Played: November 30, 2021
Jeffrey Dahmer was one of the most infamous serial killers of the 20th century, becoming an inspiration for horror stories across America. A murderer and cannibal of 17 men between 1978 and 1991, Dahmer's childhood was surprisingly normal if you didn't look too close.
Updated Date: May 28, 2022
Publish Date: Mar 03, 2021
Mm mm. Like all serial killers, Jeffrey Dahmer was at least partially a product of his environment. But unlike many of those other killers, his childhood was relatively normal and free of trauma. He was born into a middle class Midwestern family with two parents who loved him. Despite a few unproven rumors that swirled after his arrest, Dumber maintains that he was never abused in any way. The factors that shaped this man into a monster were wider than his own individual circumstances. They were rooted in racism, homophobia, police misconduct and a host of other social issues that can be difficult to confront. So in searching for the root of Dahmer's behavior, society was forced into a deeply uncomfortable self reflection. Dahmer's crimes displayed the failings of the culture he lived in and how dangerous those failings can be if left unaddressed. But to understand where all those cultural factors come into play, we have to start at the very beginning. Jeffrey Dahmer's childhood was not perfect, but it was perfectly ordinary. After his birth in May 1960 his mother, Joyce, recorded all his milestones in a baby scrapbook. For his first few years, he was a healthy, happy toddler. Joyce, on the other hand, had a hard time coping as a new mother. She had a history of anxiety and depression, and the stress of raising a child didn't help. She and Jeff's father, Lionel, argued incessantly. From the moment the baby was born, Lionel, a chemist, was working toward his PhD. He spent nearly all of his time at the lab to avoid dealing with Joyce's unstable moods. So Jeff was mostly left alone with his mother, who was sometimes so depressed she couldn't even get out of bed. To make matters worse, the damn our family was constantly uprooted due to Lionel's research. Not long after Jeff was born, the family moved from Milwaukee to Ames, Iowa, then to Doylestown, Ohio, then again to the rural Bath Township, all in the span of eight years. The frequent moves did not help him socially. As early as first grade, his teacher noted that he was withdrawn, uncommunicative and seemed deeply unhappy. He never engaged in conversation with the other Children, and during recess he just walked around the playground by himself. In fact, Lionel Dahmer had already noticed these problems. Jeff often sat motionless for long periods of time and spoke without any facial expression. Even as a toddler, he didn't enjoy playing games with others. Instead, he preferred games whose rules were highly defined and non confrontational games full of repetitious actions like hide and seek. Lionel didn't think much of it. He assumed Jeff was just shy and he would grow out of it. Eventually, however, these behaviors might have been early signs of a developmental or personality disorder. Vanessa is going to take over on the psychology here and throughout the episode. Please note. Vanessa is not a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist, but she has done a lot of research for this show. Thanks, Greg. As an adult, Damour was diagnosed with a combination of schizoid skits, a title and antisocial personality disorders. The most prominent of these was schizoid. According to the D. S M five, this disorder is marked by a pattern of detachment from social relationships and a restricted range of emotional expression. Someone with schizoid personality disorder will be uninterested in forming close relationships, prefer spending time by themselves and have difficulty expressing their emotions, either verbally or through body language. Dahmer's flat expression and unwillingness to socialist fit these criteria perfectly. But there's also another possibility worth mentioning. Schizoid personality disorder is incredibly difficult to distinguish from autism spectrum disorder, formally known as Asperger's syndrome. In fact, adults with autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, are often misdiagnosed with personality disorders because the symptoms can appear nearly identical. According to psychiatrist J. Arturo Silva, a diagnosis of ASD would fit dumber because his social problems were rooted in an inability to participate in the interests of others or reciprocate social behavior. People with ASD tend to have very intense and restricted interests, which often involve mechanical tasks, rigid rules and structures and repetitive actions just like the kind of games the Young Dumber preferred. In many cases, the intense interest of people with ASD can be normal, mundane hobbies like stamp collecting or computer programming. For Damn ER, it was collecting bones throughout his childhood. Jeff's father tried to get him interested in everything from playing tennis to joining the Boy Scouts. But after briefly humoring Lionel's requests, Jeff always abandoned these hobbies. The only thing he seemed interested in was dissecting dead animals. Lionel, who of course was a chemist, didn't see anything wrong with this, he took it as a sign that Jeff was interested in science. One evening during dinner, 10 year old Jeff asked his father what would happen if they took the chicken bones and put them in bleach. Lionel jumped on this as an opportunity to connect with his son. After dinner, he collected the scraps and show Jeff how to put them in a bleach solution to separate the bones from the flesh. It was a lesson Jeff would keep with him for the rest of his life. Happy moments like this were increasingly rare in the Dom. Our household, Joyce was taking massive doses of sedatives to cope with her anxiety. Often, when Jeff came home from school in the afternoons, she would still be asleep in bed. When she was awake, she and Lionel were having screaming matches, throwing objects at each other and musing about a divorce. The tension reached a breaking point In July 1970 when Joyce was hospitalized in a mental ward for a month, Jeffrey called. It made me feel on edge, unsure of the solidity of the family. I decided early on that I wasn't ever going to get married because I never wanted to go through anything like that. Jeff blamed himself for his mother's emotional problems. He knew that she had been depressed ever since he was born, so he concluded that his birth was the cause of her distress family mediator Kathleen O'Connell. Corcoran says that because so much marital conflict may be related to the stress of parenting, Children often feel that somehow their behavior contributed to it. So instead of sharing his troubles with his family and causing even more attention, he retreated further into his own private world. He invented a solitary game called Infinity Land. It involved marching little stick figurines around a black hole represented by a tightly drawn spiral. If the figures touched each other, they would be swallowed up by the black hole and obliterated. We should be careful not to draw too many conclusions from a 10 year olds imaginary game. But in hindsight, the implications here seem obvious. In Infinity land. Any kind of closeness or contact would result in total destruction as a child, Jeff solution to this feeling was to keep himself as far away from others as possible. But human interaction can't be avoided forever. And as he entered his teenage years, that mutual destruction started to seem inevitable.