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Wednesday 08 October 2008

Jeffrey Dahmer: Gay Serial Killer

Posted in: Features, Television
By Craig Young - 23rd August 2007

Jeffrey Dahmer
This Wednesday night, August 29th, TVNZ will screen a documentary about Jeffrey Dahmer (1960-1994), the notorious Milwaukee serial killer - and gay man. What sense can we make out of his murderous proclivities, sad existence and violent life?

Dahmer was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to a relatively normal middle-class family. Even at an early age, he showed signs of what he was to become, dissecting and eviscerating pigs, nailing cats and dogs to trees, even decapitating one dog. His parents divorced when he was eighteen.

As a whole, gay serial killers are a minority amongst the general population of such predators, accounting for less than thirteen per cent of such crimes. Indeed, psychopathology suggests that they have more in common with their heterosexual counterparts, apart from their gender of victim. Ethnicity and class are another matter, though. Like Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy and Dennis Nielsen all preyed on rent boys, and itinerant African American and other ethnic minority gay men. At the risk of sounding brutal, this is social exclusion at its most bleak. These young men may have fallen through the cracks of the system, and their absence may not be missed, exacerbating the carnage that these predators cause. Dahmer is little different from his heterosexual counterparts in that regard.

In 1978, Dahmer murdered his first man, Steven Hicks (19), a hitch-hiker. Luring him home, he didn't want Hicks to leave. He attended Ohio State University for two semesters, but then dropped out, after which his father forced him to join the US Army. In 1980, Dahmer was discharged due to alcoholism. After a brief period in Florida, he settled in West Allis, Wisconsin, before returning to Milwaukee, where he rented Room 231 in the Oxford Apartments.

In August 1982 and November 1986, he was arrested for exhibitionism. In September 1988, he was arrested after groping a fourteen year old Laotian boy.

Altogether, Dahmer murdered fifteen men and two fourteen year old boys. In one particularly tragic case, Konerak Sinthasomphale (14) was found wandering naked and bruised after escaping Dahmer. Unbelievably, the two officers took the teenager back to Dahmer, who persauded them that the teenager was his nineteen year old lover, despite the young man's protestations. Although the officers were sacked, they won reinstatement, and one has been president of the local police union since 2005.

On July 22, 1991, Tracy Edwards, a young African American, escaped from Dahmer's apartment. When police investigated, they found multiple signs of Dahmer's depravations, which included multiple photographs of his victims, body parts in the fridge and within acid vats, and a pile of skulls in his closet.

These established his guilt beyond any doubt, and Dahmer was sentenced to non-parole life imprisonment at the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin. He underwent the inevitable fundamentalist conversion while inside, but only served two years before Christopher Scarver, an African-American fellow inmate, beat him to death in the prison gym while they were on work detail, resulting in Dahmer's death from severe head trauma on the way to hospital.

The Oxford Apartments were demolished after the murders, and despite early calls for a memorial garden, there is nothing but weeds and a barbed wire fence on the empty lot, with no memorial and recognition to the young African-American gay men and Konerak Sinthasomphale who lost their lives to Dahmer's cruelty. Lionel Dahmer published his side of the story and predictably, has become a fundamentalist Christian, although his wife, Joyce (64) died from cancer in 2000.

One is left with a sour taste in one's mouth, and it is hard not to agree with African-American gay male critics of the Dahmer case that this shows the marginality of members of their community in racist and homophobic America.


Charles Ewing and Joseph McCann: Minds on Trial: Great Cases in Law and Psychology: Oxford: Oxford University Press: 2006.

Richard Tithecart: Of Men and Monsters: Jeffrey Dahmer and the Construction of the Serial Killer: Madison: University of Wisconsin: 1997.

Harold Schechter and David Everett: The A to Z Encyclopedia of Serial Killers:
Pocket Books: New York: 2006.

Craig Young - 23rd August 2007