Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer, the Serial Killer


Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer is a widely studied serial killer whose crimes involved unimaginable acts on the deceased bodies, including dismemberment, cannibalism, body parts preservation, and necrophilia. His offenses claimed the lives of around seventeen boys and young men. A detailed analysis of the life of this criminal could shed more light on the motivations that compel people to engage in heinous acts. While both routine activities and general strain theories appear to describe Dahmer’s crimes, the latter is more convincing since it resonates with his environment as a child.

Literature Review

General strain theory is a useful model for learning more about criminal activities and possible causes. Under the model, specific stressors, conditions, and strains will increase a person’s chances of engaging in crime. The presence of strains is capable of triggering negative emotions, including anger and frustration (Barbieri et al., 2019). Based on the functional attributes of the society, proponents acknowledge that communities need to have proper mechanisms to support the financial and economic goals of all citizens. Unfortunately, the absence of proper support and resources make it impossible for some individuals to achieve their goals. Under such circumstances, most of these individuals would pursue criminal activities to emerge successful.

This theory arises from the works of Robert Merton and Robert Agnew. The foundational categories analysts use to describe and apply the model include failure to achieve valued aims in life and the absence of desirable stimuli. Additionally, the introduction or presence of negative stimuli creates an enabling environment for engaging in criminal acts (Barbieri et al., 2019). Individuals experiencing challenges, focusing on material gains, and peer influence would respond to their predicaments differently. A person’s childhood and his or her youth could influence the kind of actions pursued in adulthood.

When it comes to gender, women and men would tend to respond differently to the experiences they might go through in life. James (2019) identifies males as vulnerable and capable of engaging in criminal acts to assert their social positions. Some would become morally outrageous in the journey to pursue material possessions. They would also be keen to respond with anger to childhood trauma or any kind of oppression arising from the wider society. While more women going through strain tend to engage in self-destruction, men could engage in actions that are directly linked to property destruction or crime.

The attributes of the general strain theory could be applicable to the past experiences of Dahmer and his decision to engage in criminal activities. To begin with, James (2019) reveals that Dahmer grew up in a troubled family setting. He lacked the much needed attention as a young person from his parents. His parents remained argumentative and incapable of achieving most of their goals in life. The family would exhibit numerous signs of tension and complaints. In his school, educators were able to acknowledge that the child was suffering from different psychological factors, such as abandonment. While in his learning environment, Dahmer was observed to have very few colleagues.

At the age of four, Dahmer went through a surgical process to deal with double hernia. The birth of his brother made him frustrated and unwilling to engage in a wide range of social affairs. These elements appear to have strained Dahmer mentally and emotionally (James, 2019). He remained withdrawn and continued to identify the society as extremely unfair. The fact that his younger brother received better education and attention from his parents compelled his to develop morbid characteristics. In an expected twist of events, Dahmer would develop a questionable appetite for bones of dead animals.

These attributes show conclusively that Dahmer grew up in a troubled family. He faced numerous challenges in the family, a situation that affected her experiences. His surgery at a minor age and the associated disease could have worsened his feelings and expectations from life. He remains strained for a better part of his early life. Such experiences led to the development of borderline personality disorder and subsequent psychosis (James, 2019). These forces appear to have dictated the kind of crimes Dahmer would commit later in life (James, 2019). His actions and killings were not intended to gain material possessions. Instead, he seemed to find pleasure and contentment from dead bodies. These aspects could explain why he grew to become a serial killer.

Routine activities theory indicates that wrongdoers rely on the access to a potential target and their presence in a specific environment to make possible choices regarding engaging in criminal activities. The presence of guardianship and the possibility of repercussions could influence such a decision. The engagement in crime would depend on the offender’s ability to asses and analyze the existing situation (Ashby & Tompson, 2017). The attributes associated with theory are attributable to the works of Lawrence E. Cohen and Marcus Felson. This model remains famous since it pursues crime as an event, thereby minimizing chances of applying inappropriate criminological models.

This framework presents three unique attributes that converge to create enabling conditions for offenses. These include the presence of a desirable target, the power or abilities of an offender, and the absence of a defense mechanism. This kind of theory appears to suggest that all the three forces need to converge and create the best situation (Savard, 2018). The ideas would receive attention of many scholars who focused on the nature of consumer society that emerged after the rapid growth of different economies in postwar world (Meade et al., 2021). Experts have realized that the theory is applicable and capable of explaining a number of crimes, such as cyber attack, robbery, sexual assault, and burglary.

The adoption of this model has helped investigation identify personal and societal attributes capable of encouraging some people to commit offenses. However, evidence from past researches indicates that the theory goes beyond a person’s attributes and the nature of the surrounding environment (Ashby & Tompson, 2017). Nonetheless, this framework is applicable in different settings to analyze the nature and challenges of criminal activities.

The scary case of Dahmer reveals that he killed a total of 17 people. His past is believed to have played a significant role in dictating her future goals and pursuits. Routine activities theory could be applicable to the crimes of this individual to present several insights (Savard, 2018). For instance, the time in which he committed most of these murders could indicate that the outlined three elements came to congruence (Ashby & Tompson, 2017). This means that he would consider the absence of a possible guardian, the availability of a defenseless victim, and Dahmer’s own assessment. These converging attributes could help explain why he was able to murder his victims and engage in cannibalism and necrophilia.

This theory would call for an additional model or framework to understand some of the past experiences that could have compelled him to engage in criminal activities. The social disorganization model could help describe some of the experiences he faced during his childhood and the nature of a community he grew up in (Meade et al., 2021). The analyst would also be in a position to consider how his views and depression as a child affected his personality. He would also develop a number of psychological conditions that affected him for the rest of his life. Based on such aspects, it becomes clear that the routine activities theory could only shed little information about why Dahmer chose to engage in criminal activities.


The life and experience of Dahmer present powerful insights regarding his choice to engage in criminal activities. The selected general strain theory is more plausible ad capable of explaining the offenses this individual committed throughout his life. The framework offers unique details about the impacts of personal childhood experiences. It also explains how Dahmer’s depression and subsequent trauma as a child resulted in morbid tendencies. He became angry and viewed the wider society as his enemy. Such attributes would push him to the limits until he chose to find a sense of fulfillment from murdering his victims. He would then engage in cannibalism and dismember the bodies for preservation. While the application of General strain and routine activities theories could describe some of these offenses, the first model remains more practical and informative about Dahmer’s motivation.


Ashby, M. P. J., & Tompson, L. (2017). Routine activities and proactive police activity: A macro-scale analysis of police searches in London and New York City. Justice Quarterly, 34(1), 109-135.

Barbieri, N., Clipper, S. J., Narvey, C., Rude, A., Craig, J. M., Piquero, N. L. (2019). Assessing general strain theory and measures of victimization, 2002–2018. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 49(1), Article 101304.

James, V. (2019). Denying the darkness: Exploring the discourses of neutralization of Bundy, Gacy, and Dahmer. Societies, 9(2), 46-62.

Meade, B., Wasileski, G., & Hunter, A. (2021). The effects of victimization prior to prison on victimization, misconduct, and sanction severity during incarceration. 67(12), 1856-1878.

Savard, D. (2018). A routine activity approach: Assessing victimization by gender in transit environments and other public locations. Advances in Applied Sociology, 8, 56-75.

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