The Little Flat of Horrors

In a saga recalling The Silence of the Lambs, a Milwaukee man is seized in a den of preserved heads and mutilated body parts

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For months residents sensed that all was not right at the Oxford Apartments, a 49-unit low-rise building on Milwaukee's crime-infested west side. A power saw buzzed at odd hours. The putrid odor of rotting meat flooded the corridors. Occasionally, a tenant would hear a cry or the thump of a falling object on the second floor.

When police entered Apartment 213 last week, they were shocked to find a freezer covered with Polaroid photographs of mutilated men. Inside they discovered two severed heads and one more stashed in the refrigerator. A closet and filing cabinet yielded more human skulls and a kettle containing what are thought to be decomposing hands and a male genital organ. Various body parts were strewn around the apartment, as were bottles of acid and chemical preservatives.

Unlike Hannibal ("the Cannibal") Lecter, the brilliant mass-murdering psychiatrist in The Silence of the Lambs, the creature who apparently turned Apartment 213 into a private slaughterhouse is an unassuming 31-year-old ne'er-do-well named Jeffrey L. Dahmer. The pale, sandy-haired Dahmer, who was recently fired from his job at a Milwaukee chocolate factory, immediately confessed to 11 murders. Police believe he may have actually committed as many as 17 during the past 10 years. Most of the apartment victims were black males, and some were homosexuals. One trait Dahmer seems to share with the fictional Lecter is an apparent penchant for cannibalism: he told police he had saved a human heart "to eat later."

Throughout much of his life, there were warning signs that something was terribly wrong with Jeffrey Dahmer. His stepmother, Shari Dahmer, who was interviewed last week by the Cleveland Plain Dealer before clamming up to the press, said that "when he was young, he liked to use acid to scrape the meat off dead animals." At 18, Jeffrey witnessed the bitter divorce of his parents and lived with his mother in Bath Township, Ohio. But one day, said Shari Dahmer, his mother disappeared with his younger brother, leaving Jeffrey with nothing. Often Dahmer attempted to sedate himself with alcohol. "He was a gentle person, but when he got drunk it would take four policemen to hold him down," said Shari Dahmer.

For six years Jeffrey lived with his grandmother in West Allis, Wis. During the late 1980s, Shari Dahmer recalled, a harsh chemical odor began to emanate from the basement and garage. When Jeffrey's father Lionel, a chemist, found "bones and the residue in the containers," Jeffrey told him that he had been stripping the flesh from an animal he had found. "Now I look at it, and I think that it's possible he was destroying human body parts," said Shari Dahmer.

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