Inside Jeffrey Dahmer’s Childhood And The Tragic Life Of His Mother, Joyce Dahmer

Published June 15, 2024

Jeffrey Dahmer's mother struggled with mental illness while raising her son and never recovered from the guilt once his crimes came to light.

Joyce Dahmer

Joyce FlintJeffrey Dahmer’s mother Joyce Dahmer along with Jeffrey (left) and her other son, David.

When society tried to comprehend the case of Jeffrey Dahmer, the cannibalistic serial killer convicted of murdering 17 boys and men from 1978 to 1991, criminologists turned to his mother, Joyce Dahmer, for insight.

Did she create an environment that fostered this behavior? Was there anything she could have done differently? Did her own addictions play a role in turning a veritable monster loose?

This is the true story of Joyce Dahmer — a woman whose story is either tragic or enraging, depending on who and what you believe about Jeffrey Dahmer’s childhood.

Joyce Dahmer’s Role In Young Jeffrey Dahmer’s Life

Joyce Dahmer Holding Baby Jeffrey Dahmer

Family PhotoJoyce Dahmer holding her son, Jeffrey Dahmer.

Joyce Flint was born on Feb. 7, 1936, in Columbus, Wisconsin. Her parents, Floyd and Lillian, were of German and Norwegian ancestry. She also had a younger brother, Donald, who died in 2011.

It’s unclear when she got married to Lionel Dahmer, but the two had their first son, Jeffrey Dahmer, on May 21, 1960, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

To classify the Dahmer family as an “all-American” family would be a bit of a misnomer. By Lionel’s own admission in his memoir, A Father’s Story, the family unit was anything but a happy one.

Joyce Dahmer With Infant Jeffrey

RedditJoyce Dahmer with infant Jeffrey Dahmer.

Because Lionel was busy with his own doctoral studies, he was often absent from the Dahmer house. And Joyce Dahmer, according to Lionel, was far from an ideal mother. He alleged that she was on prescription drugs while pregnant to Jeffrey, and was mentally unstable after she gave birth to him.

“As a scientist, [I] wonder if [the] potential for great evil..resides deep in the blood that some of us . . . may pass on to our children at birth,” he wrote in the book. He also alleged that his now-former wife was a hypochondriac who suffered from depression, spent increasing amounts of time in bed, and refused to touch baby Jeffrey for fear of contracting germs and diseases.

Lionel Dahmer And Jeffrey Dahmer

FacebookAn undated family photo featuring Lionel Dahmer with his sons David (left) and Jeffrey (right).

But Joyce Dahmer had a very different story. In 1993, after Jeffrey’s 17 murders had come to light, she gave an interview to MSNBC wherein she challenged the narrative about her son.

Despite his father’s claims that during Jeffrey Dahmer’s childhood he was “shy” and timid, Joyce claimed that there were “no warning signs” of what Jeffrey would ultimately become. And she also claimed that after he was sentenced, he became fatalistic about his prospects.

Jeffrey Dahmer Mugshot

Public DomainJeffrey Dahmer killed 17 people before his capture in 1991.

“I always asked if he was safe,” she told People Magazine. “He’d say, ‘It doesn’t matter, Mom. I don’t care if something happens to me.'”

Jeffrey Dahmer’s Mother Wrestles With Her Son’s Grisly Legacy

On Nov. 28, 1994, a fellow inmate and convicted murderer named Christopher Scarver beat Dahmer to death with a metal bar in the prison bathroom, alongside fellow inmate Jesse Anderson.

According to Scarver, Jeffrey seemed to accept his fate. The same, however, cannot be said for Jeffrey Dahmer’s parents — especially his mother, Joyce Dahmer, who was racked with guilt about all her son had done.

“I still love my son. I’ve never stopped loving my son. He was a beautiful baby. He was a wonderful child. He has always been loved,” she said at the time.

Joyce Flint Mother Of Jeffrey Dahmer

Family PhotoJoyce Dahmer in a family photo.

