You’re right. I never thought about it like that, but since this film has come out, I was actually kind of shocked. Chris Thompson taped me for about six or seven hours... and I felt so comfortable with him that I did admit things to him that I had never admitted before or hadn’t really thought about before. I don’t want to say it was like a catharsis, because it wasn’t that deep. But I did find myself opening up to Chris about things that I’d only ever talked about with close, personal friends. And things I never would have admitted it to other police officers at the time because you would have been considered a pussy.
Did it take much convincing for you to agree to become involved with this project?
Oh, yeah. I had been asked for interviews with Geraldo an Oprah. There’s a guy who made a slasher movie and a guy who made a comic book and they had contacted me and offered me money. Inside Edition even offered me like $30,000 for a personal interview. But, number one, I didn't want to get fired from my job, especially as I had three kids to support. But number two, you could tell that they didn’t care about the issues of gender and class and race. They just wanted to exploit. And I didn’t want to be involved in exploiting 17 dead people.
I actually showed this film to one of my classes at UWM and, after the film, a student came up to me and she is actually the sister of one of Dahmer’s victims. I always put a caveat that people don’t have to stay if they’re squeamish. And she said, ‘No, I want to thank you for making the movie. It actually answered a lot of questions. And when it’s distributed, I’m going to try and convince my whole family to go see it because I think it will make them feel better about the whole thing."
The thing that struck me the most, from my own personal life, was that the more I talked to Jeff the more I realized how much each and every one of us keep to ourselves; how much we don’t know and will never know about other people—even those people that we love and know the most.
That’s really the highest compliment one could get.
I called Chris right away and told him, “You did a great job!” Because he was very concerned about some of the blowback. And I told him I didn’t think he was going to get any. He has made a very tender, delicate film about a very bizarre issue"
You mentioned before the officers who saw the boy with Dahmer and sent him back. Going back to that: What has always struck me in interviews with Dahmer is his demeanor, which is very calm and matter-of-fact. For lack of a better term, he just seems very "normal." Do you think that that, too, played a part in the officers believing him over his victim?
Right, right. To tell you the truth, later on when he went into accounts of what he did he did get into this staccato, almost monotone calm. And I think that’s because he decided to do that later on. But in the six weeks that I was with him—and especially the first night—I saw him cry, I saw him get angry, I saw rage. He was six-feet and 175 pounds of muscle; he was a powerful man. There were a couple of times in that little interrogation room where he got up in a rage to talk about what was happening. Normally when a suspect does that, I get up too so that I don’t get assaulted. But I decided purposely to let him roam a little bit.
Also, when we weren’t talking about his deeds, I had breakfast and lunch with him. I would bring him the newspaper and say, ‘Hey Jeff, look what they’re saying about you today.’ And some crazy women sent him pictures and letters saying they wanted to help with his defense. So I got to see him in normal times, when he was laughing and eating. I saw him cry when he worried about what his grandmother was going to think of him. I saw him as a human being.
People always say, “You looked into the eyes of evil!” But to tell you truth I never really felt like I did.
What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
To me, I’m hoping that the issues of race, gender and class that just bubble beneath the surface of Chris’ very intimate film will start these conversations. How is it, in 21st-century America, that this man could live within our community and commit these acts—even living next door—and people don’t know about it? The thing that struck me the most, from my own personal life, was that the more I talked to Jeff the more I realized how much each and every one of us keep to ourselves; how much we don’t know and will never know about other people—even those people that we love and know the most. It made me think, what are the things that I’ve kept private to myself that nobody knows about?
This was a very powerful feeling for Jeffrey Dahmer; he really relished that, for 13 years, he had this secret world that nobody knew about it. It empowered him. He told me that the more he got away with it, the more that he fooled authority figures, the bigger rush he got out of it. He really felt that he had created an alternate universe that he could dip into and come out of and nobody knew about it.
Looking back now, do you ever wish that you had been on vacation at the time this case unfolded?
No. I ended up getting a divorce, and it changed the direction of my whole life. But in general I’m pleased with my life. I tried to put it behind me but with the 20-year anniversary and this film it kind of came back up again. But I use it quite a bit in my academic field and it actually formed the basis of the dissertation for my PhD, so I’ve used it as something to pursue my academic change. The reason I went back to get my PhD is because I wanted to change police policy. And I knew I couldn’t do it without the credentials behind me. So that’s what I’m actively engaged in doing right now in Milwaukee.
Interview by Jennifer M. Wood (j_m_wood)
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