Into the Mind of Jeffrey Dahmer, a Serial Killer

The term psychopath describes an individual who lacks empathy and morality. Clinical and legal settings frequently use the phrase despite not being officially recognized as a mental health diagnosis. Antisocial personality disorder (APD) is a more extensive mental health disease used to characterize people who consistently act out and breach the rules. Many of the traits of psychopathy coincide with APD. However, psychopaths make up a small minority of those with antisocial personality disorder. This article is about Jeffrey Dahmer, one of the most feared serial killers of all time. Using an in-depth examination of his early life and upbringing, the author aims to deduce the killer’s motivations for the crimes.

Jeffrey Dahmer’s Childhood History

Most serial killers often have troubled childhood and Jeffrey Dahmer was no exception. A middle-class Milwaukee, Wisconsin family welcomed Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer into the world on May 21st, 1960 (Rosewood 11). As a kid, he was obsessed with horror and started gathering dead animal bodies. His father admits that Dahmer was oddly pleased by the sound of animal bones clinking. The Dahmer family relocated to Akron, located in Bath Township, Ohio when he was a senior in high school. When Dahmer was a child, he was a social pariah and a heavy drinker in his village. Dahmer was a binge-drinker in high school and developed a habit of hiding liquor and carrying it to school. During these escapades he realized that he was unique and embraced homosexuality. As his sexuality developed, so did his fantasies of having sex. When he started fantasizing about raping guys, he was entranced by the idea of having total control and authority over another human being.

Unfortunately, Dahmer’s parents split up the year after he graduated from high school. Dahmer and his mother stayed in the family home while his father and siblings moved into the next-door motel. When Dahmer’s mother went out of town, he looked after the house. His drinking habit worsened and consequently led him to drop his university studies (Rosewood 15). Before his drinking got out of hand, he had been in the combat medic unit of the U.S. Army for two years. After getting out of the service with good standing, he moved back in with his grandmother in West Allis, near Milwaukee.

Dahmer’s Troubling Character

Everyone who knew Dahmer before he underwent surgery to treat a double hernia at four described him as an energetic and happy child. They noticed a shift in his demeanor following that (Masters 21). It was not long after the birth of his younger brother and the family’s numerous migrations that the youngster grew depressed. Early in his teenage years, the young man was disinterested, anxious, and without many close friends. He developed some wanting behaviors that were not normal for kids his age, such as the desire to listen to the cracking sounds of bones and collecting dead insects and animals (Schwartz 39). The disintegration of his parent’s marriage and the subsequent divorce a few years later were the spark for converting these wishes into acts. It is possible that this was not the case with Dahmer’s fixations, which he believed started when he was 14.

Dahmer’s Crimes and His Behavior While Performing the Crimes

Dahmer’s first victim was an eighteen year old called Steven Hicks. He picked Hicks in June 1978 following his high school graduation, and brought him to his family’s residence (Purcell and Arrigo 7). Dahmer intoxicated him and crushed him to death with a barbell when he tried to escape. After this heinous act, Dahmer dismembered Hicks’ body then buried them in a grave at the home. Afterwards, he dug out the bones, smashed them with a sledgehammer, and dumped them in a ravine (Schwartz 43). By mutilating the victim’s corpse, Dahmer exhibited the conduct of a person filled with wrath and showed no remorse. He seemed unconcerned about his death, exhuming the body shortly after burying to further desecrate it.

Killing his first victim without being attracting attention motivated Dahmer. Thus, his second victim Steven Tuomi, who killed in September 1987 (Purcell and Arrigo 18). Tuomi’s body was found in Dahmer’s hotel room the following day after a night of drinking, and Dahmer had no memory of the night before. He bought a large suitcase to move Tuomi’s body to his grandmother’s basement. Once there, he dissected and masturbated the body before throwing away the remains. Even though his grandmother was unaware of his other activities, Dahmer’s late nights and excessive drinking finally drove her to evict her grandson from the house in 1988 after he killed two more people there. Before disposing of his corpse in the basement, Sears was sodomized and dismembered. In May of 1989, Dahmer was apprehended and charged with child molestation (Schwartz 63). It marked a pivotal moment in his life. A judge sentenced him to five years of probation and one year in jail, during which he could work during the day and return to prison at night. Prosecutors argued for therapy, not prison time, on his behalf.

