Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jeffrey Dahmer

A Happy Little Boy

Joyce Dahmer
Joyce Dahmer

Jeff Dahmer was born in Milwaukee on May 21, 1960, to Lionel and Joyce Dahmer. He was a child who was wanted and adored, in spite of the difficulties of Joyce's pregnancy. He was a normal, healthy child whose birth was the occasion of great joy. As a tot, he was a happy, bubbly youngster who loved stuffed bunnies and wooden blocks. He also had a dog named Frisky, his much-loved childhood pet.

Despite a greater number than usual of ear and throat infections, Jeff developed into a happy little boy. His father recalled the day that they released back into the wild a bird that the three of them had nursed back to health from an injury: "I cradled the bird in my cupped hand, lifted it into the air, then opened my hand and let it go. All of us felt a wonderful delight. Jeff's eyes were wide and gleaming. It may have been the single, happiest moment of his life." The family had moved to Iowa, where Lionel was working on his Ph.D. at Iowa State University.

When Jeff was four, his father swept out from under their house the remains of some small animals that had been killed by civets. As his father gathered the tiny animal bones, Jeff seemed "oddly thrilled by the sound they made. His small hands dug deep into the pile of bones. I can no longer view it simply as a childish episode, a passing fascination. This same sense of something dark and shadowy, of a malicious force growing in my son, now colors almost every memory."

At the age of six, he was found to be suffering from a double hernia and needed surgery to correct the problem. He never seemed to recover his ebullience and buoyancy. "He seemed smaller, somehow more vulnerable... he grew more inward, sitting quietly for long periods, hardly stirring, his face oddly motionless."

In 1966, Lionel had completed his graduate work in Iowa and gotten a job as a research chemist in Akron, Ohio. Joyce was pregnant with their second son, David. By that time, Jeff was in the first grade and "a strange fear had begun to creep into his personality, a dread of others that was combined with a general lack of self-confidence. He was developing a reluctance to change, a need to feel the assurance of familiar places. The prospect of going to school frightened him. The little boy who'd once seemed so happy and self-assured had been replaced by a different person, now deeply shy, distant, nearly uncommunicative."

 

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