Lionel Dahmer, Who Agonized About Raising a Serial Killer, Dies at 87

Lionel Dahmer, the father of the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer and the author of a haunting memoir about his son’s youth, died on Dec. 5 in Medina, Ohio. He was 87.

His death, at a hospice facility, was confirmed by Jeb Muller, one of his caregivers. Mr. Dahmer had suffered a series of heart attacks in recent years, and his health declined after the death of his wife, Shari Dahmer, in January, Mr. Muller said.

Lionel Dahmer was a little-known, personally reserved industrial chemist before the Dahmer name, thanks to his son, became one of the most notorious in the nation.

In 1991, Jeffrey Dahmer confessed to killing and raping 17 young men and boys over the previous 13 years. He drugged men’s drinks, strangled them, masturbated on their corpses, cut them up with a buzz saw and lined their skulls up in his apartment. He ate some of their body parts.

The entertainment industry has found that his macabre tale sells. Among other television and film projects, Netflix last year released the mini-series “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” which has surpassed a billion hours in viewing time.

Biographical accounts of Jeffrey’s life focus on the violation of essential human taboos — gratifying desire at the outer limits of evil. Jurors at his trial engaged in a tortured deliberation before concluding that he was sane, and that he was therefore eligible to spend life in prison. He was sentenced to 15 life terms.

Lionel’s life, as recounted in his 1994 memoir, “A Father’s Story,” offered an indirect view into that depravity — not the thing itself but a rational mind struggling to make sense of it.

In his memoir, published in 1994, Lionel Dahmer wrote vividly about the uncanniness of seeing his son’s face, which looked so much like his own, staring at him from the front page of a newspaper.Credit…Echo Point Books & Media, LLC

Lionel sought to “peer not just into the soul of his son but into his own,” the British author Will Self wrote in The New York Times Book Review. “Throughout, the sense of someone constitutionally ill-equipped for introspection of any kind groping toward a vile realization is gripping.”

Mr. Dahmer described himself in his book as “almost totally analytical” — a chemist, comforted by the scientific predictability of his work, whose emotional life resembled a “broad, flat plain.”

Yet he wrote vividly about the uncanniness of seeing Jeffrey’s face, which looked so much like his own, staring at him from the front page of a newspaper, and about revisiting old memories.

“As I recall him in his infancy, I feel overwhelmed by a sense of helpless dread,” Mr. Dahmer wrote. “I dwell on the small, pink hands, and in my mind I watch them grow larger and darker as I think about all that they will later do, of how stained they will become with the blood of others.”

Lionel Herbert Dahmer was born on July 29, 1936, in the suburbs of Milwaukee, where he grew up. His mother, Catherine (Hughes) Dahmer, taught history at an elementary school, and his father, Herbert, taught elementary school math while holding down a second job as a barber.

After attending college at the University of Wisconsin, he became a graduate student in chemistry, earning a master’s degrees in the subject at Marquette University and, in 1966, a Ph.D. from Iowa State University.

He married Joyce Flint, a telephone operator who had recently become a teletype machine instructor, in 1959.

She became pregnant days after the wedding. The coming months were a kind of ill omen.

Joyce Dahmer suffered from seizures and emotional fits. Her legs locked into place, she trembled, her jaw jerked to the right and became frighteningly rigid, and she foamed at the mouth. Sometimes the episodes would end only when a doctor injected her with barbiturates and morphine. She took as many as 26 pills a day.

Mr. Dahmer responded by retreating into his work, spending almost all his time at his chemistry lab.

When the couple saw each other, they fought bitterly.

Jeffrey’s birth in 1960 brought about a period of happiness. But the Dahmers never got past the mistrust and alienation that had already set in. During fights, Ms. Dahmer would sometimes pick up a kitchen knife and make jabbing motions. She once left home in her nightgown, walked a few blocks away, entered a field of high grass and lay down.

They divorced in the summer of 1978. Mr. Dahmer married Shari Jordan at the end of the year.

Mr. Dahmer described Jeffrey in his infancy as bubbly and likable. When Mr. Dahmer got home from work, the boy would jump into his arms.

Jeffrey Dahmer in court. He was found guilty of murdering 17 men and boys and sentenced to 15 life terms.Credit…Curt Borgwardt/Sygma, via Getty Images

He noticed Jeffrey beginning to become withdrawn after a hernia caused a bulge in his scrotum, leading to surgery. After the birth of the couple’s second child, David, Jeffrey adopted an attitude of passivity to hide his emotions, his father wrote.

For years Mr. Dahmer, busy in his laboratory, did not see any reason to get more involved in Jeffrey’s life. He was aware that his son was intensely, problematically awkward; but he recalled feeling that way, too, when he was young. Mr. Dahmer had the fond sense, he wrote, that Jeffrey’s problems could also be seen as indications that father and son were alike.

He learned only years later that Jeffrey had become an alcoholic as a teenager, when the family lived in Bath, a suburb of Akron. Jeffrey would spent his free time roaming around looking for animal remains to inter in his own private cemetery. He stripped the flesh from the bones of roadkill. He mounted a dog’s head on a stake.

Reflecting on his son’s youth, Mr. Dahmer realized that Jeffrey had become completely isolated. And that, Mr. Dahmer came to think, was the source of his son’s necrophilia.

“He was becoming so afraid of other people, so intimidated by their presence, that in order for him to have contact with them, they needed to be dead,” Mr. Dahmer wrote.

Jeffrey Dahmer was killed in a Wisconsin prison in 1994.

Mr. Dahmer is survived by a sister, Eunice Roberts; his son David; and two grandchildren. In recent decades, he and his second wife had lived in Seville, a small northern Ohio town outside Medina.

In September, Fox News’s streaming service, Fox Nation, released its own Dahmer mini-series, “My Son Jeffrey,” which included family home movies and recorded conversations between Lionel and Jeffrey from visits Lionel made to Jeffrey in prison.

Mr. Muller said that Mr. Dahmer was not involved in the recent TV projects about his son. A few years ago, a flood in Mr. Dahmer’s basement prompted him to ask Mr. Muller to throw out or burn artifacts of Jeffrey’s life, including a set of Jeffrey’s cutlery, an old locker and records of his prison commissary purchases.

Lionel made sure to dispose of one thing himself.

He brought a box to a field on the property around his home, opened it and removed from it an urn that had been sent to him by the prison that had housed Jeffrey. He then removed a bag from the urn and waved it around. Jeffrey’s ashes poured out. He said aloud that he hoped Jeffrey would find a resting place.

Related Articles

Back to top button