Tuesday, December 17, 2013
Ever since I posted about Jeff's boyhood home being for sale, there isn't a week that goes by when a real estate bot doesn't post a comment after that story. Here's the latest one.
What a hilariously ineffective bot! Let's advertise our realty service, on a post about a home where someone was brutally murdered and butchered!
A recent study revealed that nearly TWO THIRDs of website hits and page views come from bots. Just think about that for a sec. Now a good chunk of that is search engines. But, according to the study, 31 per cent of bots are still classed as ‘malicious’. Scraper bots (these comb the web for exploitable information, anything from emails to news content) make up 5 per cent of web traffic whilst general purpose hacking tools (the sort of bots that might be employed by a criminal to steal your credit card data) make up 4.5 per cent.
So this site, as offbeat and non-commercial as they come, is being regularly visited by scraper bots. They hit on "home" and "for sale" and blammo. Comment left. I've probably deleted 30 comments.
They ineffectiveness of these bots is quite a comfort, actually.
Sunday, December 15, 2013
Sunday, December 8, 2013
This was originally done for the Cleveland PBS affiliate, right when MFD debuted in March 2012. In fact, much of the interview was conducted in the William Busta Gallery in downtown Cleveland, where I held the official book launch, and a gallery show that featured original pages, sketches and artifacts. It was a great show. Seems like a million years ago.
But the interview has now popped up in an arts show for the Las vegas PBS affiliate, who thoughtfully posted it on Youtube, so I can share it with you here. It's one of the better interviews I filmed, I think. The creepy music is a little melodramatic, but otherwise they did a nice job with it. You get a glimpse of the attic studio where I created this book, too.
My bit starts at the 18:00 mark.
Friday, December 6, 2013
Friend Neil sent me this recently. Neither of us had ever seen it before. Back in 1991, as Dahmer's story played out in media around the world, the sleazy tabloid National Enquirer somehow acquired the unaltered National Honor Society group photo from our senior yearbook, the one with Jeff's face famously blacked out. Needless to say, I was not reading the supermarket tabloids back then for their Dahmer coverage, so I missed this when it originally appeared.
At top is the photo, as originally snapped. At bottom is how it appeared in the yearbook, blotted out by the NHS advisor when she saw we had snuck Jeff into the picture. I depict this scene in MFD. IN 1991, as the details of his sad, young life emerged, this photo became a symbol of his wasted youth. The boy who didn't belong.
The truth, of course, was the Dahmer Fan Club had arranged the whole thing, as part of our campaign to sneak Dahmer into every group photo in the yearbook. Jeff enthusiastically played along. So it wasn't really a symbol of Jeff's ostracism and isolation from high school society. It was, in fact, just the opposite, evidence that he had friends and participated in typical, teenage, goofball antics.
The question Neil and I have now is where did this unaltered photo come from? Neil was a yearbook photog, but he didn't take this particular photo. He was, in fact, in it, since he was a member of NHS. The kid who took the photo says he didn't sell it to the Enquirer either. The print used in the yearbook was altered with a marker in the yearbook office in the high school. This was long before desktop publishing. Photos were sized for each page layout and then sent to the photography studio to be made into a halftone. After that it it was pasted onto a make-up page, along with the type. Then the whole page was shot as a negative and that was used to make the printing plate. Yeah, it was a lot more complicated.
Our best guess is that the owner of the Akron photo studio, the one that did all the pre-press work for the yearbook, and took all the school portraits, had the original photo negatives in his files and sold it to the Enquirer. This would have been 13 years after our senior year. It was also long before digital images and storage, of course. These would have been film negatives, stuffed in a file drawer, originally as back-up and probably never thrown away. This studio worked for a number of school districts in the area. The portrait pic of Jeff shown here is also not one which appeared in any yearbook, adding to our belief it came from the photography studio.
Curiously, to my knowledge, this is the only publication either of these photos appeared in! Seems like every photo of Jeff from his childhood, and there weren't that many, has been reprinted 1000 times. Not these.
Wednesday, December 4, 2013
I recounted this particular tale some months back in my blog at Derfcity.com, my main website, but it's bizarre enough that I'll post it here as well, for those who missed it.
