Jeffrey Dahmer: Serial Killer Biography Of America's Most Famous Cannibal

By Jacob Shelton

(Getty Images)

Cannibal, killer, monster: Jeffrey Dahmer has rightfully earned his place among some of the most vicious serial killers in America, and his murders shined an oblique light on the double life of the country's most violent criminals. To anyone on the outside, Dahmer was just a handsome screw-up who couldn't keep a job. The depressed alcoholic showed an aptitude for little more than murder, but everyone who met him and survived described Dahmer as an affable, down-to-Earth guy, so how did he turn from quiet Midwestern kid to killer? Maybe there was no transformation. Maybe Dahmer was always waiting to show the world who he really was.

Young Dahmer

Dahmer was a lonely child. He spent most of his time playing in an imaginary place that he called "Infinity Land," a world filled with corpses that went on forever. He was fascinated by dead animals from the moment he saw his father remove animal bones from beneath the family home, later recalling the feeling of an odd tingling sensation when he heard the bones rattle in a bucket. Dahmer learned how to bleach the bones of rodent carcasses from his father and held onto the bones in a bucket, which he treated like a homemade rattle. Not thinking this a strange toy, his family referred to the bucket of bones that the young Dahmer constantly played with as "his fiddlesticks."

Fiddlesticks in hand, Dahmer was left to explore Infinity Land at his leisure. His father worked constantly, and his mother suffered from depression. When his younger brother, David, came into the picture, Dahmer resented the attention he received and further descended into his own imagination. When forensic psychiatrist Dr. Carl Wahlstrom studied Dahmer following his arrest in 1991, he found that as a young man, the killer's libido was "off the charts." Dahmer's sexual fantasies about corpses took up "about two-thirds of his day."

While living in Bath, Ohio as a teenager, Dahmer fixated on a jogger who passed by his house every day. Isolated and depressed, the 13-year-old Dahmer felt both an attraction to the man and a sense of ownership over their one-sided relationship, so one day, he decided to take action. He grabbed a baseball bat and hid in some bushes to wait for the jogger to pass, but the man never came. Dahmer returned home to beat himself up inside the prison of his mind instead. 

(Revere Senior High School/Wikimedia Commons)

University, Military, And Murder

Dahmer's alcoholism veered noticeably out of control when he was in high school, as he resorted to slamming sixers in the parking lot before class. He initially began drinking to self-medicate his depression, but by his twenties, he drank to "overcome his natural inhibition" against murder. He committed his first one while living in Ohio in 1978, three weeks after graduating from high school, after picking up a hitchhiker named Steven Mark Hicks. Dahmer brought him to his home, where the two young men drank for a few hours, but after Hicks decided to leave, Dahmer bludgeoned him over the head with a 10-lb. dumbbell before strangling him. The next day, Dahmer dissected Hicks's body and buried the remains in his backyard.

Later that year, Dahmer enrolled in his only semester of college at Ohio State University, but if he attended class, no one has any memory of it. Instead, he seemed to major in drinking. When Dahmer's father paid a surprise visit to his dorm room, he found little more than empty beer bottles. Dahmer dropped out of college three months into the first semester, and the next January, he enlisted in the U.S. Army.

After training as a medical specialist at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, Dahmer was stationed in Baumholder, West Germany, where he served as a combat medic in 2nd Battalion, 68th Armored Regiment, 8th Infantry Division. He wasn't much of a soldier, and in 2010, two men stationed with Dahmer stated that he repeatedly raped them over a 17-month period. Two years after his enlistment, Dahmer was deemed unsuitable for military service and discharged from the Army.

(Sulfur/Wikimedia Commons)

Murder At Grandma's

Without the strict handholding of the Army, Dahmer was left to his own devices. His rudderless nature led him back to Wisconsin, where he was sent to live with his grandmother, who the family hoped could curb his alcoholism and convince him to get a job. The plan worked briefly when he found work as a phlebotomist (which should have been perfect for him), but within 10 months, he was on unemployment again, having drifted from the job back to the bottle.

He didn't take another long-term job until January 1985, when he was hired as a mixer at the Milwaukee Ambrosia Chocolate Factory, where he worked from 11:00 P.M. to 7:00 A.M. six nights per week. It was during this time that Dahmer began exploring the bathhouses of Wisconsin, where he became so frustrated with the movements of his sexual partners (literally—he was angry that they moved during sex) that he began drugging them before raping them. Rather than call the authorities, bathhouse management just revoked his membership.

Dahmer was still living with his grandmother on November 20, 1987, when he rented a room at the Ambassador Hotel in Milwaukee for a liaison with Steven Tuomi, a 25-year-old man from Ontonagon, Michigan. Dahmer said that he had no intention of killing Tuomi, but after drugging and raping him, Dahmer supposedly blacked out. When he woke up, Tuomi was black and blue, his chest was "crushed in," and he was bleeding from the mouth. This killing unlocked something in Dahmer, though he maintained he couldn't remember doing it. He began seeking out victims in gay bars before drugging and strangling them at his grandmother's home and in various hotels in the Milwaukee area. Eventually, his grandmother asked him to move out because she was tired of the foul smells emanating from her basement.

