Gay History: Jeffrey Dahmer Once Lived in South Florida

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Jeffrey Dahmer (right) and a composite police sketch from the Twin City Mall.

Jeffrey Dahmer, the cannibalistic serial killer, once lived in South Florida. 

With the recent release of the movie “My Friend Dahmer,” I thought it a good time to remind people that Dahmer lived in South Florida for a short while in 1981 after a stint in the military. The movie is based on the true biographical graphic novel by Derf Backderf (who coincidentally got his career start as a cartoonist for the Palm Beach Post in the 1980s).

Unbeknownst to anyone at the time Dahmer had already killed hitchhiker Steven Hicks a few years earlier, but none of that was learned until after his notorious 1991 arrest when police raided his Milwaukee apartment and found evidence of cannibalism, body parts stashed all over the apartment—some in jars of acid, and others frozen.

Most of Dahmer’s crimes took place outside of Florida, but there has been speculation he killed people while he lived down here. We know so much about his time here in part because several writers have attempted to connect Dahmer to the kidnapping and murder of Adam Walsh, which took place that summer of 1981. 

For 6 months that year Dahmer had been living just a few miles away in Sunny Isles Beach.

Shortly after graduating high school with no real plan of action for what to do with his life and at the urgency of his father, Dahmer entered the U.S. Military. In spring of 1981 Dahmer was discharged primarily for alcohol abuse.  Because military officials did not feel Dahmer’s issues in the military would directly affect others outside of the military, his discharge was deemed “honorable.” Offered a one-way ticket by the government to anywhere in the country free charge, Dahmer, not able to face his father and sick of the cold weather, chose Miami. 

Miami was probably far from what Dahmer had pictured. At the time Miami Beach was mostly run down and full of low income retirement homes. With no money he made a home for himself among many other drifters along Sunny Isle. 

One day Ken Haupert, the manager of Sunshine Subs in the strip mall at NE 170th St. and Collins Ave. noticed Dahmer digging through the dumpster behind his business. Haupert invited him in for something to eat and learned of Dahmer’s recent discharge from the military. He offered Dahmer a job and even put him up in a room at the nearby Bimini Motel.

Haupert had difficulty with Dahmer as an employee, he often came to work looking very disheveled and sometimes even drunk. Often Haupert would just send him home and try again the next day. 

Perhaps the most startling thing to happen during Dahmer’s employment was the time Dahmer had approached Haupert to inform him of a dead body behind the sub shop that Dahmer claims he had been stepping over all morning when unloading trash into the dumpster. 

Miami-Dade Police records show that Dahmer did indeed report finding a dead body on July 7, 1981. This was just a  few weeks before the infamous kidnapping of Adam Walsh, son of America’s Most Wanted host, John Walsh.  Adam was kidnapped from the Hollywood Mall on July 27, which was only a few miles away from where Dahmer was living.  A few years ago Hollywood Police closed the case and pinned it on Jacksonville serial killer Otis Toole, who had already died in prison in 1996. 

But was Toole really guilty?

True crime writer and former reporter for the “Hollywood Sun Tattler” newspaper Arthur Jay Harris has set out to trace Dahmer’s time in South Florida and has written several books on the topic.  He is the reason we know so much about what Dahmer did here. Harris is convinced Dahmer may have been responsible for this crime.  Many witnesses reported Adam was kidnapped by someone in a blue van. Sunshine Subs owned a blue van that employees regularly had access to that disappeared for days on end often. Did Dahmer have access to this van? Could he have used it to kidnap Adam Walsh? 

Harris did present some interesting observations.  Exactly two weeks before Walsh was kidnapped, a young boy named Terry Keaton was playing in a similar Atari display in the Sears at the Twin City Mall in North Palm Beach.  A man attempted to grab him and Keaton got away but not without making quite a ruckus in the store.  The attempted kidnapper also got away but several people got a good look at him, enough so that North Palm Beach police were able to publish a police sketch which resembled what Dahmer would have looked like at the time.

Harris along with Willis Morgan, a witness who claims to have seen Dahmer at the Hollywood Mall that day, looked into more about the man Dahmer found behind the sub shop.  They located an abandoned meter room next to the dumpster where the body was found.  Relatively untouched since 1981 there was an aged axe leaning against the wall and what looked like blood splatter.  The discovery was so intriguing, ABC’s Primetime even did an investigation with luminal which did indeed prove there was blood on the wall. Is this perhaps where Adam Walsh was killed?  Again, we may never know.  But it is indeed an interesting coincidence.

Dahmer was asked about the Walsh case in 1991 after his arrest. He denied having had anything to do with it. Hollywood police eventually dismissed him a suspect since it did not fit his typical “M.O.”  Though in reality it would be hard to tell if Dahmer was responsible for more killings than he admitted to. It is known that he very much did not want to be subject to the death penalty, which did not exist in Wisconsin, but did exist in Florida. Harris believes Toole was spoon-fed information by police and often got a lot of information wrong before he got it right concerning the Walsh case. And, since by the time police closed the case in 2008 Toole had already died, it seemed easy to pin it on him.

As for Dahmer, unable to make something of himself in South Florida, his father wired him money to return home by the end of the summer of 1981.  The rest of Dahmer’s story is history.   

If you’d like to read more about Jeffrey Dahmer’s time in Florida and his possible involvement in Adam Walsh’s murder, check out Arthur Jay Harris’ “Jeffrey Dahmer’s Dirty Secret” or Willis Morgan’s “Frustrated Witness.” Both offer great insight on the case and what South Florida was like at the time. 

According to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) there are currently 6 unidentified bodies that were found in Broward and Dade counties from the summer of 1981. We don’t know who the victims were or what happened to them. 

Could these be additional Dahmer victims? At least 4 of them fit Dahmer’s primary interest of young men.


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