What Netflix's 'Dahmer' Series Actually Gets Right In The Last Six Episodes
American culture seems to have a fixation with serial killers. Jeffrey Dahmer of Milwaukee, WI, looms particularly large in this regard, and is the subject of the 2022 Netflix series Dahmer - Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. Created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, it aims to pay less attention to the killer himself and more to his victims and the social forces and inequities that enabled him to get away with his crimes for so long.
Like any docudrama, it does take some liberties with the established facts. Nevertheless, from its first episodes to its last, it actually stays fairly close to the facts that have been established both at the time of the incidents and since. Here are some depictions from the series most accurate to real life.
Jesse Jackson Met With Glenda Cleveland After She Got Nowhere With The Police Department
Throughout the series, Dahmer’s neighbor Glenda Cleveland (portrayed by Niecy Nash) tries to get the authorities to do something about him. Unfortunately, all of her efforts are largely ignored or dismissed by police. One person who does take her seriously is the Rev. Jesse Jackson (Nigel Gibbs). In the series, they have a powerful conversation, and it clearly means a great deal to Cleveland to finally have someone take her word.
The real-life Jackson did, in fact, visit Milwaukee during the time Dahmer’s crimes were being investigated. What’s more, he also met with Cleveland. He was not shy about sharing his thoughts on what had transpired:
Police chose the word of a killer over an innocent woman.
Jackson also had an intense conversation with Milwaukee's mayor at the time, John O. Norquist, though he ultimately said he couldn’t speak authoritatively about the actions of then-Police Chief Philip Arreola. Jackson did, however, say the police at all levels needed to be examined for racism.
Glenda Cleveland Was Widely Ignored By Police Officers, Despite Constant Calling
One of the ongoing narrative threads of the last six episodes of the series focuses on Glenda Cleveland. As Dahmer’s neighbor, she has an uncomfortably intimate understanding of his activities. In response, she repeatedly calls the police about what she notices: the sounds and the smells of violence. Again and again, however, they dismiss her. She is especially concerned about the fate of 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone, who lived nearby.
Although she wasn’t Dahmer’s next-door neighbor (she lived next to the apartment building in which he dwelled), the real-life Cleveland did tirelessly seek to get police to take her accusations against Dahmer seriously. She called them several times - especially after she saw a news report about Sinthasomphone going missing. She even went so far as to call the FBI. Unfortunately, all of her efforts were rebuffed. Several of Dahmer’s murders took place after Cleveland began complaining.
The Victims' Families Sued Dahmer For Billions
Faced with the reality of what Dahmer has done, several families of his victims decided to sue the murderer for billions of dollars. In the series, it’s clear they are doing so as a means not just of securing more justice for their lost loved ones, but also to push back against the tide of exploitation already cropping up in the aftermath of Dahmer’s trial and conviction. Among the most notable of these is his father’s book which, from the series’ perspective, is his effort to salve his own guilty conscience.
This is very close to what happened in real life. In 1991, the family of one victim sued Dahmer for $3 billion, making use of the “Son of Sam” law, which stipulates victims of crimes can sue the perpetrators for the revenues they might make from movies or books based on them or their actions. This joined a raft of other lawsuits launched by other families, many of which were directed at the city of Milwaukee itself.
The Police Who Returned His Youngest Victim Were Barely Reprimanded For Their Actions
One of the most stunning incidents in the final episodes of the series concerns police officers Joseph Gabrish and John Balcerzak, who bring Konerak Sinthasomphone back to Dahmer's residence. In the ninth episode, they receive an award for their service. Throughout the episode, it’s clear just how little they are going to be reprimanded or punished, despite their clear culpability in returning the disoriented youth to Dahmer’s clutches. They're even later seen making prank phone calls to Sinthasomphone’s family.
Unfortunately, many parts of this are true. Gabrish and Balcerzak were both fired for negligence (a third police officer was put on probation). However, a judge later reversed this decision and, more disturbingly, ruled the two officers were also owed back pay. Far from being punished for his actions, Balcerzak would even go on to be elected president of the Milwaukee Police Association.
Tony Hughes Might Have Actually Had A Relationship With Dahmer
In some ways, the sixth episode of the series is one of its most tragic. It focuses on Tony Hughes, a deaf, gay Black man who ends up becoming one of Dahmer’s victims.
Their relationship is shown as a strangely poignant one. Hughes seems to feel genuine romantic affection for Dahmer, who treats him as a person rather than a spectacle or someone to be pitied. For his part, Dahmer also seems to see Hughes as someone with whom he can forge a genuine connection. Ultimately, his fear of being left - and his desire for absolute control - leads him to take Hughes's life.
According to Dahmer’s account, he hadn’t met Hughes before the night he murdered him. However, this was contradicted by many of the victim's friends, who testified the men had known each other for more than a year before the killing took place. One of Hughes’s friends even reported Dahmer had come to her house looking for the other man.
The Families Of Two Victims Sued Lionel Dahmer For Violating Their Privacy
As the series reaches its conclusion, delves into the aftermath of Dahmer’s crimes on the families of his victims as well as his own. His father, Lionel, is particularly tortured, and in the ninth episode he writes a book.
It's not completely clear if he does this out of a genuine desire to grapple with his own culpability, or out of a self-aggrandizing desire to boost his own fame. Either way, he soon finds his efforts thwarted, both by the book’s meager sales and by a court order to have the proceeds given to the victims’ families.
In 1994, the families of two of Dahmer’s victims did in fact sue Lionel for using their names without their permission. They cited a Wisconsin law stipulating anyone writing a book about crime victims or their relatives must get written permission first. Lionel did not do so before mentioning the specific cases of Richard Guerrero and David Thomas.