Top 20 Things Netflixs The Jeffrey Dahmer Story Got Factually Right and Wrong
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Cassondra Feltus
Netflix's The Jeffrey Dahmer Story was certainly thrilling, though some aspects were more factual than others. For this list, we'll be looking at what was fact and what was fiction in Ryan Murphy's Netflix series about the infamous serial killer. Our countdown includes How Ronald Flowers Survived, Victim Impact Statements, Drinking Bags of Blood, Dahmer's Relationship with Tony Hughes, and more!
Welcome to WatchMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Things Netflix’s The Jeffrey Dahmer Story Got Factually Right and Wrong. For this list, we’ll be looking at what was fact and what was fiction in Ryan Murphy’s Netflix series about the infamous serial killer. What did you think of “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story”? Let us know in the comments below.
#20: Officer of the Year Awards
Episode 9 of the series shows Milwaukee police officers John Balcerzak and Joseph Gabrish each receiving an Officer of the Year Award. Though both maintained long careers in law enforcement, they were not given awards. Then-police chief Philip Arreola fired them for gross negligence that led to the death of Konerak Sinthasomphone in 1991. But Balcerzak and Gabrish appealed the decision and were reinstated by 1994 with back pay. In 2005, Balcerzak became president of the Milwaukee Police Association, serving four years, later retiring in 2017. Gabrish joined the Grafton Police Department and later made Captain, eventually becoming Chief of Police in Trenton, Wisconsin, retiring in 2019.
#19: Dahmer Tried to Steal a Corpse
Right before he began his killing spree in Milwaukee, Jeffrey Dahmer looked for a way to quell his disturbing urges by acquiring the dead body of a recently buried young man. He found his photo in the newspaper along with the obituary, attended the funeral, and went back to the cemetery at night to dig up the grave. However, the hardened ground made it impossible for him to break through. This plays out in episode 5 of the series in flashbacks while an incarcerated Dahmer tells investigators about this attempt.
#18: Grandma Threw Out the Mannequin
One of the most intense scenes in the series is in episode 4 when Dahmer comes home to find his mannequin missing from his bedroom. He confronts his grandma, relatively calm at first, but upon finding out she threw it away, he erupts into a furious rage and screams at her. According to Dahmer, his grandma did discover his hidden mannequin but she wasn’t the one to throw it out. Believing that she contacted his father about it, he destroyed it himself, tossing it out with the garbage. It may not seem like a significant inaccuracy, but maybe his relationship with grandma wasn’t as hostile as the series depicted.
#17: Dahmer’s Relationship with Tony Hughes
Whether or not Jeffrey Dahmer and Tony Hughes knew each other before the night he killed Hughes isn’t perfectly clear. In his confession, Dahmer claimed that he met Hughes at Club 219 just hours before taking him back to the apartment. However, Michael Ross, who knew Hughes at the time, appeared in “Conversations with a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes” and said that the two did know each other for a while. Shortly after the Netflix series debuted, Shirley Hughes, Tony’s mother, echoed Dahmer. Referring to the series’ depiction of their romantic relationship, she said it “didn’t happen like that.” With both Dahmer and Tony Hughes deceased, there’s really no way of knowing the truth.
#16: Listened to Whale Noises in Prison
This…is an odd one. Episode 9 shows an imprisoned Jeffrey Dahmer receiving letters and money from his so-called fans. Apparently, he uses some of that cash to purchase a tape of whale sounds to help him sleep. Of course, this irritates the other prisoners. A 1994 article from the Associated Press detailed the high amount of donations he’d received while in prison, and said he spent that money on: “magazines, comic books and cassette recordings - including Gregorian chants and sounds of humpback whales.” It’s true that some people find these sounds relaxing, though many agree with the guard that it sounds more like people dying.
#15: Konerak Met Dahmer Outside a Liquor Store
In episode 2, Jeffrey Dahmer offers to buy alcohol for a group of boys, one of them being Konerak Sinthasomphone. But this isn’t how or where he saw him in real life. Dahmer regularly hung out at Milwaukee’s Grand Avenue Mall where he met some of his victims, including Sinthasomphone on May 26, 1991. He offered him money to pose for photos and the teen agreed to go back to his apartment. Also in the series, Sinthasomphone supposedly recognizes Dahmer as the man who assaulted his older brother years before. However, there’s no evidence that either of them knew who the other was at the time.
