Here is a guide to the biggest questions surrounding Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. The Netflix true-crime biopic, created by Ryan Murphy, tells the story of Jeffrey Dahmer (Evan Peters), one of America’s most prolific serial killers. Between 1978 and 1991, Dahmer was responsible for the murder and desecration of 17 boys and men in the Milwaukee area. The series saw success overnight, quickly becoming the second-most-watched premiere on the streaming platform. So, was Evan Peters’ Jeffrey Dahmer accurate?
In terms of was Evan Peters’ Jeffrey Dahmer accurate, all true crime shows take some liberties. Like many true-crime tales retold for entertainment, there are pieces of truth and falsehoods throughout Monster. The series has sparked plenty of controversies from viewers and the families of those involved with the case, partially for inaccuracies presented in the series. On the other hand, many moments in Monster portray the graphic truth behind Dahmer’s crimes — including acts of cannibalism and necrophilia — and the way a culture of racism and homophobia played into the case. Subsequently, Evan Peters did such a phenomenal job portraying the famous murderer, scooping up a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Limited TV Series or TV Movie. Here’s the answer to the question “was Evan Peters’ Jeffrey Dahmer accurate?”, and everything Ryan Murphy’s show left out or changed about the serial killer’s story.
Was Evan Peters’ Jeffrey Dahmer accurate when it came to cannibalism? Dubbed the “Milwaukee Cannibal,” Dahmer was known for consuming his victims after their death. During his police confession, Dahmer eventually admitted to consuming the hearts, biceps, thighs, and other various organs of his victims. To back up his confession, several pieces of his victims, including two human hearts, were found in his refrigerator. It was Dahmer’s fear of being alone that motivated him to consume his victims; if he ate a piece of them, then they would never be able to leave him. It is unknown how many of his victims Dahmer cannibalized, as he was hesitant to share details surrounding the practice with police.
Tracy Edwards, who survived his encounter with Dahmer, even told police that Dahmer intended to consume his heart. Consumption wasn’t the only reason Dahmer preserved pieces of his victims, however. Upon his arrest, police also discovered two entire skeletons, severed heads in varying states of decay, and seven skulls. The skulls — some of them painted — were intended to be the centerpieces of an altar to be built in Dahmer’s home. In total, various body parts of 11 of his 17 victims were discovered throughout his Milwaukee apartment.
One of the biggest questions surrounding Monster and the question of was Evan Peters’ Jeffrey Dahmer accurate is whether he forced his neighbors to eat human flesh. Monster episode 7, “Cassandra,” shows Dahmer attempting to feed his neighbor, Glenda, a rather suspicious sandwich. While there is no evidence that this ever happened, Dahmer’s real-life neighbor, Pamela Bass, believes that it is possible that Dahmer could have fed her human meat. She and Dahmer were friendly, so Bass never questioned the sandwiches that Dahmer had prepared for her. After his arrest, however, Bass had her concerns; “I have probably eaten someone’s body parts,” Bass admitted in The Jeffrey Dahmer Files. With Dahmer having been murdered in 1994, it may never be known if Dahmer ever served Bass a human sandwich.
This is probably one of the most stomach-churning parts of Monster, especially if the part is true. True or not, the idea of forcing others to consume human flesh without their knowledge has become the stuff of urban legends, inspiring other TV shows like Criminal Minds to create fictional characters who do so. The musical Sweeney Todd is famously about cannibalism-by-stealth, which sees the barber kill his victims only to have them ground into meat pies to be served at Mrs. Lovett’s pie shop. South Park took a twisted spin on the idea by making Cartman turn Scott Tenorman’s parents into chili and making him eat it. The concept has been heavily explored in movies and television, and one has to wonder if killers like Dahmer are partially responsible for that.
Monster episode 9, “The Bogeyman,” shows the two officers who arrested Dahmer — John A. Balcerzak and Joseph T. Gabrish, the same officers that returned a drugged 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone to Dahmer’s custody, where he was murdered minutes after — being awarded the title of Officer of the Year. In real life, there is no evidence of this occurring. The officers were suspended when their mishandling of the case was discovered after Dahmer’s arrest, but the punishment was short-lived, as both officers were reinstated in 1994. While they may not have been heralded as heroes in the way Monster portrays, they were still able to complete their careers after their inaction contributed to Sinthasomphone’s death.
