In the early 1990s, investigative journalist Nancy Glass sat down with convicted serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer for an exclusive interview designed to dive into the dark details of his crimes. Now, a decade and a half later, she is revisiting his life and crimes for a new two-part documentary, “Dahmer on Dahmer: A Killer Speaks.”
“People keep asking me now, ‘With all this violence, why this crime?’ And I say, ‘Because he touched every single victim with his own hands,'” Glass tells Variety about why she feels Dahmer’s crimes still continue to resonate decades after he committed and was convicted of them. “Think about that. Today we hear about these horrible mass shootings, and this is a guy that looked every single victim in the eye.”
Glass recalls first meeting Dahmer and remembering thinking how “normal” he appeared — a common reaction, she says, even after he was arrested for exposing himself and for molestation. (“A 14-year-old kid who was bleeding and naked was found outside of his apartment, and he just went into this ‘aw shucks’ mode where he appeared to be this normal guy, and he was sorry, apologetic, ‘nothing’s going on.’ He got away with it,” Glass points out.)
In re-purposing that interview for her new documentary “Dahmer on Dahmer: A Killer Speaks,” Glass says she was reminded of the importance of stepping back and seeing the bigger picture. “I say how normal he appeared, but here he is, telling me how sorry he is and using all the right words, but then you also have to step back and say, ‘Yeah, but he’s a psychopath,'” she says. “When he would talk to me and tell me he was sorry and appear to be self-analytical, a large part of me thought he was a psychopath and a liar. All he’s ever done his whole life was lie.”
“Dahmer on Dahmer: A Killer Speaks” explores not only the escalation of those lies and his crimes, but also the constant inability — or unwillingness — of those around him to see who he really was. Glass sits down with a former classmate who recalls how he would show up to high school drunk, as well as a former neighbor who was blindsided by the eventual search of Dahmer’s apartment, Dahmer’s parents and two of his victims.
Glass developed a relationship with Dahmer’s parents back in the ’90s, which is what led to her getting the interview. But back then, they did not want to speak about their son or what he did. And even today, Glass notes, there was some reluctance to put the spotlight on themselves. Dahmer’s father Lionel, for example, at first only agreed to an audio interview.
“I said, ‘I don’t know if people will listen if they can’t see you,'” Glass says. “And that’s when he decided he’d wear sunglasses in the interview because he felt it disguised him enough.”
Glass knew that there were a couple of Dahmer’s victims who were still alive, and she and her team reached out to them to take part in the documentary. Billy Capshaw and Preston Davis, who served with Dahmer in the Army, both felt they couldn’t speak up years ago, Glass notes, “but now they can.”
For Glass, a big reason to return to the story were those victims. “I can never lose sight of the victims. I just can’t get the victims off my mind. It is so terrible, what he did to these men. It was horrific,” she says. But Dahmer was killed in prison in 1994, and because of that, she also had a desire to dig deeper into his life after his final arrest.
“I wanted to examine what happened to him after her went behind bars, because the thing is, he wanted to die. Of all of the things he said, the one thing I believed was that he wanted to die,” Glass says. “I wanted to examine how that happened, how that affected his family, did they expect it also? And to learn more about the very end of his life — and we did, and I think that also tells you something.”
In releasing this new documentary, Glass says her main goal is that people feel like they have answers to a story with psychological and societal complications. “People are interested in crime programming so they can find answers, so they can figure things out,” Glass says. “If you can learn something from it, if you can take away something from it, if you can get closer to the story and see how you would feel if you were sitting there, then that’s good for me.”
“Dahmer on Dahmer: A Serial Killer Speaks” premieres Nov 11. at 7 p.m. on Oxygen.