"For what I did, I deserve death."
These are the words Jeffrey Dahmer reportedly uttered to police when he was finally apprehended in his Milwaukee apartment in 1991. Dubbed the "Milwaukee Cannibal”, Jeffrey Dahmer remains one of the most infamous serial killers of all time. Not just a murderer, he was also a rapist, necrophiliac, cannibal, and obsessive preserver of human body parts—the body parts, of course, of his victims. In a 13-year time period, spanning two different states, this demented man murdered 17 people.
After he was apprehended in 1991, Dahmer was eventually sentenced to 16 life terms. On November 1994, he was murdered by a fellow inmate. Though several decades have passed since Dahmer’s horrific murdering spree, his crimes continue to loom large in the national psyche, mainly because of the unanswered questions as to how a seemingly normal young man could commit such barbaric acts.
Dahmer's childhood was unremarkable; his father was a chemist and his mother worked as a teletype machine instructor. Though his parents argued frequently and little Jeffrey's family life was fraught with tension, there are no allegations of sexual or physical abuse in Dahmer's background. In elementary school, Dahmer was considered a timid, introverted boy by his teachers, and not considered a problem child. He had a small number of friends, and most other students simply thought of him as shy and reserved.
While it may be impossible to identify the trigger that set Dahmer off on his murderous rampage (some have theorized that he was neglected as a child, while others surmised he was overly doted on by his attention-seeking mother), it is clear that by the time Jeffrey Dahmer reached his formative years, he was already harboring deep psychological torment, as he committed his first murder soon after his high school graduation.
Society's inability to explain Dahmer's actions is part of what makes him one of the most notorious serial killers of all time. Below are 10 little-known facts about Jeffrey Dahmer, which perhaps shed some light on his deeply demented psyche.
1. A childhood surgery may have changed him forever
According to his family, Dahmer was a happy and energetic child until he underwent surgery for a double hernia. Around the same time, his little brother was born, and the family relocated several times to different parts of Ohio. Investigators believe that the combined impact of these events, beginning with the surgery, permanently altered Dahmer's psyche. He was never again the same happy child he had once been, and he began to retreat into himself.
In retrospect, some experts have suggested that Dahmer did not pull away because of the surgery, but because he might have had undiagnosed Asperger’s Syndrome. Researchers also uncovered that Dahmer's mother Joyce struggled with mental illness while pregnant with Jeffrey and was on a variety of prescription medications throughout her pregnancy.
2. Dahmer was obsessed with animal bones from a young age—an interest his scientist father encouraged
From the time he was a child, Dahmer was obsessed with animal bones, including the sounds they made and the ways they fit together. Dahmer took his obsession to the next level at age 10, asking his chemist father what would happen if chicken bones were placed in bleach.
Lionel Dahmer, believing that his son was finally finding a passion—and a scientific passion no less—was happy to show young Jeffrey how to clean and preserve animal bones using bleach. Such methods, of course, played an integral role in Jeffrey Dahmer’s crimes as an adult, from the disposal of remains to the cleaning of skulls that were then added to his collection.
3. He drank alcohol throughout the day even in high school
Jeffrey Dahmer began abusing alcohol as an adolescent. Classmates recalled his smuggling beer, wine, and all manner of hard liquor into class, or stashing bottles in his locker. The drinking had a negative impact on Dahmer's performance as a student and compounded his isolation; his parents even hired a private tutor in hopes of bolstering his grades. Nevertheless, some students remembered Dahmer as a class clown, a person who pulled pranks to amuse others. He achieved average grades, which his teachers attributed to slacking off rather than lack of intelligence, and even played tennis and spent a year in the school band.
4. He committed his first murder just three weeks after graduating high school
In the summer of 1978, just weeks after graduating high school, Jeffrey Dahmer picked up an 18-year-old hitchhiker named Steven Mark Hicks. Hicks was on his way to a rock concert; Dahmer convinced the young man to accompany him to his home where they could drink together. After hours of drinking, Hicks expressed his desire to leave. Dahmer instead bludgeoned Hicks to death with a 10 pound dumbbell. The murder of Hicks wouldn’t come to light until the 1990s, after Dahmer had murdered 16 more people and was finally in police custody.
5. He served as a combat medic in the U.S. Army
In January 1979, Dahmer enlisted in the U.S. Army. He trained as a medical specialist in San Antonio, Texas, and was deployed to Baumholder, West Germany. From 1979 to 1981, Dahmer served as a combat medic, during which time he reportedly raped two soldiers; the first victim claimed Dahmer raped him once after drugging him. The second, who was Dahmer' roommate, stated that he was raped repeatedly while they shared a living space. Dahmer's alcoholism followed him to West Germany as well. In 1981, after being declared unsuitable for military service, Dahmer was honorably discharged and sent back to the United States.
6. Dahmer killed and stored the remains of up to four men while living at his grandmother’s house
After returning from West Germany, Dahmer briefly moved in with his father and stepmother in Ohio. Then, in December of 1981, Dahmer relocated to live with his grandmother in West Allis, Wisconsin. While here, Dahmer worked a number of day jobs—phlebotomist, a mixer at a chocolate factory. In his off hours, he frequented bathhouses and began preying upon young men. Dahmer lured a number of his victims back to his grandmother's home, where he would drug, rape, and murder them. Dismemberment often occurred there as well. Eventually, Dahmer's grandmother asked her grandson to move out of her home because of his habit of always bringing men home late at night and due to the “foul smells” emanating from the basement.
7. Dahmer enjoyed the Exorcist films
Tracy Edwards, Dahmer's would-be 18th victim who escaped and led police back to Dahmer’s apartment, noted that The Exorcist III had been playing as Dahmer tried to subdue and attack him. Forensic psychiatrist Dr. Park Dietz spent hours speaking with Dahmer after his arrest, in an attempt to understand the man's drive to kill. According to Dr. Dietz's testimony, Dahmer often watched The Exorcist III as well as Star Wars: Return of the Jedi before cruising for victims. Sometimes, as in the case of Edwards, he'd even watch these films with his victims prior to attacking them.
8. He was in the process of building an altar out of the skulls of his victims when he was captured
In July 1991, Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested after his would-be 18th victim escaped from Dahmer's Milwaukee apartment and flagged down police. Upon their arrival, authorities uncovered a macabre scene: torsos dissolving in an industrial drum filled with acid, human remains stored in the freezer, two complete skeletons, bleached skulls in his closet. Dahmer had plans for these remains. He told police that had they apprehended him six months later, they would have come across a grand altar in his apartment, festooned with skulls and bones. Included in the altar's design was a black leather chair, providing Dahmer a place to sit. Dahmer said the altar would be a place where he could “feel at home.”
9. Dahmer became a born-again Christian while in prison
He was baptized in the prison whirlpool in May 1994.
10. Lionel Dahmer wrote a book about Jeffrey after he was captured
Entitled A Father's Story, the tragic book was not meant to defend Jeffrey Dahmer, but rather for Lionel Dahmer to try and figure out how he had failed so profoundly as a father. Another notable Dahmer book is the award-winning graphic novel, My Friend Dahmer, written by Derf Backderff, one of Dahmer’s high school classmates. Backderff's graphic novel was later adapted into the movie My Friend Dahmer, starring Ross Lynch.
In November 2017, Oxygen launched its own investigation into the Jeffrey Dahmer case. Dahmer on Dahmer: A Serial Killer Speaks premiered Saturday, November 11 at 7 P.M. ET/PT. Check out the chilling trailer below, then click here for more info on the two-part true crime special.