The True Story of Jeffrey Dahmer’s Crimes in Netflix’s ‘Monster’
“Dahmer” has become something of a shorthand in popular culture for pure evil. As such, even if you know Jeffrey Dahmer’s name, it can be difficult to figure out who the real man was, his crimes, the saga of catching him, and what ultimately happened to him. Dahmer might have been a monster, but he was a complicated monster.
The new Netflix limited series that lives up to its name Dahmer—Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story explores the horrific story not only of Dahmer, but also of his victims and the community that suffered for years because of his murders and was underserved by justice. The show is joined by big names: from co-creator Ryan Murphy of american horror story and American crime history celebrity, Freak stars Evan Peters as the adult Dahmer and Niecy Nash in a rare dramatic twist as Dahmer’s suspicious neighbor Glenda Cleveland.
Here’s an explainer on the macabre true story that inspired Netflix Freak.
What were Jeffrey Dahmer’s crimes?
Jeffrey Dahmer was one of America’s most notorious serial killers, murdering 17 men between 1978 and 1991. But the horrific nature of what he did to his victims, including raping, dismembering, necrophilia and cannibalism has long overshadowed the individuals who suffered from its acts, as well as the Dahmer’s biography himself. (Fair warning, however, for the graphic depictions of his extreme crimes below.)
Born May 21, 1960, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Dahmer seemed to have a relatively normal childhood, but emotional trauma Hidden Beneath the Surface: According to his own account, his mother suffered a nervous breakdown, his parents’ bitter divorce grieved him, and he believed his brother to be the family favourite. We know that Dahmer became more withdrawn growing up. In high school, he had developed a strong drinking habit and a fascination with animal carcasses. (Derf’s graphic novel titled My friend Dahmer and its 2017 film adaptation, starring Ross Lynch as Dahmer, both explore this period of his life)
Dahmer committed his first murder when he was 18. He picked up a hitchhiker named Steven Hicks, bringing Hicks back to his parents in Ohio. Dahmer hit Hicks with a 10-pound dumbbell, then dissected, dissolved, pulverized and scattered the remains in the garden. He would later confess to killing Hicks because he wanted the stranger to stay.
Although Dahmer managed to graduate from high school, he dropped out of college due to his alcoholism and enlisted in the military, serving as a doctor in Germany from 1979 to 1981. While his drug use alcohol continued to cause problems, he was fired and sent to live with his grandmother in West Allis, Wisconsin. In 1987, he killed his second victim, Steven Tuomi, after picking him up from a bar and taking him to a hotel room. Dahmer reportedly woke up next to the corpse with no memory of killing Tuomi.
Dahmer’s murders continued sporadically through the late 1980s. He frequently lured men out of bars and committed increasingly disturbing acts using their remains, including sexual intercourse and eating body parts . He had run-ins with the law for sex crimes, but his murders went undetected.
After moving into a Milwaukee apartment in May 1990, his killing spree escalated: he began killing about one person a week in the summer of 1991. Neighbors like Glenda Cleveland (played by Niecy Nash in Netflix’s Freak), complained to police about strange smells and noises coming from Dahmer’s apartment. In one case, a victim lobotomized by Dahmer came out of the apartment and asked for help. When law enforcement questioned Dahmer, he avoided capture, claiming the man was his drunk boyfriend. Dahmer had become obsessed with the idea that through mutilation he could put his victims into a zombie state, using them as submissive sexual partners.
How did he finally get caught?
Dahmer was only caught after struggling with one of his victims, Tracy Edwards, on July 22, 1991. Edwards was able to break free and bring police to Dahmer’s home, where he was arrested after the discovery of photos of corpses and dismembered limbs.
Dahmer’s victims were largely men and even boys of color. The absence of justice for so long shows how the authorities have neglected the very community that Dahmer exploited. When he was finally caught, an investigation at his home revealed a total of seven skulls and a human heart in his freezer.
A jury indicted Dahmer on 15 counts of murder, and the trial began on January 30, 1991. Faced with a mountain of incriminating evidence, Dahmer pleaded not guilty. out of madness. The defense argued that his impulses were out of control. After a two-week trial, he was found sane and guilty on all 15 counts of murder. The court sentenced him to 15 life sentences, one for each victim.
How did Jeffrey Dahmer die?
Dahmer expressed remorse and wished his own death while serving time at Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin. But the sheer wickedness and grotesqueness of his actions had already cast him as an absolute monster in the public eye. He was also, unsurprisingly, a target within the prison system. He was attacked twice by fellow inmates, surviving the first time. But on November 28, 1994, he died of head trauma while being taken to hospital, after a fellow prisoner beat him in a shower. And so the haunting life and crimes of this serial killer ended unceremoniously: Dahmer was killed in a prison fight.
How Netflix Works Freak fit into all of this?
Freak comes from creators and executive producers Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan. According to the press notes, “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is a series that exposes these unconscionable crimes, focusing on underserved victims and their communities impacted by the systemic racism and institutional failures of policing that allowed one of America’s most notorious serial killers to continue his killer streak in plain sight for over a decade. ”
Emmy-winning Evan Peters’ blind performance as Dahmer is every bit as cold and chilling as his remarkable work on american horror story. Emmy winner Niecy Nash (so adorable in Renew 911! and Claws) stands out once again as neighbor Glenda Cleveland, who tipped off police about the squalor she suspected in Dahmer’s apartment.
A scene between Peters’ Dahmer and Nash’s Cleveland, in which he insists she eat a sandwich he gave her, is uncomfortable to watch. Nash grounds the obnoxious all around her with a relatable presence, reminiscent of her most outrageous comedic ways. His account underscores the tragedy of the authorities’ inability and/or unwillingness to diligently investigate Dahmer’s crimes and bring him to justice sooner.
Of course, the fascination with Dahmer’s deranged personality and the sinister nature of his actions still permeates Freak. In classic Ryan Murphy fashion, dated period style (with remarkably chunky eyeglass frames) is chunky. But with Nash and others offering the perspective of real people whose voices were often lost in news reporting at the time, Freak is a worthy reframing of the Dahmer saga.
Paul Schrodt is a freelance writer and editor who also contributes to Esquire, GQ, Money, The Wall Street Journal, and more.