The crime causation of serial killers is a widely debated topic. There is no set profile or back ground that can said to produce a serial killer and that is part of what makes it almost impossible to detect one until they make a mistake or someone takes notice of the tiny signs that have been there all along, if one had just looked. Jeffrey Dahmer is one of those killers that slipped through the cracks of the system again and again until someone finally took one of his intended victims seriously and investigated further. What they found horrified the police, the residents and the country.
Jeffrey Dahmer was not an abused child, nor was from a poor neighborhood. He was born May 21, 1960 in Milwaukee to parents Lionel and Joyce Dahmer but grew up in affluent bath, Ohio. There was no childhood sexual abuse and Dahmer indicated in later interviews that he never recalled any type of sexual abuse during his childhood. He did, however, realize that he was gay at a young age and this had always been a burden to him. As a child he was fascinated with the inner workings of living creatures and obsessed with the effects chemistry had on these creatures.
He used a chemistry set his father had given him to experiment on insects and eventually small animals, skinning them and using chemicals to dispose of their bodies. Interestingly enough the animals were all killed on the road or died on their own, Dahmer never killed the animals himself. Dahmer was never a discipline problem at home or at school, although his classmates considered him strange and he never felt he fit in with the other students. By the time he reached high school he was drinking heavily and that was the one thing most classmates remembered about him.
His parents and teachers told of a boy who went out of his way to please the adults in his life. After Dahmer’s younger brother, David, was born, he felt as if he had been replaced in his family’s affections. His family disagrees, standing behind him even after his arrest and conviction. According to Dahmer, it is this abandonment issue that was the catalyst to his keeping of the body parts of his victims. Dahmer committed his first murder right after the divorce of his parents. His abandonment issue was increased by his mother taking David and moving to another state, leaving 18 year old Dahmer to fend for himself.
Dahmer told later told police that he committed the first murder to prevent the man from abandoning him. “The guy wanted to leave and I didn’t want him to leave,” Dahmer later told police. ( Schwartz 1992. p 43) Dahmer’s father Lionel, upon learning of his ex-wife’s desertion promptly took her to court and received custody of David. This, however, did nothing to sooth the feelings of Jeffrey Dahmer. Dahmer tried college for a short amount of time. He entered Ohio State University as a business major but his drinking had begun to increase and he quit school in the late fall of 1978.
It was in this same year that his father remarried to Shari Jordan, who was less than thrilled with her two new stepsons. Dahmer joined the Army in 1979 and was a combat medic in Baumholder, Germany at a medical aid station. Dahmer did not make a good medic as he was too squeamish to draw blood and told his superior officer that he did not have the stomach to do much more than take a patient’ blood pressure. (Schwartz 1992 p 48) He was discharged from the Army due to increased alcohol abuse. There are no indications that he killed anyone while in the Army.
This could be due to the Army’s zero tolerance policy of homosexuals and Dahmer’s preference for homosexual male victims. After his discharge from the Army, Dahmer moved in with his father and stepmother in Ohio. He began drinking to excess and was arrested several times for drunk and disorderly. He also showed up at his home after he had been fighting and was in fact hurt badly on several occasions. It was at this point that his father decided that moving Jeffrey to his grandmothers house in West Allis, Wisconsin would be the best thing for him.
Catherine Dahmer lived in a two story house that had a private side door leading to the basement. It was this entrance Dahmer used when bringing home his dates but he did not kill any there. His first victim, Steven Toumi, Dahmer admitted to having sex with in a motel room but always maintained that he had woken up and Toumi was already dead. He never admitted to Toumi’s murder. During this time period, Dahmer was frequenting the gay bars and was a regular patron of the gay bathhouses. This ended in 1987, when he was kicked out of the bathhouses for drugging people in his private room.
One such young man had to be resuscitated and spent 10 days in the hospital recovering from the incident. In September 1988, Jeffrey moved out of his grandmothers home at her request. She could not handle his drinking and bringing men home at all hours. She still maintained a loving relationship with him. In her interview with reporter Anne Schwartz, she said “He has a lot of love for me. He never left without giving me a big hug. He always wanted to do things for me. He’s a boy who likes the things I like. He loves flowers, roses. He doesn’t hesitate to show his love for me. ” (Schwartz 1992 p.
26) One month later, Dahmer was arrested for drugging and molesting a 14 year old boy. His father, Lionel, posted bail and he moved back into his grandmother’s house. Despite the pleas of the prosecution for Dahmer to be sentenced to prison time, Judge William Gardner listened to Dahmer’s empassioned speech and stayed a five year sentence. He gave Dahmer five years probation for a second degree sexual assault charge. On the charge of enticing a child for immoral purposes, Gardner stayed the three year sentence and scheduled the probation to run consecutively with the five years probation.
In the end, Dahmer got time in a correctional facility more like a camp than a prison. He had work release privileges so he did not lose his job and had to report monthly to his probation officer for the next five years. He was told to get alcohol and mental counseling and to stay away from anyone under the age of 18. His probation officer, Donna Chester, was overloaded with cases and requested that she be allowed to skip the random home visits required by her job. Her supervisor granted this request and Dahmer checked in monthly as instructed.
