by Patrick H. Moore
The fiendish machinations of serial killers fascinate and terrify, in part because there is no definitive explanation as to what forms these monsters. Jeffrey Dahmer, the mild-mannered monster from West Allis, Wisconsin falls squarely into the group of serial killers who were neither abused nor deprived during their formative years. Nonetheless, Jeffrey managed to rape, torture and murder 17 victims between 1978 and 1991. At times, he dismembered and devoured their body parts.
Experts in the field have dedicated their lives to studying and analyzing the nature of the serial killer, yet are unable to reach any real consensus as to what motivates these psychopaths. This unsettling fact is set forth in a number of scholarly works on the subject which are available at the website of the National Criminal Justice Reference Service:
D. Lester, author of Serial Killers: The Insatiable Passion, discovers that most serial killers in modern times have been white and that they largely eschew the use of firearms in committing their crimes. He also opines that, in the final analysis, it is difficult, if not impossible, to construct a solid profile of serial killers.
In Overkill: Mass Murder and Serial Killing Exposed, authors J.A. Fox and J. Levin state:
“Most serial murderers do not kill for love, money, or revenge, but rather for the psychological stimulation and relief that it brings from an intolerably painful, powerless, and mundane existence.”
M. Newton, in Hunting Humans: An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers, avers:
“Motives were often psychological, with strong sado-sexual overtones and evidence of compulsive behavior. Six percent of the cases involved greed. Since 1969, 8 percent of the cases involved practitioners of Satanism, while another 5 percent involved members of the medical profession.”
It is tacitly accepted by many, however, that some form of psychological wounding, both as a child and continuing into adulthood, is intrinsic in the development of these individuals. The wounding, however, is not necessarily the result of mistreatment per se on the part of the killer’s parents but may stem from something more subtle and inscrutable. Such seems be the case with Jeffrey Dahmer. Both of his parents were, shall we say, a bit peculiar.
In his book, A Father’s Story, Jeffrey’s father, analytical chemist Lionel Dahmer, searches for answers. Given his obvious shame and guilt for siring a monster, his observations should perhaps be greeted with some skepticism. He does appear to have some insight, however, which bears consideration. In general, Lionel believes that Jeffrey’s mother’s hysteria and psychosomatic illnesses during her difficult pregnancy with Jeffrey may have played a key role.
Throughout her pregnancy, according to Lionel, Joyce Dahmer vomited constantly, as if her body was sickened by having Jeffrey inside her. Far worse, however, were her bizarre seizures. Lionel Dahmer writes:
“At times, her legs would lock tightly in place, and her whole body would grow rigid and begin to tremble. Her jaw would jerk to the right and take on a similarly frightening rigidity. During these strange seizures, her eyes would bulge like a frightened animal, and she would begin to salivate, literally frothing at the mouth.”
One cannot help but wonder and Lionel does:
“Why was she so upset all the time? What was it that she found so dreadful?”
While Lionel seems largely content with implicating Joyce as a kind of biological contaminant, he does admit to having been fascinated by fire and bombs throughout his own childhood, and in the context of telling the Dahmer’s family’s dark tale, he gradually reveals many of his personal oddities. Be that as it may, little Jeffrey was not your typical child. At age 4, he became transfixed by the sight of bones. Around the same time, he suffered from a painful double hernia that required a difficult surgical procedure, which left him temporarily convinced that the surgeon had cut off his penis.
After that, Jeffrey grew increasingly strange. Lionel writes:
“This strange and subtle inner darkening began to appear almost physically. His hair, which had once been so light, grew steadily darker, along with the deeper shading of his eyes. More than anything, he seemed to grow more inward, sitting quietly for long periods, hardly stirring, his face oddly motionless.”
Both father and son found solace in scientific experimentation. In early adolescence, Jeffrey spent much of his time riding around their neighborhood on his bicycle, trolling for dead animals which he dissected at home or in the woods. On one occasion, he impaled a dog’s head on a stake. Lionel Dahmer writes: “In the lab, I found a wonderful comfort and assurance in knowing the properties of things, how they could be manipulated in predictable patterns.” As time passed, Jeffrey grew increasingly fearful and isolated, apparently mirroring his father’s youthful development. Lionel writes that he sees his son as a “deeper, darker shadow” of himself and warns that instead of guiding our children toward a healthy future, “Some of us are doomed to pass a curse instead.”
Lionel Dahmer’s cautionary tale suggests that it’s easy for a parent to be blind to his or her own destructive tendencies, traits that may be passed on to the next generation in far more virulent fashion. Lionel sums up the problem:
“Fatherhood remains, at last, a grave enigma, and when I contemplate that my other son may one day be a father, I can only say to him, as I must to every father after me, ‘Take care, take care, take care.’”
Jeffrey Dahmer’s Brief Self-Analysis:
In an interview conducted by television journalist Stone Phillips in 1994, shortly before he was beaten to death by other inmates in a Wisconsin penitentiary, Jeffrey Dahmer, though hardly as verbally facile as his poetic, albeit introverted, father, described his first murder:
“When I woke up in the morning, my forearms were bruised. And his chest was bruised, blood was coming out of his mouth, he was hanging over the side of the bed… I have no memory of beating him to death, but I must have.”
Dahmer admits to striving for total control over his victims, which seems to be his motivation for committing the crimes. When questioned about the pleasure he acquired from the actual act of killing, Dahmer replied almost poignantly:
“The killing was just a means to an end; that was the least satisfactory part, I didn’t enjoy doing that. That’s why I tried to create living zombies with muriatic acid and the drill. But it never worked.”
In an article extracted from the archives of the New York Times entitled “Jeffrey Dahmer, Multiple Killer, Is Bludgeoned to Death in Prison “(originally published on November 29, 1994), Don Terry writes:
Jeffrey L. Dahmer, whose gruesome exploits of murder, necrophilia and dismemberment shocked the world in 1991, was attacked and killed today in a Wisconsin prison, where he was serving 15 consecutive life terms.
Mr. Dahmer was 34, older than any of his victims, who ranged in age from 14 to 33. He died of massive head injuries, suffered sometime between 7:50 and 8:10 A.M., when he was found in a pool of blood in a toilet area next to the prison’s gym, said Michael Sullivan, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. He was pronounced dead shortly after 9 A.M.
A bloodied broomstick was found nearby, and a fellow inmate who is serving (a) life sentence for murder, Christopher J. Scaver, 25, of Milwaukee, is the prime suspect, the authorities said.
E. Michael McCann, the Milwaukee County District Attorney, who sent Mr. Dahmer to prison in 1992, said, “This is the last sad chapter in a very sad life.”
“Tragically,” Mr. McCann said, “his parents will have to experience the same loss the families of his victims have experienced.”
It is somewhat unusual for the authorities to express sympathy regarding the death of a serial killer with 17 victims etched in acid upon his soul, but that seems to be the case in this peculiar matter. Finally, we are inevitably left with a sense of unrest that is almost uncanny. Jeffrey Dahmer’s mother was highly neurotic and his father was introverted and prone to dark fantasies. This in itself is not that unusual. A large percentage, if not the majority, of children grow up in families that are flawed. Sometimes, the flaws are dramatic, yet, the vast majority of these children do not grow up to rape, torture, murder, and sometimes cannibalize. Why was Jeffrey Dahmer different? We may never know the answer.
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