From the archives: USA TODAY’s coverage of the Jeffrey Dahmer case as it really unfolded
Entertainment News

From the archives: USA TODAY’s coverage of the Jeffrey Dahmer case as it really unfolded

Netflix’s new series on Jeffrey Dahmer highlights some of the gruesome and unconscionable crimes committed by the serial killer from 1978 to 1991, but the series takes some liberties in retelling the story.

“You can have all the backstory you want, but at the end of the day we’re not making a documentary,” Evan Peters, the 35-year-old Emmy-winning actor who plays Dahmer in the miniseries titled “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” said in a 2021 interview with Variety.

The 10-episode miniseries, according to Netflix’s description, tells a story of “underserved victims and their communities impacted by the systemic racism and institutional failures of the police that allowed one of America’s most notorious serial killers to continue his murderous spree in plain sight for over a decade.”

The severed remains were found in the fly-infested apartment of a candy factory worker early Tuesday after a man, who said he escaped from the flat, flagged down police.

“You think you’ve seen it all out here, and then something like this happens,” said officer Rolf Mueller.

The gruesome scene at the apartment house in a rundown neighborhood near Marquette University greeted patrolmen who were hailed by the man, who had handcuffs dangling from one wrist. The man said he was able to flee from the apartment after being threatened with a knife.

Police found the walls of the apartment plastered with photographs of nude, mutilated bodies. A dresser was brimming with drawings and snapshots. Body parts were stuffed in cardboard boxes and plastic bags. A barrel was filled with acid and bones. A video camera was mounted on a wall.

Police said most of the body parts are believed to be from males of various races.

Officers at the scene said the stench was overpowering.

“I thought it smelled like dead bodies,” said a neighbor, Anita Lusk. “Never thought I’d be right.”

Other neighbors told police they heard sawing in the apartment at all hours.

Milwaukee Police Lt. Thomas Breitlow said Tuesday that police had arrested Jeffrey Dahmer, 31, at the apartment and booked him on suspicion of homicide.

“He was just a quiet guy who kept to himself. He was kind of dirty and he’d walk through the alleys at all hours of the night,” said Pamela Bass, who lives across the hall. “I thought he was a little strange, but this goes beyond strange,”

Originally from Medina, Ohio, Dahmer worked at Ambrosia Chocolate, a downtown Milwaukee factory, for about six years.

He was convicted and served a year in jail in 1988 after offering a 13-year-old boy $50 to pose nude for photos. Dahmer, still on probation, also was cited in 1982 for indecent exposure at the Wisconsin State Fair.

James Fox, a Northeastern University criminologist and an authority on serial killers, said the crime is atypical of most serial killers, who are usually careful about covering up evidence of killings and controlled in how they kill.

But, Fox said, it does fit the stereotype. He cited the case of Ed Gein, who terrorized rural Wisconsin more than 31 years ago. He killed 15 of his female farmer neighbors, dismembered them and used their body parts to make chair seats, lamp shades and bracelets.

Gein’s crimes were the basis for the movies “Psycho” and “Silence of the Lambs.” “The stereotypical Hollywood image of a serial killer,” Fox said.

“This type of person tends to be a little more confused, reclusive, a loner,” said Fox, who co-wrote “Mass Murder: America’s Growing Menace.” “His whole fantasy is wrapped up in death and destruction as opposed to the cold, calculating Bundy-esque killer.”

There were signs, many signs. But most indications that something might be amiss with Jeffrey Dahmer were ignored.

Neighbors heard power saws buzzing at all hours. A putrid smell permeated the 30-unit apartment building for a year. No one challenged Dahmer’s explanation of rotting meat in a broken freezer.

“We’ve been smelling odors for weeks, but we thought it was a dead animal. … We had no idea it was humans,” said neighbor Ella Vickers.

Police did not receive one complaint about Dahmer in the two years he’s lived at the Oxford Apartments.

But as his son sought parole in 1989 for sexual assault, Lionel Dahmer begged a judge to order treatment. “This may be our last chance to institute something lasting,” he said.

Although probation officers are required by law to make monthly home visits, his agent was overloaded and Dahmer lived in a high-crime area. The provision was waived.

Dahmer was a bright, but average student. A counselor told his parents Dahmer seemed uninterested in schoolwork.

High school pranks escalated to a drunk-and-disorderly arrest in 1981. Dahmer had moved away from home, dropped out of Ohio State University and joined the military.

He was booted out of the Army because of alcoholism, his stepmother, Shari Dahmer, told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer. “He was a gentle person, but when he got drunk it would take four policemen to hold him down.”

He was fired (from Ambrosia Chocolates) 10 days ago, but the company won’t talk about him.

(After serving 10 months in jail for the 1988 arrest) in 1989, Dahmer lured a man home and put a sleeping pill in his coffee. But the man woke and ran, Shari Dahmer said. “Since then we have been on the edge. Obviously he has taken a turn for the worse.”

Dahmer is a suspect in 17 murders, police said. He was arrested Monday, after police found parts of 11 bodies in his apartment. He was charged with four counts of murder Thursday and was held on $1 million bail.

Dahmer, in his first court appearance, was stoic and unshaven. He said nothing other than that he understood the charges against him.

More charges are expected in early August, as police identify other victims.

Court papers also provided new gory details of the crime scene, charging Dahmer had sexual contact with at least three victims and cut out the heart of one to eat later.

Also found: ethyl alcohol, chloroform and formaldehyde, three chemicals used for preserving, and four one-gallon bottles of hydrochloric acid.

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