Recently, on the popular streaming platform Netflix, you can stream the story of Jeffrey Dahmer, the serial killer who, between 1978 and 1991, tortured, killed, dismembered, and cannibalized at least seventeen teenagers. Monster was released in ten episodes, exploring the life of one of the most heinous and disturbing monsters in the history of crime, and in this article, we will have the evil nature of Dahmer explained. The miniseries, created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, has not been advertised as has happened for other shows, perhaps due to prudent caution towards the feelings of victims’ families. The story’s script is pleasant, halfway between a “docuseries” and absolute fiction, with conceptual themes that span different temporal dimensions to provide a complete picture of Jeffrey’s existence.
In some clips, it almost seems to witness a journalistic reportage, complete with interviews of the characters involved in the horrifying and macabre story. Particularly successful, in my opinion, is the choice of Evan Peters in the role of the protagonist, who manages to immerse himself in the part of the unhappy Jeffrey, from the tormented dysfunctional adolescence to the monstrous homicidal awareness of adulthood.
As we said at the beginning, Jeffrey Dahmer ferociously killed seventeen young people, fifteen of whom were confirmed, choosing them mainly from the lower social classes, in an environment where he could make his unnatural desires for cannibalism and necrophilia go unnoticed. The televised reenactment tends to shed light on the murders, highlighting the lack of attention of the institutions towards a part of the city community, the victim of a persistent racist attitude, and the incredible incompetence of the police. These two elements will prove decisive in understanding how a psychopathic alcoholic with a criminal record could follow his murderous impulses and become one of the most famous serial killers in the United States.
The television series begins on the evening of 1991 when Jeffrey Dahmer is arrested. The monster lures in one of the gay clubs, which he usually frequents, what would have been the eighteenth victim, at least according to his subsequent stories and the reconstructions of the investigators. The unfortunate boy, Tracy Edwards, is attracted by the illusion of being able to provide an intimate and remunerated photo shoot. The meeting soon becomes a nightmare when Tracy realizes that the landlord intends to kill him, managing to escape and reporting him to the first police patrol crossing in one of the adjacent streets. However, the police officers, not very convinced of the young man’s words, conduct an inspection, finding in Dhamer’s apartment the human remains of crimes that exceed any imagination. The absurd spectacle that is located in the hovel surpasses any horror movie fantasy: skulls, organs dissolved in an acid bin, other organs locked in the refrigerator, knick-knacks made from bones, as well as the bewildering discovery of human flesh in pots and plates, unmistakable sign, as confirmed by the killer himself, of the taste for cannibalization.
At this point, the policemen, often called in vain by a diligent neighbor of the monster, oppressed by the stench that came from the apartment of horrors and frightened by so many screams in the middle of the night, must take note of the secret life of that strange, always drunk tenant. From the moment of arrest, the narrative goes back and, with flashbacks and flashforwards, tries to reconstruct the story of the protagonist from multiple points of view. The crucial moment of the arrest cannot be understood if one does not retrace Jeffrey’s past, with his complex relations with his family and the non-acceptance of his homosexuality, tragically sublimated in the spasmodic search for a beautiful male body “to possess,” through heinous murders and the horrendous practice of anthropophagy. Trying to understand the motivations of Jeffrey’s work is too ambitious and almost impossible an undertaking, as some lines of the same fiction will recite. Still, at the same time, it allows you to delve into the abysses of the human soul, pushing yourself to the limit of the darkest deviance.
Jeffrey Dahmer: from childhood to adult life
Who was Jeffrey Dahmer, actually, and can his acts be explained? And if the American institutional system had worked, would it have been possible to commit so many heinous murders? These are the two main questions raised by the TV show.
The biographical information relating to the childhood of the real Jeffrey Dahmer is quite conflicting. He was born on May 21, 1960, in Milwaukee to Lionel Herbert Dahmer, of German / Welsh origins, at the time still a university student of chemistry, and Joyce Annette, an expert in teleprinters (Irish and Scottish origins). For a while, Jeffrey lived a quiet childhood until when he was six years old when he fell ill from a severe form of inguinal hernia; for others, he was the victim of the abuse of a neighbor who raped him several times. As the Netflix series points out, Jeffrey lived in a very tense family climate, neglected by his father, often absent due to his many academic commitments, and by his mother, a hypochondriac and depressed woman, always under invasive and useless pharmaceutical treatments. Even the birth of little brother David failed to brighten Jeffrey’s life, while his mother poured all the occasional lucid attention on him.