Dahmer has been adopted as an anti-hero by the Death Metal crowd, the outcast who was bullied and shunned and then lashed back at the society that had done these things. This is crap on a number of levels, of course. Dahmer was driven by insatiable sexual depravity, not by some metalhead revenge fantasy. Most of his victims were gay, black men. You'd be hard pressed to come up with a more shunned and bullied group than gay, black men!
Ah, but such logic doesn't stop the metalheads. There have been a number of groups "inspired" by Dahmer: Apartment 213, Trophies of Dahmer, a group simply named Dahmer and this one below, Macabre, that put out a 26-song Dahmer tribute album in 2000! This cut below, Do the Dahmer, is an ode to our high school antics. How many of you readers have a death metal anthem to your teenage goofballery?
There's been some conjecture in metal circles about Dahmer's musical tastes. metal in the 1970s was in it's infancy. A lot of it was kid stuff, like Kiss and Alice Cooper. Most seem to think Jeff was a Judas Priest fan, which is a rumor probably started by Priest's publicist! The truth about Dahmer's musical taste is far stranger.
This comes from friend Neil, one of the small group of band nerds who befriended Dahmer in high school and formed the Dahmer Fan Club to egg him on in his various acts of weirdness, "Doing the Dahmer" as the song says. You'll read all in the book. Neil contributed much material, through many emails and conversations, as I was putting together this book over the past several years. But he dropped this particular story on me just a few months ago, a painfully tardy contribution, since the book was already printed and steaming across the Pacific from the printing plant in China! Too late to add it, alas, so you readers get it as an added treat.
In the Summer of 1975, between freshman and sophomore years, Neil and Dahmer went to a concert together. The Cleveland area, which our town was on the far edge of, was known at that time as the Rock Capital of the World, due to several powerful and influential FM stations and a huge, rabid rock fandom. There were many venues in the area where legendary concerts were held, but none was more beloved than Blossom Music Center.
Blossom was WAY out in the boonies, in the rolling countryside far south of Cleveland (it's now the Cuyahoga Valley National Park). It was an outdoor amphitheater, surrounded by a vast, sloping lawn where concert-goers could spread out with blankets and picnic dinners and enjoy a live performance. It opened in 1968 to serve as the summer home of the Cleveland Orchestra (which it still is). Looking for extra revenue, the following year Blossom began booking rock acts and immediately became THE place to see live music.
The official capacity was 8,000. But because of its rural setting, fans would simply abandon their cars on the berms of the surrounding, gridlocked country roads and hike through the woods to crash the gates. There was no fence or barrier, the local police force was comprised of Goober and Barney, and Blossom security was totally overwhelmed as kids poured in from every direction. A Blood, Sweat & Tears concert in 1969 drew a crowd of over 80,000! It was Woodstock every weekend! Concert-goers drank wine out of sheepskin jugs and passed joints and bongs. A giant fog of pot smoke hung over the throng, at times obliterating the amphitheater itself. Couples frolicked naked in the nearby woods. All over the lawn, lovers crawled into sleeping bags to hump, the bags moving in time to the beat, like giant caterpillars. I saw my first live music (and my first naked woman!) here. Tickets were so cheap, $4 a head, and it was so easy to sneak into a show, that it really didn't even matter who was playing. You went for the experience and to try to meet girls. Never had any success there, despite the frequent topless nymphs dancing through the crowd.
So in the Summer of 1975, just before the start of our Sophomore year, Neil and Dahmer decided to attend a Blossom concert. Neil suspects it was Dahmer's first show. It may well have been his ONLY concert. Neither teenager was driving yet, so Dahmer's dad drove them as close as he could to the Blossom entrance, until the traffic gridlocked and then the boys walked the rest of the way, probably a couple miles. Heck, the driveway into the grounds was a couple miles long, so it was likely a four-or-five-mile hike! Made a few of those myself. He picked them up at the same spot at a designated time after the show. Traffic leaving Blossom shows was just as bottlenecked as it was before events. Many kids just slept in their cars until the following day!
The headliner for this show? Neil Sedaka!! That's right, the chubby, little schlockmeister who penned some of the most vile Top 40 hits of the Seventies!!! Friend Neil recalls that Dahmer was quite taken with Sedaka's music at the time and pushed to attend the show. I had MY young guilty pleasures, too, before I discovered punk rock later in the Seventies and my tastes refined, but NEVER something THIS godawful!!
