Home News Lionel Dahmer: A Chemist, an Author, and a Father of a Cannibal

Lionel Dahmer: A Chemist, an Author, and a Father of a Cannibal

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lionel dahmer book

Lionel Dahmer has had an extraordinary life. A former research chemist, author, and father to one of history’s most notorious serial killers: Jeffrey Dahmer; how did he cope with learning of his son’s crimes, understand and forgive him, as well as learn from mistakes made as a parent? These are questions explored by Lionel in his 1994 memoir A Father’s Story.

lionel dahmer book
lionel dahmer book

A Troubled Marriage and a Neglected Son

Lionel Dahmer was born in West Allis, Wisconsin to two teachers: a math instructor and history instructor. Throughout his childhood he developed an interest in chemistry that ultimately lead to him attending University of Wisconsin-Madison before marrying Joyce Flint (also an instructor) at age 19.

Early in their marriage, Joyce suffered from mental health issues, seizures, and drug dependency; often bedridden, demanding, and argumentative. Lionel became preoccupied with studies and work, having little time or patience for his wife or their two sons Jeffrey and David; especially Jeffrey born 1960 who showed signs of emotional detachment and antisocial behavior as well as an obsession for dead animals and bones – which Lionel dismissed as harmless curiosity.

Lionel and Joyce divorced when Jeffrey turned 18; shortly thereafter he remarried computer programmer Shari Jordan later that year. Although Lionel made attempts at maintaining relationships with both sons, Jeffrey became increasingly distant and secretive; Lionel remained unaware of his son’s rising alcoholism, homosexuality, and violent fantasies.

A Shocking Discovery and a Painful Trial

Lionel Dahmer received a phone call that forever altered his life in 1991: his son Jeffrey had been charged with the murders of 17 men – most of them young and black – in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Jeffrey had lured them to his apartment before drugging, strangulating, dismembering and cannibalizing them before keeping some parts as souvenirs or trophies.

Lionel was shocked and horrified at hearing about his son’s actions; he could hardly believe that his child could commit such atrocities. Feeling guilty, ashamed, and responsible, Lionel contemplated ways in which he could have prevented such atrocities from taking place; while also feeling compassion and sorrow for a sick and tormented son. Regardless, he decided to stand by and support him throughout his trial process. 

Jeffrey Dahmer was found legally sane and sentenced to 15 life sentences without parole in Wisconsin for 15 counts of murder committed between 1984 and 1991, after initially pleading guilty but insane. He had been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, schizotypal personality disorder, and psychotic disorder; but found to have legally committed the offenses. Dahmer would later commit one more murder in Ohio that also earned a life sentence sentence from authorities there.

Lionel Dahmer regularly visited his son in prison and tried to reconcile. He wrote letters expressing his love, forgiveness and hope for his salvation. He expressed pride at seeing his son admit his crimes while showing remorse; furthermore, he apologized for any failings as a father while asking forgiveness from his son for past failures as a parent.

A Father’s Story and a Legacy of Healing

Lionel Dahmer wrote his memoir A Father’s Story in 1994 to share his journey of coming to terms with his son’s crimes and finding meaning in life. He detailed their troubled marriage, parenting mistakes, his son’s childhood arrest and trial process and death, his own childhood faith values and purpose; saying he wanted this book to assist both himself and others experiencing similar situations by raising awareness for mental illness, child abuse, social isolation as well as to foster compassion forgiveness and healing in them both. 

Lionel Dahmer generated mixed responses from the public. Some applauded his courage, honesty, and humility; others criticised his negligence, denial, complicity and exploiting of his son’s crimes for profit and fame. While others accused him of exploiting them for financial gain and fame; Lionel maintained that he wrote his book not for money or attention but simply to provide closure and provide consolation for victims’ families; part of its proceeds were given directly to this fund for victims’ families. Additionally he received letters thanking him and offering their forgiveness and sympathy – something Lionel said was important in writing the book for himself and not for anyone else but himself.

Lionel Dahmer died in 2023 at age 87 and was survived by both Shari, his second wife, and David, his younger son. He will always be remembered as having handled his son’s criminal activities with dignity, grace, and love; using tragedy as an opportunity to grow, learn, and help others – leaving behind healing and hope for those affected by violence, mental illness or familial discord. He left behind an inspirational legacy which still brings comfort today.

A Father’s Story is a memoir by Lionel Dahmer, the father of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. It chronicles Lionel’s life from his childhood to his son’s arrest, trial, and death. Lionel reveals his struggles with his marriage, his parenting, his guilt, and his faith. He also shares his attempts to understand, forgive, and support his son, despite his horrific crimes. Lionel hopes that his book will help others who face similar challenges and raise awareness of the issues that contributed to his son’s downfall. A Father’s Story is a candid and courageous account of a father’s love and pain.