Saturday, July 21, 2012

Why not piss off another of my alma maters?

I'm probably persona non grata at my old high school, as you can well imagine. Especially with all the worldwide press this book has received. The names Dahmer and Revere High School are even  more cemented together, thanks to me. Sorry about that. But why stop there? Dahmer and I also both attended Ohio State University, although not at the same time. Might as well cheese off the suits at that institution, too, no?

Jeff attended OSU in Fall Quarter 1978, starting in mid-September. Ohio State had an open admissions policy at the time, meaning any resident of the state was admitted without question. A high school diploma was all that was needed. It was either sink or swim and Freshman dropout rates were embarrassingly high, but it was an admirable, populist system.  Me, I excelled at Ohio State, a school I wouldn't even be accepted at today. By the time I was done, I had earned a full scholarship. Today my photo hangs in two buildings and the Derf Collection is in the famous Ohio State Cartoon Museum, the world's top institution of comix and cartoon art. Dahmer's experience at OSU, however, was altogether different.

His Dad, Lionel, forced him to enroll, as he writes in his memoir A Father's Story. Jeff displayed very little interest in college, or in anything, after high school. He loafed about all day at home and drank. So great was his consumption that Lionel, for the first time, became aware of it. Even then, Lionel didn't realize the shocking amount of alcohol his son was consuming on a daily basis. His admonishments fell on deaf ears. Jeff languished in the house, staring out the large windows at the wooded hillside. Inside his head, a film loop of murder, necrophilia and butchery played non-stop. A horror show he couldn't switch off. Jeff's terrible secret, of course, was the reason for his drunken state. He had already killed, and had sex with and butchered his first victim's corpse. In fact, the remains of Steven Hicks were hidden in a drainage pipe mere feet from the driveway at the Dahmer house! Lionel hadn't the slightest hint of the thoughts and all-consuming compulsions that were gurgling in his son's brain. But he was alarmed at Jeff's total lack of purpose or interest in his future. Lionel was a driven man, a research chemist, and his distant and disinterested son perplexed and frustrated him. Jeff had always been an inscrutable mystery to Lionel. Now he was a fast growing source of aggravation.

Come September, after a summer of idleness, Lionel forced Jeff to pack his things and Lionel and his new live-in girlfriend drove him to Columbus. Jeff had a room in the dreaded Morrill Tower, one of two recently constructed high-rise dorms on the far west side of campus. They were only a few years old in 1978, but already had the rep of being hellholes. Students were housed in "pods," which were as awful as they sound. A pod consisted of a central living area with four cramped bedrooms off it, each with four residents and two bunk beds. The 16 "podmates" shared a bathroom and a living area.  Roommate squabbles were common. Freshman who were unlucky enough to be assigned to one of the Towers scrambled to get transferred to other dorms.

Morrill Tower (foreground) in 1977.

Floorplan of a Morrill Tower "pod"

To make it even worse, the Towers were completely isolated from the rest of the campus. It was a long hike across the open intramural athletic fields  and past hulking Ohio Stadium to the main campus. It is even farther to High Street, the mile-long strip of bars, eateries and shops that borders the eastern edge of campus and is the heart of student life. 