That's right, metalheads. Turns out Dahmer was, in fact, a Neil Sedaka fan!
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
Here's an interesting piece I only recently stumbled across, by media critic Jim Romenesko. It's a first-person account of what Dahmer's trial was like. Brings back a lot of memories from that time when the media frenzy was going full tilt. I was ducking the media then, for reasons that will be all-too-apparent from this article.
Friday, November 29, 2013
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Above: your favorite comix scribbler from the first MFD European book tour.
Even more great news. My Friend Dahmer has been picked as a Sélection Officielle for the upcoming Angouleme 2014 comix festival in France! This is Europe's largest celebration of all things comix. It's a big deal. A huge deal. The biggest honor I've received to date!
Happily, I'll be attending the Angouleme, courtesy of my beloved French publisher Éditions çà et là. The French edition of Punk Rock & Trailer Parks will also be out by that time.
Happily, I'll be attending the Angouleme, courtesy of my beloved French publisher Éditions çà et là. The French edition of Punk Rock & Trailer Parks will also be out by that time.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
My Friend Dahmer…. or, rather, Mon Ami Dahmer… is up for another book prize in France.
You can vote for it in the Priz de la BD FNAC.
Just select the "Je Vote" button underneath the cover. At the bottom of the page add your email, and in the field to the right type in the number of people you think will vote in the contest. I put 5000 and it was happy with that. Then hit the the yellow "votre" button and viola!
Help a brother out and vote.
Monday, November 4, 2013
Monday, September 16, 2013
My Friend Dahmer opens with a very powerful, and unsettling, scene in Dahmer's clubhouse in the woods.
This particular episode was recounted many times in the media. The clubhouse, which Jeff always called "The Hut" was where he kept his road kill collection. The carcasses were stored in pickle jars full of some kind of liquid (he bragged that it was acid, but more likely it was either some household chemical or plain water). By the time he was 12, there were several dozen of these jars, neatly arranged on wooden shelves that covered the inside walls of The Hut. It was the first manifestation of the dark thoughts and urges that were gurgling in the crankcase oil of his brain.
I initially heard of this episode (and I won't give it away here) when I first met Jeff in junior high. It was part of Dahmer's schoolyard legend. Eastview Junior High was where the contents of the district's three elementary schools came together for the first time. So roughly 70 percent of the kids were complete strangers. The result was a cruel hormonal scrum as kids elbowed and clawed their way to their spot in the social hierarchy. There was a lot of gossip, and the Bath Elementary kids, who had known Dahmer since 3rd grade, all had tales of how weird he was. Soon, the tale of Jeff's clubhouse and his jars of roadkill were known to all. It was an episode that cemented his rep as a bizarre freak and sent him straight to the bottom of the social ladder.
When I wrote this book, there was no doubt I would start with this scene. It fit perfectly in the timeline, the summer before the start of junior high, and it's a very visual scene that afforded me the chance to make a big artistic statement right from the get go.
This scene had been recounted before in newspaper and magazine accounts. It was not something that I uncovered during my research. But, in those articles, It was always just a short paragraph, and never captured the true creepiness of what went on there. This is, of course, the power of comix. I could recreate this scene in a way that a reporter could not.
|The ruin of the clubhouse, in 1992|
Now when the story exploded in 1992 and there was a mad scramble to cover it, I was working as a staff artist at the Akron Beacon Journal. Bath, our hometown, was a rural suburb of Akron, so the Beacon was the paper of record. At the time, it was a very fine paper, one that won a Pulitzer every five years or so. It was well-positioned to "own" this story, and indeed did just that. And, of course, by sheer dumb luck I was on staff, with all my knowledge and contacts and memories, and worked hand in hand with the reporters covering the unfolding story. The clubhouse episode was first reported there, based on my information, and then was quickly picked up by media worldwide, who just lifted it from the Beacon article, or re-reported it on their own. When the reporter on the police beat first went to Dahmer's House, using his contacts to get through the police tape that ringed the property and get a private tour, I told him to be on the lookout for Jeff's clubhouse. He found it. The above photo is all of it that remained in 1992, 20 years after the scene in my book took place. A pile of rotten rubble, strangely mirroring Jeff's own life.
