saunas and pools, they included coffee bars and TV lounges. There were were cubicles upstairs that included beds. [17]

More than one mental health professional said that Jeffrey wanted a completely passive partner. Dr. Judith Becker testified  during his trial that he didn’t like anal sex, which he referred to this as “heavy sex,” because it was painful. If he engaged in anal sex, he preferred being the active partner. Jeffrey preferred what he called “light sex,” which was oral sex, kissing, and fondling. Most men that he met wanted “heavy sex.” In order to have sex his way, he had to render his partner unconscious.

In June of 1986, Jeffrey began receiving prescriptions for sleeping pills. Dahmer told two different doctors that he was having trouble sleeping and adjusting to working the night shift. [18] He told Kennedy and Murphy that he didn’t take the pills himself. “I think I may have only taken them a couple of times. They worked great but I mainly used them to drug my victims.” [19] 

At the time of his arrest, there was a record of 27 prescriptions from five doctors. Jeffrey began using the pills on men at the bathhouses—none of whom he killed. His bathhouse membership was revoked after management received complaints about Jeffrey from men who were drugged and sexually assaulted by him. [20]

After the bathhouses were off-limits, Dahmer began renting rooms at the Ambassador Hotel. He would pick men up at bars and clubs along South 2nd Street in Milwaukee. He usually hung out at the 219 Club and the Phoenix Bar. He would take these men to the hotel, drug them, and do whatever he wanted with them. He said that he would place his head on the man’s chest and stomach. [21]

Even though Jeffrey said that he enjoyed the idea of meeting people and socializing, once he was at the bar he was described as not being very friendly. In his book, The Shrine of Jeffrey Dahmer, Brian Masters writes that, “He did not appear to make an effort to socialize. At the Phoenix, he always took the same stool at the bar, drank and smoked alone, and did not respond in a lively fashion when the barman tried to engage him in conversation. He was polite and very well-mannered, and somehow distant.” [22]

Jeffrey’s late-night activity began to cause conflict between him and his grandmother. Meanwhile, his urges were becoming stronger. Jeffrey progressed from mannequins to drugging his partners to actual corpses. His intent wasn’t killing yet but grave-robbing. Jeffrey told the following story to the team of psychiatrists who interviewed him. He looked in the newspaper’s obituary section and found an obituary of an 18-year-old boy. Jeffrey went to the cemetery that night but found that the ground was frozen. He said that a dog began barking. Frightened of getting caught, he just left the cemetery. [23]

Jeffrey’s troubles with the law continued. He was arrested on April 7, 1985, for threatening to shoot a bartender who refused to serve him. No formal charges were ever brought to court. On September 8, 1986, two 12-year-old boys reported a man fitting Jeffrey’s description to police for masturbating in public near the Kinnikinic River. One boy said that he asked, “Are you having fun?” Jeffrey replied, “Yeah, I’m having a great time.” [24]

Police stopped Jeffrey and brought him back to the river where the two boys identified him. He was arrested for lewd and lascivious behavior and indecent exposure. He claimed that he was urinating and was unaware that anyone was around. His charge was reduced to disorderly conduct. In March 1987, Dahmer was convicted and sentenced to one-year probation and psychological counseling for sexual deviance and impulse control. [25]

Jeffrey had to take two psychological tests and had visits with Dr. Evelyn Rosen. The first test required him to mark off pre-written statements as true or false. The following statements were marked off as true:

  • “Lately, I’ve begun to feel lonely and empty.”
  • “Ideas keep turning over and over in my mind and they won’t go away.”
  • “I’ve become quite discouraged and sad about life recently.”
  • “I keep having strange thoughts I wish I could get rid of.” [26]

The second test was made up of open-ended statements. These are some of Jeffrey’s responses. Italicized words were in Jeffrey’s handwriting:

  • “My father always worked hard.”
  • “My earliest memory of my father is when he went to work.”
  • “When my father came home I was happy.”
  • ‘When my mother came home, I was watching TV.” [27]

Dr. Rosen found Jeffrey to be a difficult patient who did nothing but argue with her about attending sessions. Jeffrey complained about having to commute to her office and having to pay for the sessions. When he wasn’t arguing with her, he sat silently with his back to her. She described him as “unresponsive” and said that, “Talking to him was like pulling teeth.” In November 1987, as he was attending his sessions with Dr. Rosen, he committed his second murder of Steven Tuomi. [28]

An array of books about Jeffrey Dahmer.
Many books have been written about Jeffrey Dahmer in the years since his arrest. From left: Across the Hall (2011) by Dahmer’s neighbor at the Oxford, Vernell Bass, Dahmer Detective (2016), by Patrick Kennedy and Robyn Maharaj, My Friend Dahmer (2012) by Derf Backderf, and The Shrine of Jeffrey Dahmer (1993) by Brian Masters.

Deeper Down the Spiral

Jeffrey killed a few more young men while living at his grandmother’s house. He stored their bodies in the fruit cellar. While his grandmother was at church on Sunday morning, he would deflesh their skeletons and pulverize their bones with a sledgehammer. One victim managed to survive. 

