Almost everyone has a story about a neighbor from hell, and if you don’t, you’re either very lucky or… it was you; you were the neighbor from hell. Not literally of course. Playing loud music until late at night or not cleaning up after your dog might be incredibly annoying but they don’t make a shitty neighbor a “demon” or anything like that. Harry would know because he actually lived next door to one of history’s greatest monsters: Jeffrey Dahmer, who raped, mutilated, killed, and ate (though not always in that order) at least 17 people between 1978 and 1991. This is what Harry has learned from living next to a literal neighbor from hell.
Research by Evan Symon.
It’s All Very Friendly In The Beginning
Whenever a (white) serial killer or mass murderer serial kills or mass murders, his friends and family always say the same thing: “I can’t believe it. He [cause it’s always a he] was such a nice, pleasant person.” That’s because what makes monsters so scary is that they look and sound just like us. They’re masters of blending in, like psychopathic chameleons.
“I moved into the Oxford Apartments (In Milwaukee) in 1989,” Harry says. “The first time I saw Jeff was when he moved in (May 1990). It was another move-in, and I didn’t think much about it, but I remembered him yelling at someone helping him with boxes to not touch certain ones … After that, it was a normal ‘person who lives in my apartment building’ kind of relationship. I’d wave hi, and we’d do that acquaintance thing where we talk. I tried, like, the Brewers or the Packers, but he didn’t seem interested in sports. Then I found out he was originally from Ohio and had served in the Army.”
“For the longest time, in my mind, he was ‘Jeff-Ohio-Army guy’. Then when I found out he worked in a chocolate factory, Willy Wonka sprang to mind. So it became ‘Jeff-Willy Wonka’.”
Appropriate, because both Dahmer and Wonka had an affinity for killing kids. Oh, and in case you were wondering, those boxes that Dahmer was so finicky about? They most likely contained human parts. Dahmer loved to keep the body parts of his victims. But you’d never be able to tell it from his face.
“He was little reserved, like shy. But besides that, he seemed totally normal, and to me, was a good guy. It’s not like on TV where the murderers or serial killers taunt people or act nasty. Ever see Law and Order or another cop show where the serial killer just acts openly as the worst person ever? That wasn’t Jeff. I’d say he acted more like Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. Do you remember that scene where he talked with the cop at the door? A little awkward, but still friendly?”
“That was Jeff to a T.”
Then, You Start Noticing The Little Things
“My first real complaint wasn’t because of bringing in his boyfriends or anything. It was just loud noises that went on. It sounded like he was always building something late at night. It wasn’t bad compared to some other problems. During this time, me and another person had a complaint against the guy we lived next to because he masturbated loudly, so some guy building something at night took a backseat.”
But let’s be perfectly clear: Dahmer almost definitely was masturbating as well… with his victims’ viscera, for example. He just did it very quietly. So over time, Harry forgot about the weird noises (which were possibly Dahmer dismembering his victims in the bathtub) but he does remember one thing vividly: how “Jeff” used to close his door.
“Most people just close it, check it’s locked and go. I only passed him by on his floor once or twice, but he would open it up maybe a third of the way open, scooch out, then close then check the lock several times.”
”A bunch of things I didn’t recall until after he was found to be a monster, but that part always stuck in my mind between meeting him and the arrest. Who goes in and out that way?” Either a drug dealer or someone with dead cockroaches where their soul should be, apparently.
“After several months, he was still nice, but things weren’t adding up about him. Over time you could sense something off about him. Something inside you tells you there’s something wrong, but you don’t see it. But I sort of brushed it away. I thought ‘It’s just an awkward guy. Give him a break.’ I should never have thought that … I’m talking to you, what, 27 years after this happened, and I’m still getting chills thinking about walking past that apartment knowing now what was there.”
In Hindsight, The Clues Were Right There The Whole Time
Most people live according to an unspoken “Occam’s Razor Of Awfulness” rule, where we try to always go with the least terrifying explanation for the weird shit going on around us. In short, when we hear hooves, we think horses instead of wildebeests trampling Mufasa to death. That’s why so many of Dahmer’s neighbors didn’t think there was anything… unseemly about “Jeff” despite there being a lot of clues to the contrary.
