Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer also known as Milwaukee monster was a notorious American serial killer and sexual offender in the 1980s and early 1990s. Across states his surname is actually synonymous with monster and with good reason. His victims were usually raped, tortured, dismembered. Jeffrey was a troubled child psychologically and his social skills had a lot to be desired. All the way through his upbringing he was ignored and had queer fantasies of cadavers. In his adulthood this psychosocial status quo didn’t change and was in fact aggravated. This paper uses two criminological theories to scrutinize the life, personality, crimes and criminal behavior of Dahmer hereinafter referred to as Jeffrey. Through the social control theory and psychological theory, the paper will analyze the life of Jeffrey with respect to his criminal life. It will go on to try and find out if Jeffrey’s personality imbalances and socialization determined the course of his life. The validity of the two theories with respect to Jeffrey Dahmer lies in their outlook on the of impact socialization and psychological state of mind on criminology. It ends at a note of asking was Jeffrey’s socialization the problem or was it his psychological imbalances or was it a little of both worlds.
Dahmer was born Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer on May 21st, 1960 in West Allis, Wisconsin. He was born to Joyce and Lionel Dahmer after a difficult pregnancy; with frequent morning sickness and muscle spasms that had Joyce on prescription drugs. His being a normal fundamental American family, his childhood was just like that of any other American child. He had two parents who dearly and loved their only son at the time. Joyce actually had a scrap book where she recorded the events of her son’s life; his first accident, his first step, his first tooth and even his first scolding. During Dahmer’s very tender age, his father an analytical chemist used to work long hours in his laboratory while his mother was a teletype machine instructor (Miller, Vandome, & McBrewster, 2009). Due to their professional lives, Jeffrey did not have a strong bond with his family.
From all accounts Dahmer was a happy child in a loving family who enjoyed typical toddler activities. Living with Lionel’s parents caused a lot of tension in the Dahmer’s marriage and they eventually moved to a place of their own in East Milwaukee. At the age of four, Jeffrey underwent a hernia operation which marked the beginning of his personality changes. He became less communicative and more isolated as the years dragged by. In 1966, the Dahmers’ moved to Bath, Ohio where his Lionel was supposed to further his chemistry studies. The house they lived in was surrounded by open forest and Jeffrey’s isolation grew as he could lose himself in his make believe world. During the move Joyce was pregnant and the marital problems recurred. In December of that year, Jeffrey’s little brother David was born just as the former was entering first grade (Miller, Vandome, & McBrewster, 2009). The following year, the family moved again to Barberton, Ohio. The marital tensions increased when David suffered from colic. According to press history, at the age of eight, Jeffrey called a probation officer with claims of sexual molestation from a neighbor. This was ignored, adding to his list of rejection. Jeffrey’s school years were marked with his collection of dead animals and conducting experiments on them due his lack of socialization. Jeffrey was exposed to the world of chemistry at a very tender age and he explored it with his animals.
He moved on to Revere high school where his loneliness continued for no matter how hard he tried he always was an outsider. Though he worked on the school newspaper, his shyness denied him the opportunity of making many friends. As in social control theory, he continually engaged in antisocial behavior. His grades were average and it is during this period that he developed a drinking problem. Most of his neighbors however remembered him as a shy boy whose loneliness took a toll on him psychologically. When Jeffrey was almost eighteen, Lionel and Joyce went their separate ways and divorced. Joyce went with David and Jeffrey was left with his father (Dahmer, 1994). The divorce was in itself a bitter parting and communication lines were cut entirely that Jeffrey didn’t even have his mother’s forwarding address. He graduated from high school and went on ahead to join Ohio State University. To camouflage his loneliness, most of his time here was spent drinking and skipping majority of his classes. His classmates were noted to avoid him and the director of national honor society blacked out a picture of Jeffrey’s that was eventually used for psychiatric evaluation during his trial. He consequently dropped out after two semesters. During this period, specifically in 1978 he started his criminal life by killing Steven Hicks (Davis, 1991).
