Innocent Boy One Day, Serial Killer the Next
Jeffrey Dahmer was a young boy that loved animals, and making the people surrounded by him laugh and enjoy his presence. So, how did this fun-loving kid turn into a monster that killed 17 men and boys? There isn’t one solid reason why Jeffrey turned to killing to release all of his built -up rage; a series of events occurred that altered his young innocent mind into the mind of a serial killer. From Jeffrey Dahmer experiencing abandonment, troubles with his sexuality, and a fixation on human anatomy, he developed an ailing urge to kill.
Starting with Jeffrey Dahmer’s childhood, he experienced a few abnormal things that in the long run affected his development. Jeffrey was originally born to both his parents being married, however his parent’s relationship was the least bit healthy. Jeffrey constantly witnessed abuse in the home both physical and mental. Jeffrey’s mom was constantly on medication for anxiety, and was constantly trying to earn the attention of Jeffrey’s father. Jeffery’s father was in school the majority of his childhood in a quest to earn a PHD. Although Jeffrey didn’t realize it then, him not getting the attention that he should have at such an early age, inevitably created a certain distance between him and his parents. One of Jeffery’s elementary school teachers actually noted he seemed like a child of neglect. Children, especially in their early years, need the affection of their parent to feel at the very least accepted; because of his mother’s state of health and, his father’s pursuit of a degree Jeffrey wasn’t receiving the love and attention that he needed at that age from his parents. In an article called, “Sexually motivated serial killers and the psychology of aggression and ‘‘evil’’ within a contemporary psychoanalytical perspective” by Zelda Knight, she discusses how the childhood of many serial killers often follow the same pattern. She describes some of childhoods by stating, “With many from dysfunctional families of neglect and abuse;, many fathers are absent (literally or symbolically) during the formative years, while the mother may be rejecting”(30). This is aligned with Jeffrey’s childhood; with him experiencing neglect in his younger years, his childhood is aligned with many other serial killers. This doesn’t mean that all children that are neglected by their parents are serial killers, it means that serial killers often have parents that neglected them in some shape or form. Jeffrey may not have even realized this neglect occurred but it did, and it contributed to his psyche.
When looking at Jeffrey’s childhood even further, he developed a curiosity for animal anatomy. To any parent this may come off as normal especially since Jeffrey’s father Lionel, was a chemistry major; this seemed normal and innocent to him. From a young age, Jeffrey liked to hear the clinking of animal bones against each other. Jeffrey also liked to preserve the bones of dead animals and examine them. Jeffrey’s father supported his sons interest in animal anatomy, one night the Dahmer family had turkey and Lionel let Jeffrey save the turkey bones and preserve them in chemicals. At the time, Jeffrey’s father didn’t realize he was teaching his son a technique on how to preserve bones, that he would later use to preserve human bones. In elementary school Jeffrey, also would collect dead animal carcasses that he found and bring them home to collect they’re bones and focus in on their anatomy. At the time this was Jeffrey being an innocent child taking an interest in something, however this led to his sick obsession in human bodies and bones.
Jeffery also faced the troubles of being a homosexual. This also played a major part in his development as a serial killer. Jeffrey was a teenager in the late 70’s when being gay wasn’t as accepted as it is now. There was a lot of xenophobia around being gay during this time-period. Jeffrey didn’t have anyone to talk to about his sexuality to because, from the neglect he had as a child from his parents, he didn’t feel comfortable divulging this kind of intimate information with them. Since Dahmer had no one to discuss his homosexuality with, he would fantasize sexually about men in an abnormal, very unhealthy way. Jeffrey was also known to come to high school drunk, or drink during school hours. Jeffrey has said he would drink to escape from his abnormal sexual fantasies. In his late teens, Jeffrey’s parents divorced and his mom and dad both moved out of their family home. Jeffrey’s dad lived in a motel 5 miles away from the home while his mother moved out of the home and into a new home where she started a new family. Jeffrey’s dad was unaware of the fact that Jeffrey was living alone in the house. Once Jeffrey’s dad was aware of his lonesomeness, and abuse of alcohol he insisted that Jeffrey enlist in the army. Little did his father know that Jeffrey had already committed his first sexual based murder and that crave was instilled in him from that moment on.
Looking at Jeffery’s murders one can see how all of these factors from his earlier years played a role in each and every one of his murders. When Jeffrey would commit his murders he’d sedate his victims so they were completely unconscious while he sexually abused them, he would then kill them and keep their bodies. Jeffrey used killing as a means to end for what he really wanted; their bodies. Jeffrey always as a young boy had a fixation on the bodies of animals, combining his intense homosexuality and longing for control, he used killing as a way to fulfill these longings. In the article by Zelda Knight, she also discusses the prototype for serial killer motivated by sex she writes, “One aspect of this type of serial killer worth noting is that they have exceptionally sexually sadistic fantasy lives, which are later acted out on their victims” (24). When Jeffrey was a teenager still dealing with his homosexuality he developed a very unhealthy habit of dark fantasies about men. As mentioned earlier, Dahmer would try to drink to get rid of these fantasies, but he couldn’t resist the urge. When he started his killing spree, he acted out his sexual fantasies on all of his victims, Jeffrey admired his victims’ bodies which is why he kept them.
