Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer murdered 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991, with just one intended victim managing to escape – Tracy Edwards.
Netflix true crime drama Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story landed on the streaming service last month, and has since thrown the Dahmer case back into the spotlight.
The very first episode of the series focuses on Edwards, who was close to becoming Dahmer’s 18th victim before he miraculously managed to escape, and the young man became the key to convicting Dahmer.
How did Tracy Edwards escape Jeffrey Dahmer?
Tracy Edwards, then 32 years old, was with two friends in a bar in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when he first met Jeffrey Dahmer.
Dahmer told the group he was a professional photographer, and said he would pay $100 for one of them to pose nude for him.
Edwards, who was short on money, agreed to return to Dahmer’s apartment, still undecided on whether to pose for the photographs.
His friends planned to meet him at the apartment, but as Edwards climbed into a cab with Dahmer, the killer known as the ‘Milwaukee Cannibal’ gave them a fake address.
Giving evidence at Dahmer’s trial, Edwards described the atmosphere between them as seeming friendly, and said he believed Dahmer’s lies that the horrific odour in the apartment was due to a broken sewer pipe, and the boxes of hydrochloric acid in the living room were supplies he used to clean bricks.
They sat on the sofa and discussed the armed forces – Dahmer briefly served in the army, and Edwards was born on a base, having grown up in a military family – while having a drink together.
But in a moment that changed everything, Edwards turned away and Dahmer secured handcuffs on his wrist and held a knife up to his ribcage.
Dahmer informed Edwards he would kill him if he did not comply with instructions, and led him to the bedroom, where the terrified Edwards noticed a 57-gallon vat in the corner of the room, where the horrific smell appeared to originate.
They sat on the bed, stained with blood, while Dahmer played the 1990 film The Exorcist III on VHS. Dahmer told Edwards that he was going to remove his heart and eat it.
But Edwards continued to reassure Dahmer the two were friends, and he wouldn’t run away, placating him until the serial killer briefly dropped his guard. At that point Edwards punched him in the face, fleeing the property and flagging down two police officers.
After his escape, Edwards would tell a reporter: “I ran for the door and God had to be with me because he had like eight different locks on there. And I just picked the right lock out of all of them.”
The officers accompanied Edwards back to the apartment, where they found Dahmer, multiple skulls, a variety of human body parts, and polaroid pictures showing his victims in various states of dismemberment. Kitchen equipment showed Dahmer had likely been cooking and eating some of the human remains.
He was immediately arrested for the attempted murder of Edwards, a crime for which he was never convicted, but once in custody confessed to all 17 murders.
Dahmer’s trial, which began in January 1992, did not aim to determine whether he was guilty, but whether he was responsible for the murders, with a jury deciding if Dahmer was or was not “insane”.
Edwards was a key witness in the case, and faced questioning on whether he was “a homosexual” – to which he replied “no, not at all” – and whether he suspected that the photoshoot Dahmer had invited him to take part in was a “homosexual kind of thing”.
He was able to give a clear and precise account of what happened to him during the traumatic few hours inside Dahmer’s apartment, and while psychiatrists for the prosecution and defence, as well as independent psychiatrists, all agreed Dahmer had serious mental health problems, they did not find that these had caused diminished responsibility.
Dahmer was sentenced to 16 life sentences, but spent just two years in prison before he was bludgeoned to death by a fellow inmate.
Where is Tracy Edwards now?
The short answer is, we don’t know.
Tracy Edwards is said to have never dealt with the horrific trauma he endured, and instead turned to self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.
His high profile during Dahmer’s trial saw him indicted on sexual battery charges after he was recognised by police in his native Mississippi, and he would go on to commit further crimes, including theft, property damage and drug possession.
In 2011, he was defended by attorney Paul Ksicinski in a homicide case which saw Edwards convicted of aiding a felon.
In an interview with Fox News, Ksicinski said: “The way that I’ve characterized it, in a nutshell, is that the incident with Dahmer made Tracy into Humpty Dumpty – he was never able to put the pieces back together in his life.
“At times, he may have appeared or even sounded like, for a lack of a better term, normal. But he was not. He could never get his life together again after that. He abused drugs and drank alcohol excessively.
“He had no home. He just drifted from place to place. It destroyed his life. I don’t know how or what he could have done to put things back together again.”
Ksicinski added Edwards referred to Dahmer as “the devil.”
“I eventually came to determine he never sought any kind of psychological or psychiatric treatment for what happened to him. Instead, he chose to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs on the street.
“He didn’t go into treatment because that would cause him to have to remember what happened. But he spoke of what happened to him. He described smelling death when he entered Dahmer’s apartment, how Dahmer put his head on his chest, so he can hear his heartbeat. He described how Dahmer said, ‘I’m going to have to eat your heart.’”
Edwards is thought to have been homeless since at least 2002, and his current whereabouts are unknown.
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