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Application of Criminology in The Case of Jeffrey Dahmer

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Criminologists have defined a serial killer as a person who kills three or more persons in three or more separate events. Jeffrey Dahmer, an infamous serial killer and sex offender had an accomplished 17 murders and assaults before being caught. Questions arise as to how someone could even bare to do this to another human. To understand more of why Dahmer behaved the way he did, the use of criminological theories focus on how Dahmer’s life and experiences played a role and model reasoning for his motives.

To give a brief history, Jeffrey Dahmer was a well-known American sex offender and serial killer. He was born in the 60s and said to be brought up in a normal lifestyle. Jeffreys family moved a bit when they were younger but settled in Ohio. Being a young kid, he wasn’t interested in much and as he got older, Jeffrey became more socially distanced, showing little interest in hobbies besides drinking. Right after he graduated high school, Dahmer killed his first victim. The victim was a male hitchhiker that Dahmer picked him up and took to hangout and drink at his home. The victim eventually started to head out but Dahmer wanted the company so to keep him from leaving he proceeded to attack and hit him on the back of his head. He then strangled the victim to death and masturbated on his body. Dahmer drug the body under his house, dissected it, and then buried it.

For a while life continued as usual, Dahmer attended college and enlisted in the military. Due to his ongoing drinking issues, neither of these options worked out and he returned home. Dahmer was arrested here and there for petty crimes, including indecent exposure and being disorderly. After 9 years passed, Dahmer began searching for his next victims. “Between the years of 1978 and 1991, Dahmer murdered 17 males in truly horrific fashion. Rape, dismemberment, necrophilia, and cannibalism were all parts of his modus operandi.

Dahmer’s victims all fit the profile of being male. He seldom dated women but would hang around the gay bars. He picked men up there, though not all his victims were black he often times picked men being in the African American race. This overall led to the killing of his second victim, which he has no recollection of doing. Again, murder wasn’t all Dahmer was charged for. Between his third and fourth murder, Dahmer was arrested and tried for sexually assaulting a child. He pled guilty and served only 10 months of his sentence in jail. Just after being released, continuing on his spree, Dahmer went from 4 bodies to 17.

As he progressed, Dahmer began to develop rituals or patterns in his murders. Choosing wisely, he prayed on men who were on the outs of society. Whether they be previous criminals or not involved in keeping up with society. The key was to make their disappearance unnoticeable. As far as the abuse went, he often times experimented on the bodies. Pouring acid into the bodies, drilling, to even consuming part of the flesh. Dahmer stated had no intentions of getting this out of control, but the more he killed, the more he wanted to be satisfied. It was known Dahmer would cutout and keep the remains of some victims. This could include anything from the genitalia to other organs including the heart. “The only motive that there ever was to completely control a person; a person I found physically attractive. And keep them with me as long as possible, even if it meant just keeping a part of them”.

To conclude Dahmer’s murders, his last suspect didn’t go as planned. Tracy Edwards had been lured into Dahmer’s home, when things took a twist. Edwards fought to escape Dahmer after he knew what was happening, ran into the street, and flagged a cop down. The cops raided Dahmer’s home and found nothing but evidence to what he was capable of. Dahmer was arrested and later tried for his murders. At first, he plead not guilty, despite the fact he openly admitted to the crimes during police interrogation. Eventually he plead guilty due to insanity and was convicted for his crimes. “It’s hard for me to believe that a human being could have done what I’ve done, but I know that I did it”.

With much history and research, criminologists have developed theories that fit profiles of experienced criminals. The goal of these theories is to gain understanding of the crime and mind of the criminal. There are more than a handful of theories that could apply to Dahmer. Census theory, labeling theory, or development theory. One of the more fitting theories to explain Dahmer’s erratic behavior could be general strain theory. This theory views that multiple sources of strain interact and with an individuals emotional traits and responses to produce criminality. This theory focuses on sources of strain and the results of negative stimuli, leading to their effective states of anger, frustration, depression, etc. Although it was described that Dahmer grew up in a typical American home, he still witnessed his parents argue and avoid spending enough time with him because of full time working. His parents did separate during his high school years, just before his first murder. Dahmer lacked social and emotional support through his adolescent years.

Social control theory is the view that everyone has the potential to become a criminal. As most people are controlled to their bonds to society, crime can occur when the force that binds people to society are weakened or broken (textbook). Dahmer fits this theory practically to the core. This theory holds Though it has been stated that Jeffrey grew up in a typical American home, things shifted early in his childhood. He became less communicative and more isolated as the years went by. When he began schooling, his lack of communication and shyness marked his name as a social outcast, following the lines of social control theory. Dahmer’s morals, social norms, and commitment to conformity were all inconsistent. His attachment to people and relationships continued to divide Not only was he bullied throughout high school, but began his drinking habit at this early age. “Sampson and Laub find that attachments or social bonds in adulthood increase some individuals’ social capital, leading to desistance from most types of deviant behavior, with the exception of men involved in drunkenness and violence”. With Dahmer having little to any social involvement and attachment to anyone, his bonds to social involvement have significantly decreased.

Overall criminologists take years to evaluate and research the minds of criminals. No theory can be definite as to why someone committed a crime but can be very accurate in the way that evidence is gathered. One must always take into account the facts of the case but also what the criminal himself is willing to say. Dahmer wasn’t afraid to speak up and share the reasons he did what he did, but was he telling the truth, or was he telling people what they thought they wanted to hear.  

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Application of Criminology in the Case of Jeffrey Dahmer. (2023, February 11). GradesFixer. Retrieved March 26, 2023, from
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