For the first time in more than 20 years, Shari Dahmer is hoping to shed some light on what may have caused her “nice, kind boy” to become one of America’s most infamous serial killers.
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Jeffrey Dahmer, a former chocolate factory worker, was sentenced to 15 consecutive life terms in prison in 1992 after he confessed to killing and dismembering 17 boys and young men.
His horrific crimes, which involved torture, necrophilia and cannibalism, continue to shock the nation. So much so that Oxygen Media will explore Dahmer in a new two-night special “Dahmer On Dahmer: A Serial Killer Speaks.”
For the documentary, his father Lionel, along with stepmother Shari, came forward to break their silence about the murderer’s upbringing in Wisconsin.
In 1994, the 34-year-old died when he was bludgeoned to death by a fellow inmate.
Shari, who married Lionel after his divorce from first wife Joyce Flint in 1978, quickly befriended her 18-year-old stepson whom she described as “quiet and respectful.”
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“What I wanted to do, and what most people wanted to do, was mother him,” the 76-year-old told Fox News. “He was just vulnerable. Even if I wasn’t his stepmother all his life, as a mother you sense those things. And he was very vulnerable. He needed love and he needed attention.”
In the special, viewers will learn Joyce privately suffered from mental illness and reportedly took up to 27 pills a day while she was pregnant with her son, including antidepressants, growth hormones and progesterone.
It’s been speculated that the cocktail of prescription medication could have affected the fetus. Shari also revealed Jeffrey’s grandparents allegedly weren’t allowed to hold him as a baby because Joyce was terrified of germs. Lionel also claimed Joyce rarely touched the infant, except to change his diapers or to hold him for a photo.
By the time Shari came into the picture, she noticed a teenage Jeffrey was a heavy drinker.
“When I moved in, I had my own mini bar and the bottles kept lessening in [liquor],” she recalled. “When Jeff got drunk and had his father’s car, he didn’t remember where it was. We had to track the car down one time because he had parked it somewhere and didn’t remember where. But alcohol was the only thing at that time that stood out.”
Shari also dismissed rumors of Jeffrey struggling with his sexuality.
“Frankly, I don’t think anybody questioned his sexuality when he was in high school,” she said. “I don’t think that proved to be a problem… At that time, I didn’t sense Jeff was either heterosexual or homosexual. He didn’t display any tendencies because he didn’t date.”
Jeffrey’s alcoholism, however, was quickly worsening. When college didn’t work to help get his life in order, his parents encouraged him to join the army in 1979. However, that effort would become another failure.
“We thought that if he happened to join the army, that would help him out,” said Shari. “He went into the army and we found out later, he had been to Germany, but the army… sensed there was something wrong.
"He ended up with a discharge and it wasn’t what you would call a dishonorable discharge. He just didn’t fit in. The only reason we knew he had been rejected by the army was that his army trunk was sent to the house.”
The special also revealed that for the first time two of his servicemen, Preston Davis and Billy Capshaw, accused Jeffrey of rape and sexual assault.
Shari claimed she attempted to get Jeffrey psychiatric help.
“We wanted to get Jeff help,” she said. “Lionel would drive him down to the building and Jeff would go to the front door and go out the back door.”
Despite his troubled life, Shari said she never suspected Jeffrey was capable of committing such catastrophic horror, as his crimes would unveil. When Jeffrey later lived on his own, she would visit his one-bedroom Milwaukee apartment.
It was the same apartment where police would find stored body parts of his victims. Shari now believes Jeffrey was covering his grisly tracks from her.
“I taught [the] boys how to clean,” she explained. “When I went to Jeff’s apartment, I went through his refrigerator and his bathroom. I pulled back the bathroom’s shower curtain. At that point, his apartment was perfectly clean. Spotless.”
Her world came crashing down when Jeffrey was arrested in 1991 at age 31 after a man with a pair of handcuffs dangling from his wrists escaped from his apartment and told police he tried to kill him.
Jeffrey told detectives his first slaughter took place in 1978, unbeknownst to anyone. The loner admitted he would lure men at bars and take them back to his apartment where he drugged and murdered them.
“[I thought] I wished I could have taken it on myself,” said Shari when she first heard of Jeffrey’s confession. “I wished I could have taken the burden from him, but of course, I couldn’t do that. That was my first true thought. My God, why is this happening to somebody so young who has so much life to give?”
Despite the public scrutiny, Shari and Lionel refused to change their names.
“I didn’t feel ashamed,” she said. “We were not guilty. That’s where it stood. My family and many people said, ‘Why don’t you change your name?’ We didn’t do anything wrong. Why should we change our name? Lionel would tell you that’s his given name from his father… Because we were not involved, we didn’t feel ashamed in that respect.”
They also never missed a day of their son’s trial.
“… I wanted to know what was happening at the time,” said Shari. “We were ostracized. Some of the victim’s families would point at us and talk about us… [But] Lionel also had two childhood friends up there. People either hated us or they accepted us. And these gentlemen accepted us and they helped protect us… There’s nothing in life that prepares one for a personal situation in the courtroom.”
Still, both Shari and Lionel never stopped loving Jeffery.
“You love the sinner, not the sin,” she admitted. “… It’s in the bible… If you look at the first trial pictures, you see Jeff in lousy clothes. Well, Lionel and I got up there and literally took the suit off of Lionel’s back, shoes, shirt and tie and we gave them to Jeff. So that he can go to court looking decent. [But] he knew there was no way we [could] condone what he did.”
Shari would continue her relationship with Jeffrey behind bars until his death. Today, she and her husband live a quiet life in retirement.
“Life goes on,” she said. “We’re no different than anyone else in the world… Nobody bothers us here, nobody picks on us. We’ve been here 17 years and we’re part of the neighborhood, no more, no less.”
After years of learning to cope with the aftermath of Jeff’s crimes, Shari is now hoping her story will encourage parents to develop a dialogue on mental illness and become more proactive in their children’s lives.
“I hope that they do what a parent should do, which is interact with your children,” she said. “Be aware of what they’re doing, not just what they tell you. You have to observe upon yourself. If you’re a parent, don’t just accept things at face value. I’m one who delved into things. I just [didn’t] accept them.”
"Dahmer On Dahmer: A Serial Killer Speaks" premieres Saturday, November 11 at 7 p.m.