Dahmer had no interest in college. He slept until afternoon, ate a solitary lunch at the dorm  cafeteria, walked to High Street bars or carry-outs in the late afternoon, got shitfaced, and  staggered back to his dorm in the wee hours of the morning, collapsed in bed, and slept until the next afternoon when he rose to do it all over again. Every single day. Week after week. There were 20 or so high school classmates who also went to Ohio State, but the only one who ever saw Dahmer was Penny Smith (name changed) who came across Jeff passed out cold on the sidewalk outside a HIgh Street bar.  She was unable to revive him out of his drunken stupor and left him there, sprawled among the filth and litter, and puddles of sick and urine.
Occasionally, probably out of boredom or fear of his father's anger, he attended a class or two. Often he would sneak booze in with him in a pop can, much in the way he had hidden booze in a styrofoam coffee cup as he lurched through the halls of Revere High School. Jeff's roommates regarded him as a freak. He was ignored, and within weeks, disinterest turned to open dislike. They grew increasingly alarmed by Dahmer's drunken state and bizarre manner. And for good reason! I can tell you firsthand that Jeff was completely unlikeable by the end of high school. And that was before he committed his first unspeakable, depraved crime! Now he was an inhuman wretch, haunted by the monstrous acts he had committed on poor Steven Hicks and living in blind terror that someone would discover the decomposing remains in the drainage pipe. A pathetic parasite, wriggling through the rotting rubble of his life while sucking on a bottle of booze.
I cannot imagine being trapped in a dorm room with this guy! Can you picture his roommates' confusion and shock over those first few days together as Dahmer's everyday dysfunctional behavior came sharply into focus? I saw how Dahmer drank, gulping down booze. It made my skin crawl. And these guys had to sleep in the same, small room with him! Dahmer decorated his area in the bedroom with a small picture of his dog, Frisky, a snakeskin he found in the woods around his house (one of his many dead animal treasures and they only one "normal" enough to keep with him at college) and, mostly, with empty booze bottles. This was a fairly common trophy in the party-hearty Seventies, but the collection grew so fast and his consumption was so obviously excessive, far beyond even the most stoned-out loser, it quickly became creepy. 

Tensions grew. One of his roommates moved out when a space in another bedroom opened. The others complained to a dorm official about Dahmer, but were told to "work it out." As long as it didn't come to blows, this was the common "solution" back then to roommate troubles. (I myself was having horrible roommate problems at my dorm at the Pittsburgh Art Institute). Things began disappearing in the pod. Dahmer was immediately suspected of the thefts. His podmates called campus police and Jeff was detained and questioned in November 1978 about the theft of a radio, watch, and $100 cash from the room during a party but, as would become his m.o., Jeff admitted nothing and didn't crack under questioning. No charges were filed. His podmates started locking their doors and hiding their things. They threatened Jeff, but he responded only with the blank stare that was his trademark. 
As the quarter progressed and the weather turned colder and wetter, Dahmer became less willing to go out and make the long trek across the wind-whipped tundra. He bought cases of beer and bottles of wine and whiskey and consuming them alone in his dorm room bunk until he passed out. Booze wasn’t cheap and Dahmer quickly ran through the weekly allowance his father sent him to live on. To fund his alcohol purchases, Jeff sold plasma and blood at a blood bank on South High Street for $10 a pop. It was a joking cliche for cash-strapped students to sell plasma, but  Dahmer became such a frequent visitor that his name was put on a list with junkies and winos whose visits were restricted for their health’s sake. 
Ad for the Plasma Center from the student newspaper, 1978

The quarter ended in early December. Dahmer returned home to Bath. When his grades arrived a week later, he had failed almost every one of his courses. His overall GPA was 0.45. His dad was aghast and furious. Jeff responded with a shrug and a silent stare at the floor as Lionel chewed him out and told him he would not be returning to Oho State. Lionel writes that Jeff seemed "relieved" at the news.
The first week of January, when school resumed, Lionel drove down to Morrill Tower to collect his son's things. Jeff did not accompany him. When he met Jeff's roommates, they described in detail his son's daily regimen of alcohol. Lionel was absolutely dumbfounded. For the first time, Jeff's shocking and disturbing behavior emerged from the shadows. At that point, Jeff had been binge drinking... for TWO AND A HALF YEARS!

I started at Ohio State nine months later, after dropping out of art school and working as a garbageman in our hometown. Dahmer was long gone by that point, having joined the army under his father's insistence and shipped off to a base in Germany. I ran into many old classmates during my four years on campus. Dahmer's name never came up.

Dahmer's brief time at Ohio State is now part of campus lore.


  1. I've been enjoying your blog and book "My friend Dahmer" but I think you are misremembering the placement of Morrill tower. I currently live in Upper Arlington, just off campus and ride my bike from UA to High Street and I pass the intramural fields before reaching the tower and stadium which are both only a stones throw from High Street and connected to the quad or whatever they call it. Admittedly I never attended the University and perhaps I'm not understanding the layout of the campus, but Morrill Tower seems pretty connected to the rest of the campus. It may suck, but it seems close.

