A Milwaukee city official credits Netflix’s new Jeffrey Dahmer series for inspiring unprecedented calls for a memorial in honor of the serial killer’s victims.
Jeff Fleming, the communications director for Mayor Cavalier Johnson, says the release of Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story has led to “a number of calls” from citizens to the mayor’s office asking for some type of tribute for the 17 men and boys that Dahmer killed between 1978 and 1991.
“I think that the current dramatic Dahmer television show has spawned interest [in a memorial],” Fleming told The Daily Beast. “I don’t know that there was interest that was publicly raised prior to that.”
Fleming is a former journalist who covered the so-called Milwaukee Cannibal’s trial for local ABC affiliate WTMJ in the early ‘90s. He’s served as the comms director for all of the city’s mayors since.
Public calls for a memorial have intensified on Twitter over the past week after the Ryan Murphy-produced miniseries debuted on Netflix. Dahmer was the most-watched show in its first week on Netflix with 196.2 million hours viewed—the most since Stranger Things Season 4. Neither the streaming service nor representatives for Murphy responded to requests for comment from The Daily Beast.
A public remembrance of Dahmer’s victims would stand in stark contrast to the way Dahmer’s own existence has been wiped from the city’s architecture. The complex where he killed and dismembered his victims, Oxford Apartments, was bought by a nonprofit and demolished in November 1992, about 15 months after his arrest, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The lot is currently an empty patch of grass surrounded by a fence in the city’s West Side. Also in 1992, the downtown chocolate factory that Dahmer worked at was leveled to make way for a new facility, per Milwaukee magazine. In 1996, Dahmer’s belongings were destroyed by an organization led by Joseph Zilber. The late real estate magnate bought the items from the victims’ families for $407,225 (about $768,695 today) in order to stop them from being auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Fleming says Mayor Johnson is open to the idea of hosting a memorial for the victims on public land, a process that would have to go through the normal ordinance process in the City Council.
“But there is caution, however, about a physical memorial,” he added. “That would have the unfortunate potential to attract people who have a morbid fascination with Jeffrey Dahmer. The mayor does not want to create a ghoulish destination for Dahmer acolytes.”
Author Anne E. Schwartz, who broke the Dahmer story for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on the night of his arrest, remembers how Dahmer’s old building became the site of macabre pilgrimages after his arrest.
“It got to a really weird place,” she said. “There was a guy, he used to pull a wagon around the city with bricks and dirt from the apartments, trying to get people to purchase it. I’d heard from law enforcement that people were coming and taking things from the site in the middle of the night.”
Schwartz wrote the 2021 book Monster: The True Story of the Jeffrey Dahmer Murders, which has nothing to do with the latest show despite its similar title. She says it’s probably best that the old Oxford Apartments lot remains vacant.
“It’s a curiosity for a lot of people, but for most people here in the city of Milwaukee, they just assumed that we would never mention Jeffrey Dahmer’s name again,” she said.
The Netflix show, starring Evan Peters as the eponymous killer, has been the subject of a few rounds of online conversation since before it came out. In a viral tweet days before the premiere, one woman who worked on the show as a COVID testing coordinator complained that she was “treated horribly” on set and was mistaken for another Black female crew member. A day after the premiere, Eric Thulhu, a cousin of Dahmer victim Errol Lindsey, pointed out that renewed interest in Dahmer and his victims was “retraumatizing” his family further.
“And for what?” he asked. “How many movies/shows/documentaries do we need?”
Controversies aside, the show appears to be doing exceedingly well for Netflix—though critics have been far less kind.