Stop Romanticizing Serial Killers

source: Netflix

“I don’t see any excuse for people not caring for other people,” – Glenda Cleveland

Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story has released, nearly 6 months ago on Netflix and while many films have followed Jeffrey Dahmer and his horrific crimes in the past this story is mainly based on his victims, his impact on Milwaukee, and systemic racial inequalities that were ever so present around his crimes.

The Netflix series was released on September 21, 2022, as a 10-part episode series that followed the birth, life, and murder of Jeffrey Dahmer. The series brought in fairly high ratings and pitched a different rendition of the story of Jeffrey Dahmer’s life by claiming to tell it in the voices of the victims. The series follows the beginning of Dahmer’s destructive tendencies and compulsions, his life in high school, college, the army, his family life, and his loneliness, before ending the series at the Oxford Apartments; where a large majority of his crimes were committed. The series presents a very raw rendition of what could have happened, it shows the deep and violent pain of the victim’s families and a very disturbed and isolated image of Dahmer. While the series tends to focus on the victim we see some shocking scenes of Dahmer’s relationship with his murderous tendencies, presenting a very peeled look at his actions. At some points, we do see the victim’s point of view, especially for Anthony “Tony” Hughes where at points were placed in his experience of being deaf. But the majority of the series though it claims to be following the victims places them second to showing the life, tendencies, and addictions of Dahmer. Many of the victims of Dahmer are placed in montages to show their deaths while we get extended scenes of Dahmer at school, dancing, or experiencing prison life. Skipping many of the victims to highlight certain victims might be a creative choice due to time or other factors but nonetheless, it doesn’t really follow the tv show’s theme of it being from the victim’s point of view. 

For those who aren’t aware of Jeffrey Dahmer or his crimes, he was an American serial killer, sex offender, and cannibal whose spree of murders spanned from 1978 to 1991 when he took the lives of 17 men. Dahmer’s arrest in 1991 gave a lot of data into the motive of his crimes as he was very forthcoming with information about his motives and the victims. The majority of his male victims were either black or brown,  All though the majority of the victims were black and brown men this didn’t mean that he was necessarily trying to commit hate crimes, as he said “… to let the world know that these were not hate crimes…”. But this doesn’t erase how his choice of black and brown people in certain areas caused him to be invisible on the police’s radar. It seems like the reasoning behind his crimes is his loneliness and you can see this marker in virtually every portion of his violent crimes. But the black and brown men not only faced the wrath of Dahmer’s loneliness but the carelessness and lack of responsibility from the Milwaukee police.

source: Netflix

“It just got really easy, is the problem… That’s why it kept happening” – Jeffrey Dahmer (Evan Peters) in ep. 5 “Blood on Their Hands”

Glenda Cleveland was one of the first people on the frontlines trying to fight Jeffrey Dahmer’s crimes and alert authorities. She wasn’t a civil servant or even a police officer, she was a citizen living in the same building as Dahmer. She’s well-known for trying to protest Dahmer taking Konerak Sinthasomphone back to his apartment after he was found on May 27, 1991 bleeding and unbalanced outside. Glenda, her daughter Sandra Smith, and other black residents protested against the police’s decision to return Konerak to Dahmer but he was and eventually died later that night. The police failed to do their job multiple times that night due to their adversity to the homosexual “relationship” and the fact that Dahmer was white and Konerak was from Laos. They overlooked the blood on Konerak, his disorientated state, and his struggle against Dahmer leading him back to his apartment. The police sealed Konerak’s death by telling Glenda to “shut the hell up” and by forcing the fire department to leave even though they claimed that he needed medical care. Glenda repeatedly called the police as the days went on asking to see what happened to the Konerak, even after his picture appeared in the newspaper, eventually calling the FBI but to no avail. Four more deaths occurred in the apartments after Glenda’s constant calls about Konerak, bringing Dahmer’s total victims to 17.

source: Netflix

“You knew he was a monster.” – Reverend Jackson. “I knew. But nobody heard me” – Glenda Cleveland (Niecy Nash) in ep. 6 “Cassandra”

Monster although does cover the crimes and victims of Jeffrey Dahmer it also follows the homophobia and racism that has a large overtone in the handling of his crimes. Many areas where his crimes were committed were predominantly black areas as well as the locations where he found his victims were meeting areas for people who were part of the LGBTQIA+ community. These elements created a perfect storm for police to reinforce their lack of care for both of these marginalized communities. In remembering Jeffrey Dahmer we first think about how he was the “Milwaukee Cannibal” but usually forget that he took advantage of the Milwaukee police department’s lack of care and obligation to people of color and the LGBTQIA+ community.