“There was that rotting smell that you could smell from a few doors down,” Harry recalls, “but he always said that was food being left out (other stories he told were a broken freezer and his fish dying).”
”They were really body parts, or what remained of them, but we didn’t know that.”
“The most extended conversation I had with him was also with another tenant. Somehow the topic of preserving animals came up. I think Damien Hirst was in the news. Jeff had been pretty quiet as usual, just hanging around like he had to be there instead of being there willingly. But when that part came up, he started to explain about how acetone was better than alcohol, or how formaldehyde worked well ‘if you could get it’. It came out of nowhere.”
Well, not totally out of nowhere for Dahmer as we now know that he preserved many body parts from his victims in the aforementioned acetone.
“I didn’t think too much more about it. I know I’m saying that a lot, but all it did for me was to remind myself never to bring that topic up around him again. Or if I needed help preserving a bug collection or something. After he was arrested, and I found out what he dd, it was another piece of the puzzle. He WOULD know about this for what he did.”
One Day, It All Just Comes Tumbling Down But It Never Really Leaves You
“I was woken up early in the morning. I noticed a bunch of red and blue lights flashing through my window and I looked out to see a sea of MPD police cruisers outside … I didn’t know what happened. A few of the tenants got together and said the police were ‘all over’ the second floor. It didn’t even cross my mind it was Jeff until another tenant told [us] she saw him go out in handcuffs. Then, through the police, we heard a detail here, or another detail there and we were slowly getting a picture of what was happening.”
Over the next few weeks, Harry was questioned by the police, reporters, writers, those weird people who think being obsessed with serial killers counts as a personality etc. But then the circus died down and Harry was left alone. Alone with his thoughts and memories.
“I’ll be clear – I was, and still am, beyond horrified what he did. I didn’t tell you some details. Like how I was so sick after watching a TV show about him, and how it flashed to outside the apartments briefly showing mine that I threw up so much bile and blood started coming out. Or the nightmares I’ve woken up screaming to? Or how about the first time I rewatched Silence of the Lambs and during the scene the head in the rent-a-garage came up I immediately started crying? Serial killers always are focused on themselves, or with their families or with the cops who caught them.”
“They never show what happens after for those he lived nearby, and I know very well why. It’s nonstop depression.”
Part of it was Harry’s guilt. He kept asking himself: could he have done something to stop Dahmer sooner, before he claimed more victims? That’s why so many of Dahmer’s neighbors ended up needing therapy and why none of them wrote a book about him. The trauma of being this close to pure evil was just too much.
“His next door neighbor, Pamela Bass, took over 20 years to give so much as a lengthy interview. And she’s such a sweet lady.”
Then of course there’s the constant paranoia: “Every neighbor I’ve had, in apartments or houses, I’ve been scrutinizing. ‘He left at 3 AM – what’s he up to?’ That sort of thing. It’s constant questioning and checking up on people. My then fiancee’s (now wife) neighbor had this habit of using trash bags to carry everything. And he would take lump things out in the middle of the night. And I automatically thought of bodies. My [now wife] said I was paranoid, but got it after learning who one of my neighbor’s was. Finally, at 3 AM in the middle of a Milwaukee winter, I went out and blatantly asked them what they were doing. I didn’t ask if they needed help or do it more casually, I asked them very accusingly.”
It turns out that it was a new dad who was helping his wife take out dirty diapers of their new twins. He did it in the middle of the night because that’s when he had the time, and because he didn’t want to be seen lugging bags of smelly things during the day. “He called me an asshole for asking the way I did, but a few days later [he] ran out to greet me and also apologized – she had told him why I was so paranoid.”
It’s a constant struggle, and even Dahmer’s death in prison didn’t really help Harry. He’s better now but he will always carry a darkness inside him because a complete psychopath moved into the same building as him.