When Respectability Kills
A Deadly Consequence of White Societal Discards Living Among Marginalized Populations
The Resurrection of Jeffrey Dahmer
It's all anyone is talking about across social media platforms. The reignited pandemonium surrounding Jeffrey Dahmer is all thanks to the Ryan Murphy and Evan Peters-produced Netflix series, Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. Evan Peters is also the leading actor who depicted the pernicious Jeffrey Dahmer.
Many viewers praised the portrayal, while some openly expressed their sexual attraction toward Evan Peters, playing a sadistic serial killer, as seen with a well-known TikTok influencer. Unfortunately, they're not the only ones to have a disturbing, romanticized approach to viewing the series. People are utilizing their energy to create fan-cam videos of the series and the real Jeffrey Dahmer.
The morality of true crime consumption and content creators who generate revenue from uploading true crime content is a discussion that's now gaining steam. It's not a new phenomenon where serial killer cultivates their freakish fanbase. Social media and modern technological advances allow information to travel faster and for people to encounter others with like-minded interests. Compounded with the now-mainstream true crime industry, consumers will enable themselves to be swept away by the morbid sensationalism of it all.
With the new reignited interest in Jeffrey Dahmer previously mentioned, a wave of backlash came from family members of victims and concerned social media users. None of the families were compensated or even given notice about the released series. Rita Isbell, the sister of Errol Lindsey, publicly came forward to reveal that the series retraumatized her.
Jeffrey Dahmer terrorized a community when he moved to a Black-enclave in Milwaukee. He was born into a respectable middle-class family. From a socioeconomic standpoint, he had the advantages and resources to ensure that he would obtain the expected lifestyle. His father, Lionel Dahmer, is a respected figure in academia. Outside, the family projected a scene from a Norman Rockwell painting.
The emotional and physical neglect Jeffrey Dahmer experienced shaped his interpersonal relationships, absolved himself of personal responsibility and led to his eventual downward mobility. He was ultimately discarded from white respectability and found himself living on the fringes of society. This would become his hunting ground and killing fields.
The social construct of white respectability played a vital role in how law enforcement and the judiciary system allowed Dahmer's deviance and homicidal behavior to flourish. The media treated the Dahmer family with kid gloves because they were so well-spoken and unassuming. These perceptions helped establish a pseudo-narrative; Jeffrey Dahmer was a "sensitive serial killer" due to his childhood abandonment issues. Lionel Dahmer was the heartbroken father who did all he could.
It's time to closely examine the inner workings of the Dahmer family unit and how their social standing allowed them to dodge accountability for decades — even after Jeffrey Dahmer's death. His childhood abandonment and familial estrangement as an adult were at the expense of a deeply marginalized community.
Setting The Backdrop
Jeffrey Dahmer's reign of terror took place during the Reagan and Bush administrations. Being Black, gay, or a part of a marginalized group was a bleak and suffocating experience—shrinking social programs and overall intolerance shaped life as a marginalized person throughout the 1980s and early 1990s.
Milwaukee, during the 1980s and 1990s, had a problem with racism. Even in 2019, the city was ranked one of the worst places for Black people to live. One would imagine law enforcement and local government officials didn't engage their Black or marginalized citizens with the respect a human being deserves. When Jeffrey Dahmer descended from his social/economic class, he found himself at the Oxford Apartments. He worked at a chocolate factory making $8.75-an-hour.
Despite what the Black tenants of the Oxford Apartments experienced on a societal level, they still extended their kindness and sense of hospitality to their new white neighbor. The neighborhood was an underserved Black community with a high-crime rate.
Jeffrey Dahmer became a familiar face in Milwaukee's burgeoning gay nightlife. He sat at the bar and quietly observed people enjoying themselves. Growing up, Jeffrey Dahmer heard his father express disparaging sentiments about gay men and lesbians. Jeffrey Dahmer felt attracted to the same sex since adolescence but knew his father would disapprove. Lionel Dahmer is a Christian fundamentalist.
Before Marsha P. Johnson threw the proverbial brick at Stonewall in 1969, Milwaukee had its uprising in 1961. Historically known as the Black Nite Brawl, this brave act of defiance to the anti-LGBTQ+ status quo ushered in a Gay Liberation Movement. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, former Milwaukee police chief, Harold Breier, mistreated the LGBTQ+ community and raided known gay establishments. Additionally, his policing tactics contributed to Milwaukee’s racial divide, ultimately setting an unspoken generational tone. When the first case of AIDS made it to Milwaukee in 1983, the LGBTQ+ community mobilized to take care of their own. Jeffrey Dahmer was the last thing this already vulnerable community needed.
