Jeffrey Dahmer, The Milwaukee Cannibal, was a diagnosed psychopath responsible for the death and mutilation of a total of 17 young men and boys between 1988-1991. What makes him a fascinating serial killer is that he displayed both "organised" and "unorganised" tendencies: that is, in loose terms, that at some times he could control the impulse to kill, while others he couldn't.
Dahmer had an intense fear of abandonment and loss combined with a need for control. Exemplary of this is his first kill (circa 1978); when 18-year-old Steven Hicks wanted to leave Dahmer's place, Dahmer snapped and bludgeoned him with a dumbbell, but it wasn't until 1989 that he began to permanently keep parts of his victim's body, beginning with the skull and genitals of 24-year-old Anthony Sears which were kept in a filing cabinet.
During the entire process of luring men to a private location, drugging and killing them, dismembering and hurting them, Dahmer was always drunk. He had to be; the thought of hurting these people who Dahmer, in his own way, cared for and wanted to be close to disturbed him to the point he couldn't do any of this without alcohol in his system. This is interesting because Dahmer is aware that it's not entirely right to be doing it, but his impulses — what he described as a compulsion — forced him to, so he numbed the parts of him that were unable to do what was necessary to satiate his craving to kill.
An extension of this unique "affection" for his victims was his desire to drug them — typically a drink laced with sleeping pills — so that they wouldn't feel pain. Dahmer stated that he did not enjoy nor get gratification from the kill itself but from the mutilation and cannibalism that followed; the kill was simply a means to an end.
It's been theorised by some that Dahmer was actually killing these young men because of his sexual attraction to them, in an attempt to kill the part of him — his homosexuality — that he didn't like, but if that was the case I believe he would have devoted the majority of his attention to the kill, and potentially even have drawn the murders themselves out in an attempt to torture the homosexual feelings he had, but he didn't. The kill was often expedited, either by strangulation or slitting of an artery, allowing him to reach the mutilation stage of his process quicker.
Dahmer documented his mutilation process with a Polaroid camera, taking photographs of the different stages of dismemberment, often posing the bodies in sexually suggestive positions for this. Again, this is part of Dahmer's need to feel close to his victims, eventually progressing to creating a private shrine of the skulls and other body parts of victims he had preserved.
He would soon begin to eat parts of his victims in an attempt to make them part of him, to keep them with him. Dahmer's loneliness and fear of being alone propelled him to cannibal-killer status, but the eating of human flesh was not a dietary choice, as it is with some, nor was it a way for him to trivialise the bodies of his victims — quite the opposite, in fact, he felt the victim was special enough to want to feel them with him at all times.
The fact that Dahmer was driven by twisted affection and adoration for these poor young men is what makes him such an interesting and unique case of serial killing. Most serial killers are driven by a need to humiliate their victims and a need to exert power over their victims. They see themselves as puppeteers, controlling their victims in ways they lost or never had control. They often come from abusive childhood homes or have been hurt by an authority figure. By all accounts, Dahmer had a peaceful home life and loving parents — is that why he became such a one-of-a-kind killer? Is that why he "loved" his victims so much he eventually progressed to attempting to turn them into zombies, drilling holes in their head and inserting hydrochloric acid into their brains in an attempt to keep them alive but unable to escape him?
I can't answer that: I'm not a psychiatrist or a profiler, but I will venture far enough to say that the only discernable difference between Dahmer and killers like Manson, Gacey and Ramirez is that Dahmer grew up loved, and maybe that's why he became the unique killer he did.
A question asked by so many philosophers and psychologists is whether or not evil is born or created. I feel that answer lies in Dahmer; he was born the way he was because there was minimal childhood trauma that could have resulted in him being the same detached kind of killer as the ones mentioned earlier — he was born with a flaw that he tried to manage himself by killing and inspecting the bodies of animals, but because he didn't get the psychological help he needed the need progressed to humans.
If those kinds of proclivities can be born and not only created, it begs the question of how many more Jeffrey Dahmers are out there, either in psychological facilities being helped or being left to their own devices and escalating their behaviours? Will we eventually isolate what it was in Dahmer's biochemistry that caused him to be born the way he was and develop a vaccine to neutralise it in utero?
I wrote this article with the intention of answering my own questions about Jeffrey Dahmer. Often writing leads me to answers; either because I think over the subject in more depth or because of research I've done for it, but coming to the end of this article I've ended up with more questions than I began with. Maybe that means I've written a bad article, or maybe it means I've finally written a really good one. But whichever it is, I think Jeffrey Dahmer will continue to both fascinate and disturb me until someone with a higher IQ can answer these questions with absolute certainty, and maybe even after that.