Most kids in the country had a similar clubhouse. I had one. I used to build my own in the woods around my house from pilfered scrap lumber. My dad would find them eventually, proclaim them "eyesores" and tear them down, giving me and my brother a tongue lashing in the process. Finally he had my grandfather, a carpenter, build us one. It still stands, as a storage shed for lawn equipment.
Jeff's dad built his clubhouse, around 1970. What did it look like? Well, I had only a few clues. I guessed it was probably constructed like my clubhouse, from 2x4s and plywood. Popular magazines like Boy's Life regularly printed plans for constructing such structures. In fact, the interior in the book IS my clubhouse. I made sketches there for this scene. I didn't have much to go on from the picture of the ruin itself, except that it had a flat roof, which you can see in the photo. Mine had a pitched roof. I also wasn't sure where its exact location was on the Dahmer property. By the time I started working on the book in earnest and had access to the house and property, this pile of rubble was no where to be seen. So I guessed, based on a visual survey of the lot. Where would I build a clubhouse? Mea culpa: I guessed wrong.
The Dahmer property is one of the most dramatic, and unusual, in town. The house is shoehorned onto a very steep hill. The above side view shows it. This is looking down the driveway. I've removed the stand-alone garage here, which sits in front and blocks out half the house. The hillside is dotted with huge boulders, remnants of the Ice Age glaciers. At the bottom of the heavily wooded hill is a large pond, more an algae-ridden mire. I thought the clubhouse must be down that hill somewhere, and that's where I drew it. In fact, it was at the top of hill above the house, as I picture here in the diagram, where the terrain flattens out!
|The view from Jeff's clubhouse.|
I discovered this just last year, after the book had been released. I had arranged with the guy who lives there to give my filmmaker a tour. The tenant, as you can imagine, was also interested in my account. It's a damn strange place to live! I had asked him before about the clubhouse, but he didn't know where it was. As I was describing what remained of it in 1992, he blurted out "Waitaminute! I know where that is!" Turns out all that remained was the plywood roof, covered in asphalt shingles. All the other rotting rubble had been cleared away by the previous owner. The current resident used that roof to pile brush. He took us right to the spot. We pulled back the brush and there it was. As always, a very creepy discovery.
|The brush pile and flat terrain looking down toward the house|
|You can just make out the roof under the brush pile.|
But a frustrating one. It would have been much more visually dynamic to have drawn the clubhouse in its correct spot. From this ridge, a kid could actually jump onto the Dahmer's roof! It was another example of Jeff's bizarre endeavors taking place, in this case, right on top of the family home. To be fair, when Lionel Dahmer got wind of this incident, he grilled Jeff about his strange hobby, and the scientific value of it, of which Lionel could see none, despite Jeff's insistence that scientific curiosity was his sole motivation. Jeff then disposed of his roadkill collection and abandoned his clubhouse. Lionel thought that was the end of it. Far from it. Jeff established a new, secret spot, deep in the vast, thick woods across the street, where he took his roadkill finds. He didn't store them in jars anymore. He dissected them and fondled the organs and became sexually aroused. And took another big step toward the edge of the abyss.
In my defense, when I asked one of the neighborhood kids who participated in the scene, if I had gotten it right, despite the wrong location, he said "Yeah. You pretty much nailed it."
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
As I've written before, I spent much of high school hunched over a drawing board or sketchpad. Here I am (above) elbow deep in another drawing. Nice shirt. Right off the Horrific Polyester Seventies rack at Montgomery Ward.
I was an honor student, but not exactly driven to excel academically. I put forth enough effort to get B's, or A's if it didn't require too much work. But I avoided advanced classes (outside of art, music or theater). I knew what I wanted to do since I was 8 years old, and that was to make comix. Everything else was a waste of time.
But in art classes, I wanted to make comix and little else. This didn't sit to well with my art teachers, who were fairly old school types that believed in "foundation" work: watercolors, pottery, life drawing and such. I gritted my teeth and ground out class assignments for the first three years of high school, but by the time I was a senior, I'd had it with this boring crap. I filled that school with images in the 1978 school year, but none of it was "approved." Posters, cartoons, goofball drawings... I would hang things in the hall just to provoke and confuse, purely for my own amusement. Cartoons that I drew for the school paper and yearbook were totally indecipherable. Many, of course, starred my cartoon Dahmer.