  2. Ha. We're really entering deep trivia here. You're correct, you don't understand the layout of campus.

    The Towers are on the western edge of the main campus. To get to High Street, the most direct walking route is due east over the intramural fields (at least three football fields in length), through several blocks of campus buildings, then across the Oval (not the quad, as you call it) and finally to High St. The campus bars in our day were a further hike, either south of 12th St. or north of Lane Ave. It's about half a mile in a straight line to High St., then further to the bars. Believe me, in February, that was quite a chilly jaunt. Jeff didn't have a bike like you. I well remember trudging across the Oval alone on frigid winter mornings. No fun. And that wind-whipped intramural field? No way. Most kids in the TYowers packed onto the campus buses to get to class. All the other dorms at OSU are half a block from High Street. It was a huge difference in campus experience. Still is, I imagine.

  3. Well written post, but small correction - in the picture of the Towers, it's actually Lincoln Tower in the foreground. Morrill Tower is the one in the background.

    Also, as a second year student in Morrill Tower, I'd have to disagree with it being a horrendous dorm. It's definitely far from the rest of campus, but the set up has its positives and most students don't hate it or anything.

  4. I lived in Lincoln Tower my freshman year, 1969-1970. Tyler is correct. The angle of the photo (taken on Cannon Drive looking north) has Lincoln Tower in the foreground with Morrill Tower in the background. Back in the day, Lincoln and Morrill did seem somewhat afar from the main campus mostly because you walked across a huge expanse of open fields (going east) before you reached your first campus buildings. Winter, that year was brutal which made the trek seem even more distant. 18 year olds could legally drink 3.2 beer so the trip to High Street was even further away. We didn't have buses in my day so it was all walking.

    I would never give up my experience in Lincoln. I remember more about my freshman year then any other, but I would not want to EVER live there again. 16 guys in close quarters? Sorry, I am a pacifist, but even I got into fist fights and most of it has to do with the close quarters we were in, i.e. someone gets on your nerves you can't get away. We never had 16 guys. One guy arrived and left before I found my way to Ohio State from where I graduated High School - Derby, Kansas. "You aren't in Kansas anymore" never rang truer for someone then me! One room had 4 guys from St. Joe's High School in Cleveland. We called them the "bustin ball boys" because of all the shenanigans they got into, i.e. sex, drugs, alcohol, etc. Remember - marijuana was a felony charge in those days! It wasn't for the timid to be living among such scoundrels - at least for a boy from Kansas.

    One last major point: In 1969 tuition for the quarter was $110; room and board in the dorm was $290 for a grand total of $400. That left me $100 for books and incidentals (I got $500 a quarter for college). Of course, BBF sold burgers for 15 cents and the most expensive book we had for one of our college courses was just less then $10.

  5. Yes, those were the days, when a kid could put himself through school with a small loan or two and a campus job. By 1978, when Jeff went to Ohio State, tuition was roughly $380 a quarter (three quarters in a school year). Room and board was twice that, around $800 a quarter. Quite a shocking difference to what kids pay today, for the same crappy rooms and food. Not that Jeff was paying his own way. His dad footed that bill. And when his Fall Quarter grades arrived, Lionel refused to pay for any more.

  6. Tuition rapidly rose the 4 years I was there. Gordon Gee (before he left) was promoting campus living for the first two years of college, requiring all freshmen and sophomores to live on campus. LOL. Revolutionary? Not really! When I attended OSU - that was the rule. Over the years it was relaxed since campus housing could not keep up with student needs. My sophomore year I lived in Smith Hall and a 2 man room. Much better!

    Sorry - but I thought the food was OK back in 1969. Maybe it got worse but not enough to turn any sane person into Hannibal the Cannibal.

    I never worked during the school year until my senior year when I was taking 12 hours a quarter to finish up my major. Worked my butt off during the summer to save money for college. I still left college owing $4900 which was an interest free loan guaranteed by the government.

    Interest free loans to promote education? What a revolutionary thought. I was repaying my loan at $70/month which nearly equaled my car payment of $73/month. I bought an brand-new orange colored AMC Gremlin upon graduation.

    My first job out of college paid $9,600 (1973). The average annual salary for a graduate with a business degree was $8,400 so I was the envy of all my friends.

    While that $4,900 doesn't seem a lot it was half a years salary. Today, the computer I am typing on cost that much.

    Yes, kids (and parents) are getting raped with the cost college out-of-control.

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