While Ryan Murphy’s efforts to highlight white privilege in the case of Jeffrey Dahmer are noble, the actual story of what happened with the police is bad enough, and might not have needed this embellishment. It’s true that giving the cops an Officer of the Year award really hit home just how much Dahmer’s case reflected the problem of white privilege and officer’s dealings with people of color, but the story in and of itself already reflected that. The embellishment felt wholly useless in the wake of the true story, especially since the police were far from the heroes of the true story, and it’s not an unfair critique of the Ryan Murphy show to suggest the change was clumsy and unnecessary.
While Monster follows the life and death of Jeffrey Dahmer, as well as his parents, Joyce and Lionel, very little information is offered about Jeffrey’s younger brother, David. David was able to maintain anonymity amidst the media circus after his brother’s arrest, so there aren’t many available details about his life. David cut all ties with his brother upon turning 18, and in the fallout of his brother’s crimes, David changed his name to live his life in peace. In a 2004 Larry King interview with their stepmother, Shari Dahmer, it was shared that David had a happy life, a good career, and two children.
Jeffrey Dahmer’s mother and father, on the other hand, are still very much connected to their son. His father, Lionel Dahmer, published a novel in 1994 called A Father’s Story, which chronicled Jeff’s early years. Since his son’s arrest he’s been open with interviewers and publications alike about his own story and the crimes of his son. In 2020, now 86 years old and residing in Ohio, Lionel decided to step away from the limelight. Jeffrey Dahmer’s mother, Joyce, passed away in 2000 from breast cancer. Before her death, she publicly wished for her son’s brain to be studied and donated to science, with Lionel instead opting for cremation. Joyce separated from Lionel in the 70s and in various interviews she’s stated that she’s never really been able to cope with what her son did.
Glenda Cleveland (Niecy Nash) was one of the series’ most moving characters — unfortunately, much of her character was fabricated for the biopic. Glenda Cleveland was indeed a real woman; however, she lived in a neighboring building, and not in the apartment next door. It was actually Cleveland’s daughter and niece, Sandra Smith and Nicole Childress, who found the young Sinthasomphone and reported the situation to the police. Cleveland did repeatedly contact the police as depicted — and even the FBI — to follow up on his disappearance in real life, as well as meeting with the civil rights activist Jesse Jackson.
In actuality, Cleveland is a composite character of the real-life Glenda Cleveland and Pamela Bass. Some of what was portrayed surrounding Cleveland in Monster — being fed a suspicious sandwich, suffering through the dreadful smells next door, and hearing suspicious sounds that turned out to be Dahmer’s murders — can be attributed to the real-life Bass. While Monster‘s Glenda Cleveland makes for a very moving and compelling character, her portrayal frequently strays from the true story of Jeffrey Dahmer.
Following his conviction in 1992, Dahmer was sentenced to serve 16 life sentences at the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin. Because Wisconsin didn’t have the death penalty, Dahmer escaped execution — but he would still die in prison. While there, Dahmer was eventually released from solitary confinement and placed on a cleaning detail with two other men; Jesse Anderson and Christopher Scarver. After being left unsupervised while cleaning the gym bathroom, Christopher Scarver murdered both Dahmer and Anderson with a metal bar on November 28, 1994, resulting in both of their deaths.
Scarver cited multiple reasons for the murders over the years. Directly after the attacks, Scarver claimed he did it because God “told him to do it.” However, years later, Scarver told the New York Post that he killed Dahmer because of his strong dislike for the man, who would frequently brag about his cannibalistic tendencies and mock fellow inmates by pretending to consume human flesh during meal times. Scarver was sentenced to two life sentences on top of the life sentence he was already serving for a separate murder.
According to Variety, AHS star Evan Peters went through a lot to play Jeffrey Dahmer in Monster, to only further make sure the answer to “was Evan Peters’ Jeffrey Dahmer accurate?” a resounding yes. Reportedly, Peters never broke character once during filming, making the air on set very tight. The role troubled the actor mentally and psychologically, with Ryan Murphy constantly checking the star to make sure that he was ok. Murphy was hesitant to give Peters the role, as he knew just how seriously he would take it, and Peters himself was also hesitant to take it on.
The deciding factor for the actor was that he’d get to work with Murphy again, something he was eager to do. “I knew that you’re [Ryan Murphy] an incredible support system and I trust you and there’s an honesty there,” Evan Peters said. The role itself also took a physical toll on Peters, who first had to take on a new diet to lose 15 pounds for the start of Monster. He then had to put on more weight for when Dahmer started working out, and then gained an additional 20 pounds for Dahmer’s time in prison. Evan Peters worked hard to make sure that Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story was as accurate as possible.
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