Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer killed 17 men and boys. (Getty)
The homophobia that surrounded the case of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer came from all directions, newspaper clippings from the early 1990s show.
Dahmer murdered 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991, many of whom were young, gay and Black.
The killer drugged his victims before killing and dismembering them, in some cases consuming their remains, earning him the nickname ‘The Milwaukee Cannibal’.
He was finally captured on July 22, 1991, when Tracy Edwards managed to escape Dahmer’s apartment and alert the police.
Despite many of his targets being members of the gay community in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, his killing spree actually sparked homophobia rather than compassion for his victims.
‘Poisoning minds of young people’
Clippings included in unsealed FBI files show that in August 1991, less than a month after Dahmer’s arrest, The Milwaukee Journal ran a piece highlighting the “wide range of views” on the Dahmer case.
However, the newspaper decided to platform more than one letter linking Dahmer’s crimes to homosexuality.
One letter read in part: “As long as a community as a whole allows immorality to flourish, how can you expect all the citizenry to be moral?
“Now the majority of citizens say that this man is sick. I say that our lawmakers are sick also. They allow pornography to flourish, thereby poisoning the minds of the people.”
Another reader wrote: “While fingers are being pointed at the police in Milwaukee, I suggest that instead we take a serious look at what is being taught, even promoted, in our schools and universities.”
“It is high time that we wake up to the realities of homosexual behaviour and its dangers, instead of glorifying it.”
‘What we’re hearing is gay-bashing at large’
The letters to The Milwaukee Journal did not exist in isolation, however, with the media, police and judicial system spurring speculation about Dahmer’s sexuality as a cause for his crimes.
In the days following Dahmer’s arrest, media and law enforcement officials clung to the term “homosexual overkill” to explain Dahmer’s crimes.
Following Dahmer’s arrest, the media also spread rumours that when police obtained a warrant to take a blood sample from Dahmer, they were testing him for AIDS.
Despite one police official at the time insisting that the speculation was “a bunch of bull”, and explaining that blood samples were necessary for DNA testing, the rumours pushed an already common narrative that homosexuality and sickness were inextricable.
The frustration and fear of Milwaukee’s gay community are captured in some news reports from the time.
One patron of the gay bar where Dahmer picked up several of his victims told The Milwaukee Journal in July 1991: “It’s too bad for our community that this has to be happening.
“There are so many wonderful, caring, loving people out there. You never hear about those. All you hear about is this.”
Terry Boughner, editor of LGBTQ+ publication The Wisconsin Light, told The Milwaukee Journal during the same month: “This case is not indicative of gays any more than Ted Bundy is indicative of straights.
“What we’re hearing is gay-bashing at large.”
Police officers joked about ‘delousing’
Ironically, the rampant homophobia surrounding Dahmer’s crimes is the same attitude that prevented him from being caught sooner.
As detectives gradually uncovered Dahmer’s heinous crimes, another investigation was ongoing into the police officers who let him slip away.
During his string of murders, Dahmer attempted to create what he would later describe as a “zombie-like state” in his victims via horrific experiments that involved drilling into their skulls.
One of the victims subjected to this practice was 14-year-old Lao teenager Konerak Sinthasomphone, whose skull Dahmer drilled into before injecting hydrochloric acid.
When Dahmer briefly left his apartment, Sinthasomphone somehow managed to escape the property, naked, disorientated and bleeding.
He was found by three women, who called the police, but when officers arrived they accepted Dahmer’s story that the young boy was his 19-year-old lover who had had too much to drink.
Dahmer killed Sinthasomphone when they were allowed to return to his apartment, with officers even escorting them into the apartment that contained the remains of several of Dahmer’s victims.
As details of Dahmer’s crimes came to light, so did tapes of the officers’ homophobic comments, made upon leaving the scene.
The officers were recorded telling a dispatcher that it had been a “boy-boy” situation – the term “boy-girl” was frequently used as shorthand for domestic violence incidents – and joking that they would need to be “deloused” after returning to the police station.
Despite accusations of racism, homophobia and facilitating murder by the public, the officers faced no criminal charges.
Two were fired, while one was allowed back to work.
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