At the age of 8, the future monster began collecting the remains of dead animals, which he buried in the woods near his parents’ home in Bath Township, Ohio. In the following years, he began to nurture a real macabre passion for animal carcasses, favored by his father, proud of what he believed was “scientific curiosity” on the part of his son. Towards the age of thirteen, he slowly developed sexual fantasies where he imagined joining dead people and being bullied at school for the excessive strangeness of his character attitude. When he reached puberty, Jeffrey realized he was homosexual. Still, he decided to hide his preference believing, perhaps with good reason, that he could be discriminated against by the apparent and ostentatious masculinity of the American province. To the problems of a sexual nature was added the excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages, even during the day. When the parents decided to divorce, the mother moved with her younger son to Chippewa Falls. At the same time, Jeffrey stayed with his father, still too absent and unwilling to understand the inner discomfort of his son, who grew up without guidance.
Jeffrey’s murderous career began in 1978, as the Netflix series explains. In 1978 Jeffrey met an unfortunate nineteen-year-old hitchhiker and convinced him to go to his parents’ empty house. Here he made him drink, and listen to music, then killed him by hitting him with a heavy dumbbell and suffocating him. Right after the murder, Jeffrey stripped the boy’s body, straddled it, and m***rbated on it, realizing for the first time his perverse fantasies with a corpse. Then he dismembered the body, dissolving some pieces of meat in the acid and crushing the bones with a baseball bat. In this way, he practiced on a human being what he had already extensively experimented with the remains of poor animals. The young Dahmer began to accumulate one failure after another: he was first expelled from the university after just three months of enrollment, then enlisted in the army and discharged for alcoholism. Moreover, at that time, right where Jeffrey worked, two boys disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Back in the United States, in 1981, his father sent him to live with his grandmother in West Allis, and here, for some time, it seemed that Jeffrey’s life was normalizing, even though he was spending everything he earned as a phlebotomist in alcohol and cigarettes.
While continuing to cultivate his obsessions and dismembering dead animals, as he will tell, he managed to dominate his murderous passion for some years. In the early 1980s, Jeffrey stepped up to go to gay bars, but little is known about his sexual activity, which he probably couldn’t practice healthily. In the show, we see how he sought, during intimate encounters, the immobility of his partners, annoying them and causing their immediate separation. In September 1987, Jeffrey resumed killing: first a boy of Finnish origins in the Ambassador Hotel in Milwaukee, then a fourteen-year-old Native American and a twenty-two-year-old, the latter at his grandmother’s house. He’s expelled from the home due to his strange behavior and the bad smells from the cellar. On this aspect, the television reconstruction leaves the viewer’s imagination free to evaluate what were the natural suspicions of the father and especially of the grandmother, who perhaps deliberately chose not to see the horrible actions of her grandson. Jeffrey moved into a small apartment in Milwaukee, not far from the chocolate factory where he worked.
After a few weeks, he lured a 13-year-old Laotian under the pretext of paying him $ 50 for a photo shoot. The boy managed to escape and report him to the police. Dahmer was arrested and charged with sexual assault. And here is one of the many inconsistencies of the system: despite the imprisonment requested by the prosecution, the judge was excessively indulgent, imposing a sentence of only ten months in a psychiatric hospital. After serving his sentence, he returned to his grandmother’s house and committed another heinous murder. In the spring of 1990, Dahmer moved home again, arriving at the fateful 924North 25th Street.
Here his murderous activity underwent an intense acceleration, killing over a year or so, between June 1990 and July 1991, as many as twelve boys with the same methods used previously. The police never discovered Dahmer, despite constant complaints from neighbors and the attempted escape of the Laotian Konerak Sinthasomphone, the younger brother of the boy whom Dahmer had lured and molested years earlier. The killer managed to persuade the intervening police officers that the boy was his boyfriend and that he was 19 years old (not the actual 14). The agents, having entered the horrible apartment of Dahmer, did not notice the remains of the corpses scattered everywhere, leaving the very young Laotian to his unspeakable fate. As seen in the fiction, a suspension measure was later taken on the two police officers, but they were reinstated and even promoted.