(Sulfur/Wikimedia Commons)

Conviction Only Made Him Bolder

On September 26, 1988, Dahmer was arrested for drugging and molesting a 13-year-old boy after luring him to his apartment under the pretext of posing nude for photographs, and in January 1989, he was convicted of second-degree sexual assault and enticing a child for immoral purposes. Sentencing for the crime didn't happen until May, and during this time, Dahmer continued killing adult victims and keeping their body parts as trophies.

After killing aspiring model Anthony Spears, Dahmer placed the corpse in his grandmother's tub and skinned the body before pulverizing the bones, throwing them in the trash, preserving Sears's head and genitalia in acetone, and storing them in his work locker and then his new apartment in Milwaukee. Shortly after the move, he killed his sixth victim, Raymon Smith, before taking photos of his body, mutilating him, and preserving his skull.

For drugging and molesting the teen boy, Dahmer received a one-year prison sentence on "day release," allowing him to work during the day and return to the prison at night, and five years of probation. After 10 months, Dahmer was granted an early release, but rather than simply returning to his routine, he graduated from strangulation to throat slashing, bleeding his victims out on the floor, placing them in his bathtub, and arranging them in various poses before dismembering their bodies and removing the organs for safe keeping.

(Milwaukee Police Department/Wikimedia Commons)

Close Call

Following the murder of 22-year-old Chicago native Ernest Miller, Dahmer took a break from killing for five months, but in early '91, he ramped back up so hard that he almost got caught. After luring a Lao teenager named Konerak Sinthasomphone to his apartment, Dahmer took Polaroids of the boy before drugging him, drilling a hole in his skull, and injecting hydrochloric acid into his frontal lobe to keep him as a sexual zombie.

Amazingly, this didn't kill the boy. On the morning of May 27, 1991, Dahmer returned home to find a confused Sinthasomphone sitting outside, completely nude and surrounded by three young women. Dahmer attempted to get the boy away from them, but they'd already called 9-1-1. When two Milwaukee police officers arrived, Dahmer told them Sinthasomphone was his boyfriend and had too much to drink after a lover's quarrel. Despite the fact that Sinthasomphone was visibly injured, the police told the three women to stop interfering with a domestic squabble and let Dahmer take the boy inside, where he made sure to kill him.

(U.S. Department of Justice/Wikimedia Commons)

Finally Caught

Dahmer's close call didn't slow down his reign of terror, but on July 22, 1991, he slipped up. After offering 32-year-old Tracy Edwards $100 to hang out at his apartment and drink beer, he attempted to handcuff Edwards and pose him for nude photos. Edwards was already wary of Dahmer, having noted the strange smells in his apartment, so before Dahmer could strangle him, Edwards escaped, flagged down two Milwaukee police officers, and led them to Dahmer's apartment.

Inside, Dahmer admitted only to handcuffing Edwards, but after an officer discovered Polaroids of human remains that were clearly taken in the same apartment, the jig was up. Dahmer was taken to the police station while a thorough search of his kitchen turned up four severed heads, seven skulls, two human hearts, portions of an arm muscle, an entire torso, and human organs packed in ice.

That was just the kitchen. Elsewhere in the apartment, investigators found two entire skeletons, a pair of severed hands, two severed and preserved penises, a mummified scalp, and three further dismembered torsos dissolving in an acid solution in a 57-gallon drum, as well as 74 Polaroid pictures detailing the dismemberment of Dahmer's victims. It took days to detail every entry in Dahmer's museum of death.

(Dual Freq/Wikimedia Commons)

Sentenced And Killed

On July 23, 1991, Dahmer told the full story of his multiple murders to Detective Patrick Kennedy. Over the next two weeks, Dahmer was interviewed multiple times for a total of 60 hours after he waived his right to an attorney, eventually confessing because he had "created this horror, and it only makes sense I do everything to put an end to it." He openly admitted to killing 16 young men in Wisconsin and Steven Hicks in Ohio. On January 13, 1992, he pleaded guilty but insane to 15 counts of murder.

During his brief trial, Dahmer was forthright and calm, admitting that he was a killer but insisting that something was wrong him. One doctor theorized that Dahmer killed men because he wanted to kill the source of his homosexual desires, while another argued that Dahmer may have suffered from a personality disorder but wasn't insane. Dahmer was sentenced to life imprisonment plus 10 years for the first two counts and life imprisonment plus 70 years on the remaining 13, the mandatory minimum sentence. He was moved to the Columbia Correctional Institution and placed in solitary confinement for a year out of concern for his physical safety.

With Dahmer's consent, he was eventually moved to a less secure unit, and on November 28, 1994, he was attacked on work detail by fellow inmates Jesse Anderson and Christopher Scarver. They bashed in Dahmer's head with a 20-inch metal bar and left him to die on floor, and one hour after he was discovered, he passed away at a local hospital. After hearing about her son's death, Joyce Flint asked a journalist, "Now is everybody happy? Now that he's bludgeoned to death, is that good enough for everyone?"

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Jacob Shelton


Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.