Netflix’s new series on Jeffrey Dahmer highlights some of the gruesome and unconscionable crimes committed by the serial killer from 1978 to 1991, but the series takes some liberties in retelling the story.
“You can have all the backstory you want, but at the end of the day we’re not making a documentary,” Evan Peters, the 35-year-old Emmy-winning actor who plays Dahmer in the miniseries titled “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” said in a 2021 interview with Variety.
The 10-episode miniseries, according to Netflix’s description, tells a story of “underserved victims and their communities impacted by the systemic racism and institutional failures of the police that allowed one of America’s most notorious serial killers to continue his murderous spree in plain sight for over a decade.”
Dahmer’s 17 known victims:Jeffrey Dahmer killed 17 people. These are the victims and what we knew about them.
Read Glenda Cleveland’s 2011 obituary:Dahmer’s former neighbor, Glenda Cleveland, alerted police about him. But they did little.
The series often stays close to news reports, but the USA TODAY Network has found some notable deviations.
Here’s a look at news coverage of Dahmer, as found in USA TODAY’s archives.
The following original reporting appeared in USA TODAY on these dates, unless otherwise noted. Stories have been edited for length.
July 24, 1991: Nightmare in Milwaukee
The grisly discovery of the pieces of as many as 15 bodies – including three human heads kept in a refrigerator – has shocked residents and police in Milwaukee.
The severed remains were found in the fly-infested apartment of a candy factory worker early Tuesday after a man, who said he escaped from the flat, flagged down police.
“You think you’ve seen it all out here, and then something like this happens,” said officer Rolf Mueller.
The gruesome scene at the apartment house in a rundown neighborhood near Marquette University greeted patrolmen who were hailed by the man, who had handcuffs dangling from one wrist. The man said he was able to flee from the apartment after being threatened with a knife.
Police found the walls of the apartment plastered with photographs of nude, mutilated bodies. A dresser was brimming with drawings and snapshots. Body parts were stuffed in cardboard boxes and plastic bags. A barrel was filled with acid and bones. A video camera was mounted on a wall.
Police said most of the body parts are believed to be from males of various races.
Officers at the scene said the stench was overpowering.
“I thought it smelled like dead bodies,” said a neighbor, Anita Lusk. “Never thought I’d be right.”
Other neighbors told police they heard sawing in the apartment at all hours.
Milwaukee Police Lt. Thomas Breitlow said Tuesday that police had arrested Jeffrey Dahmer, 31, at the apartment and booked him on suspicion of homicide.
“He was just a quiet guy who kept to himself. He was kind of dirty and he’d walk through the alleys at all hours of the night,” said Pamela Bass, who lives across the hall. “I thought he was a little strange, but this goes beyond strange,”
Originally from Medina, Ohio, Dahmer worked at Ambrosia Chocolate, a downtown Milwaukee factory, for about six years.
He was convicted and served a year in jail in 1988 after offering a 13-year-old boy $50 to pose nude for photos. Dahmer, still on probation, also was cited in 1982 for indecent exposure at the Wisconsin State Fair.
James Fox, a Northeastern University criminologist and an authority on serial killers, said the crime is atypical of most serial killers, who are usually careful about covering up evidence of killings and controlled in how they kill.
But, Fox said, it does fit the stereotype. He cited the case of Ed Gein, who terrorized rural Wisconsin more than 31 years ago. He killed 15 of his female farmer neighbors, dismembered them and used their body parts to make chair seats, lamp shades and bracelets.
Gein’s crimes were the basis for the movies “Psycho” and “Silence of the Lambs.” “The stereotypical Hollywood image of a serial killer,” Fox said.
“This type of person tends to be a little more confused, reclusive, a loner,” said Fox, who co-wrote “Mass Murder: America’s Growing Menace.” “His whole fantasy is wrapped up in death and destruction as opposed to the cold, calculating Bundy-esque killer.”
July 25,1991: Early clues, missteps toward a grisly future
There were signs, many signs. But most indications that something might be amiss with Jeffrey Dahmer were ignored.
Neighbors heard power saws buzzing at all hours. A putrid smell permeated the 30-unit apartment building for a year. No one challenged Dahmer’s explanation of rotting meat in a broken freezer.
“We’ve been smelling odors for weeks, but we thought it was a dead animal. … We had no idea it was humans,” said neighbor Ella Vickers.
Police did not receive one complaint about Dahmer in the two years he’s lived at the Oxford Apartments.
But as his son sought parole in 1989 for sexual assault, Lionel Dahmer begged a judge to order treatment. “This may be our last chance to institute something lasting,” he said.
Although probation officers are required by law to make monthly home visits, his agent was overloaded and Dahmer lived in a high-crime area. The provision was waived.
Dahmer was a bright, but average student. A counselor told his parents Dahmer seemed uninterested in schoolwork.
High school pranks escalated to a drunk-and-disorderly arrest in 1981. Dahmer had moved away from home, dropped out of Ohio State University and joined the military.
He was booted out of the Army because of alcoholism, his stepmother, Shari Dahmer, told The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer. “He was a gentle person, but when he got drunk it would take four policemen to hold him down.”
He was fired (from Ambrosia Chocolates) 10 days ago, but the company won’t talk about him.
(After serving 10 months in jail for the 1988 arrest) in 1989, Dahmer lured a man home and put a sleeping pill in his coffee. But the man woke and ran, Shari Dahmer said. “Since then we have been on the edge. Obviously he has taken a turn for the worse.”
July 26, 1991: Police fear killings span 10 years
Dahmer is a suspect in 17 murders, police said. He was arrested Monday, after police found parts of 11 bodies in his apartment. He was charged with four counts of murder Thursday and was held on $1 million bail.