Here's (above) the class assignment that broke me. Our painting teacher sent us out into the neighboring woods, the very spot where Jeff would secretly drink between classes, to collect sticks to paint. We spent an entire semester painting sticks. Sticks! When I complained loudly about the value of this, my teacher banished me from the art room! I spent the rest of the year drawing in the library (with Jeff at the same table!) during that period.
Below is a character sheet for a comix story I wrote in 1978. The script, if there was one, is long gone. It was a spoof of a hard-boiled detective story, ala Chandler or Spillane, and all the characters were based on my friends.
The character here that really pops out, of course, is "Father Dahmer," the neighborhood priest! I discovered this long-forgotten piece in a box of high school drawings stashed under my mother's basement stairs, as I was engaged in the herculean task of cleaning out her basement of 50 years of accumulation. I thought I had uncovered all my Dahmer artifacts years earlier, but here was a trove of drawings and memorabilia. Like all these discoveries, chills ran up and down my spine as I looked through this stuff.
When I saw this drawing, I burst out laughing in disbelief. Father Dahmer???? Good gawd. It was just a goofball riff when I drew it, but now it was creepy and surreal. Keep in mind, this is likely drawn from life, too. I'm sure I was staring at him as I drew his face.
The other characters are mostly based on members of the Dahmer Fan Club. The lead character here, Boris Murgerski, Private Dick (can't recall where that name came from), was based on Kent. And these three, below, are myself, Neil and Mike (l-r). I prettied myself up a bit here. I was far more hideous and emaciated, trust me.
The art teachers, for their part, hammered me for my "bad attitude." I received a D my senior year. When small scholarships were handed out at the end of the year, I was passed over. It was the price I paid for being an obstinate butthead. I could have, after all, given them what they wanted and reaped the benefits of playing nice. I could have painted stick after stick during school hours, then done my own work at home. But if I had, I wouldn't have strange and wonderful pieces like this. In the end, it didn't matter. I've gone on to a long career doing exactly what my art teachers didn't think was "legitimate" art. I'd be lying, however, if I said it still doesn't bug me. And that makes me laugh. Funny how this high school shit sticks with you.
I never forgave those teachers. On one of the last days of school, I went into the art room to clean out my file drawer. The room was empty, save for a few underclassman and one of the teachers. As I was gathering up my drawings of sticks etc, she shook her head and said "You were our biggest disappointment." I glared at her and said nothing. As I left, I dramatically dumped the armload of artwork into the big dumpster by the door. I never saw her or spoke to her again.
She passed away years ago. Wonder what she would have made of My Friend Dahmer? Would it have changed her mind about me and my work? Ha. probably not!
Curiously, that painting of the stick was in the same box with the Dahmer drawing, squirreled away under the basement stairs.
Tuesday, September 10, 2013
Thursday, September 5, 2013
The boys at the hilarious 90 Percent Hits podcast give a shout out to MFD.
90 Percent Hits is devoted to the worst earworms from the most vile popstars of our age: Bryan Adams, Sting, Celine, etc. It's a funny read.
Play the above video at your peril! Below is a transcript of the podcast.
Celine Dion - The Power Of Love (#1s)
In 1971, Charmaine West was killed by her stepmother Rosemary in Gloucester, while her father Fred was in prison. Charmaine was likely killed after Rosemary, already an erratic and aggressive woman prone to rages, flew into a fit of violence as her frustration boiled over whilst playing the parent to Fred’s two girls from a previous marriage. Fred had already begun his life of depravity after killing his ex-wife and girlfriend in a similar rage a few years earlier. No-one knew about that at this point though, as he was in prison for a separate theft offence.
So it is with the first kill - turbulent, clumsy, impulsive and reactive. John Backderf observes this brilliantly in his graphic novel My Friend Dahmer as well - Jeffrey Dahmer awkwardly circles a few potential victims, backing out or cocking it up each time. It’s just an urge and an impulse he understands dimly at this stage.
The Wests and Dahmer of course went on to kill many in such a sadistic, horrifying manner that words rightly would fail one trying to convey just how ghastly it all was. Their killing became highly orchestrated, the blind furies and impulsiveness replaced by organisation, calculation and a bent for psychological torture so horrendous it’s a wonder any of us can sleep at night in the knowledge that any of this could have happened.
