Netflix’s Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story
Ep. 5: “Blood on Their Hands”
Directed by Jennifer Lynch
Written by Ian Brennan
* For a recap & review of Ep. 4, click here.
* For a recap & review of Ep. 6, click here.
It’s 1987. Jeffrey Dahmer was working nightshift at the chocolate factory while still living with grandma. He wasn’t any less isolated, though. And he was still drinking, sneaking the occasional beer into work with his lunch so he could sip one in the break room. He was still very disturbed, too. He saw an obituary in the newspaper and found the young dead guy attractive, so he went to the funeral and the wake. After that, he decided to dig up the corpse. But that didn’t exactly work, the ground was still too hard in March. He’s recounting all this to the detectives in 1991. They want to know what drove him to actually try digging up the body. It’s not, y’know, normal. Jeffrey says he was looking for one thing in his life he’d be able “to control” after living a life dictated by others. Great moment here where Jeffrey forgets the name of Steven Hicks and Detective Murphy (Michael Beach) lashes out, which leans into the Black-white divide here; Dt. Murphy’s probably more emotionally invested because of Dahmer preying on Black men and other men of colour. After that, Jeffrey goes on about how things went after he murdered Steven Tuomi.
Jeffrey talks about going to the bars and taking men back to his grandma’s place where he’d drug them before bringing them downstairs into the cellar where he’d strangle them to death. After that he’d lie with the bodies, pressing his flesh against theirs. Jeffrey says he killed three men at his grandmother’s house: one Black, one “Chicano,” and the other Native American. He claims he didn’t choose his victims due to any preference, only if he thought they were “beautiful,” to which Dt. Murphy takes offence, believing Dahmer targeted his victims and moved to a neighbourhood populated predominantly with people of colour because they were “easier to hunt.” The other white detective just brushes Murphy off and continues to question Dahmer about how things were going at grandma’s house.
Jeffrey tells the detectives that eventually his grandmother began to notice an odd smell. He said he started to triple bag the dismembered body parts to avoid the smell from then on. He explains more about his process of getting rid of the bodies. He says compulsion had “taken over” at that point. Then he casually asks if he can “get the electric chair.” The cops only urge Jeffrey to continue talking. They ask if grandma knew something was up. Clearly the old lady knew something was wrong with her grandson, and she definitely didn’t want to admit or acknowledge Jeffrey was gay despite seeing her grandson bring men home at night.
The smell continued to get bad at grandma’s and she complained, but Jeffrey used the excuse that it was his taxidermy. That didn’t stop the smell. Jeffrey then blamed it on a dead raccoon under the porch. And somehow grandma dealt with it. Probably trying to actively convince herself nothing was TOO wrong with Jeffrey. Things got much worse after grandma discovered Jeffrey’s little Satanic altar in the closet. That was over the line for her. Then Lionel was over at the house, wanting to see and know everything. Jeffrey showed his father around the makeshift workshop downstairs, all conveniently scrubbed up now for the most part, except for a bit of nasty stuff around a drain in the floor. It was passed off as “skunk sludge” from an experiment Jeffrey did with acid. Plus, the altar was passed off as “comic book devil stuff” from a movie. Nothing wrong with Jeffrey Dahmer whatsoever, dad believed.
After that, Jeffrey stopped what he was doing. But he was paranoid, believing he’d be caught for his crimes thus far to that point. Yet nothing ever happened. So that led Jeffrey to hubris somewhat, feeling he wouldn’t get caught, and that made things more difficult to resist. Jeffrey tells the detectives about meeting a guy named Ron (Dyllon Burnside) one night whose car had a dead battery. He offered Ron a jump, but they had to go back to grandma’s house first. He convinced Ron to go and then he cracked a beer when they got there, claiming to look for his keys. He tried luring Ron to the fruit cellar to no avail. He soon pushed Ron into having a coffee, though the latter made it clear they weren’t going to be sleeping together or anything. Unfortunately for Ron the coffee was drugged. Grandma interrupted everything, unaware Jeffrey had “Black friends.” She was worried about Ron, who didn’t look well lying in the chair while the drugs had taken hold. Jeffrey assured grandma that his friend was just too drunk. That didn’t stop grandma, determined to watch over Ron until he woke up. What a mess for Jeffrey.
