The paper at hand is devoted to the investigation of the life, personality, and criminal behavior of one of the most notorious American serial killers of 1980s-1990s, Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer (who was also nicknamed Milwaukee monster for excessively violent nature of the crimes he committed as his victims were not only raped and murdered but also tortured and dismembered). Researchers agree that Jeffrey was a difficult child suffering from psychological distortions and impaired social skills – the conditions that were aggravating while he was growing up (Palermo & Bogaerts, 2015). The present study is going to investigate what factors of Dahmer’s biography triggered his propensity to violence and contributed to his inability to socialize.
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Childhood and Background
To understand what conditions may lead to the formation of a serial killer, one should have a closer look at his/her background in general and childhood in particular. Jeffrey Dahmer was born on the 21st of May, 1960 in West Allis, Wisconsin. He was raised by a normal American family of Joyce (a teletype machine instructor) and Lionel Dahmer (an analytical chemist). The parents loved their son, however, their professional lives prevented them from devoting much time to his upbringing. Moreover, the fact that they had to live with Lionel’s parents at Jeffrey’s early childhood created additional tension and told on his psyche. A hernia operation, which he had to undergo at the age of four, triggered the process of personality metamorphosis characterized by a propensity to isolation and unwillingness to enter communication with other people.
During this period, Jeffrey was deprived of the attention he needed as his mother was too deeply absorbed in her problems whereas his father continued to satisfy his career ambitions. This resulted in the transformation of a happy child into an outsider who learned to conceal his emotions. As is was later mentioned in mass media, at the age of eight, the boy called the police to say that he raped by his neighbor but his claim was ignored. Lack of social contact diverted his attention from people to the forest that surrounded his home. He started to collect dead animals and make experiments on their bodies scraping the flesh off them with the help of acid. This interest developed into the habit of killing animals to enrich the collection of their carcasses and gradually switched to fantasies about torturing and murdering men (Palermo & Bogaerts, 2015).
When the parents broke up, Jeffrey stayed with his father and never got in touch with his mother and younger brother. This made him even more secluded and withdrawn. However, he managed to preserve seeming adequacy showing no signs of psychopathic inclinations. That is supposed to be the major reason his crimes could not be discovered for such a long time. Jeffrey was an average student who could not make friends, which led to the development of drinking problems during his teenage years. The medical expertise later concluded that alcohol addiction coupled with perversions led to the development of multiple personalities (Miller, 2014).
After school graduation, Jeffrey entered Ohio State University but dropped out after two semesters. He committed his first crime during this period and managed to escape from punishment. Under the pressure of his father, he had to join the Army but was discharged after two years because his alcohol addiction continued. After some time spent in hospital in Florida, he went home and was arrested for disorderly charge. In 1982, he moved to his grandmother who was the first person to discover some troubling signs in his behavior. While living with grandmother, Dahmer was in prison two more times for indecent exposure (Miller, 2014).
Tired of her grandson’s conduct, his grandmother made him leave in 1988. This was how Jeffrey found himself in Milwaukee, where the sequence of murders began after he was arrested as a sex offender and drug abuser. The story ended in 1991 when Dahmer was charged for 15 cases of murder and convicted to a life sentence. Other prisoners attempted to kill him twice. He managed to survive the first attack with a razor and receive only light injuries. However, the second attack was successful and Jeffrey died because of head injury (Miller, 2014).
Analysis of the Victims
Jeffrey Dahmers’ victims were not selected randomly; a closer look reveals a pattern of repetition in his murders. All the men were young homosexual representatives of various minority groups. This allows inferring that he was rather careful to select his victims on the fringes of society where no one would bother about their sudden disappearance. Jeffrey mostly chose men of African-American descent at bus stops, bars, and department stores and promised them money for having sexual intercourse with them. At home, he gave them drugs, strangled them to death, and had sex with their corpses before dismembering them. He usually made numerous photos of the men at every step of the process for keeping memories of them (Mann, Anderson, Holland, & Webb, 2015).
A more profound analysis proves that Dahmer’s victims not only had a common background but also demonstrated a similar attitude towards him. His first victim, a 19-year-old hitchhiker, Steven Hicks, was cruelly murdered after he refused to stay with Jeffrey till the morning after having sex with him. This situation repeated several times, which allows concluding that Jeffrey killed those who rejected him and demonstrated indifference to his feelings (Miller, 2014).
Analysis of Murders: Profiles, Symbolism, and Method of Operation
Dahmer admitted committing 17 crimes between 1978 and 1991. Their detailed profiles with photos, personal data, and descriptions of the murders are presented in the presentation of this research paper. 12 of these men were murdered in 213 Oxford Apartments, North 25th street. Jeffrey killed three men at his grandmother’s place. The first man was murdered at Joyce and Lionel’s home in Ohio. The second one – at the Ambassador hotel situated in Wisconsin. Even though Dahmer later claimed that the race was chosen randomly, nine of the victims were Afro-American. The major thing that interested him was the shape of the body (Earle, 2014).