He's Your Problem Now
Lionel Dahmer pursued a college degree which kept him out of the home, and his mother battled mental illness. The same year Jeffrey Dahmer’s younger brother was born, his father became an analytical chemist. Most of the attention went to the newest edition of the Dahmer family. He witnessed verbal and physical altercations between his parents, which profoundly impacted him. Jeffrey Dahmer's elementary school teacher detected signs of parental abandonment.
Jeffrey Dahmer had a fascination with dead animals and kept their skeletal remains. At first, his father encouraged this, assuming he satisfied his scientific curiosity. During Jeffrey Dahmer's adolescence, he decapitated a dog's carcass and nailed it to a tree. He invited unsuspecting friends over to view his prank. Dahmer was the only one who found it amusing.
By high school, Jeffrey Dahmer was a full-blown alcoholic. This was brought on by Lionel Dahmer's physical absence and his mother's tendency to self-medicate. His parents were aware of this, yet there were no efforts to get their son into substance abuse treatment. He was an outcast who didn't take his education seriously. His father attempted to bring in tutors, but it was too late by that time.
Once puberty hit, Jeffrey Dahmer knew he was attracted to the same sex. He felt ashamed of it. Growing up in a religious household and hearing a parent condemn same-sex relations didn't allow him to talk openly about what he was feeling. Years later, in an interview, Lionel Dahmer professed if he found out about his son's sexual orientation, he would've put him into conversion treatment. Sharing a forbidden kiss with a neighborhood boy began his descension into deviance. He had dark fantasies about domination and control.
Around graduation from high school, his mother and younger brother moved out of the family home. The divorce of his parents was in the stages of finalization. Months before his mother and younger brother's abrupt departure, his father moved into a motel. Jeffrey Dahmer seized the opportunity of having the home to himself and acted on his morbid fantasies by killing his first victim, Steven Hicks. In 1992, the mother of Steven Hicks sued Jeffrey Dahmer's parents and stepmother. According to her, his parents should've known that he "was deviant and destined to cause injury and death to others.″
His father and new fiancée returned to the home a few weeks after the gruesome murder and discovered Jeffrey Dahmer alone. Lionel Dahmer embarked on a new life, and his son enrolled at Ohio State University. He flunked out after one academic term due to excessive alcohol consumption.
For whatever reason, Lionel Dahmer didn't sense an urgency that his son was in trouble or consider that his neglectful attitude exacerbated the problem. Instead, he talked his son into enlisting in the military, where he was discharged because of his alcoholism. While serving in the military, he drugged and sexually assaulted two people.
Jeffrey Dahmer was back under the same roof as his father and stepmother. Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested two weeks after his arrival for being drunk and disorderly. No record of his father trying to get his son into treatment. Jeffrey Dahmer moved out to live with his grandmother. Lionel Dahmer felt his mother was the one who could change his son's behavior. She was the only one to show her grandson affection.
Jeffrey Dahmer's upbringing contributed to his dysfunction as an adult. Throughout Jeffrey Dahmer's life, his father fled parental obligations and dumped his son onto other people. There's a pattern of Lionel Dahmer not living up to his responsibilities as a parent.
Like all the other arrangements, living with his grandmother proved to be a failure. Lionel Dahmer also became aware of his son bringing men back to the house and exhibiting other disturbing behavior. Lionel Dahmer virtually left his elderly mother to deal with it.
He was arrested twice for indecent exposure and later pleaded guilty to second-degree sexual assault and using a child for immoral purposes. Additionally, Jeffrey Dahmer went undetected as he committed multiple murders in his grandmother's home.
Before Jeffrey Dahmer finished his year-long sentence at a work-release camp, Lionel Dahmer wrote a letter to the judge. He wanted his son to have court-ordered treatment. He knew the danger his son imposed on the public. Still, Lionel Dahmer didn't feel inclined to take matters into his own hands to ensure his son received the overdue help. His son was eventually released early as a parolee.
Life On The Fringe
Jeffrey Dahmer moved into the Oxford Apartments in May of 1990. The property was well-maintained. The tenants were productive members of society. The neighborhood had a high crime rate, and everyone in the building looked out for one another. This is what enticed Pamela and Vernell Bass to move in. They would also become the neighbors of Jeffrey Dahmer.
The married couple slowly built a rapport with their new neighbor who lived across the hall. Small conversations in the hallway led to drinking beer and smoking cigarettes in each other's apartments. Jeffrey Dahmer even took a liking to their cat and offered to bring Pamela Bass a box of chocolates from his job.
Vernell and Pamela Bass invited Dahmer over for Thanksgiving dinner. Incidentally, he would spend the day with his father and stepmother. On the day of Thanksgiving, Vernell Bass was able to get a formal introduction to Lionel and Shari Dahmer. Bass felt they were nice people. Unbeknownst to him, Lionel Dahmer unofficially dumped his deranged son on his doorstep.
