‘Conversations With A Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes’ Explained – Why Exactly Had Dahmer Killed His 17 Victims?


After the fair success of Netflix’s “Dahmer—Monster,” the popular true-crime documentary series “Conversations with a Killer” is back with unheard tapes of the Milwaukee Monster. Although there is not much new or unique in this documentary mini-series after the fictional retelling released last month, the “Conversations with a Killer” version of Jeffrey Dahmer’s story is a better introduction to those wanting to watch non-fiction take on the matter.

What Is ‘Conversations With a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes’ About?

On the night of July 22nd, 1991, Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested from his Oxford apartments after a half-naked Tracy Edwards had run onto the streets and informed the police of horrific acts that Dahmer had been doing. The police arrived on the scene and investigated the house, which revealed a knife used to attack people and a stack of photographs of mutilated bodies. The primary accused, Jeffrey Dahmer, was obviously arrested, and the man did not deny any charges or accusations either. Soon, word reached his father, Lionel Dahmer, and he got in touch with a defense lawyer who had earlier represented Jeffrey as well. Gerald Boyle, the lead defense attorney, quickly reached out to his team of lawyers and readied themselves to take up the case, which was about to be one that shook the entire USA. Among this team was Wendy Patrickus, a young and new attorney at the time, and she was asked by Gerald to go visit the prison immediately and see and talk to the man they were representing, Jeffrey Dahmer. At the time, Wendy did not have too much idea about the extent of Jeffrey’s crimes, much like anyone else, and she had only gotten the gruesome details from the police. From her very first interaction with Jeffrey, though, the perpetrator easily and calmly told Wendy everything about himself and his horrible acts. The defense was preparing to try for an insanity plea for the upcoming court case, and they needed enough evidence to prove this. It was now that Wendy Patrickus was given the difficult job of talking to Jeffrey Dahmer impartially and eking out as much information from him as she could. Lasting from July to October of 1991, Wendy recorded over 32 hours of conversations with the serial killer in order to prepare their case, and it is these earlier unheard tapes that this documentary series now presents.

What Did Jeffrey Dahmer Have To Say About His Crimes? How Does This Documentary Series Compare With ‘Dahmer—Monster’?

Just as was presented in the ‘Dahmer—Monster’ series, Jeffrey Dahmer admits to his crimes from the very beginning, and to Wendy Patrickus, he gives a fairly comprehensive summary of his life so far. The man himself admitted that he was very curious to know or understand why he had committed the gruesome murders of so many, and forensic psychologists were hired by both sides to study Dahmer’s case. Jeffrey recalled his childhood memories as being unpleasant because of the constant bickering between his parents, which ultimately resulted in their divorce. He had no social skills whatsoever, much to his father’s concern, as the boy never made any friends or lovers in school or high school. The young man had already become dependent on alcohol from an early age and having recognized his homosexuality, had been waiting for interactions of this kind. Although he did experience the basics with a boy from the neighborhood, his first carnal desire was for a sharp-built jogger who would go around near his house in Bath, Ohio. Throughout the entire time that Jeffrey Dahmer was out in the open, if there was any one common factor among all his victims, it was that they were all men with sharp-built toned torsos. While Jeffrey’s interaction with his first victim, Steven Hicks, happened the same way as shown in the dramatized series, the murder did not exactly happen the same way. Jeffrey was already interested in the idea of getting intimate with someone who would not move, and in an effort to do that, he had struck Steven with a barbell and then choked him with it. While the twisted pleasure he got from this experience was something that remained with him, the young man also seemingly had some guilt about it, or at least, he could self-admittedly keep his desires in check for the next nine years.

One interesting new aspect that “Conversations with a Killer” reveals is how Jeffrey had some introduction to religion prior to his time in prison as well, or maybe he used it as a ruse both times. After he was discharged from Ohio State University and then the US Army for his alcoholism, Jeffrey was put up with his grandmother in Milwaukee. Although he loved his grandmother and father, the young man was sure that they would not accept his homosexuality, and Jeffrey himself was rather guilty of his sexual choices, as it was a whole different time back then. In an effort to change his lifestyle and also his sexual orientation, Jeffrey started to attend church regularly with his grandmother and was even drawn into it for some time. However, rather than going away magically, his intimate feelings were only suppressed, obviously, and it all again resurfaced when a random man approached him in the local library, offering him “oral.” This, and a job as a mixer in a chocolate factory that followed soon after, made Jeffrey once again return to his old lifestyle, and now he started going out in search of intimate interactions at bathhouses and gay bars. What followed is now known to all interested in the subject of Jeffrey Dahmer.

