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The 2002 biopic “Dahmer” did not attract much attention upon its release. The film, directed by David Jacobson and starring Jeremy Renner, garnered positive reviews for its stark and desolate depiction of quiet suburban atrocities, but the film often gets overlooked amongst a slew of similar movies about one of the country’s most notorious cannibals.
Still, “Dahmer” contains one of the more accurate depictions of the eponymous killer’s crimes; many of the scenes that at first seem truly unbelieve are actually based on true events, with only the names of the victims changed out of respect for the families.
The film opens with Jeffrey Dahmer working in a chocolate factory in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. On his off hours, Jeffrey picks up a young man named Khamtay and lures him home with the promise of free clothes. After drugging him with sleeping pills and drilling a hole in his head in which to inject hydrochloric acid, Khamtay manages to wander into the street while completely dazed. Stopped by a group of young women, police return the man to Dahmer, dismissing the interaction as a domestic affair between homosexuals that requires no intervention.
Investigations into Dahmer's crimes, as well as the book "The Shrine of Jeffrey Dahmer" by Brian Masters, reveal this incident to be entirely based on an actual victim's experiences before ultimately being killed by Jeffrey.
Konerak Sinthasomphone, a young immigrant from Laos, was a 14 years old when abducted by Dahmer. A New York Times article shows how police actually defended their decision to return Sinthasomphone to Dahmer, despite the protestations from young bystanders who were perhaps dismissed because of their race and gender. Sinthasomphone was dismembered by Dahmer the day after this altercation, according to a New York Times article published after the incident which featured interviews with the victim's family members.
But in an even stranger twist, Konerak's older brother was also a victim of Dahmer's, the Times article explains. The sibling, unnamed in reports, was sexually molested by Dahmer in 1988.
Later in the movie, in an incredible flashback, a dispute between a younger Dahmer and his father over a locked box discovered in Jeffrey's closet is awkwardly resolved. The film reveals that Dahmer had kept a severed head in the home unbeknownst to his family. He told his father the box contained pornography, allowing him to discreetly dispose of the contents.
This incident, too, is based on real events. Explored in the book "Jeffrey Dahmer's Dirty Secret" by Arthur Jay Harris, the box stored at his family home actually contained both the severed head and the severed penis of a victim—and Dahmer's father was only seconds away from discovering it.
A montage of Dahmer at a local Milwaukee gay bar shows the antagonist drugging and raping several young men before being ejected from the facility. In reality, Dahmer was a frequent patron of a bar called The Phoenix, where he picked up at least two victims: Richard Guerrero and Eddie Smith, according to UPI.
Dahmer was known to have taken several men he met at gay bars back to his grandmother's house for sex. He had drugged some of them before strangling and dismembering them.
The subject’s dependence on alcohol is also a well-documented fact depicted repeatedly throughout the film. In the non-fiction graphic novel "My Friend Dahmer," written by Derf Backderf (also later turned into an excellent biopic), Dahmer's high school acquaintances are repeatedly stunned by his ability to drink copious amounts of beer and liquor.
"Everybody, either through incompetence or indifference, just let this kid go," said Backderf, who was at one point a buddy of a younger Jeffrey, in an interview with Vulture. "And it’s astonishing to me that nobody noticed or said they didn’t notice a thing. The drinking — this kid reeked of alcohol at school. He used to walk around school with a styrofoam cup full of booze. And nobody noticed a thing? That’s just astounding to me. Meanwhile, they’re bringing in public speakers to lecture us on the dangers of drugs. I mean, the hypocrisy of it was, it really made me very cynical at a young age. And I still find that absolutely astonishing. Everybody dropped the ball. And the result was a pile of bodies."
Meanwhile, the character of Rodney, who appears as a sympathetic young man who attempts to seduce Dahmer before almost becoming another victim, is based on Tracy Edwards. As in the film, Edwards narrowly escaped Dahmer's clutches after being lured back to the killer's home to watch horror movies. Edwards claimed to have bargained with Dahmer for his own life for several hours before managing to flee and notify police, who again ignored pleas for an investigation into Dahmer.
Although not shown in the film, Edwards, instead, became the subject of an investigation when police realized he was a wanted felon and was later charged with molesting a 14-year-old girl. Decades later, Edwards would also be charged with homicide, according to ABC.
Before the credits role, the film notes that Dahmer was killed by another inmate after serving only two years of his life sentence. Christopher Scarver killed Dahmer on November 28,1994 after several incidents during which Dahmer would make jokes about his victims, the New York Post reports.
“He crossed the line with some people — prisoners, prison staff. Some people who are in prison are repentant — but he was not one of them," said Scarver in 2015.
The ultra-violent life of Jeffrey Dahmer took several bizarre twists and turns, some so implausible that their depiction in cinema feels almost unreal. But, as demonstrated by Jacobson's film, truth is often far stranger than fiction.
[Photo: Milwaukee Police Department]
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