What is real and what is fiction in Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan’s Netflix series starring Evan Peters?
Netflix’s “Dahmer,” created by Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, seeks to provide a more progressive look at Milwaukee serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who killed 17 men and boys over the course of a decade and a half.
Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, as the actual title reads, addresses this progressive view in two ways, but also, covertly, in a third.
The series explores how internal law enforcement failures ultimately enabled Dahmer’s killing spree. Much of the 10-hour episodes are also devoted to giving victims a voice and face that is often overlooked by similar fictional serial killer shows and films; but he also manages, whether on purpose or not, to humanize Dahmer’s occasional guilt or self-doubt or sense of futility regarding the murders and himself, to some extent.
This has already proved a major problem for the victims’ families – including Eric Perry, cousin of Errol Lindsey, whom Dahmer lured back to his apartment to drug and strangle – who understandably feel that the Show chooses to support true crime fans rather than respectfully honoring the victims.
The show’s production team denied any effort to take advantage of the pain of the surviving families or to re-traumatize them. “Dahmer – Monster” isn’t as gruesome as one would expect, although it’s certainly brutal at times. But any series like this is inherently exploitative, as it de-degrades and re-degrades suffering and pain, and feeds the cultural thirst for true crime horror without, as Perry claimed, discussing the production with the families of the victims.
Add to that the fact that Dahmer is played by Evan Peters, just as handsome and popular an actor as any of Ryan Murphy’s stable. (He previously starred in shows like the American Horror Story franchise and Pose.) Dahmer has long been romanticized by viewers, dating back to his incarceration where (as portrayed in the series) “fans” wrote him love letters and gifts and even published a comic book immortalizing his, um, accomplishments. The casting of Evan Peters, here with bleached blonde hair and aviator goggles, does nothing to quell the argument that “Dahmer” is, at least in part, romanticizing the serial killer itself.
All of this coalesces into a largely exploitative and traumatizing affair on Netflix, while largely compelling despite committing the cardinal but often-repeated streamer sin of too many hour-long episodes. “Dahmer” could have gotten away with six, although there’s one standout hour that couldn’t be cut at all (episode 6, “Silenced”), which was Dahmer’s 1991 victim, Tony Hughes, a deaf aspiring model and actor, played by Rodney , follows Burford.
Let’s examine the main facts and fiction presented in “Dahmer”.
1. Who is Glenda Cleveland?
The strongest aspect of the show is Niecy Nash’s wonderful and empathetic performance as Glenda Cleveland, seen here as Dahmer’s neighbor at the Oxford Apartments on 25th Street. Throughout the series, she has repeatedly attempted to warn local law enforcement about the activities at Apartment 213, where Dahmer sexually assaults and then strangles and dismembers his victims. The show’s most terrifying moments don’t happen on camera, but can be heard through the vents that connect adjoining apartments when Nash’s Glenda can’t sleep at night because of the sounds of screams and drill saws echoing through the ducts.
While Glenda Cleveland did indeed exist, the real person lived in a building next door to Dahmer’s rather than the literal apartment next door as seen here. Murphy and Brennan’s Cleveland is a composite character combining the real Glenda Cleveland with Dahmer’s actual neighbor named Pamela Bass. For further reading, the (not so bad actually) 2012 documentary The Jeffrey Dahmer Files features exclusive new interviews with Bass overhearing what Dahmer was up to, hearing screams and the sounds of saws and bones breaking in the night while they bear the brunt of the terrible stench of rotting flesh.
This odor filled the entire apartment building, leading to it being demolished and its tenants evicted shortly after Dahmer eventually went to jail. Cleveland, who lived in the building next door, observed the 1991 incident (Dahmer’s final and terribly prolific year of murders) involving 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone (more on him in a moment), in which Sinthasomphone attempted to escape from Dahmer’s apartment, dazed and under drugged and was turned back by the police.
2. What happened to Konerak Sinthasomphone?
I can’t stop thinking about that disturbing scene from DAHMER where one of Jeffrey Dahmer’s victims finally manages to escape… and the police actually bring him back to the apartment.
Now on Netflix. pic.twitter.com/vcsFWOco0p
– Netflix (@netflix) September 21, 2022
Perhaps the most horrifying and infamous of Dahmer’s murders is the story of the Laotian boy Konerak Sinthasomphone (Kieran Tamondong), a 14-year-old on whom Dahmer experimented with his method of drilling a hole in the victims’ skulls and then filling it with hydrochloric acid in an attempt to make some sort of inanimate sex zombie. Dahmer’s method wasn’t initially successful, because when he went out to get more beer (Dahmer was a restless alcoholic, as the show keeps hammering right home), he found Sinthasomphone confused and stumbling in the street.
