Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for the series Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.
Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story recreates the depraved life and crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer, the infamous serial killer known for necrophilia, cannibalism, and stocking leftover body parts as mementos in his freezer. Evan Peters stars as Dahmer in a chilling imitation down to the way the serial killer hung his arms. Whether it was the recreation of Dahmer’s apartment, details taken from Dahmer’s prison letters, or the near-verbatim family statements during the ending court scene, Monster’s accuracy is perhaps its most powerful component. However, there are a few aspects of Monster that beg for more detail. Skipping the obvious like Glenda Cleveland (Niecy Nash) wasn’t actually Dahmer’s neighbor or the rumored crimes Dahmer purportedly committed while overseas, the origins of the sources used in the series aren’t conspicuous. Revisiting newspapers from the 1990s, passages from Lionel Dahmer’s book, and on-camera interviews afford new contexts for the macabre anecdotes depicted in Monster.
Dahmer’s Probation Officer
As detailed in the show, Dahmer was sentenced to a 12-month prison sentence with five years probation in 1989. But Judge William D. Gardner, who cited his belief that psychiatric treatment would be more beneficial, ordered Dahmer to seek counseling in lieu of a longer sentence. The judge granted Dahmer work release allowing him to maintain his job at the Ambrosia Chocolate Factory. He was also required to register as a sex offender and meet with a probation officer, Donna Chester.
Chester, who was not portrayed in Monster, met with Dahmer twice a month starting in March 1990 after his early release. According to probation logs, the two kept their schedule aside from a few last-minute cancelations by Dahmer late in 1990. Chester even interviewed Dahmer in his apartment seven days before his arrest, meaning, Chester interviewed Dahmer inside his apartment while there was a 57-gallon barrel of hydrophilic acid, Jeremiah Weinberger’s head in the freezer, and at least four skulls stashed somewhere in the apartment. After Dahmer’s arrest, the police eventually found 11 skulls, severed genitals, three headless torsos, two hearts, and a complete skeleton.
In a lawsuit filed against the city of Milwaukee, Chester’s logs detail meetings with Dahmer that would last anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. In an affidavit, she stated that she “tended to spend more time in counseling with Dahmer than average for [her] clients,” discussing Dahmer’s internal struggles with his sexuality and turbulent family relationships. Chester also arranged for Dahmer to enroll in a sex offender treatment program, but was rejected by the program’s directors because his crime “didn’t fit the typical scenario for child molestation.” Dahmer never received routine psychiatric care as permitted by the judge.
Dahmer was one of 121 cases on Chester’s docket for that year, proving further dysfunction in the Milwaukee bureaucratic system. Although Chester wasn’t mentioned in the series, she was a key witness in the lawsuits filed by the victims’ parents against the city. In total, Dahmer killed and butchered 11 people at the 924 25th Street house, all of which occurred under Dahmer’s probationary period.
Bath Houses in Milwaukee
In Ancient Rome, most people only washed their bodies every nine days. It wasn’t until the 2nd century BC when daily bathing became trendy, and the first bathhouses were constructed in the city, culminating to more than 800 over the next three centuries. In contemporary America, bathhouses began more as social clubs, with some even representing safe places for the gay community to meet. Then in the 1960s and ’70s, gay bathhouses established themselves as fully-licensed businesses popping up across the country from San Francisco to New York. Some offered gyms, saunas, private rooms for rent, scheduled social events, and became popular with some of America’s most heralded celebrities like Truman Capote.
In the show, Dahmer frequents a bathhouse in Milwaukee where he first experiments with slipping unsuspected men Mickey Finns, so he can manipulate their docile bodies during sex. This anecdote portrays Club Bath Milwaukee in 1986, which summer manager Bradley Babush banned Dahmer from after receiving complaints from patrons about a tall guy named Jeffrey, who was the last person they remember before awaking naked, robbed, and for some, raped. According to Babush, “He got them drunk and then drugged them,” he said. “They just got sick and nobody ever wanted to press charges.”
According to the report, Milwaukee police followed up with Dahmer immediately after Babush reported Dahmer to the police, but the interrogation went nowhere. Although portrayed in the series, it’s undocumented if the bar manager warned other bathhouses of Dahmer’s reputation. But three months later Dahmer picked up his next victim Steven Tourmi, and instead of a bathhouse, they ended the night at the Ambassador Hotel.
Milwaukee Police Officers John A. Balcerzak and Joseph T. Gabrish
Perhaps one of the most contentious parts of the series is the representation of Milwaukee police officers John A. Balcerzak (Scott Michael Morgan) and Joseph T. Gabrish (Matthew Alan), the two officers who handed victim Konerak Sinthasomphone back to Dahmer after he had escaped. The scene in the series is spot-on in comparison to the police reports, bystander testimony, and the subsequent internal investigation. It even quotes Balcerzak verbatim when he says, “Ten-four. It’ll be a minute, my partner’s gonna get deloused at the station,” a key phrase recited by media critics after Dahmer’s arrest, which further proved the flippant attitude toward the gay community in Milwaukee at the time.
