On a warm summer evening in July 1991, members of the Milwaukee Police Department spent a night removing boxes of evidence from unit 213 in the Oxford Apartments. They were originally called to this residence when a shirtless man with one handcuffed wrist approached police on the street, claiming the individual living there just tried to murder him. What authorities would eventually discover was something out of a horror movie.
Jeffrey Dahmer lived in this apartment, which contained two human hearts, a bag of organs, seven human skulls, severed body parts, and Polaroids of his victims posed in horrifying positions taken after they died. As if that wasn't gruesome enough, it was believed that Dahmer also ate parts of some of his victims.
Was Jeffrey Dahmer a cannibal?
In a February 1994 interview with NBC investigative reporter Stone Phillips, Dahmer spoke about the evolution of his actions that would eventually lead to cannibalism. He said he received a certain amount of sexual gratification from "saving the skeleton and preserving other parts." Much like an addict building up a tolerance to their drug of choice, Dahmer's behavior became increasingly more deviant in order to satisfy himself sexually.
"It [cannibalism] made me feel like they were a permanent part of me," said Dahmer.
This need to keep his victims with him coincides with Dahmer's diagnosis of borderline personality disorder (BPD), which is marked by real or perceived feelings of abandonment.
"Sometimes there may be brief psychotic episodes," Dr. Raffle said about BPD. "There may be anger that is fueled by paranoid feelings as well as emotional dysregulation to the point where a person loses touch with the limitations of society and reality. It may also include hallucinations or delusions."
The "borderline" part of borderline personality disorder comes from the idea that it's on the "borderline of neurosis and psychosis."
When Dahmer wanted his victims to stay, in his mind it was a necessary evil. "The sensitivities to abandonment have to do with a defense against feeling abandoned, and not having someone to check on their reality and to keep them in reality," explained Dr. Raffle.
Regarding why Dahmer had BPD, Dr. Raffle says there are "identifiable crisis periods in people who have borderline personality disorders, and they commonly have to do with severe illnesses or abandonment."
However, Dahmer himself didn't think that had anything to do with his crimes. "As far as I'm concerned, they're all excuses," he told Stone Phillips. "I feel it's wrong for people who commit crimes to try to shift the blame onto somebody else, onto their parents or onto their upbringing."
Why did Jeffrey Dahmer turn to cannibalism?
Dahmer was also diagnosed with schizotypal disorder, though Dr. Raffle believes he was actually schizophrenic. What's the difference? "Schizotypal is a person who frequently breaks with reality. Schizophrenia has usually got a great confusion about what's real and what isn't and commonly what's not real is perceived as real and vice versa," Dr. Raffle explained.
It's the addition of schizophrenia to borderline personality disorder that could have contributed to the cannibalism.
Dahmer's cannibalism was very much an extension of the abandonment issues that triggered his borderline personality disorder, though it's the schizophrenia that ultimately led to the actual act of eating human flesh.
Dr. Raffle explained it in an almost painfully beautiful way: "He's empty inside and this is his way to feed his emptiness, in a literal sense."