From the reports of the investigators, aided by the fact that the killer kept the documents of each boy killed, it emerged that the victims of Dahmer were adolescents or young people of African American or Asian ethnicity, often with a minor criminal record and of modest social conditions. That reveals a certain clarity in the modus operandi of the monster who, in specific environments, was able to successfully lure boys by pretending to be a photographer in search of models or, simply, by offering them sexual relations. Most of the victims were strangled after being drugged, while only one, among those ascertained, was stabbed. Jeffrey came to inject into the brains of the unfortunate young men corrosive substances, such as muriatic acid or boiling water, through holes drilled in the skull, with the crazy purpose of creating living dead or zombies, principal characters in the horror movies of those years, which so fascinated the criminal’s perverse mind.
The fiction almost faithfully reports the speedy trial of Dahmer that took place in 1992. He had to answer for 15 murders (for the remaining two victims, the evidence was deemed insufficient) before the Court, presided over by Judge Laurence Gram. Jeffrey was sentenced to serve 15 life sentences, lacking the death penalty in Wisconsin, despite his lawyer having invoked insanity, which would have allowed him to avoid prison, with a lifetime hospitalization in a psychiatric hospital. After his conviction, Dahmer was taken to the Columbia Correctional in Portage, where at first he showed arrogance and indifference, arousing the hatred of the other inmates, and then converted to Christianity, forgetting too quickly that in previous years he had been under the spell of Satan, to which he had even built an altar in his grandmother’s old house.
In the summer of 1994, Jeffrey was attacked by an inmate who attempted to slit his throat, as a result of which he was offered the opportunity to be transferred to solitary confinement. Dahmer refused, stating he was ready to receive any punishment that fate might bring him. At the end of November of the same year, he was attacked by Christopher Scarver, a prisoner obsessed with religion and suffering from schizophrenia. This assault will lead him to death, from head trauma, during the transfer to the hospital. Some reporters reported that his brain was removed and preserved for scientific study; for others, however, as seen in the television series, the father and the victims’ relatives pushed to have the brain destroyed.
Jeffrey Dahmer in the collective imagination
The very recent Netflix series also introduces the controversial theme of the idealization of the figure of Dahmer by some groups of self-styled admirers or the literary and cinematographic exploitation of his miserable existence. In the last episodes, the monster becomes the character of a series of comics, a fact that strongly angers the victims’ families. Moreover, in reality, in 2012, the comic book My friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf was published, in which the author narrates his experiences as a classmate of the future murderer. During his time in jail, Jeffrey receives letters from numerous admirers, some of whom send him money to continue the macabre and fascinating correspondence with the monster. Jeffrey Dahmer becomes a horror hero, like the fictional characters of Michael Myers from the Halloween cinematic cycle or Freddy Krueger from the Nightmare saga.
Starting in the nineties, Jeffrey also almost became an icon of death metal and similar music. In 1998 the Japanese doom metal group, Church of Misery, included in the first collection the song Room 213 (Jeffrey Dahmer), while two years later, the grindcore band Macabre even entitled him an album inspired by his life. In 2007, death metal/deathcore band Whitechapel presented a text with a quote from the monster’s interview. Moreover, the criminal is mentioned by numerous rappers such as Mac Miller, Eminem, Kesha, and Katy Perry.
The interview that Jeffrey Dahmer, in the presence of his father Lionel, gave to the television journalist Stone Philips shortly before his death caused much discussion. It is a sort of interview-confession that formed the starting point for all subsequent speculations and ruminations by psychiatrists, sociologists, and anthropologists to explain the nature and origin of his atrocities. Dahmer denied any parental responsibility and the kind of education he received, stating that the reasons for his actions were to be found in his sexual urges and in the fact that he had abandoned the Christian faith. In this regard, the answer given by the criminal is very significant when the journalist asks him why he felt remorse only after his conversion: “I am convinced that if one does not believe in the existence of God, he will ask him to account for his actions, then why should it behave well.” On closer inspection, this sentence demonstrates a religious approach that is only fideistic and superficial, as it is free from any form of empathic solidarity towards the victims.