In the show, the two officers are suspended with pay after Police Chief Philip Arreola (David Barerra) receives a lambasting from the media on his response to the misconduct. In reality, both officers and another named Rick Porubcan were suspended once Dahmer’s crimes were unveiled. They were then reinstated in 1994 by a judge after winning a lawsuit filed against the city.
The show also fictionalized the award ceremony, as Balcerzak and Gabrish did not win “officer of the year” awards, or at least it isn’t documented. In his first interview in 1991, months after Dahmer was arrested, Balcerzak said, “At the time, with the information we had — to this day I think we did the appropriate thing, the best that we could.”
After reinstatement, both men held long careers as police officers with Balzerzak becoming the president of the Milwaukee Police Association, serving the position from 2005 to 2009, before retiring in 2017.
Episode 10 is probably the series’ flimsiest episode, except for the near verbatim family-member testimonies, which were taken directly from court transcripts. In the last episode, audiences also become acquainted with Dahmer’s eventual killer Christopher Scarver (Fury Mac), who was jailed with Dahmer in 1994.
In the series, Scarver’s character offers righteous motives for killing Dahmer, even praying in one scene for guidance on how to deal with the serial killer’s presence. However, during police interrogations and later at the murder trial, Scarver pled insanity with his psychologist testifying that Scarver believed he was the “chosen one” and often heard voices. Later, Scarver changed his plea to no contest and remains in jail to this day.
Aside from updates from his new trial, the public didn’t hear from Scarver until he gave an interview to the New York Post in 2015. In the interview, Scarver said his motivations for killing Dahmer had nothing to do with the substance of his crimes, or the race of his victims, but with the serial killer’s lack of repentance, “He crossed the line with some people — prisoners, prison staff. Some people who are in prison are repentant — but [Dahmer] was not one of them,” he told the paper.
Four members of the prison staff were suspended, and a negligence investigation was launched in the aftermath of the killings. Ultimately, the prison guards in charge during the double murder were found not culpable and two life sentences were added to Scarver’s initial prison sentence. Today, Scarver is 53 and has published three books of poetry on Amazon from prison.
The Dahmers and “A Father’s Story”
A key component the show sews throughout the series is the venomous relationship between Lionel Dahmer (Richard Jenkins) and Joyce Dahmer (Penelope Ann Miller), Jeffrey’s parents. As depicted in the show, their contentious relationship and suspect parenting precursed Jeffrey’s childhood with his parents refusing to report their son’s alleged abuse at the age of 8, and their later disagreement on whether to use his brain for science.
Almost a year before his son’s death, Lionel Dahmer published A Father’s Story, his memoir reflecting on his son’s upbringing and scrutinizing a multitude of possible factors that may have contributed to his son’s depravity. In Episode 8, the series mentions the book’s creation, followed by its mild critical success, and eventual financial flop. But most of the other speculation in the episode is taken from anecdotes in Lionel’s book.
For instance, when Lionel’s character is sleepless, brooding in the living room over his son’s motivations, his second wife Shari Dahmer (Molly Ringwald) confronts his theory of how “this whole thing started.” Lionel snaps, “You do know that pills are what started this whole thing… How many pills do you think she was on when she was pregnant with him? Thousands! She was on sleeping pills, sedatives, seizure medication.”
These are the same suspicions the real Lionel Dahmer wrote about in his book, and reiterated in a 1992 Inside Edition interview. Both times Lionel stated, “My ex-wife had been taking about 26 tablets of different medications about one month after becoming pregnant,” purportedly for mental health issues. The series reveals that Joyce was diagnosed with postpartum psychosis. In Lionel’s book Joyce’s diagnosis isn’t detailed, except to say none of the tests the doctors tried worked, and as a result, her condition was summarized as “an anxiety state.”
Joyce appeared in a Hard Copy interview in 1994 to tell her side. She disputed parts of Lionel’s book, indicating Jeffery was shy and timid through most of his childhood and added, “I know I did a good job as a parent and knew this had to come from something outside of Jeff.” MSNBC also reported Joyce and her psychologist were writing a book to counter A Father’s Story, but nothing was ever published.
That living room conversation between Lionel and Shari crescendos into a confession-like speech from Lionel. He says, “I had fantasies like him too, I think…and I used to sit at church and think what it would be like to murder someone.” The line is completely unexpected, as there is no insight to Lionel’s childhood up until this point.
Again, this detail emanates from A Father’s Story, where Lionel divulges into his early fascination with hypnotism, experimenting on a neighborhood girl named Junie, who for at least one session, Lionel “controlled her entirely”. He compares his son’s dreams of murder with his own, condemning his inability to see the connections. “When I dreamed of murder, made bombs, and hypnotized a young girl, was my hand trembling at the door of a room my son later entered?”
In the show, it was portrayed that all 17 victims’ families sued for the profits to A Father’s Story; however, online research indicates only two families sued Lionel over the book for portraying their lives without permission. Ultimately the book yielded little sales, at least not enough for a significant contribution to the victims families.