Dahmer’s father, Lionel Dahmer, requested in a letter to the court that handed down the sentence that his son receive psychological counseling prior to his release from prison. Despite this, the judge allowed Dahmer to be released early after having served 10 months of his sentence. After his discharge, he spent a short time with his grandmother before returning to his own place. His body count appears to have remained the same during this time period. In addition, Dahmer’s number of victims increased from four to seventeen in the subsequent two years between 1989 and 1971 (Purcell and Arrigo 41). Likewise, Dahmer experimented with chemical means of disposing of his victims and even ate the flesh of some of them. In addition, he was caught having refrigerated the flesh of some of his victims. Among other crude methods, Dahmer attempted drilling into the brains of his captives when they were conscious and injecting them with acid.

Dahmer’s Traits Relevant to Dr. Hare’s Psychopathic Personality List Evaluations

Psychopathy and antisocial tendencies can be assessed using the updated Hare Psychopathy Checklist (PCL-R) by Doctor Robert Hare. Psychopaths prey on others ruthlessly, using charm, deception, violence, or other methods to get what they desire. Psychopaths lack empathy, morality, a sense of justice, the ability to realize the harm they have caused others, and a proclivity to exploit people around them. The PCL-R is a 22-item symptom rating scale designed to allow expert examiners to compare a patient’s psychopathy degree to a psychopath prototype (Babiak, Hare and McLaren 23). The PCL-R was first intended to assess criminal suspects and offenders. Numerous experts in the area agree that it is the best way to determine whether or not someone has psychopathy and the severity of their condition.

Dahmer exhibited multiple psychopathic traits and behaviors throughout his life. Item 13 in the PCL-R is early behavioral problem (Psychology Tools). He was quiet and introverted as a kid, making it difficult for others to engage with him. His high school grades were subpar and worsened when he joined Ohio State University. He failed almost all of his classes and quit school after a semester, subsequently joining the army and being discharged two years later (Purcell and Arrigo 56). This was an example of impulsivity, which is defined as a lack of control over one’s conduct or emotions (Psychology Tools). Instead of humbling himself and pursuing strategies to improve his academic achievement, Dahmer let his negativity dictate his behavior. This can consistently be interpreted as a lack of personal accountability, which Dr. Hare believes is a sign of a psychopath (Babiak, Hare and McLaren 27). Moreover, he did not appreciate his grandmother’s attempts to raise him as an adolescent when he was living with her in her home. Possibly this explains why he had no recollection of everything that happened before the killing of his second victim.

Dahmer’s psychopathic tendencies became more apparent as he grew older. Dr. Hare believes that his lack of interest in relationships with women is a sign that he lacks genuine, long-term ambitions (Psychology Tools). Most young males anticipate marrying and having children after reaching a certain age of example 18 years. Dahmer, on the other hand, had no desire to date or marry a woman, much less have a family of his own. Furthermore, he attracted his victims by using pathological falsehoods and exploiting their vulnerabilities. Serial killers frequently target people with particular traits such as gays, prostitutes, or race (Miller 4). Dahmer misled homosexual men into following him to his home, where he killed them. These victims were unaware of Dahmer’s true motives because he posed as a helpful and loving individual. This showed a lack of sincerity which is item six in Dr. Hare’s model.

