This story was brought to you by true crime author Arthur Jay Harris. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any agency of the U.S. government.
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After Jeffrey Dahmer was arrested in Milwaukee in 1991 he said he’d confessed to all his crimes, 17 murders in all.
Before his capture, Dahmer was an experienced, successful liar to police, the courts, his family, and maybe everyone he’d come in contact with. Caged, however, Dahmer was seen as the leopard who had changed his spots.
What helped convince police of that was that Dahmer copped to a few murders for which there was no evidence present in his apartment. Of course, in that apartment were eleven heads in his refrigerator, closets, and elsewhere, and other assorted (and sordid) body parts he’d severed and kept.
As we saw in his television interviews, in prison, Dahmer spoke in a manner surprisingly intelligent (if not brilliant), forthright, and even humble. As serial killers go, it was a pleasure to meet him, at least incarcerated. He reminded no one of Charles Manson.
With his conviction on 15 murders in Wisconsin, plus one in Ohio which was never prosecuted, the story about the decapitator was kaput. No straggling Dahmer murders would show up later, we were convinced.
According to his admissions, there is a significant gap in his murderous résumé. He killed in 1978, just after he graduated high school in Ohio and was left alone by his parents for the summer, but not again until 1987, living on his own as an adult in Milwaukee.
Some of this seems to make sense because for at least some of the time in between he was living in close quarters with others. But Dahmer didn’t do well then. In the fall of 1978 he lived in a dorm with roommates at Ohio State University for what turned out to be a failed semester. Then his father demanded he join the Army, starting in January 1979. He enrolled in military police training but was kicked out, then was placed in medic training. In July 1979 the Army sent him to its base in Baumholder, Germany.
For the more than a year and a half while Dahmer was there, within about a 50 kilometer radius of the base there were perhaps a dozen mutilation murders, apparently ending after Dahmer left.
At the time, the entire country of Germany had an annual murder rate of about 200-300.
Arrested in Milwaukee, Dahmer said his preference for victims was young males. The German victims were women. Still, German polizei came to Milwaukee to ask Dahmer if he was responsible for any of them. He said no.
Who would know more about Dahmer in the Army than his bunkmate?
For 13 months, Billy Capshaw endured and barely survived Jeff Dahmer, who repeatedly physically and sexually traumatized him. Before he could overcome his shame and publicly speak of it, Capshaw underwent twenty years of therapy. As his psychiatrist documents, Dahmer controlled, drugged, tortured and effectively imprisoned him. Capshaw tells his story in the recent movie Justice Denied and in more detail in a chapter of the book The Unsolved Murder of Adam Walsh. To prove it, he has documentation from the Army — and multiple permanent scars over his body.
In the barracks where they lived, the room doors key-locked from both sides. Dahmer denied Capshaw a key, so when Jeff would leave, Billy would be stuck inside. Other soldiers in the barracks wouldn’t help him. Once he jumped out a window but it was high up and Billy damaged his legs.
Dahmer could be gone for an entire weekend, leaving Billy without food. Looking for some, Billy would go through Dahmer’s possessions. He could partially open Dahmer’s locker, and inside many times he found bloody military knives. Capshaw would always throw them out the window.
More than once, Capshaw said, after Dahmer returned from weekend leaves he’d be soaked with dried blood, his clothes and skin stuck together. Also, twice, military police dragged Jeff to their room, one time with his pants down. He’d been caught masturbating in a public park in front of children.
The Army threw Dahmer out before his three-year enlistment ended, citing alcoholism. On discharge, soldiers could get a one-way commercial air ticket home but Dahmer didn’t use his to go to Ohio, where he expected his dad would be livid. Instead, he said, he flew to Miami.
That was March 1981. From savings he rented a hotel room in Miami Beach but his money quickly ran out, he said, so he had to slum on the sand. When a sub-and-pizza shop manager saw him rummaging for food in his dumpster, he invited him in to eat and gave him a busboy’s job, the manager said.
Although Dahmer told Milwaukee Police he’d spent the summer of 1981 in Miami Beach, there was no proof of it until an author found a Miami police report dated July 7, 1981. In it, Dahmer reported finding a dead body next to the same dumpster behind the sub shop. When Dahmer told him, the manager said, he rushed out to see it then called police.
Dahmer — a dead body — he “discovered” it? How coincidental. He never mentioned it to anyone after his arrest in Milwaukee.
Six days after the police report, July 13, in a Sears store in a shopping mall about 50 miles north of the sub shop, a terrified 10-year-old boy was chased running through the store by a man he said wanted to grab and take him. The man got away. But two witnesses saw the man and made composite drawings for police.
Two weeks after that, July 27, in another Sears store this time the closest to where Dahmer worked, a six-year-old boy whose mother said she left him alone in the toy department for a few minutes disappeared.
That child’s name was Adam Walsh. Another two weeks later, a child’s severed head was found more than 125 miles north of where Dahmer worked, and the next day, it was identified as Adam. The case would become one of the most famous child abduction cases in America.
Immediately after Dahmer’s arrest in 1991 and his admission that he’d been in the Miami area in 1981, an astute FBI agent made a connection: Dahmer: 11 severed heads. Adam Walsh: severed head.
That, too, could have been coincidental. For one thing, Dahmer denied he had a vehicle in Miami, which considering his recent homelessness, was plausible.
But the sub-and-pizza shop (and its nearby sister pizza restaurant) had pizza delivery vehicles, said its manager and seven more employees and friends and neighbors of the stores. One, a blue van, was easily and often taken by those employees and friends of the store for personal use, no permission necessary, and it would often disappear overnight.
At the Sears where Adam Walsh was last seen, police’s best early witness was a child who said he saw Adam leave, involuntarily, in a blue van. Although police later dismissed that witness, three other police witnesses also said they saw a blue van parked in the same spot just outside of the Sears entrance. One of them said he saw a man throw a protesting child into the blue van.
The man who the witness identified was Dahmer.
As did six other police witnesses at that Sears shopping center that day, five of whom said they saw Dahmer with or very near Adam Walsh.
But after a cursory investigation in 1991 into Dahmer’s possible involvement in the Walsh kidnapping, police dismissed Dahmer as a suspect.