“The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes” also puts more emphasis on the specialist psychologists who worked on the case and their findings about the serial killer. The basic reason why Jeffrey committed his early murders seems to have been a very extreme fear of being left alone by someone, and the troubled psyche, which had already experienced such abandonment from early childhood, did not mind killing the men in order to keep them with him. Gradually, the murder itself became like an obsessive addiction for him, but the basic need to keep himself company remained, and that was why he had kept the bones, skulls, organs, or intact heads of his victims and the photographs of the mutilated bodies also served a similar purpose. Along with being a reminder of the men he had spent time with, in a sort of personal altar that he wanted to keep inside his house, these objects, especially the photographs, also served an intimate purpose for Jeffrey, and that was the reason why he had photographed the bodies from certain angles and in certain forms, as he enjoyed seeing them that way. His habit of sometimes consuming the organs of his victims and even drinking blood on one occasion was also considered part of his effort to keep his victims somehow alive through himself, even after he had killed them. After he got away with his initial murders, Jeffrey also started to believe himself to be pure evil, and this was the reason he got obsessed with certain horror films like ‘The Exorcist,’ and he would even go out wearing yellow eye-lenses because they made him look evil. Specialists found him to have acute necrophilia, and Jeffrey himself admitted to Wendy how he would use the dead bodies for his unusual bodily pleasures. “Dahmer—Monster” had put the court trial in a manner that suggested that Jeffrey had immediately dismissed his father’s wish to present him as clinically insane, but this was not really the case. Jeffrey’s defense attorneys did prepare the case, trying to prove him mentally sick, and also presented this version in court. While the prosecution did not entirely deny that Jeffrey was indeed sick, they questioned whether he should be allowed to spend the rest of his life in a mental institution instead of a prison. Finally, the court decided that Jeffrey Dahmer had been totally aware of what he was doing in every one of his murders and sentenced him to sixteen consecutive life imprisonment terms.

The social injustice that had been one of the main points of focus in the drama series also had a very real existence at the time. All the people who had complained about the stench or the noises coming from Jeffrey’s flat in the Oxford Apartments were mostly ignored because of their racial identity. The shocking callousness shown by the two policemen who reported the complaint when the 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone tried to escape and was instead headed back into Dahmer’s flat was also true. It is easy to understand that ‘Dahmer—Monster’ stresses a lot, and rightly so, about the social injustice and the categorical racism against the Black and Asian communities in Milwaukee at the time. It is also fair to say that the drama series handled the matter exceptionally well since everything that it reported on this matter is how things happened, and there was not much change there.

‘Conversations With A Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes’ Ending – How Were Jeffrey’s Final Months In Prison?

While Dahmer had been sentenced to life imprisonment, his time in jail began in solitary confinement as he was kept under suicide watch. In his court trial, Jeffrey had admitted (interestingly, this scene was remarkably recreated in the drama series) that he wanted death for himself, and this made the authorities realize that not only might he try to kill himself, but there would also be other prisoners wanting to do the same to him. By now, hatred for Jeffrey Dahmer had reached extreme heights, especially since a lot of discussions were being rightfully made about most of his victims being Black men. As one of the reporters in the documentary states, it does not matter whether Jeffery chose his victims only because they were Black, and most possibly he did not, but that did not mean that the Blacks would not protest against the general racial imbalance in society at the time. During his time in prison, Jeffrey was frustrated by the solitary time he had to spend, and the return to religion and baptism were ways he tried to cope with this loneliness. After a year spent in isolation, Jeffrey told Wendy what a horrible time he was having when she visited him and also told her that he was asking to be put up with the general population. Wendy was averse to such an idea, as she knew that Jeffrey would be instantly killed by someone or other, but the man could not remain in isolation any longer. He was transferred to the general wards and also got involved with working inside the prison, and within a few months, he was beaten to death with a barbell by Christopher Scarver. To Wendy and other psychologists, this was a wasted opportunity to know why exactly Jeffrey had committed the crimes and perhaps even uncover some new psychological knowledge for our entire society.

After his death, many questioned how such a notorious criminal could be killed so easily inside a prison, and some even suspected it to be an inside job. An investigation was quickly carried out, but nothing conclusive about any inside plan could be found. Ultimately, there was indeed very little compensation that society could provide to the victims’ families since the justice served to them was also not a very conclusive one. Like its predecessor, “Conversations with a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes” also ends with a tribute to the seventeen victims of the murderer, but one cannot help but feel that these tributes also obviously fall short in honoring the men who lost their lives due to a maniacal human being’s frenzy and, in some cases, the selective incompetence of the figures of authority.

“Conversations With a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes” is a 2022 Documentary Series streaming on Netflix.

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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