Jeffrey Dahmer Was Unlike Most Serial Killers in One Crucial Way (2024)

Stacey Grant

·4 min read

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Content warning: This article contains references to murder and sexual assault some may find upsetting. Reader discretion is advised.

You've heard it mentioned on fictional crime shows like Criminal Minds and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit countless times: The three main indicators of a future serial killer involve setting fires, wetting the bed, and being cruel to animals during childhood. That model is a theory called the MacDonald Triad, first published in 1963, and while many psychologists do not believe the three factors automatically guarantee a child will grow up to become a violent offender, it does offer insight into their psyche.

Jeffrey Dahmer is proof that you don't need to exhibit all three factors in childhood to become a monster. An interesting thing about Dahmer was he rarely tortured and killed animals (except for at least one reported incident, but more on that later).

In the 1996 documentary, Jeffrey Dahmer: The Monster Within, a 7-year-old Dahmer was given a puppy to help distract him from the family's recent move to Bath, Ohio. The dog was named Frisky. The documentary showed home video footage of a young Dahmer hugging his dog and giving him kisses.

In My Friend Dahmer, a graphic novel Dahmer's high school friend, Derf Backderf, wrote — as well as in the 2017 movie of the same name — there is a scene of a teenage Dahmer luring a dog into the woods so he could kill him. However, after Dahmer holds out a knife, he looked into the animal's eyes and then let him go, unharmed.

"It was the first time Jeff considered butchering not just roadkill or small animals but a creature large enough to feel fear and pain. It was also the last time he would show... mercy," the text in the My Friend Dahmer graphic novel read.

True, Dahmer would find roadkill and take it back to his house surrounded by the woods and dissect and clean the bones of the already-dead animals (sometimes even with his dad, Lionel), but he was not the person who initially killed them or ran them over.

As Screen Rant reported, a teenage Dahmer once "nailed the carcass of a dog to a tree, impaling its head upon a stick and inviting school friends to marvel at what he claimed he's found." While this is horrendous and unbelievably gruesome, the dog was already dead when he did what he did with it.

As mentioned in the Jeffrey Dahmer episode of the docu-series, Born to Kill?, Dahmer "would roam the surrounding countryside looking for roadkill to add to his growing macabre collection."

Unfortunately, as mentioned above, there is a record of Dahmer hurting at least one living animal as a child. After giving one of his elementary school teachers some tadpoles as a gift, young Dahmer became violent when he learned his teacher had then regifted them to one of his friends. This moment was dramatized in episode 2 of Netflix's DAHMER - Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.

Jeffrey Dahmer Was Unlike Most Serial Killers in One Crucial Way (2)

As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported, Dahmer eventually murdered the tadpoles in retaliation. "Even more sinister than the show portrayed, Dahmer said he angrily went to the friend's house and killed the tadpoles by pouring motor oil into their jar."

Dahmer's father, Lionel, mentioned this incident in his 1994 memoir, A Father's Story, writing, "To my knowledge, this was Jeff's first act of violence."

Interestingly, Lionel also shared two stories about his oldest son showing love and mercy to animals. The first involved an injured bird the father and son found while out on a bike ride. According to Lionel, it was Jeff who noticed the hurt creature and urged his father to take the bird home.

"Over the next two weeks, we nursed it back to health ... I [Lionel] cradled the bird in my cupped hand, lifted it into the air, then opened my hand and let it go. As it spread its wings and rose into the air, we, all of us — Joyce, Jeff, and myself — felt a wonderful delight. Jeff's eyes were wide and gleaming. It may have been the single, happiest moment of his life."

The second story was just a caption in the book, written underneath a photo of young Dahmer and his dog. It read, "Jeff hugging his greatest love, Frisky, Barberton, Ohio, 1967."

Nonetheless, Dahmer would grow up to become the vicious murderer of 17 boys and men between 1978 and 1991. He was killed in prison by another inmate in 1994.

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Jeffrey Dahmer Was Unlike Most Serial Killers in One Crucial Way (2024)
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