Killing for Jeffery was also about control. Jeffrey has stated he didn’t want to kill his victims, he simply wanted to control them mentally, and sexually. Jeffrey even tried to drill into their brain and insert acid to keep them alive as some sort of zombie. In Jeffrey’s life he never really had control, he didn’t know how to control his fantasies about men. Jeffrey also didn’t know how to control and properly interpret his homosexuality, his need for control contributed to his motive for killing. Jeffrey describes his first killing as a perfect opportunity; Jeffrey had been fantasizing about sexually abusing men and, collecting their remains, then he sees a hitchhiker along the road. Jeffrey is too impulsive to not keep driving, he picks up the hitchhiker and, this becomes Jeffrey’s first victim.
Jeffrey’s killing cannot be solely blamed on his childhood and psyche, the police have also contributed to him killing. Jeffrey had been caught and the police had several times to put this man behind bars yet, he remained free to continue killing. One of his victims, a 14-year-old boy escaped Jeffrey’s apartment and, a woman saw the boy with several bruises and called the police. However, the police believed Dahmer when he said it was just a domestic dispute. In an article titled, “The Secrets of Apartment 213”, the author writes about the incident stating, “”They told us to get lost” and dismissed the incident as “a boyfriend-girlfriend thing–a lovers’ fight,” (4). The police failed to bring justice to the life of this boy and several victims that followed. For Jeffrey, this made him feel invincible, like he could get away with anything.
The seventh thesis in Jeffrey Cohen’s Monster culture discusses how monsters stand the threshold of the becoming. Cohen writes, “They ask us to reevaluate our cultural assumptions about race, gender, sexuality, our perception of difference, our tolerance toward it’s expression” (20). This theory can apply to Jeffrey Dahmer’s sexuality, pertaining to his murders. Jeffrey was frustrated as an adolescent boy about his sexuality and didn’t know how to correctly internalize his feeling towards being homosexual; which in turn created these dark sexual fantasies that he later acted out on. If society took the chance to understand that one’s sexuality doesn’t define them, society could be more accepting and not create these monsters that feel separated. Additionally, as history has shown, although Jeffrey is long gone there is no guarantee that another sex crazed killer won’t come out because, this is a viscous cycle. Not one thing can say why Jeffrey Dahmer went from an innocent loving child, to a serial killer however, through reflecting on his life and all the idiosyncrasies that belong to Jeffrey one can connect the dots. In the end, Jeffrey had deep regrets for his murders and, realized that the deep rage within him was an indescribable feeling. Jeffrey is now seen as one of the most notorious serial killers in American history.
This is the primary source that I used in my essay. This YouTube video is an interview with Jeffrey Dahmer, which goes over his whole life and his killings. I used this source to help me first understand how Jeffrey felt as a child and about his murders. It secondly helped me hear things clearly directly from Jeffrey’s mouth. I refer to this interview throughout my essay when discussing how Jeffrey felt as an adolescent and, background information on his murders.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)(Extract).” Speaking of Monsters, doi:10.1057/9781137101495.0007.
I used Cohens Monster Culture article which discusses his seven monster theses, to help describe Jeffrey Dahmer as a monster. Jeffrey could fit into multiple these however, the one that stood out to be for Jeffrey was thesis 7. Thesis 7 is about how monsters stand on the threshold of the becoming. Jeffrey was an average boy that through life turned bad; his childhood wasn’t perfect but is wasn’t all that bad. This theses shows that anyone can become a monster and, monsters are separated based on unaccepting trait that anyone can possess.
German, D. and P. Rogers. “The Secrets of Apt. 213.” Newsweek, vol. 118, no. 6, 05 Aug. 1991, p. 40. EBSCOhost, chaffey.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=9108051324&site=ehost-live.
The source call “the Secrets off Apt. 213” is about how the police found the bodies in Jeffrey Dahmer’s apartment; this also goes in depth about how gruesome an unbelievable his murders were. I will specifically use the section of this article that talks about mistakes the police made when it came to Dahmer. The police returned one of Dahmer’s victims to him, which could’ve have stopped him from killing another person, and they could’ve made the discovery of his killings much sooner.
Knight, Zelda G. “Sexually Motivated Serial Killers and the Psychology of Aggression and “Evil” within a Contemporary Psychoanalytical Perspective.” Journal of Sexual Aggression, vol. 13, no. 1, Mar. 2007, pp. 21-35. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/13552600701365597.
This article dives into the psychological aspect behind serial killers. The author does a great job of dividing the article into sections that lay out what she is discussing. I used the childhood section in my essay which, discusses how neglected youths usually make up most serial killers, this fit perfectly with Jeffrey Dahmer. I also use the section where she discusses sexually motivated killing, which also fits in with Jeffrey Dahmer because, all his murders were driven by sexual fantasies.