Book review-The Jeffrey Dahmer Story:An American Nightmare,
Written by Donald A Davis
Forensic Psychopathology- Fall 2018
University of Massachusetts-Lowell
Born on a usual spring day of May 21, 1960 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Jeffrey Dahmer was one of America’s most notorious serial killers. It is not the number of victims that make this case one of the worst in American history, it is the brutality of the murders that sends chills down one’s spine. Donald A Davis, in his book “The Jeffrey Dahmer story: An American Nightmare”, does a great job in painting the horrid picture for the reader. Davis describes Dahmer as a shy a kid, who did not grow up in a stable family environment. His mother had issues with alcohol abuse and used certain over-the-counter medicines to self medicate. Dahmer never received the attention as a kid that every kid ideally should. His parents went through a rough divorce. But what Davis speculates as a major source of impact on young Dahmer’s mind is that his parents had a custody battle only over his younger brother, which led to Dahmer being neglected and almost made him feel unwanted.
Dahmer himself had problems with alcohol since a very young age. He was known to smuggle alcohol in his jacket to his high school classes, claiming that it was his medicine to everyone who asked. Despite this fact, his teachers thought of him as a quite kid, but also highly intelligent. He was known to fake having seizures in school just to make his peers laugh. Although this tells a lot about the psychological problems that he might have had at that particular moment, this led to him being a well-known kid in high school. This was also the period when Dahmer was hyper aware of his sexuality and realized his unusual sexual fantasies.
Davis gets into the intricate details of a few out of the seventeen murders that Dahmer committed. A 19 year old hitchhiker, Steven Hicks was Dahmer’s first victim,whom he murdered in June 1978, in Bath Township, just three weeks after graduating high school. He welcomed Hicks to his house under the pretext of drinking alcohol but hit him with a dumb-bell when he eventually expressed the interest to leave. Dahmer, who had just turned 18, dismembered his body with a carving knife and pulverized his bones with a sledgehammer. Then, he scattered the bones in the garden of his family house. After enrolling in Ohio State University, and dropping out in the middle of the second term after failing due to alcohol abuse, Dahmer enlisted in the army. He was later discharged from the military in 1981 following deterioration in his performance due to alcohol abuse. After being released from the military, he lived with his grandmother, the only person he seemed to have feelings for, after his father and stepmother deemed it was too tough to live with his vices.
After being unsuccessful at holding one job for a time span of longer than a year, he explored his sexuality which led to him fantasizing about the feeling of sexual dominance over other men. Dahmer committed his second murder nine years after his first murder. Steven Tuocmi voluntarily agreed to come to Dahmer’s room in the Ambassador Hotel. Tuocmi and Dahmer got drunk, and then Dahmer smashed Tuocmi’s chest and attempted to rip his heart out. After realizing what he had done the next morning, he panicked and bought a large trunk to place the dismembered carcass. He took the body back to his grandmother’s house and put it in the basement where it was easier to continue cutting it up.
His third victim was 14 years old James Doxtator, who was drugged and then strangled by him in his grandmother’s house on January 1, 1988. This victim’s flesh was removed from his bones with Hydrochloric acid and his bones were pulverized and scattered in a similar fashion to those of Steven Hicks. The fourth victim, 23 year old Richard Guerrero, was killed on March 24, 1988. After having oral sex with the victim, he drugged Guerrero’s drink and strangled him to death. In a fit of rage, Dahmer disposed the remains of the corpse in the garbage. The fifth victim, Anthony Sears was a 26 year old male who was strangled by Jeffrey Dahmer on March 25, 1989, a year after his fourth kill. He cut off Sears’ head and genitals as ‘trophies’, and painted the skull grey. Similar to his last kill, he disposed of the remains of the corpse in the garbage.
Davis describes the murder of Konerak Sinthasomphone as one of the most brutal murders committed by Dahmer and a testimony to the failure of the police department to assess what are clearly, situations of distress. He was Dahmer’s 15th victim, who was murdered in the infamous 213 oxford street apartments. At age 14, Sinthasomphone was drugged and threatened by Dahmer. With a stroke of luck, he managed to escape Dahmer’s apartment with the handcuffs on and ran out on the streets with Dahmer following him. When they encountered the police, Dahmer manipulated them into believing that Konerak was a gay drunk who was not in his right senses. Because of the ignorance of the cops, Konerak Sinthasomphone was brought back to Dahmer’s apartment where he was slaughtered in a cold blooded manner. Dahmer admitted that the purpose of his escapade with the young boy that night was to drill a hole in the back of the cranium and injecting hydrochloric acid into the frontal brain lobes, all while Konerak was still alive. This incident led the investigators to believe the theory that Dahmer wanted to create ‘living dead’ or zombies. Similar to most of his previous killings, Sinthasomphone’s body was dismembered and dissolved in acid.
Dahmer’s last victim was 32 years old Tracy Edwards, who he attempted to kill on July 22, 1991, a couple of days before he would later be convicted of the murder charges. When Edwards agreed to come to Dahmer’s apartment for dinner and movies, he could tell something was wrong. There was a sense of eeriness in the air and the place smelled of Hydrochloric acid. When edwards started questioning with unease, Dahmer got violent. Edwards manipulated Dahmer into believing that he was not going to run away. Hence, on the pretext of going to the bathroom, Edwards punched Dahmer the first chance he got and ran out of the front door, which led to the police finding out about Jeffrey Dahmer- the most notorious serial killers of his time.
After more search of his apartment was conducted, the Criminal Investigation Bureau found 4 severed heads in his kitchen. The apartment had seven skulls, some painted and osme bleached and a tray of blood drippings at the bottom of his refrigerator. Two human hearts and a part of arm muscle wrapped in a plastic bag were found on the kitchen shelves. Dahmer’s freezer had an entire human torso and a bag of human organ sand flesh stuck to the bottom. By the way the house was decorated with ‘ornaments’ from his killings, the place looked more like a museum than a crime scene.
The day after this event, Dahmer was arrested and readily confessed to all the murders. He confessed to injecting the brains of his victims with acid and/or boiling water, necrophilia and torturing the victims in the name of scientific experiments while they were alive. He mentioned that he preserved the severed body parts of his victims to build them a shrine in his basement which would be his meditating center and a source of energy and power for him. After a trial that lasted 2 weeks, Dahmer was convicted of 16 murders and was placed in the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin in a solitary confinement because of the physical risks he posed to other inmates that came in contact with him. He was moved to a more public setting after one year and touched base with Christianity as a reborn Christian. His behavior in the prison was a testimony to the improvements that his behavior analysts say he was making.
Dahmer was killed by Christopher Scarves, a fellow inmate in prison while he was doing his daily work routine. Scarves was believed to a be a schizophrenic who claimed that he hurt his fellow inmates because of the word of god. Davis summarizes the case of Jeffrey Dahmer as one of the worst in American History because of the way the murders were committed, in a cold blooded and brutal fashion.
Concluding, even though I would not trust Davis’ research for this book 100% because of the overt dramatization of certain incidents and then not talking enough about certain lose ends of the story, this book is certainly a good read if you get into reading this with absolutely no knowledge of Dahmer’s case and serves as a good starting point for inquisitive readers to dig into this case even more.
- Davis, D. (1995). The Jeffrey Dahmer story: An American nightmare. New York: St. Martins Paperbacks.