Editor’s Note: The following review was written by “Sellenna,” a Lovefraud reader. To see a picture of Jeffrey Dahmer, check out the CNN slideshow in the recent Lovefraud article, “The Boston Strangler and other famous serial killers.”
If you like books about psychopaths and true crime, I highly recommend a graphic novel called “My Friend Dahmer,” written and illustrated by comic book artist and journalist Derf Backderf, a former high-school classmate and acquaintance of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. It’s a comic book, but it deals with very adult themes; some that are quite unsuitable for children. In this book, Backderf describes what Dahmer was like as a teenager before he committed his first murder at the age of eighteen, after he left high school.
According to Backderf, Dahmer was a shy, quiet, withdrawn teenager who was often picked on in school. Backderf was also geeky, and didn’t rank much higher in the school social scale himself. Unlike Dahmer, however, he had friends and a stable home life. Backderf and his buddies first met – or, more accurately, noticed – Dahmer when he was imitating his mother and her interior decorator by throwing fake epileptic fits in the school library, causing a teacher to yell at them. Amused and intrigued by Dahmer’s antics, they befriended him. They also eventually called themselves the Dahmer Fan Club. Encouraged by their attention, Dahmer continued to put on his weird act, and they would follow him around and watch, laughing and enjoying the spectacle he made. Once, they even paid Dahmer $35 to “perform” at a mall for a couple of hours.
Some people find their treatment of Dahmer exploitive, and Backderf acknowledges this: “Our interest in Dahmer may sound mean-spirited, but it really wasn’t. We weren’t putting him down. After all, we weren’t a whole lot higher up the social ladder. He genuinely amused us. That’s all.”
Questionable as their attitude toward Dahmer may have been, the Dahmer Fan Club had their reasons for not wanting to get closer to him. Even back then, they sensed that there was something creepy about Dahmer.
Throughout the book, they witnessed red flags that showed signs of the true psychopathic personality Dahmer worked so hard to hide beneath his silent, expressionless facade. Like the time when Dahmer callously and cruelly laughed when he saw a guy fall down and hurt himself. And the time when he knifed a live fish he just caught in a frenzy because he wanted to “see what it looked like.”
There was also his excessive alcoholism. Dahmer would often smuggle liquor to school in a briefcase and drink all day, from early morning to dusk, attending classes in a drunken stupor. Amazingly, the teachers never noticed (except once, when a coach saw him drink beer in a parking lot, and sent him to the principle’s office to be paddled on the behind), though all the students knew. It was the 1970s, and many of the teachers, especially the younger ones who had been involved in the 1960s counterculture, partied themselves. They probably didn’t pay attention to Dahmer because they didn’t want to be bothered, and Dahmer took advantage of this. None of the students intervened either, because that was considered ratting on a classmate. As BackDerf said, “It simply wasn’t done.” On their way to the mall where Dahmer would perform his fake epileptic act, Backderf and his friend saw Dahmer put away six cans of beer in under ten minutes while sitting in the back seat of the car they were driving in. Backderf’s reaction: “Each of us in the Dahmer Fan Club had a moment when the realization hit that Dahmer was not just odd, but truly scary. This was my moment.”
When Dahmer persuaded Vice President Walter Mondale’s staff to allow him and his classmates to visit Mondale’s office during their class trip to Washington, D.C, his glibness and success at convincing — or conning — them may have also been signs of his being a psychopath.
Be warned that this book also covers Dahmer’s necrophilia and his hobbies involving dead animals (which I won’t go into too much detail about, because it’s truly gruesome). Years later, when he was doing research for this book, Backderf would also learn more details about Dahmer’s inattentive parents; especially his unstable mother who was addicted to prescription meds.
“My Friend Dahmer” is a cautionary tale of what can happen to a society when it doesn’t bother to help disturbed young people, or chooses to ignore red flags. We can’t change psychopaths or cure them, but the more we pay attention, the more trouble we might be able to prevent from happening.
I found “My Friend Dahmer” disturbing, powerful, gripping, and impossible to put down. Although it is not a LoveFraud story, I recommend it to LoveFraud readers if they’re interested in educating themselves about psychopaths, and want to hone their skills in identifying them.
More information about “My Friend Dahmer,” and where it can be purchased: