The last two Highwayman books were heavily researched, but my fascination with true crime goes back much farther than the publication of my first novel, The Equinox which is a horror novel about a monster, but also happens to have a serial killer in it.
I read extensively about serial killers like Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Toolbox killers, Lawrence Bittaker and Roy Norris. I’ve also read extensively and watched interviews with Milwaulkee Cannibal, Jeffrey Dahmer. I have seen all the documentaries, read excerpts from the case files and even watched the low budget film Dahmer starring Jeremy Renner as Jeffrey Dahmer, and more recent, My Friend Dahmer, with Ross Lynch which was a study of his teen years, before the murders. The late Ann Heche played Jeffrey Dahmer’s mother in the forementioned film and was incredible.
This new miniseries didn’t really catch my eye, and I didn’t think that I would want to commit to 10 hours about a story I knew already. But Stormy mentioned it and off we went.
The first episode opens on the day that Jeffrey Dahmer, played by Evan Peters, is arrested and the macabre nightmare they find inside apartment 213, at 924 North 25th Street in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. From there the viewer is moved from different periods in Dahmers life, most notably his evolution from school outcast turned class clown to killer. His mother was mentally ill, which led to him growing up in a household in which there was plenty chaos of fighting. When his parents finally divorced, his mother abandon him taking his younger brother, David, with her and leaving him unsupervised for three months in the family home.. His father was staying with a girlfriend. Dahmer’s mother was wreckless, abrasive, at time in full bloom of lunacy.
In those three months, Dahmer claimed his first victim. A hitchhiker looking for a ride to a concert. Dahmer then attempts college at Ohio State but flunks out. Then goes into the army which is short lived, and likely related to Dahmer’s homosexuality and penchant for stealing blood. He moves into the gay district of Milwaukee luring gay men, and a 14 year old teenager to apartment 214 where he kills them and does all sorts of horrific things with their remains. Including cannibalism. There is the reference I make to the teen, but will not disclose to avoid being a spoiler on the series.
What Evan Peter’s, “Dahmer” gets right is the utter revulsion of what drives Jeffrey. There is blood, but so far it isn’t too graphic. Like Hooper’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the suggestion works better, the skillfully placed tools of his trade. Like the drill he uses to tap the heads of his victims offering up an almost Tobe Hooper-like scene. Hair from an obscured head in the fridge. You don’t actually see the dismemberment, but the suggestion still makes it horrifying.
I’m only three episodes in, but intrigued enough to continue. Jeffrey Dahmer has always come off as a sympathetic character. It is clear that he had serious mental health issues. In interviews that I watched, he was open and honest about his crimes. Sympathetic, or maybe even pathetic.
Actor, Evan Peters, portrays Dahmer in much the same way he has been portrayed in the media, but he takes us deeper into the darkness. We get to see the stark contrast between the meek and mild, Jeffrey Dahmer, and the manipulator and even the raging Dahmer. The monster hiding behind the benevolent, awkward, character, I saw, and perhaps even you, is not present in those interviews. But it is the monster we want to see, as the mask he wears can be anyone’s. Evan Peter’s was in different recurring roles in the series American Horror Story. He’s an excellent young actor who has managed to make me forget him and see Jeffrey Dahmer.
MURDER FOR RESEARCH
When you research this stuff it can get pretty graphic, especially true-crime accounts and police reports. Sometimes, that level of horror can be two much. One book I read was called, DRIVEN TO KILL The Terrifying True Account of Sex Killer Westley Allen Dodd written by Gary C. King. Westley Dodd looked like the all American boy, clean cut, came from a good home, but he had a darker sidee. Dodd was a child molester and killer. He abducted brothers, Cole and William Neer, 11 and 12, took them into the woods. Aftertying them to a tree and sexually assaulting both, he stabbed them repeatedly and fled the scene. Cole died at the scene and William died on the way to the hospital. If that wasn’t heinous enough, he later abducted four year old, named, Lee Iseli, from a park slide, and took him back to his apartment. There he sexually assaulted him, and the next morning he strangled the child with a rope and hung his body in his closet. He also photographed the hanging body for trophies. When attempting to abduct a fourth victim, the child fought back and members of the public freed the boy, as Dodd fled the scene by car, but his car broke down a block aways and he was subdued by a family member of the child.
He was convicted and sentenced to die, he asked to be hung, citing that he should die the same way his third victim, four year old, Lee Iseli died, which was hanging.
The court gave Dodd his wish, he was sentenced to hanging, this form of execution had not been used in the country since the 1960s. Dodd sealed his own fate, refusing appeal. He insisted that he could not control his urges and would kill again, stating in one court brief: “I must be executed before I have an opportunity to escape or kill someone else. If I do escape, I promise you I will kill and rape again, and I will enjoy every minute of it.”
Sometimes theatre of the mind is not a blessing. I visualize the things I read and research. I see it on a stage that is multidirectional and graphic to the very bone. DRIVEN TO KILL disturbed me so much, I had to put the book down and walk away from it at least four or five times. A little reminder that I’m human, not always pragmatic or clinical.
Dodd was hanged at 12:05 a.m. on January 5, 1993. He was 32 years old. Thirty years after the crime, I am still horrified that these monsters walk among us, but worse, in proximity to our children.
Thanks for listening