Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Jeffrey Dahmer

Drunk and Deadly

From that time until Jeff's final arrest in 1991, life was a rollercoaster for Lionel and his wife. Jeff would appear to be doing well, and then it would become clear that he wasn't. He seemed to enjoy the Army, but then he was discharged early for habitual drunkenness. He then moved in with his grandmother and got a job, but then he was arrested for drunkenness and disorderly conduct. The offenses got worse as his alcoholism and emotional problems intensified: indecent exposure, then child molesting and finally, the most horrible discovery of all, when the police arrested him for multiple murders. Each time, Lionel stood by him, paid for the lawyer, urged him to seek treatment and crossed his fingers that Jeff would improve. Each time, his hopes were dashed by some fresh and more serious difficulty. Lionel began to understand that his son was completely beyond his reach.

As early as 1989, when Jeff was facing sentencing for child molestation, Lionel felt that his "son would never be more than he seemed to be — a liar, an alcoholic, a thief, an exhibitionist, a molester of children. I could not imagine how he had become such a ruined soul... For the first time, I no longer believed that my efforts and resources alone would be enough to save my son. There was something missing in Jeff... We call it a "conscience"... that had either died or had never been alive in the first place."

Dr. James Fox, dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University in Boston and recognized expert on serial killers, claims that "There was nothing we could do to predict this [tragedy] ahead of time, no matter how bizarre the behavior. He also noted that while Jeffrey was devastated when his mother left him, it would be wrong to blame his parents for what he had become. "Ever since Sigmund Freud, we blame everything bad that kids do on their parents... The culprit is Dahmer. Not his father, not his family, not the police."

Fox believes that Dahmer is an unusual serial killer. "He fits the stereotype of someone who really is out of control and being controlled by his fantasies. The difference is that most serial killers stop once the victim dies. Everything is leading up to that. They tie them up; they like to her them scream and beg for their lives. It makes the killer feel great, superior, powerful, dominant... In Dahmer's case, everything is post-mortem... all of his 'fun' began after the victims died... He led a rich fantasy life that focused on having complete control over people... That fantasy life, mixed with hatred, perhaps hatred of himself which is being projected into his victims. If he at all felt uncomfortable about his own sexual orientation, it is very easy to see it projected into these victims and punishing them indirectly to punish himself."

Serial murder, psychopathology, necrophilia, cannibalism — none of these phenomena is unique to modern times. The answers to explain these phenomena go in and out of fashion. Today, genetics is gaining ground over behaviorism in explaining why people become criminals. In the case of Jeffrey Dahmer, it may be the only explanation.


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