Ronald Flowers blacked out after Jeffrey served him a drug-laced cup of coffee in his grandmother’s kitchen. Flowers called police after waking up in the hospital with bruises on his neck and money missing. After the police showed up on her doorstep, his grandmother decided that it was time for Jeffrey to move out. The Dahmer family had a meeting attended by Lionel and Shari and even Jeffrey’s Aunt Eunice. Not only did they decide that Jeffrey should move out, they also decided that he should get alcoholism treatment. [29]

Lionel dropped Jeffrey off at a Family Services office on April 26, 1988, to begin a four-session treatment program for alcoholism. At the time, Jeffrey developed two obsessions. He purchased a VHS copy of the film Return of the Jedi and watched it constantly. He was so drawn specifically to the Emperor character in that film that he purchased yellow contacts to make his eyes resemble the character’s. He wore the contacts when he went out to bars and clubs. Another obsession was  creating a temple to display the remains of some of his victims. In June of 1988, Jeffrey moved out of his grandmother’s house into a small apartment—not yet at the infamous Oxford. For his new apartment, he bought a long, rectangular black table and two griffins which were meant to be part of this temple. [30]

Life was quiet for a while. While he was unsociable at work, he was described as polite. There were no complaints about his job performance until September of 1988. Jeffrey was arrested at the chocolate factory for sexually assaulting a young boy, Somsack Sinthasomphone. [31] This caused Jeffrey’s secret world to unravel, unfortunately not to the point where the killings came to light.

Before he was scheduled to appear in court, Jeffrey was ordered to go for psychological evaluation. Dr. Charles Lodl concluded that Jeffrey was a “very psychologically disturbed man.” Dr. Lodl added that he was, “In need of long-term psychological treatment.”[32]

In January 1989, Jeffrey was convicted of second-degree sexual assault. He was sentenced to one year in the House of Correction as part of a work-release program. Jeffrey would work his shift at the chocolate factory and be returned to the House of Correction afterward. He also was sentenced to five years probation. He wrote a very apologetic letter to the judge. Lionel also wrote a letter begging the judge to make sure that Jeffrey got help. Somsack Sinthasomphone urged the court to keep tabs on Jeffrey after his release. He said that his father told him if he wasn’t as healthy as he was, he may not have survived the drugging and overdose or, “maybe he would have killed me.” [33] Unfortunately, Somsack’s brother, Konerak, would die in Jeffrey’s apartment two years after he escaped. 

Jeffrey managed to kill Anthony Sears between his conviction and sentencing on March 20,1989. He preserved Sears’s head and genitals. Before leaving for the House of Correction, he stored Sears’s remains in a cosmetics case in his locker at the chocolate factory. [34]

Jeffrey was released early on March 2, 1990. He found the cosmetics case still safe in his locker. He lived with his grandmother until May 14, 1990, when he moved into the Oxford Apartments in Milwaukee. He killed his sixth victim five weeks after moving in. [35]

Jeffrey took victims more frequently. He also experimented with performing makeshift lobotomies on his victims to avoid having to kill them. Finally, he admitted to cannibalizing his victims as a way to keep them with him. His attendance at work suffered. His neighbors and building manager constantly complained about the foul smell coming from his apartment. No amount of cleaning agents or air fresheners could get rid of the smell of Jeffrey’s horrific secret. At the time of his arrest on July 22, 1990, he had lost his job due to poor attendance. He also was being evicted from his apartment.

Jeffrey Dahmer was convicted of 16 murders and given 16 life sentences. The remains of the second victim, Steven Tuomi, were never found. Therefore, he couldn’t be charged with the murder. He was incarcerated at the Columbia Correctional Institute in Portage, Wisconsin. 

On November 28, 1994, Jeffrey Dahmer was murdered by fellow inmate Christopher Scarver. Jeffrey, Scarver, and another inmate were cleaning a prison bathroom. Scarver beat the other inmate before bludgeoning Jeffrey to death with a barbell—the same weapon Jeffrey used to kill his first victim. Dahmer’s autopsy revealed no defensive wounds. [36]

In an interview for A&E Biography, Lionel Dahmer said that Jeffrey specifically requested cremation. He wanted no service or a grave. Both his parents split his ashes.

Works Cited

 [1] Kennedy, Patrick, Maharaj, Robyn. (2016). Dahmer Detective: The Interrogation and Investigation that Shocked the World. Poison Berry Press. Canada, p. 86.

[2] Masters, Brian. (1993). The Shrine of Jeffrey Dahmer. Hodder and Stoughton Ltd. Great Britain, p  71.

[3] Masters, p. 72

[4] Masters, p. 72

[5] Masters, p. 73

[6] Masters, p. 74

[7] Kennedy, Maharaj, p. 99

[8] Kennedy, Maharaj, p. 99

[9] Masters, p. 80

[10] Kennedy, Maharaj, p. 100

[11] Masters, p. 85

[12] Masters, p. 85-86

[13] Masters, p. 87, 91

[14] Masters, p. 91

[15] Kennedy, Maharaj, p. 101

[16] Kennedy, Maharaj, p. 101

[17] Masters, p. 92

[18] Masters, p. 93

[19] Kennedy, Maharaj, p. 213

[20] Masters, p. 93-94

[21] Masters, p. 95

[22] Masters, p. 96

[23] Masters, p. 97

[24] Masters, p. 99

[25] Masters, p. 99

[26] Masters, p. 100

[27] Masters, p. 100

[28] Masters, p. 104-106

[29] Masters, p. 125

[30] Masters, p. 125

[31] Masters, p. 129

[32] Masters, p. 130

[33] Masters, p. 132-133

[34] Masters, p. 138-139

[35] Masters, p. 140

[36] Kennedy, Maharaj, p. 290

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Written by Melissa Bastek

I've had a longtime love of horror and the paranormal --- in both books and film. I enjoy writing fiction as well as researching the stories behind my favorite films and books. I also have an interest in true crime and forensic science and psychology. Besides fiction, I like to watch documentaries --- everything from behind-the-scenes about a film to true crime cases.

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