“Serial Killer” Essay, Research Paper
When we look back at some “crimes of the century” some that should definately
come to mind are the gruesome murders the late Jeffrey Dahmer performed. This
mysterious serial killer, also known as the Milwaukee Cannibal, probably accounted for
one of the most famous cases in history. He seemed to kill for reasons no better then just
lust and gratification. The serial killer knocked off 17 people over 13 years, all starting
when he was just 18! He would lure his victims, usually young men, to his apartment
with drugs, alcohol, and money. Dahmer went as far as to dismember and store body
parts throughout his apartment after killing them. He would sometimes even eat these
dismembered body parts. Some say he went so long without being caught because he
chose the ever shifting population such as drifters and prostitutes who had no real
identity. He did not kill acquaintances or lovers as many murderers did. When arrested
in Milwaukee in 1991 Dahmer confessed to all 17 murders, and was sentenced to about
900 years in prison. Dahmer was eventually bludgeoned to death himself in prison.
Obviously, as the media fed off these sick murders, so many asked how could
anyone possibly ever think of doing this? Where did this super evil side in Dahmer come
from? Why did he get away with it for so long,? and Can we foresee something like this
and prevent it? This is a guy who’s neighbor thought would be a good guy to have some
beer and chips with over a football game. Jeffrey was not abused as a child, nor did he
have a horrible background. He was born to a rather quiet graduate student at Marquette
University, and his mother worked for a telephone company. He was a shy boy who, like
other young boys, liked sweets and loved his dog. It seemed to be a rather ordinary,
normal family, but things must have been taking there toll somewhere along the line.
There were a few things that were a little strange that may have molded Jeffrey’s mind.
The marriage was rough, the father was fairly distant and, Jeffrey and his brother were
seen together but, it was stated in one article that they were never really close. Jeff did
also show some scattered flashes of uncontrollable rage, but it was put off as a normal
temper. There, however, no real red flag or tell tale signs he would turn out like this. To
try to explain this person and his actions we will examine a number of theories out of John
Curra’s Understanding Social Deviance.
The first theory we will look at is the Control Theory or Bond Theory. This
theory was developed by Hirschi and is probably the most significant control theory. This
particular thoery claims that a person is much less likely to be delinquent if they had ties to
the conventional world(Curra 50-51). This theory absolutely corresponds with the
actions of Jeffrey Dahmer. Hirschi pointed out four dimensions of the bond to society.
These were : attachment, commitment, involvement, and beliefs(Curra 50). Attachment is
when someone really cares for someone, like family, friends, or teachers and this person is
far less likely to commit deviant acts. An example of this would be boys who were
attached to a teacher or coach did not want to disappoint them by committing a deviant
act. This is also true with boys attached or very close with their parents. Commitment is
the level of investment one has in conformity. Someone who has a very high level is
probably going to conform, while on the other hand those with a low level will not.
Involvement has to do with being involved in conventinal behavior which, in turn, limits
the persons shots of committing deviant acts. Being involved in school is an example
here. This one reason dropouts have a higher delinquency rate. This is also where I think
they get the idea that PAL (Police Athletic League) would be helpful to youths. Lastly,
Hirschi described beliefs. Here, it is believed that some people have a stronger belief then
others that they should obey to society’s rules. In Jeffrey Dahmer’s case the attachment
dimension of the Bond Theory definately was not present. As I stated before; his father
was distant, and he was not even that close with his brother. The problems with these ties
were likely linked with his crimes. Also under the attachment part I should mention that
his parents got a divorce when he was eighteen, his mother moved out and left him living
alone. This is when he committed his first murder on a 19 yr. old hitchhiker and scattered
his body parts all over the woods. In the involvement section of this theory; his father
tried enrolling him in college at Ohio State University, but he dropped out after one term.
His dad then tried enrolling him in the Army, but he was soon discharged for alcoholism.
He was not married and had no steady companion. The involvement part surely was not
there with Jeffrey.
The next theory I feel that applies to Dahmer is the Routine Activities Theory.
Here, Cohen and Felson use direct-contact predatory violations. This is when someone
purposely hurts or damages a person or someones property. There are three elements to
this, they are as follows: motivated offenders, suitable targets, and the absence of capable
guardians to protect targets from victimization(Curra 51). The lack of any of these
elements could interfere with this direct-contact predatory violations. Now with Dahmer
he was a motivated offender. He was motivated by his lust and gratification. These were
some very strong motivations for him, this was evident by the manner that he did the
killings and the amount of times he did these horrible acts. There also had to be suitable
targets for him. The drifters such as prostitutes and drug addicts were very easy, very
suitable targets. Third, there had to be the absence of capable gaurdians to protect these
targets from victimization. Now, like mentioned before his primary targets, were drifters,
and prostitutes so there most likely were not any gaurdians to protect these people from
Dahmer. This is true, especially noting the fact that he lured some of these people back to
his apartment using drugs or alcohol. Also under routine activities theory is the fact that
more people are out in this day in age, so it is just more targets for a madman like Dahmer
to choose from.
The next theory that we will compare Dahmer with is the Social Learning
Theory. This theory briefly states that a person can learn criminal activity from imitating
other people, the environment, or even the media(Curra 51-52). Akers extended this
theory by addressing it to other bad behaviors such as alcoholism, suicide,
homosexuality, and mental illness. We do know from the People article that he was a
very heavy drinker in high school, which turned into alcoholism, and he was even thrown
out of the Army for alcoholism. We also know he was, obviously, a homosexual. When
he was in highschool he felt inferior, so I speculate that he saw other friends drinking to
solve their problems, so he decided to try it. Then it got to the point where it became a
problem. The text goes as far as to say that subsequent deviant acts are induced by
reinforcers or punishers directly experienced by the person as he did these acts I
previously mentioned(Curra 52). So, here I will also speculate that when he was a heavy
drinker in high school he was also somewhat of a troublemaker. So, he would be subject
to being punished by teachers or administrators. This could even be his father after he
dropped out of school and was discharged from the Army. These would act as the
punishers or reinforcers in the Social Learning Theory. Now, the further acts he
commited were caused by these people he had experiences with while being punished.