Other neighbors would describe Dahmer as a loner who kept to himself. Pamela Bass recalled oddities such as hearing him talking to himself and walking in the alleys late at night. Over time he neglected his hygiene and "looked dirty." Vernell Bass heard sawing noises one night.
Amidst the strange occurrences, Jeffrey Dahmer gave Pamela Bass a sandwich. To this day, the source of meat used for the sandwich is still a mystery. The tenants began to notice a smell that permeated throughout the building. Finally, Jeffrey Dahmer's apartment was revealed to be the source of the horrible stench. He gave excuses that seemed plausible to the tenants.
Throughout his tenancy at the Oxford Apartments, his parole officer, Donna Chester, never made the required twice-a-month home visits. Chester would later admit she didn't make the visits because she felt uncomfortable going to a primarily Black neighborhood with a high crime rate. She kept a log to document the visits he made to her office. Chester described her client as a "chronic complainer" with suicidal ideations. Dahmer felt isolated from society and depressed. He referred to his father as controlling. There was an emphasis on his money troubles and coming to terms with his sexuality. After five years of not talking to his mother, he called her and revealed that he was gay. She was accepting of it.
During their final meeting on July 18th, 1991, he disclosed he lost his job and faced eviction on August 1st, 1991. He was arrested for the murders he committed on July 22nd, 1991. Bear in mind he was murdering people as he visited Donna Chester's office. Who knows what could've been if Chester had performed her obligations and visited Jeffrey Dahmer's apartment? Her anti-Blackness cost people their lives. Luckily for Lionel Dahmer, his son was provided a place of residence courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. Jeffrey Dahmer was their problem now.
The residents of the Oxford Apartments were devastated that a maniacal killer lived among them. They were able to carve out an ideal life for themselves, despite the locality being underserved and crime-ridden. For some time, the neighborhood experienced a series of break-ins. Residents of The Oxford Apartments rallied as they watched over each other's apartments. If someone was in between paychecks, a person offered money to hold them over. Jeffrey Dahmer robbed them of a safe haven and breached their trust. He transformed his apartment into a murder factory. No one wanted to live in the building anymore.
The Father-Son Freakshow
Both of Jeffrey Dahmer's parents failed to uphold their responsibilities when it came to their son's upbringing. There were so many indicators that their son was seriously troubled. Lionel Dahmer revealed to Stone Philips that he, too, had homicidal fantasies. He dealt with childhood bullying, and he would dream about murdering his tormentors. During the same interview, Jeffrey Dahmer’s mother claimed he was brought up in a loving environment, which we know was far from the truth.
Pat Synder was a friend of Shari and Lionel Dahmer. She appeared on the Geraldo Rivera show and made accusations against them. Synder felt extreme guilt for what Jeffrey Dahmer did and wished she would've stopped it because she "saw it coming." She described Shari Dahmer as a wicked stepmother. Additionally, she claimed that Shari Dahmer resented that her husband — Lionel — had to pay child and spousal support. It was also alleged that Jeffrey Dahmer once made a drunken admission that his father molested him.
Unsuspecting victims and their families had to pay a devastating price for the dysfunction of the Dahmer family. Jeffrey Dahmer was neglected during his youth and became estranged from his parents as an adult. His deviant behavior manifested without interruption.
The media depicted Lionel Dahmer as a sensible father who's also a victim of his son. His father is neglectful and homophobic. Jeffrey Dahmer was known to use racial slurs. One of the witnesses who tried to save Konerak Sinthasomphone recalled that Jeffrey Dahmer referred to her as a “Black bitch” in front of police officers. If someone believed he learned racism from his parent(s), they wouldn’t be jumping to conclusions.
Lionel Dahmer benefitted from being the father of a murderous son. He was featured on television and wrote a book — which will see an uptick in sales because of the Netflix series. During a side-by-side interview with his father, Jeffrey Dahmer boasted they were closer than ever. It's infuriating his father wanted nothing to do with him until he was discovered to be a serial killer.
The concept of abandonment was used to frame Jeffrey Dahmer's murderous compulsion. He didn't want companionship or something meaningful; he needed to satisfy his urges. The truth is he tried to control people to carry out his iniquity. He took what he wanted from whomever he could get it. The majority of his victims were gay men, and a few were heterosexual men. Jeffrey Dahmer had a dark soul and grappled with internalized homophobia.
It's time to bring the focus back on the lives Jeffrey Dahmer stole and the families he destroyed. Those who had the power to prevent the senseless murders at the hands of Jeffrey Dahmer turned a blind eye. Jeffrey Dahmer was banished to the margins of society when he failed to maintain his societal standing as a person of white respectability. How he conducted himself and who he harmed became the horrific reality of the unsuspecting marginalized people who crossed his path.