Softly-spoken, handsome and intelligent, Jeffrey Dahmer’s boy-next-door façade concealed urges that eventually shocked the world. Between 1978 and 1991, the so-called ‘Milwaukee Cannibal’ murdered 17 men and boys, committed necrophilia, consumed human flesh, and utterly lost himself in what he later described as a holocaust of his own making.
These atrocities are familiar to true crime buffs, but here are some facts you may not have known about one of America’s most terrifying serial killers.
1. He had his own fan club at school
Jeffrey Dahmer was in many ways a withdrawn and obsessive child. One of his favourite hobbies was to dissect animals and collect their bones. However, he was also known as a class clown at school and impressed other kids with his outrageous pranks. These included pretending to have seizures and fits, which was known among his peers as “doing a Dahmer”.
Some fellow pupils were so tickled by Jeff’s antics that they dubbed themselves the ‘Dahmer Fan Club’, and actively encouraged him to take it further. Years later, when Dahmer’s crimes came to light, it stunned his former classmates.
John Backderf, author of the acclaimed graphic novel My Friend Dahmer, explained: “It’s like getting hit with a 2-by-4… Suddenly all the goofball antics and silly things we’d done became completely sinister and troubling.”
2. He performed zombification experiments
The grisly nature of Dahmer’s murders has become a part of American serial killer lore. Alongside the acts of necrophilia and cannibalism that made him notorious, he also performed bizarre experiments to try and subjugate his victims.
One of them was Errol Lindsey, a teenager he lured into his apartment. Dahmer sedated him, drilled a hole into his skull, and poured in hydrochloric acid, thinking it would turn him into a docile zombie. Incredibly, Lindsey survived this initial ordeal and woke up complaining of a headache before Dahmer strangled him.
Another subject of his ghastly experiments was teenager Konerak Sinthasomphone. Like Lindsey, he survived having acid put into his skull, and even managed to leave the apartment when Dahmer had gone to buy more alcohol.
3. His first victim was a hitch hiker
Just after he graduated from high school, in June 1978, he picked up a hitchhiker named Steven Hicks, took him home to his parents’ house, where they drank beer and had sex. When Hicks tried to leave, Dahmer killed him with a blow to the head with a barbell. He dismembered the corpse of his first victim, packed the remains in plastic bags and buried them in the woods behind the house. It would be another nine years before he took his second victim.
3. He was caught red-handed and got away with it
Dazed and disorientated, Sinthasomphone was found on a street corner by three women. They promptly called the police, but Dahmer somehow managed to convince the officers that the boy was an adult and that they’d simply had a drunken lover’s tiff.
The women who’d originally found the victim were incredulous, but the police bought Dahmer’s story completely. They didn’t feel anything was amiss even when they accompanied Dahmer and Sinthasomphone back to the killer’s flat, which stank of decaying flesh due to a previous victim lying in the bedroom.
Satisfied that everything was fine, the officers left. Dahmer murdered Sinthasomphone straight afterwards.
4. He planned to turn his victims into an altar
When Dahmer was finally apprehended, he confessed he’d been planning to create an altar in his apartment, using the remains of his victims. It was a serious project for Dahmer – he later created a detailed sketch of the imagined altar, which would have consisted of a black table adorned with skulls and flanked by whole skeletons.
For Dahmer, it would have been a meditative area, where he intended to sit on a black leather chair and bask in his bloodlust. Or, as he himself described it, it would be a “place where I could cleanse my thoughts and feed my obsession.”
5. He took a human head to work
Jeffrey Dahmer worked in a chocolate factory. His work life and grotesque private life did overlap when he took a victim’s mummified head into work and stored it in his personal locker.
“That’s how strong the compulsion was, that’s how bizarre the desire was,” he later explained in an interview. “I wanted to keep something of the person with me.”
6. He was obsessed with Star Wars and The Exorcist III
Jeffrey Dahmer’s lethal urges can’t easily be explained, but we do know they were there from a very young age. As a child, he had been fascinated by dead animals, and as a schoolboy, he’d fantasised about incapacitating a jogger and sexually assaulting him. He also claimed his first life just weeks after graduating high school, when he picked up and murdered a hitchhiker.
It would therefore be incorrect to blame the perceived effects of pop culture for what he did. That said, it’s certainly true that Dahmer psyched himself up to kill by watching certain movies. He relished the wickedness of the Emperor in Return of the Jedi, even going as far as wearing yellow contact lenses to resemble the Star Wars villain. Dahmer was also fixated on The Exorcist III, which focuses on the horrific exploits of a supernatural serial killer.
One victim who managed to escape remembered seeing The Exorcist III playing in the background. Dahmer himself spoke of the importance of the film, saying “I felt so hopelessly evil and perverted that I actually derived a sort of pleasure from watching that tape.”