In the 1980s, a psychologist named Joel Norris identified seven psychological phases that serial killers experience as they commit their crimes. In this article, we are going to look at each of those phases and relate them to Jeffrey Dahmer.
The notorious serial killer murdered and dismembered 17 men and boys from 1978 to 1991. The remains belonging to at least 11 corpses were found at his Milwaukee apartment.
Investigators also found a pan on the stove containing human brains, alongside hands and feet boiling in a separate pan. Three human heads were found in the fridge. Glass jars that contained male genitals preserved in what appeared to be a saline solution were also discovered and the bottom drawer of one cabinet also contained a whole human skeleton.
Serial killers are quite often predictable characters who have a certain set of behaviors that criminal investigators look out for. Due to their narcissistic personalities, they like to believe that this game of cat and mouse they play with detectives will go on forever. However, it’s only a matter of time before their behavioral patterns give them away.
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Phase One: Aura Phase
The first phase serial killers experience is the Aura Phase, where they begin to withdraw from reality. It may go unnoticed by those closest to them, but life has lost all meaning for the killer. Their senses are heightened. Violent fantasies begin to form and they feel the urge to act on them.
Dahmer said, “I don’t even know why it started. If I knew the true, real reasons why all this started before it did, I wouldn’t have probably done any of it.”
The simplest answer is to suppose that the dissolution of Dahmer’s personality and crimes emerged from reckless, self-indulgence in the form of a fantasy life which ought to have been kept in check. Because reality spoils this fantasy world, Dahmer would have sunk deeper and deeper into his own isolation.
Dahmer’s crime scenes are an exact copy of his own imagination, laid bare for the world to see. The sickening polaroids, the zombie-like experiments with the drill, the shrine of bones, and the kitchen full of human remains.
Phase Two: Trolling Phase
Then comes the Trolling Phase, when the killer searches for a victim. This is the phase that follows the initial fantasy – the killer starts to search for their victim as well as look for a place to commit the crime or dump the victim’s body. This phase can last for months or just days until the serial killer has found the perfect victim.
For Dahmer, he deeply fantasied about the bare chest of a male. When he lived with his grandmother, he had a mannequin in his cupboard that he would sleep with.
Dahmer envisioned this desire to be close to a guy’s bare chest daily – so in the summer of 1978 at the age of 18-years-old, Dahmer drove past a handsome hitchhiker who was bare-chested and he saw this as a sign. He later said he believed this was all set up for him, designed by fate, this hitchhiker was sent to him personally.
At the time, he was still living with his grandmother but she was out of town – it was all too perfect for him to resist. The hitchhiker got into the car – he was Steve Hicks just four days away from his 29th birthday.
Phase Three: Wooing Phase
The Wooing Phase is where the killer lures in his victim. The killer sets out to gain the victim’s trust; to put them at ease before attacking them. They may present themselves as charming, wanting to help – or harmless and in need of help themselves. This phase is experienced by only the most organized serial killers.
Organized serial killers tend to operate at three seperate crime scenes: where they first approach the victim, where they kill the victim, and where the victim’s body is later disposed of.
Disorganized serial killers on the other hand typically kill the victim where they found them and make no attempt to hide the body or clean down the crime scene.
So this wooing phase takes place at the first crime scene. This is where a serial killer will use their superficial charm and often cunning ability to manipulate others to lure the victim into a false sense of security.
Phase Four: Capture Phase
In the following phase, known as the Capture Phase, this is where the victim is entrapped.
Dahmer convinced Hicks to get into the car and ride with him to his grandmother’s house. There they drank together and smoked marijuana all evening. Dahmer said he wanted to ask Hicks to undress but he resisted.
Then Hicks began talking about his girlfriend and this was like a boiling pot of rage within Dahmer. He needed to control these events himself, here is the ultimate fantasy guy he has always imagined, yet fantasy guy is not playing the game.
Dahmer wanted complete control of the situation.
Phase Five: Murder Phase
Phase five is when the murder takes place.
Organized serial killers often chose to kill their victims slowly, causing them much suffering and torture before they die. In this phase, the serial killer reveals his true sadistic self. The victim becomes incapacitated, whether knocked unconscious or restrained or trapped somewhere.
Many surviving victims have testified how they distinctly remember the exact moment this switch in the serial killer’s persona took place – the mask of superficial charm slips and they have on many occasions said there was a distinct change in the eyes – even reporting it appeared as if the serial killer’s eye color changed – and within a flash, the killer’s true violent intentions emerge to the surface.
Dahmer went to the cellar and picked up an eight-inch long barbell – he then came back upstairs and struck Hicks across the head. When Hicks tried to fight him off, a frightened Dahmer held him down on the floor with the barbell and strangled him to death. Afterward, he stripped the body so he could admire his fantasy in real-life.
Dahmer later hid the body under the crawl space of his grandmother’s home. The next day he went out and bought a knife, he cut off the arms, legs, head, and he also sliced open the chest area to see the inside.
Phase Six: Totem Phase
Following the murder, the serial killer will enter phase six – the Totem Phase. This is the emotional high for the killer.
In the totem phase, the thrill of the kill begins to lose its power for serial killers. To keep some of the excitement, they will often take a souvenir from their victims, such as the clothes from the victim or items of jewelry. There are also many other serial killers who collect clippings of newspaper stories about the crime. These serve to remind them of the moment they made their twisted fantasy. a reality.
Dahmer had kept the head of Hicks and he took this to his bedroom to admire. 18 years old, in his grandmother’s house in the quiet countryside, this was the beginning of his descent towards madness.
He later said, “There is a process, it doesn’t happen overnight, when you depersonalize another person and view them as just an object. An object for pleasure and not a living breathing human being. It seems to make it easier to do things you shouldn’t do.”
Phase Seven: Depression Phase
Finally, there is the depression phase. This is the anti-climax that causes depression in the serial killer who comes to feel that his fantasy was not properly fulfilled.
Some may even kill themselves in this phase. Those who don’t will soon begin once again to experience those violent fantasies whilst in the aura phase and the cycle begins again.
The murder of Steve Hicks was always the most difficult one for Dahmer to talk about – in fact, later with psychologists, he would often say he would talk about anything and open up about all the other cases but that one.
So Dahmer eventually continued this cycle and claimed the lives of many innocent victims.
His final intended victim was Tracy Edwards (pictured above). Dahmer bought him back to the apartment and handcuffed him. However, Edwards managed to escape and when police officers found him running down the street with handcuffs on – they once walked him back to the apartment to get the key.
Inside the apartment, the first officer was looking for the key and noticed there was a knife under the bed and also polaroid pictures of bodies in various stages of dismemberment. Overnight, Dahmer confessed to some of the most gruesome murders the world has ever known.
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