Lionel did not take his dropping from college well and he offered Jeffrey an ultimatum: to join the army or get a job. In 1979, Jeffrey enlisted in the army for six years and was sent to Germany. His loneliness induced drinking however persisted and he was discharged only after two years in 1981. Afraid of facing his father and with a ticket to wherever he wanted to go in the country, Jeffrey headed to Miami Beach, Florida. In Florida he spent his time at a hospital but he didn’t last as he was once again kicked out due to his alcoholism. He went back home and his alcoholism saw to it that he was arrested in 1981 for a drunk and disorderly charge. In 1982, he moved in with his paternal grandmother in West Allis. During this time, his behavior grew increasingly strange as told by his grandmother. She found a stolen mannequin in his closet and a 357 magnum. It is also during this time that he was arrested again in 1982 and in 1986 for indecent exposure.
Tired of his late nights, foul basement smells and general weird behavior his grandmother asked him to move out in the summer of 1988 (Miller, Vandome, & McBrewster, 2009).
Jeffrey moved to the west side of Milwaukee near his place of work, Ambrosia Chocolate Factory. Just a day after moving into his new apartment, Jeffrey was arrested for drugging and a sexually fondling a thirteen year old boy. He was sentenced to five years probation and was required to register as a sex offender. Shortly thereafter he began a string of murders that ended with his arrest in 1991 (Davis, 1991). After a two week trial, the courts found Jeffrey guilty of fifteen counts of first degree murder and convicted him for fifteen life terms a basic life sentence. Jeffrey served his time at the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage Wisconsin. There were two attacks on his life the first in July 1994 where he was attacked with a razor blade and survived with shallow wounds. During the second attack in November 1994, Jeffrey and a fellow inmate were attacked with a bar from a weight machine and he succumbed to the head trauma (Davis, 1991).
To discern what makes a serial killer like Dahmer function, it is necessary to look into their past particularly their childhood and puberty (Holmes & Holmes, 1998). As revealed by his biography, Dahmer was a normal child who enjoyed the normal childhood activities. The social control theory and the psychological theory will thus be used to explain the metamorphosis in his character. The shift in his personality started when he was four and had to undergo a hernia operation. During this tough period of the surgery his mother was preoccupied with her own troubles and his father was busy building his career in chemistry. Jeffrey was left with no one to tell him what was going on with his life, why he was sick and why he had to go to the hospital for an operation. After the surgery, his personality began to change from being a jovial social child to a loner who was always withdrawn and uncommunicative. He rarely disobeyed his parents and as a result Lionel took this personality changes as a sign of obedience. His happy facial expressions transformed from a happy childhood smiles to a motionless, blank stare he wore until the end of his time (Miller, Vandome, & McBrewster, 2009).
Throughout his childhood his parents were always involved in squabbles and young Jeffrey took all this to heart. Eventually they ended up splitting up and with a bitter divorce Jeffrey lost contact with his mother and younger brother David. Dahmer’s history of desertion left him with feelings of loss and rejection. This rejection situation fueled the already withdrawn personality of Jeffrey. After they moved to Bath his insecurities were heightened and his shy nature ensured that he had few friends. When most people his age were playing video games and listening to last music, Jeffrey turned to his make believe world in the forest around their home. His favorite past time was collecting road kill, stripping the animal carcasses and saving the bones. This love of carcasses and bones had actually begun when he was four. His father took this as the love of chemistry and he took him to his lab where Jeffrey was clearly fascinated by the bones. Lionel went on ahead to get Jeffrey his first chemistry set when he was in elementary school. With the set he used acid to scrape the meat off dead animals noted his step mother Shari (Dahmer, 1994).
As a teenager, Jeffrey had fantasies about killing and mutilating men. Unlike most serial killers Jeffrey’s fantasies revolved around passive sex leading to his necrophilia. This could be one of the reasons why he killed his victims. So any other idle time he had from collecting road kill, he spent it deep inside the world of his fantasies. In the neighborhood, Jeffrey was suspected of killing animals just to add on to his ‘collection’. Even in puberty his non confrontational attitude towards his parents was not taken as a sign of isolation (Miller, Vandome, & McBrewster, 2009). During his high school years, Jeffrey continued to be a loner. Unknown to anyone Jeffrey was slowly mentally disintegrating due to his loneliness and in 1978 he acted out his fantasies after high school. His first victim was Steven Hicks. As later told by Jeffrey, he killed Steven because the latter wanted to leave (Davis, 1991).
