How to Interview a Cannibal
A Look at the Jeffery Dahmer Interview
A. Jeffrey Dahmer was a mixed organized/disorganized offender
i. This is what made his case so interesting for police, psychologists, and interviewers
B. Robert K. Ressler conducted the interview with Dahmer that I am mentioning here. It took place before he was sentenced to 15 consecutive life terms (936 years) worth of prison time. The interview took place over a two-day period
II. Part 1 of interview
A. Ressler started the interview with the first human offense taking place at Bath, OH.
B. Ressler has to lead Dahmer with his phrases in order to get more of a response than simply a “mmm-hmm.”
C. Ressler pointed out his demeanor right away with Dahmer. He tells Dahmer what he feels in an attempt to get him to talk more about it. It set the tone as if both were looking back with a sort of amazement on what he (Dahmer) did.
Dahmer: I don’t know what started me on this; it’s a strange thing to be interested in.
Ressler: Yeah, it is.
Dahmer: It is.
D. After the preliminary discussion about the physical properties of the murders they drove into more serious territory, that of the murders themselves, not just what the evidence said happened.
1. Dahmer makes is seem as though his victims were somehow magically given to him, as though some events conspired to just sort of make it happen.
2. This kind of thinking absolved Dahmer from responsibility for his actions.
E. Dahmer also keeps trying to shock Ressler with his homosexuality and his perverse sexual gratification during the interview. Ressler however won’t allow Dahmer to just talk about it, but he does let Dahmer know that he understands the logic behind what Dahmer is saying.
F. Ressler also talks about Dahmer’s specific memory of the killing. Dahmer had an interesting response to such questions. Ressler compared it to the interview he did with John Gacy. Gacy had told Ressler that he had no idea of how a dead body got into his room or house; Dahmer on the other hand couldn’t remember the murder in a hotel room, but nonetheless believed he had committed it. Dahmer didn’t attempt to hide that he probably killed people he always knew he did. Except for the hotel room. For he had drank too much 151 rum, and blacked out from being drunk and awoke to find man dead with signs of a struggle and fight.
G. During the interview Dahmer also deliberately misconstrues what Ressler is talking about regarding danger. Ressler points out that the willingness of gay men to go home with stranger is a dangerous practice for them; Dahmer, however, perceives all mention of danger as talk about danger to himself, not to others.
H. Dahmer also admits that the main reason for killings is the power. He wanted to hold all the power. He even states that had he found a good-looking man who would obey all his commands that there would have not been a reason for him to attempt the “zombie process.” He didn’t like not being in control.
i. The “zombies” he refers to are the victims in whom he drilled a whole in their skull and poured acid or hot water into. The point was to strip the victim of all intellect and they would be his servant listening to all his commands and not wanting to leave.
III. Part 2 of the interview
A. Ressler tired to probe more specifically for information about the relationship of his fantasies to the process of killing. For example, Dahmer took souvenirs, but did so in a manner not really ever seen in other killers before. He kept things also that he didn’t really want to keep; he just “hadn’t found the time to dispose of them.” An example of that would be the diver’s licenses.
B. Dahmer had the “invincible” feeling that most killers get. He thought he couldn’t get caught. Especially seeing as how police and his landlord had almost five instances in which they would have caught him red handed. Because of this though it seems that Dahmer’s excitement for the killing went down and it became routine. Cutting up a body was no longer exciting, just something he had to do with clean-up. Dahmer than became more and more careless, a trend that would eventually lead to his apprehension.
C. Ressler also wants to know if Dahmer read anything on other killers. Ressler believes that most serial killers read about others because it gives pleasure and also allows learning new techniques. Dahmer said that he didn’t read about other killers, in fact he had only even heard of John Gacy, for instance, after he had already killed several people. Ressler wasn’t sure if he was telling the truth or not.
D. Torture of his victims was also brought up in this section of the interview. Ressler asked Dahmer if he had tortured his victims, and Dahmer purposely declined to acknowledge that pouring acid on a brain would be considered torture by most normal thinking human beings. He believes that he never tortured his victims.
E. His cannibalism was brought up by Dahmer not Ressler. Dahmer explains that he wanted his victims to be part of him. He would save things like hearts and biceps. It made him sexually stimulated to have his victims be inside them. He makes it known that he didn’t eat the heart because he was arrested before he could. Dahmer also admits to trying the blood of his victims, but that it didn’t give him any satisfaction.
F. He also wanted to set the record straight that he was not a racist. He says that the reason for the majority of his victims being a minority was simple location. Where he lived there was high concentration of Black and Hispanic people. He stresses that is was a simple location thing, and that he hopes “I hope that can get cleared up.”
G. Dahmer also talks about his failures in the abductions. Some of his victims got away only to be returned to him, others escaped entirely, and sometimes he was the victim. He describes a time that he drank the drugged drink instead of the potential victim. Dahmer also tells of a time where he was drugged and was sexually assaulted with a candle when he woke up.
H. Dahmer also went through and talked about what he considered to be his mistakes. For instance, knocking a victim out and going out for a beer, allowing the victim to wake up and call the police. He talks about the blood stains on his walls and carpet. Dahmer says that he had no trouble talking his way out of these things. Telling the carpet cleaner that it was red dye and such.
I. Dahmer also talked to Ressler about being an alcoholic. He admitted that he stayed buzzed during a lot of his life. He drank beer and not hard liquor because once he drank hard liquor he would get too drunk and he might be taken advantage of.
A. Ressler believed that Dahmer had both the organized and disorganized patterns. He concluded that Dahmer knew what he was doing, but that due to his disorganized nature really couldn’t understand it in an overall sense. He believed that Dahmer should spend the rest of his life in a metal institution, but the jury didn’t see that. After the trail Dahmer refused to accept the special privilege of not being in the general population. In late November 1994, Dahmer was beaten to death by a black inmate named Christopher J. Scarver, in a prison shower. Scarver was serving a life sentence for murder, committed under the instruction of voices that told him he was the son of God.
B. Ressler believed that neither Scarver nor Dahmer belonged in prison; instead, both should have been placed in metal institutions.
Ressler, R. K. (2004). How to interview a cannibal. In Campbell, J. H., & DeNevi, D. (Eds.), Profilers: Leading investigators take you inside the criminal mind. (pp. 135–177). Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. (Outline available online at http://www.csbsju.edu/uspp/CrimPsych/CPSG-4.htm)
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