Dr. Hare highlights lack of remorse or guilt as the seventh trait of psychopathy. Dahmer was strangely fascinated by a mound of bones discovered beneath his boyhood home (Masters 26). Dahmer’s fascination with death had grown into a fixation by the time he was in his adolescence. Dahmer, unlike other youngsters, found lifeless animals and insects interesting (Schwartz 31). According to Babiak, Dr Hare and McLaren, one of the essential characteristics of psychopaths is their superficial emotional response (54). He never showed any regret for all of the crimes he committed. After murdering his victims, however, he would indulge in indecent conduct with their corpses. This fixation ultimately drove Dahmer to routinely ride his bicycle along roadways, gather the remains of animals that had been killed by vehicles, and exhibit them in a grotesque manner (Masters 32). This activity exacerbated his lack of sorrow for the defilement of bodies and corpses, finally leading to his transition into a heartless cannibal.

Pathological lying listed as five in the checklist is one of the most significant indicators of psychopathy. Dahmer exhibited this trait as an adult beginning with excuses as to why he could not attend school. Dahmer, for example, offered flimsy reasons for his dismal performance at Ohio University when he came home to Bath. He complained to his father that he had problems waking up in the mornings to go to school (Masters 33). Despite getting away with two murders while serving in the military, he got along well with his other troops until he was dismissed. Dahmer would inform his victims that he would pay them if they engaged in sexual activity with him or posed naked. Simultaneously, he shot photographs of them, even though none of his victims survived, and he received no cash compensation.

Sexual promiscuity (item 12) is another crucial indicator of psychopathy, and Dahmer induced it in his victims. After accepting that he was homosexual, Dahmer experienced several sexual fantasies that he yearned to act out. Dahmer would sometimes go to gay bars to meet his victims. Once Dahmer got them in his sights, he participated in sexual actions with them before committing murder. To satisfy his sexual urges, he would engage in indecent behavior with dead bodies and even perform masturbation on top of them. There are some psychologists who believe Dahmer killed Hicks because the former rejected his overtures in a sexual relationship (Purcell and Arrigo 38). This seemingly affirms Dr Hare’s sexual promiscuity as a sign of psychopathy.

Dahmer’s Warning Signs, Behavior, and Traits

A more in-depth examination would have made it easier to determine that Jeffrey Dahmer was a psychopath. When compared to Dr Hare’s psychopathy checklist, which includes twenty qualities, Dahmer demonstrated more than fifteen of the symptoms of psychopathy. The checklist includes observing twenty traits. In addition to the above-discussed qualities, he also had a superficial appeal, was clever and manipulative, and had poor behavioral control. All of these qualities were present in him. All of these were red flags that would have made it feasible to identify the obnoxious behavior that Dahmer exhibited had they been carefully analyzed. The assignment was difficult because it required the knowledge of a psychiatrist to be able to determine the traits that are included on the checklist that Dr. Hare prepared. It made the task more difficult than it should have been.

Dahmer’s Way of Fitting in the Society

Due to his antisocial behavior, Dahmer was an introvert who kept a lot to himself; he didn’t share much about himself with his classmates or even his few friends. Dahmer kept many things to himself since he disliked talking about himself. Two other service members would later accuse him of sodomizing them on many occasions after he was discharged from the military for his alcoholism, which resulted in his dismissal. They were so terrified that they could not press charges against him, even though he had committed it. He was an alcoholic who went to homosexual bars to interact with his fellow gays. However, his purpose was different, as he would lead them to their death trap after a pleasant talk with them. He did this to continue his fantasies that would lead to his victims’ deaths.

Choice and Type of Dahmer’s Victims

During the years between 1978 and 1991, Dahmer was responsible for the deaths of 17 different individuals. He chose people on the margins of society to be his victims, such as those who were homeless, on the verge of criminal activity, or homosexuals. Consequently, the disappearances of these people became less significant, and the likelihood that he would be arrested decreased. While promising them financial gain or sexual meetings, he strangled them as soon as they arrived at his house. To celebrate his accomplishments, he had sex with their bodies and then took images to keep as souvenirs. These were the kinds of people who had a low profile in society, and it was unlikely that anyone would have noticed if they vanished suddenly.

