Jeffrey Dahmer — alternatively, The Milwaukee Cannibal — murdered, dismembered, and even ate 17 boys and young men from 1978-1991. His predilection toward dysfunctional and violent relationships with men started in high school, with Dahmer first plotting to knock out a male jogger he had a crush on with a baseball bat. That plan never came together.
When his crimes were discovered in 1991, police found various human body parts in his fridge and freezer, a 55 gallon drum of acid in his bedroom, and collections of skulls throughout his apartment. He remains one of the most disturbing serial killers of the 20th century, due not only to the number and nature of his crimes, but that he desired to create sex zombies out of his victims. He would sometimes drill holes into their skulls while they were drugged and still alive, and pour acid directly into their brain cavities. He was, obviously, unsuccessful in this effort and would then go on to kill his incapacitated victims.
Images of police removing the refrigerator and drum of acid from his apartment still scar Milwaukee residents to this day.
So, what makes a serial killer? Why did Jeffrey Dahmer become the Jeffrey Dahmer we all associate with cannibalism and demented experiments on human victims? He was, by all accounts, a fairly normal if weird child. One that would later go on to commit horrific and completely inexplicable crimes against humanity.
15. Hernia Surgery At A Young Age Forever Changed Him
When he was just four years old (some sources say six), young Jeffrey Dahmer was diagnosed with a double hernia in his scrotum for which he received surgery. His father Lionel later said that his son changed after the procedure, becoming more withdrawn. It is said that he asked his parents shortly after surgery if his genitals had been removed. The procedure, though fairly simple, left him feeling mistrusting of adults and violated as he did not understand what was happening at the time.
When his horrific crimes were discovered in 1991, Milwaukee police officers uncovered genitals he’d removed from his victims and collected as trophies among other body parts and skulls. It is, of course, unknown if the two are related, but one can’t help but wonder if his early experience subconsciously led him to desire to remove his victims’ genitals.
14. His Mother Had Difficult Pregnancies
Jeffrey Dahmer was born in 1960, at the same time a drug called thalidomide, a non-barbiturate sedative, was given to expectant mothers experiencing morning sickness. It was later discovered that the drug was to blame for severe birth defects in hundreds of children, resulting in malformed limbs. The drug was never approved in the United States, but serves as a reminder of the generally lax drug approval process at the time.
Dahmer’s mother experienced difficult pregnancies with both Jeffrey and his brother David, and was prescribed morphine and barbiturates during both pregnancies. While pregnant with Dahmer’s brother, she frequently snapped at her elder son.
It is believed, in hindsight, that his mother suffered from post-partum depression after the birth of both her sons, which can lead to maternal alienation of affection and splintered relationships between mother and child. This may have contributed to Dahmer’s difficulty with forming trusting relationships with others.
13. He Played With Household Vermin At Four
When Dahmer was a young boy, his father cleaned out a collection of mice from under the family home. Lionel Dahmer then observed his son happily playing with the carcasses of these vermin, juggling the lifeless bodies because he liked the sound of them clinking together. His father didn’t think much of it at the time and wrote it off to typical boy behavior.
As we all know, generations upon generations of boys have used magnifying glasses to set ants on fire, and some even stick firecrackers up frog butts yet don’t turn into people-eating serial killers. Reflecting on the actions of his son after Jeffrey had been charged with the murders of over a dozen men, Lionel Dahmer realized that he may have missed a giant red flag his son was waving right in his face.
12. A Neighbor Boy Molested An 8-Year-Old Jeffrey
The family moved from Milwaukee to Bath, Ohio in 1968. Although Dahmer did not recall the incident and in fact swears it didn’t happen, his father says a neighbor boy molested him at age eight.
As boys who have been molested grow into adulthood, they often experience difficulty in romantic relationships, sometimes finding it difficult to trust others and confusing sex with abuse. Dahmer was not known to have experienced a meaningful, deep romantic relationship in his lifetime, rather he was quite obsessed in his later years with turning his male victims into compliant zombies to be used for his sexual pleasure at will.