Which brings us to David Foster and Celine Dion - the Fred and Rosemary West of popular music. ‘The Power of Love’ is criminal. It’s a braying, overwrought cacophony of such extravagant ‘tenderness’ it makes your bowels quiver in horror at the sound its first bars. Dion’s phrasing of ‘I hold onto your body’ can only move one to upchuck, and has the same shuddering creepiness of Richard Nixon’s head’s description of his ‘good solid Republican body’ on Futurama. The karaoke backing track, the conflation of the physical exertion of singing with the power of the emotion being sung, the sheer vapidness of the lyrics. It’s perfectly hideous.
But, the thing is, we know what’s to come. We know of the out-and-out psychological torture and dismembering of all that’s good and true about music that this pair would engage in. At this stage, they just wanted to write a horrible, over-the-top song weighed down by so many fee-fees Oprah herself would object and bitchslap them back into 1982 like Moe from the Three Stooges. This song is awful, but it’s a classic first kill: there’s nothing systematic in its awfulness, there’s no real method, no expression of a vast and overinflated ego looking to impose itself on the world without regard for others. Foster and Dion just wanted to write a love song that was merely shit. The desire to raze the entirety of Western culture to the ground in one sequence of thundering vibrato notes would come later, and they would do it with so much more gusto and conviction than this.
So, as awful as this song is, one can only listen to it as a harbinger now; a warning of what was to come if any of us were smart enough to see. But, as bad as it is, nothing in this song suggests that it could possibly get any worse. But get worse it could, and lord knows none of us could see how many fathoms Foster and Dion would scrape in their depth-plumbing in the years to come.
Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Monday, August 26, 2013
It's not easy creating a period piece. I wrote earlier about the research that went into the Command Performance scene in the Summit Mall.
Classrooms are tough to draw. There's a lot of furniture, crap on the walls, and more crap piled up on every flat surface. Typically, students' desk are moved around to different angles and kids are contorted into their seats in all sorts of weird positions. As I've written, I like to work with photo reference. I don't copy or trace photos, as some do, but I find it a lot easier to draw when I have a photo I can pull details from.
Google Images is the world's greatest photo morgue. Type in "classroom" and you'll get 5,000,000 images. Problem is, I'm looking for a very specific classroom, one from the mid to late Seventies, and I need multiple shots of the same classroom.
Happily, I came up with an unusual solution, one I'm fairly proud of. Square Pegs was a sitcom that lasted but one season. It was created by original SNL writer and former National Lampoon editor, Anne Beatts and features a stellar cast, including a very young Sarah Jessica Parker, Ms. Sex & the City herself, in her first leading role. Despite the pedigree, it's not a very good show. But... it was filmed in early 1982 and is set almost entirely inside a school (an abandoned public school in LA, in fact). It's a couple years after my time in high school, but it's damn close. The Class of 82 would have been freshmen when I was a senior. And the setmaker did a bang-up job, filling the sets with the battered mishmash of furniture that a real school had. I found the entire series on Hulu (it's since been taken off the menu) and watched a good ten episodes on my computer. When I saw something I thought would be useful, I paused the stream and took a screen shot. Pretty soon I had 50 photos I could use as reference. It was a great solution and one that enabled me to create very detailed, period-authentic classroom scenes.
Square Pegs had a few highlights. Bill Murray appeared in one episode, as a substitute teacher. This was right at his Stripes peak when he was the funniest guy on the planet. And Devo appeared in another, as a band at one of the main character's bat mitzvah! Great stuff.
Seven Degrees From Jeffrey Dahmer note: the theme song of the show was performed by The Waitresses, another band, like Devo, from Akron, Ohio. The song was written by guitarist Chris Butler, who, in 2006, would buy Dahmer's boyhood home!
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
This is a bizarre incident– even by Dahmer standards!– that I would have included in the book, but I was unable to pin down the details. It happened some time in the early 1970s. I'm not sure of the exact year.
The Dahmers moved into their house in Bath, Ohio, in 1970. They kept to themselves more than others in the neighborhood. Jeff, then in elementary school, was a strange boy with few friends. And his mom, Joyce, was viewed suspiciously by the neighbors as a bit of an emotional wreck. Some recounted incidents where Joyce suddenly burst into tears and most recall her as odd and paranoid. What they didn't know at the time was that Joyce was battling severe clinical depression, so debilitating in fact that she was an invalid barely able to function at all. Even today, depression is neither understood or regarded with much sympathy, but in the Seventies, someone like Joyce was simply written off as "a nut," which is how one of the neighbors described her to me 30 years later.