#14: Dahmer Called the Families of His Victims
In the 6th episode of the series, Jeffrey Dahmer makes a call to the family of Errol Lindsey, telling his sister that he was gone “into the vortex.” In March 1991, Caroline Smith reportedly received a menacing call from someone telling her to stop looking for her missing brother Edward Smith, last seen in June 1990. When she asked why, the caller said, “Because he’s dead.” The grandparents of Ernest Miller also received calls soon after he went missing in September 1990. One with a man repeating “Help me,” and another making choking sounds. According to former Milwaukee journalist Anne E. Schwartz, Dahmer reportedly admitted to investigators that he did make calls. But no definitive proof has ever confirmed this to be true.
#13: Joyce Dahmer Attempted to Take Her Own Life
Jeffrey Dahmer’s parents Lionel and Joyce had a turbulent marriage. The series has several scenes of their hostile arguments, implied to partially stem from Joyce’s diagnosed postpartum psychosis. The couple finally got divorced in 1978 and Joyce moved out of Ohio with her younger son David. As shown in episode 8, in 1994, just months before her oldest son would die in prison, Joyce tried to take her own life in the kitchen of her Fresno, California home. She left behind a note asking to be cremated and saying she loved her sons. Luckily, she survived. But sadly, this reportedly wasn’t her first attempt. In 2000, Joyce Flint died of breast cancer at the age of 64.
#12: Created a Game Called Infinity Land
Brian Masters’ 1993 book “The Shrine of Jeffrey Dahmer” digs into Dahmer’s isolating childhood. Around nine years old, he came up with his own board game – Infinity Land. He used stick figures as game characters and if they got too close to each other, one of them would end up in a black hole or vortex. Episode 6 shows an adult Dahmer introducing Tony Hughes to the game, leading to him having an outburst while explaining the strict rules. While Infinity Land is based on Dahmer’s real childhood creation, whether or not he played it with any of his victims is unknown.
#11: Drinking Bags of Blood
One of the many jobs Dahmer had over the years was as a phlebotomist at the Milwaukee Blood Plasma Center, as seen in the fourth episode. This is true, however, the scene where he stands in the bathroom mirror and consumes blood from a bag is definitely exaggerated. During the 1991 trial, Dr. Park Dietz, a forensic psychiatrist hired by the prosecution, stated that Dahmer admitted to drinking a vial of blood, only to “see how it tasted.” And he did so while at work, not at home. But ultimately, he wasn’t a fan and spit it out.
#10: How Jeffrey Dahmer Was Caught
Netflix’s limited series about Jeffrey Dahmer begins with the night a would-be victim survived an encounter with the killer. On July 22, 1991, Tracy Edwards spent hours in Dahmer’s apartment in fear, waiting for an opportunity to make his escape. And though the way in which he escaped is depicted differently in the series, Edwards did hit Dahmer and ran out of the apartment. Two policemen went to Dahmer’s residence to obtain the key to unlock the handcuff still on one of Edwards’ wrists. Once they found explicit photos documenting some of the murders, Dahmer was apprehended, putting an end to his reign of terror.
#9: Dahmer Wore Yellow Contacts
One of the lesser known facts about Dahmer was his strange habit of wearing yellow contact lenses. He wore them because he felt connected to two dark characters in his favorite movies — the Emperor from “Star Wars: Return of the Jedi” and the Gemini Killer from “The Exorcist III.” In changing his appearance to resemble these powerful, fictional figures, Dahmer himself felt more powerful and predatory. He repeatedly watched the films before he went out to find another victim to bring home, often making them watch the films with him. Tracy Edwards also testified that while playing “The Exorcist III,” Dahmer was chanting and rocking back and forth.
#8: How Ronald Flowers Survived
Another survivor of Dahmer was Ron Flowers, who met him when his car broke down and Dahmer offered help. He took him to his grandmother’s West Allis residence and drugged his coffee. But Dahmer’s interrupted when his grandmother sees that something is wrong with the young man. She’s adamant about staying with the unconscious guest, making sure he gets on a bus the next morning, but her actual involvement in saving Flowers from her grandson has never been reported. Like in the series, Flowers woke up in County General Hospital. But what isn’t mentioned is that he was also covered in abrasions and believed he might’ve been assaulted. He later testified that he didn’t know how he got there, though the series provides a fictional scenario.