He wrote a letter to the Judge requesting an early release and despite the pleas of his father to keep him incarcerated so he could get help, the release was granted. Dahmer was released after serving only 10 months for the sexual assault. In 1990, Jeffrey Dahmer moved into apartment 213 at 924 North 25th Street. It was here that he began killing in earnest and the body count would continue for over two years for a total of 14 victims. Probation officer, Donna Chester, monitored Dahmer as he moved back into society but never did any home visits.
She regularly reported that he seemed depressed and his appearance became disheveled and even slovenly at times. She continually suggested he get help for the severe problems he had with his sexuality. Dahmer made excuses for his appearance and moods and Chester continued up until the news of the grisly discoveries in Dahmers apartment was announced. Dahmer was fired from his job at Ambrosia Chocolates in 1991 due to absenteeism and chronic lateness. He began drinking heavily again and seemed to despair, according to the notes from his probation officer.
Shortly after the loss of his job, Dahmer picked up his last victim and the only one known to escape Dahmer and live. Dahmer had perfected his methods over the years and followed the same pattern each time, with slight variances. His method was to frequent the gay nightclubs or parties and lure men to his apartment by offering money to pose nude for photos or to watch a homosexual porno film. He used crushed sedatives mixed into drinks to knock out his victims, then strangled them. He experimented with chemicals to dispose of the body, much as he had with the chemistry set when he had been a child.
He finally settled on hydrochloric acid as a favored choice. He preserved genitals and other body parts in formaldehyde and took photos of the dead men, both cut open and dismembered. Dahmer kept some of the skulls, spraying them with gray spray paint to disguise them as fakes. Later he kept the skulls with the flesh intact and stored them in the freezer and refrigerator. There are various schools for crime causations and this may account for the different theories as to why serial killers kill.
The psychometric approach to crime causation is a series of tests and measurement devices used to determine underlying issues or problems with the person. In Jeffrey Dahmers’s case, the results may not have been reliable. Dahmer was a master manipulator and had convinced many people that he was harmless, including police. Even had the tests revealed a deep seated hatred or fears, Dahmer would have been able to disguise the symptoms or severity of the issue. The biological approach to crime causation is based on the fact that bad people are born not made.
This approach believes that criminals are a distinct biological type that could be idenitifed and possibly caught before they go on a crime spree. Jeffrey Dahmer’s family background and childhood would disprove this approach in his case. His family is normal and has no outstanding issues save divorce, which many children encounter. To believe he was born would suggest that he had been bad all along and there were no serious indicators. The experiments on insects and animals cannot be used as evidence in this approach since he never killed any of them himself.
He could just as well have grown to be a biologist or pathologist as a serial killer. The psychiatric approach is used to determine the prevalence of mental defects or disorders. This approach was used before Jeffrey Dahmers trial to prove that he was mentally insane. The insanity plea was rejected and Dahmer was found sane to stand trial. Dahmer had been under psychiatric care after he had been on charges before and had manipulated the system to his satisfaction. He had shown them his alcoholism and depression without ever giving any indication of his severe sexuality problems or abandonment issues.
The Dahmer case displayed for a wide audience the mine field of legal sanity and insanity, and of making a forensic psychiatric diagnosis as to the condition of such a murderer as Jeffrey Dahmer. Respected forensic psychiatrists testified for both sides. The prosecution experts found that Dahmer was not suffering from a mental illness that prevented him from distinguishing right from wrong. Moreover, he could control his behavior. The defense experts disagreed, saying that in their opinion, Dahmer was indeed seriously mentally ill. His paraphilia, in their opinion, approached psychotic proportions.
Furthermore, he could not control his murderous impulses even when he wanted to do so. (Simon, 1996, p. 295) Dahmer himself suggested to most feasible theoretical approach to crime causation when it came to him and his crimes. He stated that he killed to keep the young men with him because he didn’t want to be abandoned. In the same general category of home alone child is cannibal-murderer Jeffrey Dahmer, whose evil habits developed as a teenager when his parents divorced — also when he was 15 years old — and he was abandoned by his mother and father to live alone in the house for a year before being retrieved.
(Eberstadt, 2001, p. 5) It was his abandonment issues that caused him to kill the young men he brought home. Dahmer stated that he killed them to always have them with him and admitted masturbation with the corpses. In his mind, the bodies were the essence of the young men he wanted to stay with him so he wouldn’t be alone. The question of why Dahmer murdered will never be answered with certainty. Some think that not even Dahmer himself is sure but the fact remains that crime causation theories can go a long way in helping us to try to understand the mindset of such people.
References Eberstadt, M. (2001). Home-Alone America. 5. Retrieved March 30, 2007, from Questia database: http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=5001031596 Simon, R. I. (1996). Bad Men Do What Good Men Dream A Forensic Psychiatrist Illuminates the Darker Side of Human Behavior. Washington D. C. : American Psychiatric Press. Retrieved March 30, 2007, from Questia database: http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=96331461 Schwartz, N. (1992) The Man Who Could Not Kill Enough. New York, NY: Birch Lane Press