Joe Berlinger is sure that Jeffrey Dahmer had a “death wish” when the serial killer requested to be transferred to general population.
It was February 1992 when Dahmer arrived at the Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin, to serve 15 consecutive life sentences. His horrific crimes attracted worldwide attention and he was dubbed the “Milwaukee Cannibal”. Police officers decided to take Dahmer into protective custody out of fear that an inmate was trying to make a name for himself by targeting the killer. But Dahmer was eventually released from his isolated cell.
“I can’t say I knew this was a way out for him,” the Oscar-nominated filmmaker told Fox News Digital. “But I do think that was part of his decision-making. Ultimately, I think he regretted what he did. I know that goes against conventional thinking. People say that to be a serial killer, you can’t have empathy. But I do think he was seriously mentally ill. He wasn’t insane by the legal definition of insanity, but obviously anyone who’s creating zombies and killing people to sleep with them is mentally disturbed.”
“I can’t say I knew that in three weeks he would be killed,” Berlinger shared. “But I do think he was someone who didn’t resist.”
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On Friday, Netflix released a new Berlinger true crime documentary titled “Conversations with a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes.” It features rare recordings based on multi-hour meetings between Dahmer and his defense attorney, Wendy Patrickus. Viewers can hear Dahmer candidly describe his horrific crimes in disturbing detail.
In the film, Patrickus described how surprised she was when Dahmer told her that he wanted more freedom to move around with other inmates. Patrickus suspected the move would be fatal.
Prison officials transferred Dahmer to a unit for inmates with emotional problems. At first, he apparently kept to himself while attending classes and performing work duties. But then he started teasing the inmates with his morbid food-related sense of humor.
In 1994, Dahmer and inmate Jesse Anderson were cleaning bathrooms when they found themselves unattended for 20 minutes. Christopher Scarver, repulsed by Dahmer’s crimes, beat him to death. Dahmer was 34 years old. Anderson was also killed.
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“There are many reasons to tell this story today,” Berlinger explained. “You have to remember that Netflix is a global platform and it allowed me to tell this story responsibly… Dahmer represents a chillingly fascinating phenomenon and an important one to introduce to a younger generation who may not be familiar with the stories. He seemed like a nice guy.” polite and appeared normal. But this is a lesson that can’t be repeated enough. Just because someone looks and acts a certain way doesn’t mean you should trust them.”
The premiere of this film is no accident. On September 21, the streaming giant released Ryan Murphy’s limited series “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.” The show racked up nearly 300 million hours during its second week on the streaming service, Deadline reported. Almost 200 million hours were watched in its first week after its premiere. According to the outlet, “Dahmer” has become the ninth most popular series on Netflix after just 12 days. It was viewed by 56 million households in less than two weeks.
Berlinger has previously made two “Conversations” documentaries detailing the crimes of Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy. In 2019, he also directed “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” starring Zac Efron as Bundy.
There is a suspicion that there may be more victims today who were killed by Bundy and Gacy before they were executed. In Dahmer’s case, Berlinger believes he was more hands-on with his crimes.
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“You know, there’s always that possibility because you’re obviously relying on his memories,” Berlinger said. “And for the most part, the identifications [of his victims] they were made through the horrific finds of body parts from his apartment. There’s always a chance, but I’d say it’s much less likely than with some of the other serial killers. She admitted it immediately. What makes these tapes so extraordinary was how direct he was in revealing what he did. He was comfortable with Wendy Patrickus, who got more information out of him than the police.”
Dahmer, a sex offender, committed the rape, murder, and dismemberment of 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991. Many of his subsequent murders involved necrophilia, cannibalism, and preservation of body parts. Dahmer was convicted of 15 murders in Wisconsin. According to prosecutors, there was not enough evidence to charge him with the sixteenth murder. He also pleaded guilty to the murder of a hitchhiker in Ohio in 1978.
The new attention surrounding Dahmer’s case has been criticized by some relatives of his victims. They have said that such projects have been “retraumatizing” as they have been forced to relive the tragedies all over again.
Berlinger said the goal of his documentary is to show how Patrickus, who is unknown to many today, helped bring about justice.
“You know, we tend to have a patriarchal view of these stories,” Berlinger said. “We should celebrate the woman, the young attorney on the team, the junior attorney on the team, who actually got all this information. I think retelling the story from that perspective was very important in the context that we find ourselves in in 2022. “And it was in the way he communicated with him. It was a very brave conversation on his part. She projected an image of trust and openness to Dahmer which allowed him to open up. It was the particular gestures of her and how she handled the situation that allowed these revelations to come out.”
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“This genre gets a lot of flak, but in the hands of responsible filmmakers, there are very good reasons to tell these stories,” he said.
There’s also another lesson Berlinger hopes viewers learn from the film.
“Maybe people recognize their own struggles,” he said. “Maybe it will cause people to seek help when they hear this story and understand some of the warning signs…As a filmmaker, I feel good about getting that message out to the world. And…just because people look and act a certain way It doesn’t mean you should implicitly trust them.”
Associated Press contributed to this report.