Relation Between Dahmer’s Past and His Victims

It is plausible that Dahmer’s childhood greatly impacted his personal life as an adult. The innocent acts of Dahmer as a child, correcting insects and dead animals, and experimenting on the bones of the animals with acid all played a role. His parents’ separation catalyzed his alcohol consumption, which made him behave irresponsibly. How he interacted with his victims clearly shows the young Dahmer excising his curiosity and adventure to explore to even greater heights (Masters 61). Having killed several insects and animals and experimented with them, he destroyed his emotional attachment to living creatures. Dahmer was happy to see the pain and suffering of the animals and insects. Similarly, he derived pleasure in the pain and suffering of his victims.

Dahmer’s Capture

Dahmer’s luck would eventually run out 13 years after he killed his first victim. He was arrested in July 22, 1991, which ultimately ended his murdering spree (Masters 101). Dahmer’s capture came after Tracy Edwards fled his residence following a battle in which the former attempted to shackle him. Upon sighting of a police cruiser, Edwards directed them to the killer’s apartment, where they discovered several dismembered victims (Schwartz 3). They decided to investigate the man’s claims that he had been drugged and held against his will by a “weird person” because of his claims. The moment they arrived at Dahmer’s house, he stayed calm and volunteered to grab the keys for the handcuffs. He was linked to the horrifying slayings by the Polaroid photos and body parts he had kept in his freezer as trophies.

According to Edwards, Dahmer’s threat to use the knife on him was carried out in the bedroom where the knife was found. When the police officer entered the room to check the story, Polaroid images were lying about of people who had been mutilated. The officers were successful in bringing Dahmer to the ground. Additionally, there were jars with preserved genitalia and a detailed photo album detailing the murders of his victims (Schwartz 10). After Dahmer died in 1996, businesses in Milwaukee raised more than $400,000 to purchase the instruments he had used on his victims. These instruments included handcuffs, razors, and saws. The crimes committed by Dahmer and the media circus that surrounded his conviction have been swiftly removed from the city’s collective consciousness.

Complications in Catching Dahmer

Dahmer was responsible for 17 murders before he was finally apprehended; two of those murders took place while serving in the military. It was helpful that he could adequately conceal his acts while serving in the military so that they would not be discovered. His victims were loners outside of the army, so when they vanished without a trace leaving a trail, not many people noticed that they were missing. It made it such that Dahmer was never the subject of any interest, and it also prevented any investigations into the whereabouts of his victims. Because he kept a low profile in public and social settings, it was difficult for people to cast doubt on his life or even explore him. Witnesses and detectives were engaged in a contentious discussion over the events leading to the crimes. Some thought that Dahmer had evaded capture for such a significant amount of time was evidence that the Milwaukee police department did not prioritize investigating the disappearance of victims who were members of racial minority groups or who were homosexual. Dahmer’s evading capture for a considerable amount of time supported this line of thinking.

Works Cited

‌Babiak, Paul, Robert D. Hare, and Todd McLaren. Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work. Harper, 2007.

Masters, Brian. The Shrine of Jeffrey Dahmer. Hodder & Stoughton, 2020.

Miller, Laurence. “Serial killers: I. Subtypes, patterns, and motives.” Aggression and Violent Behavior 19.1 (2014): 1-11.

Psychology Tools. “Hare Psychopathy Checklist (Original) (PCL-22).” Psychology Tools, 1980.

Purcell, Catherine, and Bruce A. Arrigo. The psychology of lust murder: Paraphilia, sexual killing, and serial homicide. Elsevier, 2006.

Rosewood, Jack. Jeffrey Dahmer: A Terrifying True Story of Rape, Murder and Cannibalism. Lak Publishing, 2017.

Schwartz, Anne E. The Man Who Could Not Kill Enough: The Secret Murders of Milwaukee’s Jeffrey Dahmer. Carol Publishing Group, 1992.

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LawBirdie. "Into the Mind of Jeffrey Dahmer, a Serial Killer." April 15, 2023.