#7: Dahmer Posed in Yearbook Photos
The Netflix series mainly follows Jeffrey Dahmer as an adult. But a flashback to him in high school shows him sneaking into a yearbook picture for the Honor Society, despite not being a member. Yes, he actually did this, and his face was subsequently blacked out of the photo. “My Friend Dahmer”, both the graphic novel and its film adaptation, go further into the prank and the other club photos he infiltrated. Former classmates have described how his bizarre behavior in school quickly went from entertaining to concerning, given his heavy drinking.
#6: Dahmer Killed Dean Vaughn
In Episode 7, Glenda Cleveland meets Dean Vaughn, a new resident of the Oxford Apartments. She sees him talking to Dahmer in the hall and is visibly concerned. The series doesn’t follow through with his story, but Vaughn was really a tenant in the building who was found strangled in his upstairs apartment in early May 1991. Dahmer was questioned about the suspicious death before he was arrested, and again when he was eventually caught. Both times Dahmer denied knowing him and since he was so forthcoming with the 17 murders he committed, investigators believed he was telling the truth. Plus, no evidence was ever found connecting him to the crime. As of 2022, the murder of Dean Vaughn is still unsolved.
#5: Baptized the Same Day as John Wayne Gacy’s Execution
The beginning of the final episode doesn’t open on Jeffrey Dahmer, but rather another infamous serial killer — John Wayne Gacy, aka “The Killer Clown.” In the 1970s, Gacy took the lives of more than 33 young men in Illinois until he was arrested in December 1978. For 14 years, the convicted murderer was on death row at Illinois’ Menard Correctional Center, and on May 10, 1994, Gacy was executed by lethal injection. Meanwhile in Wisconsin, Dahmer was being baptized by Minister Roy Ratcliff. And, as it’s briefly mentioned in the series, a partial solar eclipse also occurred that day. What does it all mean? We don’t know but this connection between two notorious killers is definitely eerie.
#4: Victim Impact Statements
One of the most heartbreaking parts of Jeffrey Dahmer’s 1992 trial was hearing the impact statements. After sitting through the details of his crimes, family members of the victims had the opportunity to address the court. One of the more harrowing statements came from Rita Isbell, the sister of Errol Lindsey. The series recreated the emotionally charged moment with actress DaShawn Barnes, who embodied the palpable pain, anger, and sadness of Isbell in her performance. And Dahmer’s own statement took a lot from the real life one.
#3: Glenda Cleveland Lived at the Oxford Apartments
In the series, actress Niecy Nash plays the role of Glenda Cleveland, a woman who is often overlooked in the Jeffrey Dahmer case. She interacts with him, mostly to complain about the smell and noise coming from his apartment through her vent. The real Cleveland actually lived in the building next to the Oxford Apartments. The character is likely a composite of Cleveland and Pamela Bass, the woman who lived across the hall from Dahmer, who possibly unknowingly consumed human meat given to her by her neighbor. However, Glenda Cleveland did continuously call Milkwaukee police after her daughter Sandra Smith, and niece, Nicole Childress, told her about a boy they tried to help.
#2: Milwaukee Police Officers Returned a Victim Back to Dahmer’s Apartment
In late May 1991, some young women, including Smith and Childress, found Konerak Sinthasomphone stumbling in the streets, not in the Oxford Apartments hallway as shown in the series. They called the police to help the very young-looking boy. But when Dahmer came back to his apartment, he convinced officers Joseph Gabrish and John Balcerzak that Sinthasomphone was of age and his boyfriend. In the series, Cleveland is at the scene confronting police, trying to tell them that he was a minor. Despite protests from the women, the officers escorted Dahmer and his incoherent “boyfriend” back to his apartment. When the police left, Dahmer killed him. Tragically, this poorly handled ordeal actually happened. After Dahmer’s arrest, Gabrish and Balcerzak were suspended but later reinstated.
#1: Dahmer Always Wore His Glasses at Trial
Towards the end of the series, Jeffrey Dahmer goes on trial for the murders. While the majority of the scenes are accurately recreated, there’s one detail that was different. Evan Peters as Dahmer almost always wears the killer’s trademark glasses. But the real Dahmer specifically did not wear glasses throughout most of the trial. His reason? He didn’t want to look the jury or victims’ families in the face. Yes, it’s a small inaccuracy in a largely true to life series. However, his decision to remove his eyewear is significant because it shows that he was unable to face his crimes.