Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


What's Done in Secret — Dahmer

Jeffrey Dahmer
Jeffrey Dahmer

Similarly, Jeffrey Dahmer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was arrested in July of 1991 for the same horrifying scenarios, only his had a more sadistic twist.  He managed to murder 17 men before one near-victim ran away in handcuffs.  The police went to Dahmer's apartment and noticed the smell of decomposition.

A look inside the refrigerator revealed human heads, intestines, hearts, and kidneys.  Around the apartment they found skulls, bones, rotting body parts, bloodstained soup kettles, and complete skeletons.  There were three torsos in a tub of acid.  Numerous Polaroid snapshots showed mutilated bodies, and what was going on there came clear with the discovery of chloroform, electric saws, a barrel of acid, and formaldehyde.  Dahmer was killing men and preserving their parts, and then cutting off pieces and dissolving them in acid.  In all, investigators were able to find the remains of 11 different men, but Dahmer's confession added six more.

Steven Mark Hicks
Steven Mark Hicks

His first murder happened when he was only 18 years old, according to American Justice's "The Mystery of the Serial Killer."  His parents had abandoned the family home, going their separate ways, and Dahmer lived there alone for a few weeks.  He wanted company, so when he spotted an attractive hitchhiker named Steve Hicks, he lured the man home with the promise of getting high.  Hicks stayed a few hours and when he decided to leave, Dahmer smashed a barbell against the back of his head and then strangled him. "I didn't know how else to keep him there," he later said during an interview with former FBI profiler Robert Ressler.  He discovered that he was aroused by the captivity of another human being, just as he'd been aroused as a boy over dissecting road kill, and then when he cut the body into pieces for disposal, he was excited all over again so he masturbated over the body.

That day a necrophile was born.  Having done it once without consequence and with the resulting sexual high, he was bound to seek opportunities to repeat it.

Although Dahmer moved in with his grandmother, he felt the urge to get near a corpse once again.  He tried to just dig up a fresh body, but thwarted in that, he picked up a man and brought him back to Grandma's house. There he drugged and strangled him, and then had sex with the corpse. After that he dismembered the victim, and then he repeated this experience again three more times.  His grandmother had no idea that he was cutting up bodies down in her basement.

The psychiatrist for the prosecution, Park Dietz, later said that Dahmer got conditioned toward sexual excitement over corpses from sexual fantasies surrounding the mutilation of animals.  What might have started as a boy's curiosity about road-kill became a young man's obsession with death on a larger scale.  Such is often the case: if the developing sex drive gets associated with death, the person has a greater chance of having an erotic attraction to corpses.

Once Dahmer got his own apartment, he stepped up both his killing and his cruelty.  He wanted to create a zombie to do his bidding, so when he'd drug a victim into unconsciousness, he'd drill holes into his head and inject acid or boiling water.  Usually they died, but one actually survived for a while and walked out into the streets.  Dahmer would photograph his work as he dismembered his victims, and sometimes he'd try out body parts from one victim on the torso of another.  He also cut off the faces of his victims to preserve them as masks, but they soon deteriorated.  Even more macabre, he designed an altar made of skulls that he hoped to build one day when he'd killed a sufficient number of men.  This was all part of his fantasy of surrounding himself with parts of his victims.  It was his long-term plan, his life's single ambition.  Death meant more to him than life.

And it's not just males who develop this macabre attraction.  Let's examine the cases of some women.