How True Is Netflix’s Monster to the Real Jeffrey Dahmer Story?
Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story has rocketed to the top spot on Netflix, fueled by enduring interest in the serial killer. But how accurate is the series?
America was transfixed in the early 1990s by the horrific discovery of a string of grisly murders committed by Jeffrey Dahmer. Also known in the press as the Milwaukee Cannibal and the Milwaukee Monster, he was one of the most prolific serial killers in U.S. history. Now, with the release of Netflix’s Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, the murderer, and his victims, have returned to the forefront of the American consciousness.
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Monster rocketed to No. 1 on Netflix following its premiere on Nov. 21, 2022, reinforcing how obsessed people are with true crime. However, the miniseries, created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, has drawn more than viewers. It has also attracted its share of criticism from people who feel that Monster is attempting to romanticize Jeffrey Dahmer, played by Evan Peters.
Who Was Jeffrey Dahmer, and How Many People Did He Kill?
Jeffrey Dahmer was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1960, and committed his first murder and dismemberment at age 18, a few weeks after graduating from high school. By the time of his arrest in 1991, Dahmer had killed 17 people, all of them men and boys.
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To be more accurate, however, we should say by the time of his last arrest. Dahmer was arrested multiple times, primarily for disorderly conduct, including indecent exposure and public drunkenness. Alcohol abuse was also one of the primary factors of his life, leading him to flunk out of college and to be discharged from the Army. Alcohol factored into virtually every one of his murders, most of which were followed by sexual acts performed on the corpse, before it was dismembered. The body parts were then disposed of using acid, and pulverization.
Dahmer preyed predominantly on Black men in Milwaukee’s gay community, whom he lured to his apartment with the promise of money in exchange for sex or nude photo sessions. He then drugged his victims using drinks laced with sleeping pills, and bludgeoned or strangled them to death. His later murders incorporated necrophilia and cannibalism. Dahmer also preserved body parts, from heads and skulls to entire skeletons.
How Was Jeffrey Dahmer Caught?
Dahmer was arrested on July 22, 1991, after his intended victim, 32-year-old Tracy Edwards, escaped his apartment. Edwards then returned with police, who discovered Dahmer’s cache of Polaroid pictures, many of which depicted dismembered bodies. Dahmer was apprehended following a brief struggle. However, it was only when an officer found a human head in the refrigerator that the realization of the true horrors took began to take hold.
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Milwaukee police subsequently found three more severed heads in the kitchen, and seven skulls in the bedroom. But that was only the beginning. Dahmer’s apartment also contained two human hearts, a frozen torso and organs, two complete skeletons, and two severed hands and penises. The gruesome list goes on. And that was only at Dahmer’s Milwaukee home. The investigation soon expanded to Bath Township, Ohio, where Dahmer spent his formative years. It’s also where, in 1978, he murdered and dismembered his first victim. In 1991, investigators found more than 50 bone fragments scattered around the property of the former Dahmer family home.
In the weeks following his arrest, Dahmer admitted to every murder, and provided police with the gruesome details. He was sentenced in February 1992 to 15 life terms in prison. A 16th term was added in May 1992, following Dahmer’s admission to the 1978 murder of his first victim, Steven Hicks, in Ohio. That’s a total of 941 years. However, Dahmer ultimately served less than two before his own life ended.
How Did Jeffrey Dahmer Die?
Dahmer served his first year in prison in solitary confinement. He was then moved into the general population of inmates at Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin.
A professed born-again Christian, Dahmer was attacked and injured in the prison chapel in July 1994. Then, on Nov. 28, Dahmer and convicted murderer Jesse Anderson were bludgeoned by fellow inmate Christopher Scarver while the three were on work detail, cleaning the prison gym. Dahmer was declared dead one hour later, at a nearby hospital. Anderson died two days later.
How Accurate Is Netflix’s Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story?
Evan Peters’ performance in Monster as Jeffrey Dahmer is certainly spot-on. When it comes to an accurate retelling of the events of Dahmer’s life and of his many crimes, the series is also quite close to reality.
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Yes, there are details altered, or omitted, for cinematic effect. For instance, Glenda Cleveland, played on the series by Niecy Nash, didn’t live in Oxford Apartments. She actually lived in the building next door. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel suggests the dramatization combined aspects of Cleveland with Dahmer neighbor Pamela Bass.
And, while Dahmer did work at the Milwaukee Plasma Center, he didn’t bring home a bag of blood to drink, as the series depicts. Instead, he told police he tasted blood from a vial on the roof of the center, but then spit it out.
Why Netflix’s Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story Is Controversial
It’s one thing to take guilty pleasure in each time fictional serial killer Dexter Morgan commits a bloody act. However, it’s another to, in any way, diminish the real-life horrors of Jeffrey Dahmer by making him appear sympathetic. Yet, that’s what some are accusing Monster of doing.
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That judgment extends beyond viewers and TV critics, though, to the families of Dahmer’s victims. Rita Isbell, the sister of Errol Lindsey, has spoken out about the adaptation. Her cousin, Eric Perry, meanwhile, questioned the purpose of the series: “It’s retraumatizing over and over again, and for what? How many movies/shows/documentaries do we need?”
Monster is hardly the first TV or film project to delve into Dahmer’s life and crimes, either as drama or as documentary. However, the Netflix series doesn’t whitewash his horrendous acts or attempt to rehabilitate his image. Actor Evan Peters does a tremendous job of bringing the serial killer to life. The actor portrays Dahmer as a complex, and profoundly troubled, man. As a result, the “monster” of the title comes across as a real person, and not merely a newspaper sensation. That’s not romanticizing a murderer. Instead, it’s merely telling a story — one that was all too true.