Jeffrey Dahmer family: Who were the serial killer's parents?

Jeffrey Dahmer
Cannibalistic serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer's father Lionel Dahmer alongside his wife and Jeffrey's step-mother Shari Dahmer (Image via Steve Kagan/Getty Images)

The heinous crimes of Milwaukee cannibal and American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer still haunt the nightmares of many true-crime enthusiasts and theorists. Dahmer's arrest in 1991 finally put an end to his horrifying murderous rampage and cannibalism.

Jeffrey Dahmer r*ped and murdered at least 17 boys and men from 1978 to 1991. Since his crimes were first disclosed to the world, every aspect of his childhood has been closely examined in an effort to find any clues as to why he became a barbaric murderer.

Prior to becoming a monstrous serial killer, Jeffrey seemed to have led a peaceful life. His family consisted of his parents, Lionel and Shari Dahmer, and his brother.

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A Netflix limited series, titled Dahmer - Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, will air on Wednesday, September 21, 2022, revisiting the story of one of America's most notorious serial killers, and here's everything one you should know about his parents ahead of the premiere.


Jeffrey Dahmer's parents were unaware of his serial killer instincts

Lionel and Joyce Dahmer, Jeffrey Dahmer's birth parents, have been transparent about their son's childhood and acknowledged that they were unaware of his mental state and killer instincts when he was younger.

Despite Lionel and Joyce's divorce and subsequent separation, they maintain that they brought up Jeffrey in a typical home, and that, unlike many serial killers, he was not mistreated as a boy.

Jeffrey's father Lionel, in his book titled A Father's Story, acknowledged that he was primarily absent throughout his son's formative years, given that, at the time, he was a PhD student pursuing a degree in chemistry.

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He also confessed that he did not believe he was doing Dahmer any damage as a parent then, but he somehow feels now that his son's actions may have been the consequences of his own.

Lionel Dahmer further explained that, between the ages of 12 and 14, Jeffrey spent time riding his bike around country roads gathering roadkill and stockpiling animal carcasses. This was the only concerning aspect of Dahmer's early life that Joyce and he did not learn about until much later.

In an interview on Larry King Live, Lionel said:

"If I had known about the roadkill, that would've been a red flag. I would've done something immediately, intervened. But before that, there wasn't really anything."

However, Carl Wahlstrom, a forensic psychiatrist who interrogated, assessed, and testified as an expert witness in the case against Dahmer, reportedly argued that "he and his dad, as a father-son activity…bleached the connective tissue and the hair" from the bodies of dead rodents that they would discover under their house, leaving only a bucket full of bones.

Wahlstrom added:

"It was like a personalized rattle. The family would call them his fiddlesticks."

The strange habit, however, was initially pursued out of a curiosity for science rather than a penchant for murder and cannibalism. The bone bleaching was an application of specialist skills, given that Jeffrey's father Lionel was a research chemist.


Jeffrey Dahmer was a "disturbed kid" and "isolated from the people around him"

Sources state that Jeffrey Dahmer had a troubled upbringing. His mother, Joyce Dahmer, although loving, had issues of her own and even attempted to commit suicide and struggled with depression while the father was mostly absent.

Moreover, Jeffrey’s brother David Dahmer’s arrival only worsened the situation. He soon started viewing him as a rival for their parents' limited time and attention.

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Between the ages of six and eight, Jeffrey's family relocated often until they ultimately settled in Bath, Ohio, where he resided until high school graduation. In those early years, Joyce and Lionel frequently quarreled. A contentious divorce, including several accusations of ruthlessness and blatant disregard for responsibility, marked the end of their partnership.

Lionel Dahmer described his son as a quiet and introverted child, which is perhaps why Dahmer was able to hide secrets from his parents and friends. Psychiatrist Wahlstrom also added that Jeffrey Dahmer "was very isolated from the people around him."

During his interrogation, the serial killer himself stated that he was never subjected to abuse, which led to the conclusion that, irrespective of their marital issues, both his parents loved him and his brother equally. He also asserted that his parents were not to be blamed for his actions.


Dahmer - Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story airs on Netflix this Wednesday, September 21, 2022.

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Edited by Adelle Fernandes