It is however important to note that Jeffrey was a well spoken man who gave no indications of his criminal tendencies. During one of the near escapes of one of his victims Konerak, Jeffrey was seen by the police as intelligent, soft spoken and very calm. He was so smooth talking that the police believed his story that the young boy was his lover; he was just so drunk over the incoherent Konerak. He even went ahead to apologize to the police promising of avoiding a recurrence of his ‘lover’ behavior. This could be a reason why it took so long before he was discovered. It has thus been noted that Jeffrey Dahmer was a very complex man suffering from mixed personalities (Stone, 2006)
Criminal behavior comprises of a large number and diversity of acts. These ranges from actions that violate the law, violate morality, violate norms of religion or violate customs and tradition (Helfgott, 2008). In the context of this paper Dahmer’s criminal behavior include the actions that he did that were influenced by his psychological state of mind and his socialization.
Dahmer’s psychological fantasies included a chain of crimes against his victim’s corpses. For most of his victims the scene was the same and it more often than not began with consensual sex. He would often meet his victims in gay bars and go with them to his apartment often after enticing them with free booze or money. Once the consensual sex was over, he would drug them, sometimes kill them and then kill them usually by strangulation or by stabbing (Miller, Vandome, & McBrewster, 2009). He would then masturbate over the cadaver or have sex with the dead body. His next step was usually dismembering where he cut up the corpse into parts using his power saw. With the use of acid he removed the meat from the skulls and kept them as achievement trophies of his collection . In addition to the skulls, he usually stored other body parts like the heart in his refrigerator or in vaults and he ate these parts on occasion. Their genitalia were also kept as memoirs while the muscles were kept for future use (Davis, 1991).
Suffice to say Jeffrey also performed lobotomies on some of his victims. To some he went on ahead to drill a hole in their skulls and pour some acid. This made the victim stay alive but in a zombie like state for days. From the things found in his house on his arrest, it was found that Jeffrey used chloroform to drug his victims. The male genitalia were preserved in formaldehyde. Simply put, Jeffrey was a serial killer who killed his victims brutally, had sex with their corpses, dismembered them and later ate some of the parts (Davis, 1991).
Jeffrey Dahmer admitted to a series of gruesome murders of seventeen men during his thirteen years killing spree, spanning from 1978 to 1991 when he was arrested. Most of his victims were young and belonged to minority groups like people of color. Due to the number of victims and the complexities in each of the individual cases, this paper will give a general overview of the crimes. It is worth noting that in all his crimes, Jeffrey acted out his psychological imbalances which were influenced by his rejection by society. Jeffrey committed his first murder in the summer of 1978. His father and stepmother had gone away and he had the house to himself. Jeffrey picked up a 19 year old hitchhiker, Steven Hicks and invited him to his house. The two drank beer and had sex. However when Hicks was ready to leave, Jeffrey hit Hicks with a barbell and killed him. Jeffrey, acting out his sense of rejection later said that he killed Hicks because Hicks wanted to leave and Jeffey didn’t want him to. He then cut up the body into parts which he put into garbage bags and buried around his father’s property. Years later he dug up the bag, crushed the bones covering his tracks (Davis, 1991). He went through a period of nine years without killing anyone but was arrested for sexual offences like indecent exposure. Because of the embarrassment he was causing Lionel sent him to his grandmother. In 1987 while on probation for his molestation charges, Jeffrey met Steven Tourmi at a gay club called 219. They went to the Ambassador hotel, got intoxicated and passed out. Dahmer claimed that when he woke Tourmi was dead and he wouldn’t remember the events of the previous night. He subsequently put the corpse in a suitcase, took it to his grandmother’s basement where he had sex with the corpse, masturbated on it and dismembered it. He then put the parts in garbage parts and threw them away (Davis, 1991).