As for the method of operation, most of the victims were drugged or offered drinks with sleeping pills and later strangled to death. Some of them were sodomized before dismembering. The remains were either eliminated in acid or thrown away with the garbage. One victim died because of blood loss and shock when his artery was cut. Some happed to be Jeffrey’s apartment after he offered money to them for taking a couple of naked shots before the camera. In several cases, Dahmer made experiments injecting muriatic acid or boiling water into the brain trying to make a body that would be under his total control. These victims either died or were later strangled by Dahmer (Earle, 2014).
As far as symbolism and fetishism are concerned, Jeffrey collected trophies: skulls (which he painted gray) and body parts (biceps, torso, heart) of his victims and kept them in the fridge. In two cases, he preserved the entire skeletons and hanged them in his wardrobe. Once, he decorated the walls of his apartment with bones (Miller, 2014).
Investigation and Prosecution
Dahmer was initially charged with four murders and then – with eleven more when enough evidence was discovered. However, he was not charged with the murder of Tracy Edwards and Steven Tuomi as only those charges that can be proven beyond any reasonable doubt can be brought according to the legislation system of the district and there was no evidence supporting these crimes. Dahmer was pleaded guilty but insane by the defense.
The defendant tried to argue that Dahmer suffered from mental and personality disorders which meant that he was unable to control himself. Finally, Jeffrey was diagnosed by a defense psychiatrist with several mental diseases including personality disorder, schizotypal disorder, necrophilia, alcohol addiction, and psychotic disorder. However, the forensic psychiatrist claimed that Dahmer could not suffer from necrophilia since he attempted to create obedient “zombies”, which meant that he preferred sex with living partners. Dahmer was described as a cunning maniac, who could make a difference between the good and the evil and control his behavior (Miller, 2014).
Two mental psychiatrists for prosecution and defense, George Palermo and Samuel Friedman, were chosen by the jury to decide the case. The former claimed that the murders came as results of aggression and sexual attraction, which meant that Dahmer was a sadist and suffered from the antisocial disorder but was legally sane. The latter diagnosed a personality and obsessive-compulsive disorder revealing some sadistic features (Miller, 2014).
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On the 14th of February, both sides spoke before the court for two hours each. The defense portrayed him as a lonely, abandoned, and the deeply insane individual who could not control his impulses. On the contrary, prosecution counsel described Dahmer as a sane person who calculated his murder in advance and made everything to avoid being detected by the police. On the following day, Dahmer was ruled to be sane at the time he committed the murders and sentenced to life imprisonment plus 70 years after his death. This sentence is explained by the fact that capital punishment was abolished by the State of Wisconsin.
The parents were allowed to have a short face-to-face meeting with their son. Later, he had to go to Ohio to be charged for the murder of Steven Hicks, pleaded guilty, and received one more term. Dahmer was in solitary confinement out of concerns that he can be attacked by other prisoners. However, he was later transferred to a more insecure unit. He gradually got interested in Christianity. His fellow inmate tried to kill Dahmer with a razor but he was not seriously hurt. However, the second attempt made by other prisoners was successful. Dahmer was killed in a gym with a heavy metal bar (Miller, 2014).
Personality Account: Summary
To summarize the circumstances and personality traits that characterized Jeffrey Dahmer as a serial killer, the following points should be singled out (Earle, 2014):
- lack of socialization;
- parental neglect;
- alcohol addiction;
- the propensity to necrophilia (though not recognized by the course as a sign of insanity);
- sadistic traits;
- fetishism (preserved the bones, skulls, and other parts of bodies after dismembering them).
Even though all these characteristics form a picture of a maniac, Jeffrey was ruled to be sane as he always preserved logic reasoning, distinct and literate speech, and ability to analyze his motifs and actions (Earle, 2014).
Earle, H. E. (2014). My Friend Dahmer: the comic as Bildungsroman. Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics, 5(4), 429-440.
Mann, R. W., Anderson, B. E., Holland, T. D., & Webb Jr, J. E. (2015). Unusual “crime” scenes. Hard Evidence: Case Studies in Forensic Anthropology, 133-148.
Miller, L. (2014). Serial killers: I. Subtypes, patterns, and motives. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 19(1), 1-11.
Palermo, M. T., & Bogaerts, S. (2015). The dangers of posthumous diagnoses and the unintended consequences of facile associations: Jeffrey Dahmer and autism spectrum disorders. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 59(14), 1564-1579.