Why Jeffrey Dahmer Got Kicked Out of the Army

Jeffrey Dahmer Trial
Confessed serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer is escorted into Milwaukee Circuit Court following the selection of a 28 person jury pool in Milwaukee, Wis., Jan. 29, 1992. (AP Photo/Pool/Benny Sieu)

Jeffrey Dahmer, now best known as the serial killer behind some of the most gruesome murders in American history, served in the United States Army from January 1979 until March 1981 when he received an honorable discharge.

How did a man who began his killing spree before his enlistment and continued it for a decade after his discharge get past a recruiter and leave service without a stain on his record? It's complicated.

For those who don't follow the true-crime genre, Dahmer is popularly known as the "Milwaukee Cannibal," a serial killer who raped, murdered and dismembered 17 men before he was arrested in July 1991.

Dahmer is the inspiration for the 10-episode Netflix series "Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story" and has been the subject of multiple crime documentaries on cable television networks that specialize in true crime. There's also the indie feature "My Friend Dahmer" that chronicles the future killer's life in high school before he started his murder spree.

Dahmer killed his first victim, a hitchhiker named Steven Hicks, in the summer of 1978, just after he graduated from high school in Bath, Ohio. He dismembered the body and enrolled at Ohio State University for the fall term. Dahmer allegedly spent his first semester drunk in his dorm room.

At the urging of his father, Dahmer left school and enlisted in the Army in January 1979. He trained as a medical specialist at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, before being stationed in Baumholder, West Germany, as a combat medic.

While Dahmer was rated as an "average or slightly above average" soldier during his first year of service, one of his fellow servicemen later claimed that the medic repeatedly raped him over a 17-month period. Dahmer's performance later deteriorated due to his excessive drinking.

In March 1981, his superiors decided that Dahmer's drinking impaired his ability to function as a soldier, but because no one in charge thought that his drinking and performance problems would have a significant impact on his ability to function in civilian life, Dahmer got an honorable discharge.

It's possible to imagine that 16 men wouldn't have been killed by Dahmer if Army culture at that time was such that a male soldier felt like he could report a rape by another man. If Dahmer had been convicted of rape and then spent some time in military prison before a dishonorable discharge, it may have changed the course of his horrifying murder spree.

Instead, the honorably discharged Dahmer ended up in Milwaukee. He first worked as a phlebotomist at a blood center and later on the line in a chocolate factory. Over the course of the next decade, Dahmer had several arrests for indecent exposure and sexual assault, but the Milwaukee courts never sent him to prison.

If you're interested in the gruesome details of how he lured the men he killed and what he did to their bodies, there are plenty of true-crime books, internet pages and that Netflix series to fill you in on the dismemberment, necrophilia and cannibalism.

Dahmer was eventually arrested, convicted and sent to prison where he was beaten to death by fellow inmate Christopher Sarver on Nov. 28, 1994, just 2½ years into Dahmer's life sentence. Sarver also killed inmate Jesse Anderson with the same 20-inch metal bar he used to kill Dahmer and later told a prison guard, "God told me to do it."

Dahmer was cremated and did not have a memorial service.

Editor's note: The original version of this story was corrected to say that Jeffrey Dahmer was honorably discharged from the Army.

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