“I can’t believe I was so stupid! I never thought I’d get caught like this. I was always so careful,” Jeffrey Dahmer immediately told Milwaukee homicide detective Patrick “Pat” Kennedy after his capture on July 22, 1991. Dahmer’s killing spree began in 1978, but it came to an end after a handcuffed victim escaped his home and flagged down police.
Dahmer instantly confessed to his crimes, claiming his murderous actions were fueled by alcohol. Over the course of six weeks, the 31-year-old sex offender graphically described how he lured, murdered, mutilated and cannibalized 16 men and boys. (He later confessed to an additional murder—his first victim, Steven Hicks.)
Dahmer’s confession proved vital to detectives who were tasked with identifying his numerous victims without current advances in DNA technology. Kennedy recognized this and found himself grateful for Dahmer’s candidness and vulnerability.
Kennedy—who questioned the prolific serial killer for 16 hours a day—recounted the experience in “Grilling Dahmer,” which was published after his death in 2013.
The book’s co-author, Robyn Maharaj, spoke with A&E True Crime about Kennedy’s encounter with Dahmer, which left the seasoned detective reeling from shock, disgust, and, at times, compassion.
Why did Patrick decide to pull from his own experiences with alcoholism to connect with Dahmer?
It was pretty evident in his own writings that he did that a lot with the suspects he interviewed and interrogated. He always thought to kill them with kindness. He was a big man–like 6’7”—and a really imposing kind of figure. Long before he ever met Dahmer, [he would ask suspects,] ‘Can I get you some coffee?’ ‘Would you like some cigarettes?’ ‘Are you hungry? When’s the last time you ate something?’ Just to befriend them a little bit.
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With Dahmer, he kind of sensed this [tactic] could possibly work. Dahmer was showing signs of coming down from having been drunk. In terms of alcoholism, Dahmer’s first step was to be really honest. He said, ‘I know I have a drinking problem,’ because it had been something that had dogged him for a long time. He drank himself out of college. He had been in the Army and actually had done pretty well, but then he was sent to some place where he had easy access to alcohol. So he flushed out of the Army [for alcohol abuse.] [Editor’s note: After Dahmer’s death, he was accused of sexually assaulting fellow soldiers while in the Army.]
He couldn’t really hold down many jobs because he’d often go on benders and then call out sick.
Kennedy, as somebody who was a recovering alcoholic himself, recognized the physical symptoms. As he got Dahmer talking a little bit, he realized alcohol seemed to be at the core of the story.
Patrick wrote about how his religion guided much of his police work. How did it come into play in Dahmer’s case?
Dahmer had lived in West Dallas, Wisconsin, [a suburb of Milwaukee], with his grandmother, who was very religious. Pat talked a lot about being a good person. To Dahmer, being a good person meant going to church faithfully and following the Bible and the 10 commandments. A little bit about God and trying to be a good person leaked out in his initial conversations with Pat. As their conversations developed into more of a relationship, Pat was able to use that to say, ‘Well it’s not too late. You’ve done all these horrible crimes, but right now you can tell us who these men were and that will help you to become a better person.’
Did Patrick believe Dahmer’s display of remorse?
Pat was at the center of the storm as one of the few detectives who were in the room trying to get this story from Jeffrey Dahmer [about why he did what he did]. Initially, it was just about getting through this. He said to Dahmer a couple of times during those weeks that they were together in the same room, ‘You know, I see that you’re hurting.’
I think there were times when Pat was a little bit more skeptical and just thought, we caught [Dahmer] red-handed. He was already being talked about as this monster, this horrible necrophiliac cannibal. It’s easy to say, you’re sorry once you’ve been caught. If he really had felt bad about it, wouldn’t he have stopped much earlier?
On the other hand, Pat had studied serial killers and knew it was like an addiction. He already realized that Jeffrey, because of alcoholism, had an addictive personality.
Ultimately, he said out of a lot of the bad guys he helped put away, arrested, or taken to interrogation, Jeffrey—albeit a serial killer—was actually one of the more pleasant experiences. Not so much because of what he was hearing, [but because] he was very polite.
For Pat, it was kind of a back-and-forth. [During our conversations,] he would say he thought Dahmer felt remorse, but on the other hand, he had all these victims and he wouldn’t have stopped if he hadn’t been stopped [after being caught] because he was selfish.
Was Dahmer honest about everything he told investigators?
He didn’t lie about the cannibalizing initially, but he kind of withheld it. The medical examiner told detectives there was a discrepancy in terms of the number of people he says he’s killed and what they found.
[Detectives] concluded that he must be cannibalizing these victims. When they confronted him, he told them that was true. He didn’t want them to think less of him.
Are there more victims of Jeffrey Dahmer? I don’t think so. Pat always said if you’re confessing to 16 or 17 victims, what’s the 18th or 19th? They did try and trip him up to see whether he was lying to them. They would ask him something that they already knew the answer to and see what he would say. All those times they tested him, he came out telling the truth. I don’t think he held back.
Why did Pat believe it took so long for authorities to apprehend Dahmer?
Dahmer’s kind of a bland guy. He was white in a predominantly African American neighborhood. The way the police were trained at that time… I’m thinking specifically of the incident when [police] actually took [14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone], back up to Dahmer’s apartment [after he escaped] and Dahmer subsequently killed him. Police believed Dahmer over the [Black] women who were telling them ‘No, that’s a kid. And this guy [Dahmer] lives here but [Sinthasomphone] doesn’t.’
When Pat was finished being a police officer, he went back to school and studied criminology and then became a professor of criminology. He would say that, at the time, the training was such that you listen to the person who’s most coherent, the one you can connect with. So these white cops basically connected with the one white guy who was telling them, ‘Oh no, he’s my boyfriend. I’ll get him back upstairs if you gimme a hand.’
[Editor’s note: Dahmer’s Black neighbors accused police of racism and said it was the main reason police believed Dahmer over them.]
Did Patrick and investigators identify a common thread among Dahmer’s victims?
In terms of the physicality of the victims, Dahmer definitely had a type. He was attracted to African American men and he liked men who were lean and kind of muscular.
When police looked in his apartment after Dahmer was caught, they found artwork on the walls. It was Black men posing, showing off their muscles. They found a lot of magazines and some anatomy books. He was really interested in muscles and people’s physiques.
The other thing involved their vulnerability. He was able to chat them up and ask them to go with him. One of the victims who got away was hanging out with a bunch of men at a mall and Dahmer approached him. His friends actually said ‘Don’t go with him,’ but Dahmer was offering money. He approached most of the other men singly. He would mention their physique and ask if he can bring them back to his apartment to take some photos of them.
Patrick remembered Dahmer telling him that what he was about to reveal would make him famous. Did Patrick believe him at the time?
I don’t think so, but if Pat had to conjure up a single image, it would be when he and his partner were first called to Dahmer’s apartment [to investigate] a head in the fridge. They’re thinking it’s a false alarm, but they get there and see Dahmer being wrestled to the ground. A uniformed cop tells him to open the fridge and he sees this severed head in a shallow box staring back at him. He said [he had] the feeling of being frozen to the ground, the tremors …
How did Patrick process Dahmer’s murder in prison in 1994?
He was ultimately sad because here’s a guy who got murdered. That’s not supposed to happen. You’re supposed to go to prison and serve out your sentence.
But I don’t think he was surprised, because, through the police channels and the legal channels, he knew that Dahmer had been moved [at his request] back to general population. The idea that Dahmer’s days were numbered was not a shock.
I believe there was a feeling that maybe Dahmer will be at some peace, and a lot of people will get some resolution or closure because of [his death]. Mixed emotions are the way I would put it.