Netflix is digging deeper into the crimes of Milwaukee serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer in a brand-new season of Joe Berlinger’s Conversations with a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes.

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Featuring unheard tapes between Jeffrey and defence attorney Wendy Patrickus, the three part series will look into Jeffrey’s psyche after he was arrested and confessed to killing and dismembering 17 boys and men – many of whom were queer men of colour – over a period of 13 years.

The documentary follows Ryan Murphy's DAHMER - Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, which was released on the streaming site on 21st September and features actor Evan Peters as Dahmer.

The Netflix series aims to put Dahmer's victims at the centre of the story and also looks at those in the community who suspected Dahmer, and those who could've done more to save his victims - but didn't.

With the release of the latest documentary, below we take a look at the true story behind Jeffrey Dahmer’s murders, revealing which parts of the series were dramatised and which parts are authentic.

The confession

Ron Bush as Jeffrey’s Lawyer and Evan Peters as Jeffrey Dahmer in DAHMER.
Ron Bush as Jeffrey’s Lawyer and Evan Peters as Jeffrey Dahmer in DAHMER. Netflix

At the centre of a large portion of the drama series is Jeffrey Dahmer’s confession, which is the bridging point for delving into different parts of his life.

Given the reality that most of his victims were killed by him, he is the most definitive source on his own crimes. This makes it hard for us to really get a firm grasp on the events that happened when you consider that Dahmer was allegedly extremely drunk during his killings. So tragically, there is a lot that will likely never come to light.

What you perhaps wouldn’t know from the show is that the interrogation which brought about his confession went on for a whopping 60 hours. The detectives portrayed on the show, Detective Patrick Kennedy and Detective Dennis Murphy, were real, but some of the specific dialogue was made for the show (since the report is not an exact transcript).

It's also worth noting that while the show frames the initial interrogation as the source of (most of) the information given about Dahmer's early life, there are also details from later interviews with publications like MSNBC and Inside Edition which influence the story being told here.

The Dahmers

Penelope Ann Miller as Joyce Dahmer in episode 108 of Dahmer. Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story
Penelope Ann Miller as Joyce Dahmer in DAHMER. Ser Baffo/Netflix

One big area of contention in the facts is the exact family circumstances in which Dahmer grew up. Lionel (his father), Joyce (his mother) and Jeff himself all gave very different impressions of the circumstances in which he was raised.

In his book A Father's Story, Lionel alleged that Joyce was very dependent on a concoction of drugs around the time of Jeffrey's birth and was a severely mentally ill hypochondriac. Joyce largely refuted these claims and pointed out Lionel's frequent absences from the house due to his doctoral studies. In the end, their differences would result in a divorce in 1978 which saw Joyce get custody of her youngest child, David.

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Where truth and fiction lie in regards to the killer's upbringing is largely dependent on who you believe more. The series hedges on whose perspective it thinks holds more weight, with Jeffrey himself appearing to hold minimal resentment towards either of his parents.

Tony Hughes

Rodney Burford as Tony Hughes in DAHMER.
Rodney Burford as Tony Hughes in DAHMER. Netflix

While some of the extras in the Ryan Murphy series, like Joyce's patients, are composite characters, like the documentary, the series mostly focuses on Jeffrey's real victims and people who actually existed.

One exception to this is in episode 6 of the drama, which is titled Silenced, and focuses on Tony Hughes (played by Rodney Burford). It's unclear how much of this episode is fictionalised, but it seems that the specific friends Rico (Jared DeBusk) and Rufus (Michael Anthony Spady) are composite characters constructed to provide a useful insight into the experiences of deaf gay men in the early 1990s. The same goes for Tony's experience with photographer Duane (Matt Steele), which again takes a slightly looser approach to the facts to give a broader idea of his specific experiences.

The police

Dyllón Burnside as Ronald Flowers and Matt Cordova as Detective Rauss in DAHMER
Dyllón Burnside as Ronald Flowers and Matt Cordova as Detective Rauss in DAHMER. Netflix

A significant portion of DAHMER on how the police failed the communities being preyed upon by Dahmer. As shown by the use of the direct transcript at the end of episode 2, it would be hard to fabricate something more shocking than the real actions of the police in this case.

However, there are still points of DAHMER's portrayal which are worth discussing. The first of which is that the show implies towards the end that the racist abuse directed at the families of the victims came (at least partially) from serving police officers. However, it's unclear if there is publicly available evidence of this happening.

The other main point relating to the police that the show doesn't cover is that John Balcerzak, one of the two men who found 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone with Jeffrey and refused to take action, was later elected to be president of the Milwaukee Police Association. He headed the organisation for four years from 2005 to 2009, even surviving an expulsion attempt.

This is perhaps the one area that The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes offers a lot more detail on, with first-hand revelations from those who worked on the case back then. As well as recorded conversations between Wendy and Jeffrey, we also hear from members of the police force.

Conversations with a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes arrives on Netflix on 7th October 2022. DAHMER - Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is available to stream on Netflix now. Sign up for Netflix from £6.99 a month. Netflix is also available on Sky Glass and Virgin Media Stream.

Read more of our Documentaries coverage or visit our TV Guide to see what else is on.

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