After Tourmi, Jeffrey struck twice in 1988 and once in 1989. In 1990 his grandmother asked him to move out. Once again rejected he had the domain of acting out his psychological fantasies. With his own place and no one to be bothered by his queerness and foul smells, the speed of his killing increased. As a result the murders of Eddie Smith, Ricky Beeks, Earnest Miller and David Thomas marked the christening of the infamous apartment in 1990 (Davis, 1991). Two more murders in 1991preceded the murder of Konerak Sinthasomphone. His story was probably one of the most covered in the press as he had gotten a chance of escaping. When the police arrived, Jeffrey was also there and he smooth talked the police into believing that Konerak was his lover. The police ignored the two women and went with Jeffrey to his apartment where he showed them pictures and clothes of Konerak. By virtue of this and not believing the incoherent Konerak the police left the boy with Jeffrey who later killed and dismembered the boy (Davis, 1991).
By summer of 1991, Jeffrey’s killings escalated with his sense of loneliness. He went to killing an average of one person per week. July nineteenth marked the last of victims who were to die by Jeffrey’s hand. His last murder victim was twenty five year old Joseph Bradehoft. Three days later, specifically on the twenty second of July, Jeffrey lured Tracy Edwards into his home; a man who turned out to be the end of Jeffrey’s killing spree. As later narrated by Edwards, Jeffrey tried to cuff Edwards but was unable to do so. Jeffrey proceeded to yield a butcher knife and force Edwards into the bedroom telling him how he will savor the latter’s heart (Davis, 1991).
In the bedroom, Edwards saw pictures of assaulted men and took in the foul sense in the room. He thus punched Jeffrey and ran on to the streets where he flagged a police car and led them back to Jeffrey’s place. Once again, he tried playing his smooth talker card but Edwards remembered the butcher knife. The contents of the house led to the arrest of Jeffrey Dahmer (Davis, 1991).
Policy Implications of the Jeffrey Dahmer Case
Jeffrey Dahmer’s story is one of the stories that will be remembered millions of years for sparking debates on reviews of American policies. The core implications are on social and psychological principles. The social control theory and the psychological theory with respect to Dahmer’s life offers policy consequences that include education that helps kids in development of socialization skills through involvement, parenting programs aimed at proper creation of social bonds and diversion programs for delinquents to alter their psychosocial states. The significance of Jeffrey’s case awoke the debate on social implications due to the removal of the death penalty. The fact that Jeffrey was killed while serving his sentence raised questions on the ability of the American society to manage crime without capital punishment (Holmes & Holmes, 1998).
The case also highlighted a lot of policy reforms needed in the police sector. Many critics felt that Konerak could have been easily the killer’s last victim if the police had taken the time to carry more investigative work. In addition, by virtue of how Jeffrey disposed of his body it has been noted that in solving a serial killer’s cold case geographical profiling could be a step in the right direction. The policy implications of his case also spawned on lust killing and sexual disorders research. From the case, substantial progress has been made in the development of methods aimed at identifying sexual disorders at an early age. The causal link between lust killing and personality imbalances has also been further explored. The study of Jeffrey’s case has thus illuminated links between disorders like substance abuse and killing. This has served in the development of policies aimed at treating these disorders instead of dealing with their consequences (Silva, Ferrari, & Leong, 1997).
The opinions on how the criminal incidents of Jeffrey could have been prevented are many and varied. But one common factor is the Konerak story. In the minds of many people who have come across the young boy’s story is a picture of the boy running for his life. And many more people believe that his life could have been saved were the police more careful. The role of parents in the socialization process can thus be ignored only at the peril of the society.
The idea behind social control theory and psychological theory is that everyone has the capability to commit a crime and this could be very well influenced by their psychological state of mind. Jeffrey Dahmer was an intensely troubled child who grew up in an environment rejecting him fuelling his loneliness. As an adult his instability only escalated. This has revealed that parental upbringing is of core importance in a child’s development of social skills. As seen with Jeffrey Dahmer he did not receive that socialization bond be it with his parent or other people in his life. All the way through his childhood, Jeffrey Dahmer was ignored and developed a way of perceiving himself as an outsider, rejected by society. This loneliness and sense of rejection grew until it aggravated his compulsion to commit the monstrous crimes of murder, necrophilia, and cannibalism. As seen from his biography he didn’t have close relationships that could have deterred him from committing the crime as the social control theory suggests. In his loneliness Jeffrey filled that void with dismembering animals, a behavior later seen in his crimes. It can thus be concluded that creation and nurturing of social bonds are very essential in childhood socialization and in the development of stable psychological state of mind.