Skip to main content

Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer, the Milwaukee Cannibal and subject of the upcoming Netflix docuseries Conversations with a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes, murdered 17 people of Black and Hispanic descent from 1978 until his arrest in 1991.

American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who was placed under arrest four times before his murder conviction in 1992
Jeffrey Dahmer’s 1982 Mugshot | Bureau of Prisons/Getty Images

However, Dahmer’s arrest for murder wasn’t the first time police took him into custody. The serial killer was arrested three times before that. Find out why. 

Jeffrey Dahmer’s first arrest happened in September 1981 after his military discharge 

Before joining the military, Dahmer had already experienced his first kill in 1978. He wouldn’t murder again until 1987, but Dahmer told authorities the urge was always there while he was overseas. “There just wasn’t an opportunity to fully express what I wanted to do,” his file reads. “There was just not the physical opportunity to do it then.”

According to the FBI’s record on Dahmer, he joined the United States Army in 1979 upon his father’s urging. He was stationed in Germany but was discharged in 1981 due to his excessive drinking. 

In 1981, Dahmer was arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct. He was fined, received a suspended jail sentence, and then sent to live with his grandmother. 

Jeffrey Dahmer’s arrest for indecent exposure in 1982 

Less than a year after his first arrest, Dahmer was arrested in August 1982 for indecent exposure at a Wisconsin State Fair Park. He was convicted and fined $50 for his crime. 

Jeffrey Dahmer's 1982 mugshot for indecent exposure
Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer shown in a police mug shot from his 1982 arrest at the Wisconsin State Fair for indecent exposure | Ralf-Finn Hestoft/Corbis via Getty Images

The serial killer’s third arrest happened in 1986 

Dahmer was arrested for a third time in August 1986. He was charged with disorderly conduct for masturbating in front of two boys. Dahmer was sentenced to one year of probation and had to attend counseling. 

Jeffrey Dahmer’s sexual assault charges 

In September 1988, Dahmer was arrested once again for sexual assault. After moving out of his grandmother’s and into his own apartment, Dahmer was charged with second-degree sexual assault and enticing a child when he lured 13-year-old Keison Sinthasomphone, the brother of Dahmer’s later victim Konerak.

He drugged and molested the boy, but he escaped. Dahmer spent a week in jail before he was released on bail. 

How was Jeffrey Dahmer finally caught for murder? 

Tracy Edwards, the man who escaped Dahmer, played a big part in his final arrest on July 22, 1991. After breaking free from Dahmer’s apartment, Edwards ran into two Milwaukee police offers. He told them a “freak” placed him in handcuffs. 


Jeffrey Dahmer’s Brother, David, Is Still Alive But Changed His Name

Then, Edwards led police back to Dahmer’s apartment, where the serial killer invited them in. Police found polaroid photos of Dahmer’s previous victims in various states of dismemberment. They also found human remains in Dahmer’s refrigerator and freezer, as well as decomposed body parts in an oil drum in his bedroom.

Dahmer attempted to escape but was ultimately arrested. After admitting to 17 murders at his 1992 trial, the judge sentenced Dahmer to multiple life sentences. However, Dahmer was killed in prison by fellow inmate Christopher Scarver in 1994.

Learn more about Dahmer’s story and his victims in Ryan Murphy’s DAHMER — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story