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Murder in Milwaukee: Experts Struggle to Explain Dahmer's Compulsion : Crime: His behavior was always on the edge, childhood acquaintances say. But no one intervened to help him, and his problems escalated.

August 11, 1991|ROBERT DVORCHAK | ASSOCIATED PRESS

BATH TOWNSHIP, Ohio — There is no easy explanation for Jeffrey Dahmer.

In semi-rural Bath Township--where he witnessed his parents at war; where he collected animals' bones and carcasses; where he first took to drink; where in a single year he attended his senior prom and, he says, killed his first man--there are abundant clues to a burgeoning evil.

But there are no simple answers to the mysteries of a monstrous heart. There are no signposts that say that this young man, though abused and afflicted, could grow up to kill 17 other young men.

"He's done monstrous acts, yet he's a human being. Why? Only Jeffrey can answer that," said Susan Lehr, a former neighbor.

Jeffrey Dahmer's father, Lionel, says that his son was sexually abused by a neighborhood boy when he was 8 years old, about the time the family moved here.

It is not clear what effect the episode had on the youngster. But it is certain that other unhappy events of childhood lingered, chief among them the bitter breakup of his parents' marriage.

Their divorce was granted on July 24, 1978, after each charged the other with "extreme cruelty and gross neglect of duty."

Acrimony continued; two years later, Joyce Dahmer called Bath Township police with a report of a shouting and shoving match with her ex-husband. There were no arrests.

"The police were out several times," Lehr said.

Her four sons were playmates of Dahmer's. "At the time I knew him, there was something devastating going on in his life and there wasn't anybody there to help him. I feel bad about that," she said.

During the divorce, Jeffrey Dahmer was left alone. His mother moved to Wisconsin with his younger brother, David; his father had moved out of the house. He was left with no food, no money and a broken refrigerator.

It was at that time, on June 18, 1978, Dahmer told police, that he killed his first victim: a hitchhiker brought back to the house for a couple of beers. Dahmer said he choked the man with a barbell, smashed the body to bits with a sledgehammer and scattered the pieces in his yard. A recent search turned up more than 500 pieces of bone.

"The guy wanted to leave and I didn't want him to leave," the 31-year-old Jeffrey Dahmer told police 13 years later.

The people who knew Dahmer in those days may not have known the depths of his loneliness, but they were well aware of his solitude, and of his penchant for bizarre behavior and odd pastimes.

Young Dahmer kept the bones of chipmunks, squirrels, dogs, cats, groundhogs and raccoons inside formaldehyde-filled pickle jars that lined his childhood clubhouse. He roamed the neighborhood for road kills that shared space in an old toolshed with spiders, praying mantises and other bugs in specimen jars.

Nearby was a cemetery that struck Dahmer's chums as even more bizarre.

"He had a little graveyard with animals buried in it. There were skulls placed on top of little crosses. He had quite a collection of skeletons," said Eric Tyson, 28, a former neighbor.

Schoolmate Mike Costlow told The Plain Dealer in Cleveland that Dahmer also collected stuffed rabbits, owls and small birds. When Costlow asked about taxidermy in 1978, Dahmer told him: "I always wanted to do that to a human."

In seventh grade, classmate Chip Crofoot noticed Dahmer sipping gin from his locker and coming to school drunk. "I don't remember much about him other than his drinking. He pretty much kept to himself all the time," Crofoot said.

Dahmer played clarinet and intramural tennis in school. He had a chemistry set and showed an early interest in biology. He made average grades because of a combination of A's and Ds.

Acquaintances recall Dahmer drawing chalk outlines of fictional bodies, faking epileptic fits at the mall, yelling out at inappropriate times and sneaking into the picture of the National Honor Society when he didn't belong. His face is blotted out of the group photo in the Revere High School yearbook.

Senior-prom date Bridget Geiger remembered Dahmer as painfully shy but polite: "He didn't say two words to me. He didn't even kiss me good night."

She said she attended a party at Dahmer's house several weeks later but left because it involved a seance and someone suggested contacting the devil.

Dahmer failed to get past the first semester at Ohio State University. He sold his blood to buy alcohol. He joined the Army on Dec. 29, 1978, but was discharged in 1981, about nine months before his hitch was up. Drinking again.

Army buddies who served with him as a medic in Germany said he mixed Beefeater martinis in his barracks from a briefcase that contained shakers, stirrers and fancy flasks. When he drank, he listened to Black Sabbath and other rock music on his headphones.

"He'd be shut out from the rest of the world. He'd drink until he passed out, then wake up and start again. He didn't even go out for chow," said David Rodriquez of Springfield, Mass.

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