In the morning, Ron came to, still dizzy from the drugs but at least alive. Jeffrey got Ron onto a bus with grandma still keeping an eye on them. Poor Ron was left there until the driver reached the end of the line, then he wandered off the road and into a field somewhere. Some time later he collapsed, and then woke up in a hospital. A nurse told Ron he overdosed but he told her somebody drugged him. Ron told Detective Rauss (Matt Cordova) his story at the police station. He also told the detective he asked around the bathhouses and heard about a guy named Jeff who’s been drugging people. The cop didn’t have much enthusiasm, even with an address supplied by Ron. This led to Dt. Rauss visiting Jeffrey and grandma to ask a few questions about what happened. As expected, nothing came from it, and Ron’s astounded that the detective’s willing to take the word of “a white man with a criminal record over the word of a Black man” without one. Nasty stuff, and again illustrates the racial politics at play in Dahmer’s crimes going unnoticed by the police.
One night, Ron sees a young Black men getting in a cab with Jeffrey and stops him, telling the guy to stay away. Sad to think that one Black guy had to take it upon himself to police Dahmer while the actual police did nothing. Another night, one of Jeffrey’s intended victims stumbled out of grandma’s house and Jeffrey didn’t go after him because grandma was watching from the window above. It’s almost as if grandma knew. A bit later, the drugged boy returned home to angry parents and passed out upstairs. This boy was Somsack Sinthasomphone. We’ve already seen the moment years ahead of this one, when Jeffrey meets Somsack’s brother, who was sadly murdered after trying to escape Dahmer’s apartment.
Somsack did escape Jeffrey, and it wound up landing Dahmer in court. Yet another failure, though: the legal system did the bare minimum. Jeffrey was afforded every privilege of a young white male possible by the legal system. Brutal to see the Sinthasomphone family across from Lionel in the courtroom while Jeffrey receives all the benefits of being white and the Sinthasomphones receive nothing simply for being people of colour. Not to mention Somsack was forever scarred by trauma after the incident.
Again, Jeffrey had to go back to his family at grandma’s house for one more dinner together before life changed all over again. He was sitting around with Lionel and Shari one night when his father asked about the box at grandma’s house. Dad wanted his box back, ordering his son to get it. Remember? The box Jeffrey kept Tuomi’s head in? Lionel followed Jeffrey upstairs to get the box, then Jeffrey said he lost the key. Dad was convinced there was gay pornography. He rushed to find something to open the box. By the time he got back upstairs Jeffrey claimed to have found the key. Lionel opened the box and found porn magazines; the head was safely stowed away. (In reality, the head was long gone four years prior. Not sure if this moment with Lionel actually happened but it makes for a great bit of fiction. I think the origin of this moment is actually the 2002 film Dahmer starring Jeremy Renner; a great little flick.)
We see more flashbacks to moments between Lionel and Jeffrey, such as when grandma found the mannequin and Lionel questioned his son about it. Then when Jeffrey was discharged. Then when Lionel had to ask his son about what happened at the state fair, the public masturbation incident. Then when Lionel picked Jeffrey up from the police station after the incident with Somsack. All these different moments are incidents where Lionel should’ve known something was deeply wrong with his son. And those moments were just getting increasingly worse. Lionel felt terrible, too. He thought of seeing Somsack’s father in court. Wild moment where the white judge couldn’t understand Mr. Sinthasomphone and made one of the kids get up to speak instead. Yet again, more of the casual/outright racism Dahmer’s victims faced, even the ones he didn’t kill.
Lionel reached out to the judge, hoping to get Jeffrey into a treatment program while he was incarcerated for a year. We skip to a year following Jeffrey’s stint in jail. Lionel went to pick Jeffrey up and tried to start things off positive. The deal was Jeffrey would stay with grandma one last week then find an apartment for himself. When Lionel asked Jeffrey if there was any help for the alcoholism or anything else, Jeffrey tells him: “They just leave you alone in there.” Again we see the long line of failures in institutions from the family to the police to the court system. Nobody did anything to stop Jeffrey, neither did they do anything to try helping him psychologically. And so a while later, Jeffrey found himself at the Milwaukee apartment building where he’d live and commit so many horrific crimes. It’s also where he met a 31-year-old deaf Black man named Tony Hughes (Rodney Burford), another of Dahmer’s unfortunate victims.