Ten years after the alleged molestation, Jeffrey Dahmer would take his first victim at the family home in Ohio. Shortly after he graduated from high school, Dahmer seduced hitchhiker Steven Hicks home with him to hang out and drink beer. After a bit, Hicks attempted to leave and Dahmer struck him with a weight set bar. He later said he did it because he didn’t want Hicks to leave him.
11. He Collected Roadkill And Animal Bones
“He had a little graveyard with animals buried in it. There were skulls placed on top of little crosses. He had quite a collection of skeletons,” said former neighbor Eric Tyson. A classmate said Dahmer also collected stuffed rabbits, owls, and birds. When the classmate asked Dahmer about this odd taxidermy collection, he says Dahmer told him “I always wanted to do that to a human.”
Although some reports say Dahmer killed family pets, he was actually an animal lover. He and his dad once nursed an injured baby bird back to health and released it. However, he was known to seek out roadkill and dismember bodies of chipmunks and other small animals he came across.
10. He Bleached Animal Bones Using Acid From His Chemistry Set
Along with collecting roadkill, Jeffrey was known to bleach bones of the animals he found using the acid in his chemistry set. He also used the acid to strip the meat and flesh from the bones of the animals. His father was a driven and ambitious chemist throughout Jeffrey’s life, studying at Marquette University in Milwaukee when Jeffrey was born. It is said that Lionel spent far more time at work than he did at home with his wife and sons.
While actively engaged in his murder spree, Dahmer often injected acid directly into the brains of his still-living victims in the hopes of turning them into zombies. He also kept a large vat of acid in his apartment which he used to dissolve the remains of his victims after decapitating, dismembering, and engaging in necrophilia with them.
9. He Drew Chalk Outlines Of Bodies On The Floor Of His High School Classroom
Dahmer was well known in school as both a drunk — he started drinking heavily at 13 — and a prankster. He once photobombed the National Honor Society yearbook photo; his trick was discovered and his face blurred out of the final photo.
After Dahmer was arrested for murder, a high school friend said that they had a Dahmer fan club at school, egging on the young and often wasted Dahmer to pull pranks.
Classmates say he was strange, but they didn’t realize just how strange he was until he started drawing chalk outlines of imaginary bodies on the floor. At the same time, he was beginning to have fantasies about bludgeoning men he was attracted to and raping them. He was never able to act on those fantasies, though he did attempt to do so.
8. He Nailed A Dog’s Head To A Stake At 10 Years Old
Beginning around age eight, Dahmer began collecting and experimenting on animal carcasses he would find. A childhood friend reports that he would impale frogs on sticks, and he kept insects preserved in formaldehyde in jars. He began dismembering small animals, keenly interested in seeing what was inside.
At 15, he accelerated his obsession with collecting roadkill. It was at this time that he decapitated a dead dog and put the severed head on a stake. This was not a family pet. Dahmer was said to carry plastic bags around in his pocket so he could gather specimens to later dismember and study.
7. He Began Fantasizing About Dead Bodies And Obsessing Over Murder At 14
Jeffrey Dahmer said that he had his first homosexual experience at 14, and it was at this time he entertained the idea of necrophilia. Interestingly enough, he also stated that his ultimate desire once he launched on a killing spree was not actually to kill anyone but to create sex zombies he could get to do whatever he wanted.
As far as those closest to him are aware, Jeffrey Dahmer never experienced true romantic love with another individual. It is believed that he felt deeply conflicted about his homosexual desires, and that this discomfort may have led him to murder his victims after engaging in consensual sex with them. Others say this is incorrect, as Dahmer stated after his conviction that he did not feel hatred toward his victims nor guilt himself, rather he wanted to preserve his lovers so they would never leave him.
It’s worth noting that Dahmer attended senior prom with a female classmate, just months before he went on to murder his first victim. Dahmer said he did not engage in any type of sex act with Steven Hicks prior to killing him.
6. Dahmer Rarely If Ever Smiled
According to his father, Jeffrey Dahmer started out as a happy, engaged child but all that changed around the time of his hernia surgery at the age of four. From that point on, he became more withdrawn and introverted. He found strangers intimidating and often avoided engaging with them.