The Milwaukee police department is known for its racism, especially targeting the black community. Even in the show, we see the police calling the Sinthasomphone family’s home phone and calling them racial slurs anonymously. Dahmer knowingly or unknowingly took advantage of this system, as the officers who determined Konerak to be in a fit state were not severely reprimanded for their behavior as they should have been. John Balcerak and Joseph T. Gabrish were the two officers that allowed the injured Konerak to go back with Dahmer and gained nothing but success after. After being suspended with pay, they were fired and then reinstated with a back-pay of $55,000 each. Balzerack even served as the president of the police union, the Milwaukee Police Association for 4 years. In Monster, the scene in which both Balcerak and Gabrish were confronted with the failure with Konerak, they joked that they needed to get “deloused” and said, “You’re our police chief. You’re supposed to have our backs”. This culture in police society of protecting their own before justice is exactly why they weren’t reprimanded for their catastrophic failure of preventing Konerak from being killed. We’re able to see it rampantly today, and more modernly in the Milwaukee police department again with the killing of Dondre Hamilton in 2014, where the police officer involved wasn’t charged for shooting Dondre Hamilton 14 times after Dondre fought back against an unwarranted pat-down.

source: Netflix

Tracy Edwards was the last victim of Dahmer’s horrendous killing spree that spanned over 13 years that target mainly black and brown gay men. Although Edwards didn’t die at the hands of Dahmer he was still immensely traumatized from the events of being stuck with Dahmer in his apartment for 5 hours. The trauma and pain from Dahmer’s actions follow his victims and their families to this day as Edwards has been homeless, imprisoned, and left struggling to force the memories down.

“Dahmer told me that he would kill me. He was listening to my heart because, at a point, he told me he was going to eat my heart.” – Tracy Edwards

Black and brown queer residents in Milwaukee are expressing the pain and memories that have been refreshed and become anew from Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. Residents in Milwaukee don’t see the TV show as just another imagined version of anyone’s worst nightmare but instead reality. They know some of the victims, and their families and drive past the barren torn down Oxford Apartments.  Many believe that instead of Ryan Murphy’s goal of bringing faces to the names of the victims, the TV show was an excuse for creating more stir and notoriety around a serial killer. “It’s called ‘The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,’ but it’s not just him and his backstory. It’s the repercussions; it’s how society and our system failed to stop him multiple times because of racism and homophobia. Everybody gets their side of the story told.” Evan Peters says, who plays Jeffrey Dahmer. But this sentiment doesn’t seem to be achieved as many believe that dragging the victims out into the limelight for the sole purpose of becoming victims by Dahmer’s hand isn’t acceptable. Many of the victim’s families weren’t asked for permission causing more outrage from the creation of the show. It also went into lengthy detail providing backstories of Dahmer’s family, urges, loneliness, and alcoholism, all under the guise of Murphy’s one rule of “That it would never be told from Dahmer’s point of view.”–  which doesn’t seem fulfilled.

Even though Murphy promised a series honoring the victims or at least demonizing Dahmer it’s not seen. We see Dahmer grappling with his loneliness and alcoholism that seem to almost pity him while at times we flash through the multiple victims who died at his hand. While the series does address homophobia and racism, especially through the eyes of the victims it’s overshadowed by Dahmer overtaking the series that’s not really meant to be about him. Glenda Cleveland was acknowledged for her services in trying to alert the police but her cries at the time of Dahmer’s spree were overlooked and ignored like other victims’ families. One of the poignant statements addressing that nothing has changed is the barren lot where the majority of Dahmer’s victims were killed. Promised to be turned into a park for the victims it now stands as an enclosed area, a wound trying to heal from Dahmer’s actions in a city that didn’t seem to care for its black, brown, and gay residents.

Remember their names…

  • Steven Hicks
  • Steven Tuomi
  • Jamie Doxtator
  • Richard Guerrero
  • Another Sears
  • Raymond Smith (Ricky Beeks)
  • Edward W. Smith
  • Ernest Miller
  • David C. Thomas
  • Curtis Straughter
  • Errol Lindsey
  • Anthony “Tony” Hughes
  • Konerak Sinthasomphone
  • Matt Turner
  • Jeremiah Weinberger
  • Oliver Lacy
  • Joseph Bradehoft


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