Now, UFOs were all the rage in the Seventies. It was just after the peak of the Space Race and our national obsession with astronauts and beating the Soviets to the Moon, and a now-bored populace had moved to fanciful thoughts of aliens and visiting spacecraft. This would reach its pinnacle later in the decade with Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but at this point it was the stuff of supermarket tabloids and sci-fi digests.
One evening, a neighbor kid remembers hearing someone shouting excitedly outside. In a quiet neighborhood like this, any yelling would raise an alarm. He peered out his window and saw Joyce running frantically up Bath Road, heavily wooded on both sides, but clear directly above the roadway, pointing excitedly at the sky and yelling over and over that there was a UFO! She ran up the street, pointing and shouting, until she crested the hill and was out of sight and earshot.
Lionel Dahmer wrote of this incident, as well, but offered few details. He chased after Joyce when he realized she had bolted from the property, and caught up with her (presumably in his car). She was frantic, and made him drive all over the countryside for several hours while she searched the sky for the spacecraft. You can imagine what was going through poor Lionel's mind.
|The Dahmers, circa 1970|
This was the worst period of Joyce's mental troubles, and she had two stints in the mental ward of Akron General in 1970. I'm not sure when exactly the UFO incident fits in the timeline, however. It was later reported that her UFO sighting received a small write up in the Akron Beacon Journal, but I was unable to locate the article. Without details or documentation, I didn't feel I could add it to the book, especially since it may well have occurred before I met Jeff and my tale begins.
It sounds like a humorous scene, but, of course, it was anything but. Not only was poor Joyce in such a state that she was seeing things, but this public display only cemented the family's rep as the oddballs in the neighborhood. Local wags talked about it for months after. To her credit, Joyce rallied and by the early Eighties was once again stable and functional, although her ten years of mental and emotional distress contributed mightily to the break up of the Dahmer marriage.
Monday, August 19, 2013
You've probably read this elsewhere, since tv news types and bloggers love to do this story, but Dahmer's boyhood home in Ohio, the setting for a good deal of My Friend Dahmer, is for sale.
The owner is a pal of mine, and hopes the press devoted to my book will help him sell the house. Obviously, it's a tough sale, but it's a beautiful home on a gorgeous wooded, hillside lot. I grew up in a very similar home, kind of a Fab Fifties, Frank Lloyd Wright knockoff, and would jump at a chance to own a similar home again.
Dahmer's dad sold the house in the early 80s. Lionel Dahmer was not particularly handy or interested in home maintenance and the house was fairly worn 15 or so years after the Dahmers purchased it in 1970. They were not the original owners. The house was built in the early Fifties and changed hands several times. The Dahmers were renting a place in nearby Barberton, a grimy rustbelt town that abuts Akron, and was known for, of all things, its match factories. But with two young children, Lionel and Joyce Dahmer were looking for the classic Nuclear Family Dream: a nice house in the burbs where their sons could romp in the woods.
Lionel says he and Joyce were out driving in the country one weekend when they passed this house. Joyce excitedly demanded that Lionel pull in the driveway and, for her, it was love at first sight. This was her home. It was perfect. She couldn't be talked out of it, so Lionel, in an effort to please his wife and keep the peace in an ever more contentious marriage, scraped together the funds to buy it. Jeff was starting the 3rd grade when they moved in.
It was another classic example of Joyce's self-destructive irrationality. She was struggling with depression, and felt like an isolated and useless housewife while her husband enjoyed an exciting and fulfilling career as a chemist. It was a disparity that filled her with frustration and a growing resentment. But she didn't drive! So she inexplicably insisted on moving out of their Barberton neighborhood, with tightly packed houses and sidewalks and public transportation, for a house in the country where she knew no one and was totally cut off from everything! Without wheels, Joyce was trapped in her dream house. Even the grocery store, the stereotype refuge of bored housewives, was miles away. The Dahmer House is on a steep hill, one with no sidewalks or even a berm, just a massive 4-foot-deep country ditch on either side. Cars come flying over the crest of the hill. You take your life into your hands walking on that road. Not there was any place for her to walk. Bath has no town center. The nearest shopping district is a good five miles away, on the burby outskirts of the Rubber City. It's a small town, but has little of the characteristic, close-knit atmosphere of my hometown, neighboring Richfield (the two communities shared a school district). Richfield was Mayberry, with a corner drugstore and a soda fountain, and was a town where everyone knew your name. Bath, with twice the population, was a bedroom community for Akron white-collar professionals. If you lived in Richfield, you were from Richfield. If you lived in Bath, you were from someplace else.