Jeffrey Dahmer: the evil, explained, psychology and esotericism
Trying to understand the reasons that led Dahmer to carry out such gruesome actions is a very difficult, if not impossible, undertaking. Any attempts to have Jeffrey Dahmer explained can only represent an incomplete and approximate supposition. The grueling attempt to make sense of “evil” has tormented thinkers since the classical period. In the socio-cultural context of Dahmer, middle-class and imbued with the Christian religion, albeit in one of the declinations of the variegated Protestant universe, evil is explained as distancing from God, the only omnipotent Being, thanks to the free will granted to humanity.
However, apart from the complex doctrine of original sin, man’s evil deeds, according to Christian mythology, would be driven by a creature that would contain in itself every iniquity: Satan / Lucifer, the brightest of angels, who rebelled to God for pride. In the specific case of the story of Jeffrey Dahmer, although occasionally resorting to satanic symbols, such as the aforementioned “altar” set up in honor of the devil, any adhesion to a theistic faith of a satanic character appears implausible or, at the very least, completely marginal. In his interview before he died, the criminal claims that he “never hated anyone,” implying that no ideological or metaphysical purpose ever guided him. The satanic symbolism used by Dahmer appears, if anything, closer to specific groups of “acid Satanism” as they emerge in some purely mass literary and cinematographic narratives, without any actual link with the character of the devil in the mystical-religious sphere.
Jeffrey was obsessed with horror cinema, particularly the famous film The Exorcist, whose images, with all reasonable probability, overlapped the insane fantasies of dismemberment and necrophilia. It has been written that Dahmer had developed the belief that he was the personification of Satan. But the young man had no doctrinal knowledge on the subject, and possible identification of the genre, complete with trappings and rituals, must be read as a social self-justification of his actions, influenced by the family environment and, above all, by his grandmother’s traditionalist religiosity. Therefore, the origin of his perversions must be sought within his unconscious.
It would also be too simplistic to exclude the responsibility of the family and educational environment in a whole and apodictic way, with the consideration that similar aberrations occur, fortunately, only in very few individuals, despite a considerable number of children and adolescents having to deal with a problematic and tormented existence. This reflection could lead to the conclusion that specific individuals are born like this, suffering from an insane evil as if it were an indelible mark. Some scholars, very wisely, in the impossibility of determining the exact cause of specific drives, argue that human behaviors derive both from a genetic predisposition and emotional and educational training during the first stage of life. How much the two factors affect the formation of a child, or adolescent personality would be an uncertain variable from case to case.
The vivisection of animals tied him to his father, and over time that practice seemed to him the most appropriate way to bind to himself a person he liked and whose abandonment he feared. That’s a motif that frequently recurs in fiction, in a context characterized by loneliness and alcohol, springs extraordinarily capable of pushing young people towards the deepest abyss. In prison, Jeffrey was also diagnosed with splanchnophilia, sexual attraction toward the bowels and internal organs, mainly their brightness. In so-called “normal” people, the rupture or bursting of organs produces disgust and repulsion, while in figures with the “code” of Dahmer, they induce sexual arousal.
Many doubts emerge from the overall analysis of the crimes committed by Jeffrey Dahmer. What would have happened if his formation had taken place in another environment, had he not been continually left alone, or had his aberrant inclinations been identified in time? In this regard, his father’s confession about similar murderous fantasies he had as a young man is very significant. But the woman rightly points out that there is an immense difference between fantasies and actions: Lionel was able to keep his impulses in check, which over time, had disappeared and absorbed into ordinary existence. On the other hand, it does not seem risky to say that if the American social and judicial system had worked, many young people would not have died. Jeffrey Dahmer is not a demigod of the underworld, some legendary character created to exorcise our deepest fears, but an ordinary man who develops a gruesome individual “code” aimed only at satisfying his own insane impulses, which become for him the only reason for living.
As Carl Gustav Jung said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”