It is said that his parents fought regularly. Taken in the aggregate with the alleged molestation of a young Dahmer by a neighbor boy and his mother’s hostility toward him while she was pregnant with Dahmer’s younger brother David and after the boy’s arrival, it seems Dahmer exhibited classic signs of a traumatic childhood. Some researchers, fascinated by what makes a Jeffrey Dahmer, have suggested that Dahmer was suffering from an autism spectrum disorder. It is, of course, impossible and irresponsible to attempt to diagnose him in hindsight, especially as he is no longer living.
5. His Mother Spent Time In A Mental Institution
In addition to experiencing difficult pregnancies with both of her sons, Joyce Dahmer lived with depression and it is said that she spent time in a mental institution after the birth of her second son. Many believe she dealt with severe post-partum depression, though the term wasn’t really used during that time period. She was said to be anxious and easily upset, character traits that could make her seem distant and unavailable to her sons.
Following the discovery of her elder son’s crimes, she was not nearly as vocal as Dahmer’s father in trying to piece together how their son was capable of such crimes, though she did attend his court hearings before he was sentenced to 941 years in jail in 1992. In the only interview she did with the media, she said that her husband exaggerated her mental difficulties in order to shift the blame for what their son would become to her.
4. His Father Considered Him The Darker Shadow Of Himself
Lionel Dahmer wrote extensively about his own past in his 1994 book A Father’s Story as he worked through trying to understand his son’s horrific actions. Part of the process involved the elder Dahmer piecing together signs in Jeffrey’s childhood that seemed innocuous at the time but would later make sense in the bigger picture of a disturbed young man who went on to kill and eat so many young men and boys.
Dahmer later reflected that his son was actually a darker shadow of himself, exhibiting similar detachment and disconnection from others as his father. Both father and son also demonstrated a desire to control people. Dahmer realized in hindsight that many disturbing behaviors he wrote off as his son being a typical boy were, in fact, warning signs of the monster within, and a monster he could identify with.
3. He Was Abandoned By His Divorcing Parents
Having grown up in a tumultuous home with his parents constantly fighting, the Dahmers finally divorced after Jeffrey graduated high school. Because he was 18 years old at the time, neither parent attempted to gain custody of him. Meanwhile, his parents battled over custody of his brother David, who was 12 years old at the time.
Dahmer’s parents both moved out of the family home, leaving Jeffrey alone. It was there he committed his first murder shortly thereafter.
The Dahmer home in Bath, Ohio went up for sale and was actually being rented out for $8000 for the Republican National Convention in 2016. The home’s owner Chris Butler said he “did it on a whim” to “suck some Republican gelt from those people.”
2. His Mother Was Medicated When Pregnant With Him
Due to the difficulties she experienced during pregnancy, Joyce Dahmer took morphine and barbiturates throughout both pregnancies. There have been few studies on the long-term effects of exposure to these drugs in the womb, however studies on lab animals show prenatal exposure can cause neural and biochemical differentiation of the central nervous system, deficits in learning, retarded attainment of developmental milestones, and alteration of behavioral and physiological sex differences.
Although the impact of this exposure is unknown, it is possible that a young Dahmer felt that much more detached from his mother when she was under the influence of these drugs. His mother disputed claims that she was as medicated as his father made her out to be.
1. He Never Bonded With His Younger Brother
Lionel Dahmer has stated that his elder son became more withdrawn around age four, and when his younger son was born when Jeffrey was six, teachers said the boy expressed feeling neglected.
Though Jeffrey did not demonstrate hostility toward David, his father said he showed marked indifference toward his sibling. This was exacerbated when Dahmer’s parents divorced shortly after he graduated high school. His parents fought over who would keep David but couldn’t care less what happened to Jeffrey as he was 18 years old at the time.
Psychologists would later say that his parents divorcing was the “breaking point” for a young Dahmer. It was after his parents left him alone in the family home in Ohio that he murdered his first victim.