Dahmer, in his first court appearance, was stoic and unshaven. He said nothing other than that he understood the charges against him.
More charges are expected in early August, as police identify other victims.
Court papers also provided new gory details of the crime scene, charging Dahmer had sexual contact with at least three victims and cut out the heart of one to eat later.
Also found: ethyl alcohol, chloroform and formaldehyde, three chemicals used for preserving, and four one-gallon bottles of hydrochloric acid.
Police also said they found in Dahmer’s apartment a photograph of a boy, 14, who is the missing brother of a youth Dahmer molested. He served 10 months and was released from jail in March 1990.
Medical Examiner Jeffrey Jentzen said the remains were “not inconsistent with cannibalism … We may have opinions on that at a future time.”
Officials did not elaborate, nor would police say where else they might look. Police departments in Akron and Columbus, Ohio, and Miami and Chicago confirmed they are checking files.
Dahmer grew up in a small town 50 miles from Akron, attended college in Columbus and lived briefly in Miami before moving to Milwaukee in 1982. He also is known to have spent time in Chicago.
Police are looking in West Allis, Wis., after Dahmer’s family said bones and a slimy substance were found in a vat in the basement of Dahmer’s grandmother’s house in 1988.
Dahmer moved in with his grandmother, Catherine Dahmer, 87, in 1982. The woman complained to relatives of a chemical odor in the basement, The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported Thursday.
“Jeffrey said it was an animal,” his stepmother, Shari, said. “When he was young, he liked to use acid to scrape the meat off dead animals. He told Lionel (his father) that’s what he was doing.”
July 30, 1991: Dahmer confesses to 15 killings
Jeffrey Dahmer confessed to three more killings, bringing the grisly count in the body-parts murders to 15.
Dahmer, 31, told police he killed two men at his grandmother’s suburban home between 1985 and 1988. He also admitted killing a third man who, according to relatives, disappeared last summer after going to a gay-pride parade in Chicago.
The former chocolate-factory worker, on parole for child molesting, is suspected in at least 17 deaths since 1978.
He was arrested last week after police found parts of 11 bodies – 10 men’s and one boy’s – in his apartment.
‘Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story’:What’s real and what’s fiction in Netflix’s new Jeffrey Dahmer series
Police in Bath, Ohio, today begin digging up the yard at Dahmer’s childhood home in search of the remains of his first victim, a hitchhiker killed days after Dahmer graduated from high school.
Dahmer drew a map they’ll use in the search.
Feb. 18, 1992: Dahmer sentenced to life
A subdued Jeffrey Dahmer – sentenced to 15 consecutive life terms in prison – told a hushed court Monday he hopes God has forgiven him because “I know society never will.”
Judged sane two days ago in the grisly murders of 15 people, Dahmer spoke for the first time in open court.
Then he was sentenced to a minimum 936 years in prison. (Wisconsin has not had the death penalty since 1853.)
Earlier, Dahmer sat stone-faced as families of victims vented their rage. Rita Isbell, sister of Errol Lindsey, who was killed less than 10 months ago, was overcome with grief during her statement and lunged hysterically at Dahmer, hurling obscenities before being restrained by bailiffs. “I hate you,” she screamed. “Your name is Satan.”
Dahmer’s only sign of emotion: a deep breath he took before reading the statement he spent 4½ hours crafting in jail.
“I deserve whatever I get because of what I have done,” Dahmer said. “I didn’t ever want freedom. Frankly, I wanted death.”
Dahmer said he has turned to God since his arrest. “I should have stayed with God,” he said. “I tried and I failed, and created a holocaust.”
May 2, 1992: Dahmer pleads guilty to 1978 murder in Ohio, his first
Jeffrey Dahmer, already in prison for 15 murders, Friday (May 1, 1992) pleaded guilty to aggravated murder in the beating death and dismemberment of 18-year-old Steven Hicks.
Asked his plea, Dahmer, 31, responded, “Guilty as charged, your honor.”
Because of his Wisconsin sentences, Dahmer isn’t likely to serve prison time in Ohio.
Officers suspended, later reinstated
Officers John Balcerzak, Joseph Gabrish and assisting officer Rick Porubcan were suspended July 26, 1991 after returning one of Dahmer’s eventual victims back to his apartment on May 27, 1991, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, part of the USA TODAY Network.
They later reported that the smell they observed in the apartment resembled someone recently using the bathroom and not something more sinister, and “deloused” was a word emphasized by critics as an indication of law enforcement’s flippant or recoiling attitude toward the gay community.
Balcerzak and Gabrish were fired and then reinstated by a judge in 1994 and remained in law enforcement, the Journal Sentinel reported. Porubcan, a rookie at the time, was reinstated earlier, UPI reported.
Nov. 29, 1994: Dahmer’s death
Jeffrey Dahmer’s bloody death in a prison bathroom Monday (Nov. 28, 1994) was a dramatic – some say a fitting – end to the life of a killer and cannibal.
“I was so happy” to hear he was dead, says Janie Hagen, sister of Richard Guerrero, one of at least 16 young men murdered by Dahmer, who also had dismembered, sexually abused and eaten some of them. “I was so excited that finally the monster was gone. He was just plain evil. That may sound harsh, but when you lose a brother…”
Dahmer, 34, was cleaning a toilet next to a basketball court Monday morning when, out of the sight of prison guards, he was beaten to death. The suspect, Christopher Scarver, like Dahmer, is a convicted first-degree murderer from Milwaukee.
“I dreamed of this day and then it actually happens,” says Carolyn Smith, sister of victim Edward Smith. “My whole body started shaking. Right now, I’m very pleased. But I’m Catholic. I don’t believe in capital punishment but some days, the evil side comes out of me.”