Joyce had locked herself into a suburban prison cell. There is a nearby neighborhood of 100 homes, but the Dahmer house, with its steep, rocky terrain is completely separated from it. Joyce, emotionally fragile and erratic, didn't make a particularly good impression on the neighbor housewives either. By insisting on buying this house, Joyce, already chaffing with her feelings of isolation, only increased that isolation a hundred fold! As a result she plunged into deep depression shortly after the family moved in. She spent most of the day in bed. Her stays in the mental ward followed. It's not unusual for the mentally ill to make poor decisions that make their situations worse.
Lionel bought out Joyce's share in the house when the marriage finally crumbled in 1978. He lived there until 1983, with his second wife and the youngest Dahmer boy, who was in high school at the time. Jeff flamed out at college, then joined the army and was stationed in West Germany, so he didn't live here after high school. But, of course, Jeff killed and butchered his first victim in the house, a young hitchhiker he picked up near the local mall a few weeks after our high school graduation in June 1978, during the short period when he was alone in the house as his parent's divorce finalized. The body of Steven Hicks was hidden on the property until Lionel decided to sell in 1982 and Jeff, by then out of the army and living in MIlwaukee with his paternal grandmother, finally disposed of the skeletal remains when he was home for a visit. It's a grisly history, to be sure.
The next buyer of the house knew nothing of all this, of course. He also fell in love with this unique house and its picturesque setting. He remodeled and renovated and made the worn and weathered hillside ranch a showpiece. And then came July 1991, Dahmer's arrest and the horrific finds in his Milwaukee apartment. Within hours the Bath house was a crime scene, ringed by police tape. Dozens of investigators combed the lot, sifting the dirt with screens as they searched for bone fragments. Imagine what a nightmare this must have been for the poor owner! With the snap of a finger, his beautiful home, into which he had sunk so much effort and money, was made virtually worthless, nothing more than an infamous ghost house where local teenagers pulled into the driveway to frighten their dates. He was also gay, and his home was the spawning ground of the most infamous killer of gay men in history. After the police cleared out and the headlines died down, the house went on the market. There it remained until my friend bought it in 2006.
He's a rock star, as I've written before. Chris Butler is best known as the creative brain behind the Waitresses, one of the most successful bands of Akron's famous punk scene, which also produced Devo, Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders, the Cramps and numerous other bands. Butler was looking to move back to Akron after many years in New York City, stumbled across this house, as Joyce had many years earlier, fell in love with it and bought it. He lived there for awhile, then, as these things happen, moved back to New York. He rents it out, but would like to sell.
For what it's worth, Butler, in my opinion, drove out whatever bad karma lurked in the house. He filled the place with music, as he and his friends jammed for hours on weekends. What better "cure" is there? Besides, Jeff wasn't killed here, so those who think his ghost haunts the place, why would it? If anything, his specter roams the halls of the Wisconsin prison where he was killed. As for Steven Hicks, who was murdered here, reportedly right at the entrance to the kitchen, pictured above, he was a huge rock-n-roll fan. In fact, he was hitching his way home from a rock concert when Dahmer picked him up. As I've written before, if Hicks' spirit is lingering about, it's probably a pretty happy ghost after years of grooving to great tunes.
The official listing is HERE
Thursday, July 25, 2013
Here's an interesting item. This blogger– age unknown, but I'm guessing quite a bit younger than me– writes about his experience reading MFD for BroCouncil.com. It was especially unnerving for him, you see, because he's from my hometown and went to the same high school as Jeff and I!
It's an interesting, quick read that gives you an idea how surreal it is to be caught up in this tale, even only peripherally, especially when you ponder things a bit too long. HERE