Jeffrey’s father, however, was a little less sanguine about his son’s legacy. “It is a portrayal of parental dread … the terrible sense that your child has slipped beyond your grasp, that your little boy is spinning in the void, swirling in the maelstrom, lost, lost, lost,” he wrote in his memoir.

Joyce Dahmer reportedly spoke to her son at least once a week from prison according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“I said to him, I asked him, `Do you still have these urges?'” Jeffrey Dahmer said, ‘Yes, Mom, I’m so glad I’m locked up. I’d be afraid what I’d do if I weren’t locked up.'”

After Jeffrey was killed in prison, Joyce Dahmer and her now ex-husband Lionel waged war in court. Joyce wanted her son’s brain examined for any possible biological factors tying him to his murderous streak. Lionel, who objected, ultimately won out on his request. Jeffrey was ultimately cremated.

“I want something useful to come from this nightmare,” she said, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I haven’t seen one speck of light with all the horror that happened to everyone. It’s the last and only thing I can do for Jeff. I want to make some, small usefulness for my own nightmare. I’ve located experts who feel research on Jeff’s brain could be useful.”

But as racked with guilt as Joyce was, Jeffrey didn’t blame her — or his father — for the way he was. Carl Wahlstrom, a forensic psychiatrist who interviewed and evaluated Dahmer and served as an expert witness in his trial, said that the serial killer had nothing but good things to say about his parents.

“He said he had very loving parents,” he said. “[And] that blaming [his] parents for these issues was completely off the mark.”

The Tragic Story Of Joyce Dahmer’s Later Life And Death

Mother Of Jeffrey Dahmer

William JanzJoyce Dahmer after her son’s arrest.

Whether it was the fault of Jeffrey Dahmer’s parents or not, Joyce Dahmer felt guilty enough to attempt suicide. Just months before Jeffrey was killed in prison, Joyce Dahmer attempted to commit suicide via carbon monoxide poisoning.

“It’s been a lonely life, especially today. Please cremate me … I love my sons, Jeff and David,” read her suicide note. Ultimately, she survived the attempt due to strong winds blowing carbon monoxide out of her garage.

David Dahmer, for his part, wanted no part of his brother’s notoriety. According to People Magazine, he changed his name and moved far away from his parents and brother, desperate to escape the legacy that his brother left behind.

What few people were aware of, however, was that Joyce Dahmer had moved to the Fresno, California, area shortly before her son Jeffrey Dahmer’s crimes were uncovered.

Contrary to her husband’s assertion that she was an extreme germaphobe who dreaded disease, she worked with HIV and AIDS patients at a time when they were considered “untouchable,” and continued to work with him after her son was killed in prison.

In fact, when she ultimately died of breast cancer in 2000, at the age of 64, Joyce Dahmer’s friends and colleagues told The Los Angeles Times that they preferred to remember her for the work she’d done with the less fortunate.

“She was enthusiastic, and she was compassionate, and she turned her own tragedy into being able to have a great deal of empathy for people with HIV,” said Julio Mastro, executive director of the Living Room, an HIV community center in Fresno.

Joyce Dahmer Mother Of Jeffrey Dahmer

YouTubeJoyce Dahmer during an interview.

But Gerald Boyle, who was another lawyer of Jeffrey’s, believed that despite her son’s best efforts to absolve her of responsibility, she carried the guilt of his crimes and the memory of Jeffrey Dahmer’s childhood around with her for the remainder of her days.

“It was clear she bore no responsibility,” he said. “She had to live with the idea that she was the mother of a monster, and it drove her crazy.”

Now that you’ve read all about Jeffrey Dahmer’s mother Joyce Dahmer, read about Jeffrey Dahmer’s victims Konerak Sinthasomphone and Tracy Edwards.

Bernadette Giacomazzo
Bernadette Giacomazzo is a New York City-based editor, writer, photographer, and publicist whose work has been featured in People, Teen Vogue, BET, HipHopDX, XXL Magazine, The Source, Vibe, The Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Giacomazzo, Bernadette. "Inside Jeffrey Dahmer’s Childhood And The Tragic Life Of His Mother, Joyce Dahmer.", June 15, 2024, Accessed June 25, 2024.