Dahmer was able to convince the two police offers who found him, John Balcerzak and Joseph Gabrish, that Sinthasomphone was his friend living with him and that his condition was simply the result of a love dispute. Meanwhile, neighbors including Glenda Cleveland stood by in disbelief as white cops chose to believe a creepy white man from a group of black parishioners in a poor, underserved neighborhood who stood by with deep concern while law enforcement repeatedly failed to take action.
So Sinthasomphone was escorted back to Dahmer’s apartment, where his skull was reinjected with acid, which proved fatal, before his body was dismembered and the head stored in Dahmer’s freezer.
Unfortunately, this is all true. However, what is not true is that as revealed in the last episode, officers Balcerzak and Gabrish ever received the Officer of the Year award. They were suspended after the Sinthasomphone incident, thanks to the efforts of Glenda Cleveland and Reverend Jesse Jackson, but were reinstated in their jobs in 1994.
3. And what about his brother?
In addition, in a truly horrifying coincidence, Dahmer had previously terrorized the Sinthasomphone family. In 1988, Dahmer was sentenced to a year’s probation for molesting Sinthasomphone’s older brother before murdering Konerak. (Dahmer insisted in later statements that it was pure coincidence and that they had met at the Grand Avenue Mall while Dahmer was on the show buying the teen beer and made no connection between the brothers.)
Judge William Gardner received much criticism after Dahmer’s final arrest for the leniency of the harassment sentence. On the show, he painted negatively at a moment when he doesn’t seem to understand Sounthone Sinthasomphone’s broken English, but Anne E. Schwartz’ book Monster: The True Story of the Jeffrey Dahmer Murders shows that the Sinthasomophone -Family not present at 1988 sentencing.
4. What happened to Tony Hughes?
In episode 6, “Silenced,” directed by Paris Barclay, Dahmer is shown more or less courting 31-year-old deaf Tony Hughes throughout 1991 in Milwaukee, first meeting him at a gay bar and then continuing to date him. The episode also sees Dahmer in his most human form, appearing to have genuine feelings and even tenderness for Hughes. But then, of course, when Hughes has to go to work after their first night together, Dahmer hits him off-camera with a hammer and, as implied, experiments sexually with his corpse.
In reality, according to a friend of Hughes’, Dahmer knew Tony Hughes as early as 1989. In his confession, Dahmer said he never met Hughes before the night he was murdered. However, Hughes’ friend said Dahmer had been searched for Hughes several times in the years leading up to his assassination. Hughes’ disappearance was reported in the newspaper before the confessions came out that Dahmer had killed him.
5. What about the family testimonies in the final judgment scene?
What the show most aptly covers in Episode 8, named “Lionel” after Dahmer’s father and directed by Gregg Araki, is Dahmer’s trial after he achieved international infamy as a murderer, necrophile, and cannibal. It’s also what’s now the most controversial moment on the show, as it carefully recreates, word for word, actual testimonies from the trial — particularly at a key moment when victims’ relatives were allowed to speak on the stand and address Dahmer directly.
This includes a scene with angry Rita Isbell (played here by DaShawn “Dash” Barnes), the sister of Errol Lindsey, one of Dahmer’s final victims. After yelling “I hate you motherfucker” at Dahmer, she is shown trying to lunge at him before being escorted out of the courtroom by security guards.
That really did happen, and it’s a re-enactment that’s proved extremely disturbing for Lindsey’s cousin, who took to Twitter over the weekend to ask why we still need this Another Dahmer retold at all.
“I don’t tell anyone what to watch, I know true crime media is huge but if you’re really curious about the victims my family (the Isbells) is mad at this show,” he wrote. “Reenacting my cousin having an emotional breakdown in court over the man who tortured and murdered her brother is WILD.”
The murders are public knowledge, so the production was reportedly under no obligation to seek permission or notify families about the series.
“So if they say they’re doing it ‘with respect for the victims’ or ‘honoring the dignity of families,’ nobody gets in touch with them,” he wrote. “My cousins are waking up to a series of calls and texts every few months at this point, knowing there’s another Dahmer show coming up. It’s cruel.”
“Dahmer” is now streaming on Netflix.
https://www.indiewire.com/2022/09/dahmer-netflix-whats-real-whats-fiction-1234766516/ ‘Dahmer’ on Netflix: What is real, what is fiction