The Dame, The Detective, and Dahmer

Dahmer Detective

When I sat down to have my first face-to-face coffee with Robyn Maharaj in 18 years, I thought we’d talk about Canadian literature, dogs, and perhaps West Indian cuisine. When she told me she had just completed a book about Jeffrey Dahmer, the light-hearted talk came to a screeching halt. I looked into Robyn’s enormous brown eyes and asked her what compelled her to pursue this journey into the heart of darkness.

I knew Robyn as a poet and an important figure in the Winnipeg literary scene, not as a true-crime lit fan. As we drank coffee on the patio at the Starbucks on Pembina on a sunny afternoon, she explained how her email exchanges and meeting with Detective Patrick Kennedy compelled her to finish the detective’s manuscript and tell the Dahmer story though his eyes.

Jeffrey Dahmer’s story has been told before and he has been psychoanalysed ad nauseam. Robyn Maharaj and Patrick Kennedy’s forthcoming Dahmer Detective: The Interrogation and Investigation that Shocked the World (Poisonberry Press) is the story about a good detective and a good man. Dahmer Detective chronicles the six weeks Kennedy spent with Dahmer leading up to his confession.

The conversation Robyn and I had was too good to keep to myself, so we turned our coffee date into an impromptu interview. The Q&A offers some insight into the process that Robyn went through working on the book. Dahmer Detective officially launches at McNally Robinson in Winnipeg on September 20, 2016. 

What led you down this macabre trajectory?

I wanted to write a piece on Jeffrey Dahmer and to speak with someone who knew him well. I wanted to know how evil Jeffery Dahmer was. I knew his crimes were evil, but he always struck me as polite whenever I saw him sitting in interviews talking about the crimes he committed and why he thought he had done them. I felt compelled to learn more about his story and see other sides of him rather than just the evil serial killer, necrophiliac, and cannibal.

I started to reacquaint myself with the case and looked up some videos online. That’s how I learned about Patrick Kennedy. Patrick Kennedy was the lead detective on the case and he interviewed Dahmer extensively. He wasn’t one of many detectives on the case; he was the one detective that Dahmer insisted on speaking with.

Through email, I got in touch with Patrick Kennedy and we wrote back and forth. Those exchanges compelled me to want to meet him. Normally, as a freelance writer, I don’t meet the people I interview, but something about Patrick made me want to take the trip.

I drove down to Madison, Wisconsin for a film festival and saw a film Patrick Kennedy was interviewed in called The Jeffrey Dahmer Files (now called JEFF: the movie when purchased by IFC). He was one of three people featured in the film. We met in person and I interviewed him. That interview gave me the framework for the magazine story I wanted to write. At the time, he asked me to read a manuscript he had written about the Dahmer case almost 20 years before and offer him some feedback. I felt honoured he asked me.

I took the manuscript and about five days after we had our initial and only meeting, he died from a heart attack. I went ahead with my article and got it published and sent his widow the link to the article. We corresponded and decided it would be a great legacy for Patrick to see his project through to the end and get his book published.

Did you get the answer to your original question about whether Dahmer was truly evil?

Kennedy and I—and maybe a handful of people in the world—can separate Dahmer’s actions from his personhood. He was a very strange, lonely guy. He had no friends at all and he had a difficult time connecting with people. He had a lot of time on his hands that allowed him to explore dark fantasies. How Patrick put it, after spending weeks with Dahmer, is that Jeffrey was a pathetically lonely man. Although Patrick viewed Dahmer’s actions as evil, he admitted that Dahmer often came across as likeable and unassuming.

I think we can learn some lessons about loneliness and fantasy from the Jeffrey Dahmer story. When you hear accounts about mass murderers shooting up theatres, you later learn that they’re often very lonely and live in a violent fantasy world. It’s only by hearing these terrible stories that we can glean insight into how to address the root of the incredible loneliness.

Dahmer’s confession provided insight and showed the complexity of different facets of his personality. The fact that his father stood by him also humanizes Dahmer. He loved his father and grandmother very much and made it clear that they were not to be blamed for his own sickness. He was a gay alcoholic who worked at a chocolate factory and had very little ambition.

What drove Dahmer to kill?

It was his sexual drive. His sexual fantasies were very twisted, but he wasn’t a torturer. There are serial killers who feed off the fear and pain of their victims, but for Dahmer, he felt that when he killed people, he was doing it in the most painless way possible. He drugged them, waited until they were unconscious, and then strangled them. He didn’t want the confrontation and he didn’t want to fight his victims. His real goal was necrophilia. He wanted to fulfill his sexual appetites and not have that person ask anything of him.

How did you cope with being immersed in Dahmer’s world while working on the book?

I am a fan of the true-crime genre, but I do not like violence and gore. Although Patrick’s manuscript did go to some very dark places, a lot of it is written in a matter-of-fact style. He did a really nice job going into some of the detail that invariably is going to make some people very uncomfortable. We’re talking about necrophilia and cannibalism. For the record, my mom hopes my next book will be on something nice, like organic gardening, but I had to see the manuscript through to publication.

Although the book focuses on Kennedy’s experience extracting a confession, we may as well get the uncomfortable facts out of the way. What were Dahmer’s crimes?

Dahmer had 17 victims from 1978 to 1991. His very first victim he killed at age 18. He had about a nine-year-hiatus and then he killed again. He tried to stop himself but he eventually succumbed to his desires. He dismembered the bodies and would eat parts and put other body parts in acid drums to destroy evidence.

Most of Dahmer’s victims were African-American men. People questioned whether he was racist, but Dahmer said his victims were the men he found attractive. He would go to the gay clubs and watch them dance and a lot of them had the body type he liked. He liked their musculature and skin colour.

There is something called somnophilia also known as the “Sleeping Beauty Syndrome,” and those afflicted by it really want a lover who is incapacitated. It’s the desire to be able to do whatever they want without having a reciprocal lover. That is the fantasy that fuelled Dahmer’s crimes.

Did you feel close to Milwaukee Homicide Detective Patrick Kennedy while working on the book?

I did. He was a great guy. Because I was reading his manuscript when he died, it really shook me up. Even though I didn’t know him well, I felt there was a connection. The other thing was that the day he died of a heart attacked marked the sixth-year anniversary of my own heart attack. I fully recovered but Patrick’s proved fatal. I survived my heart attack and he didn’t and I felt a responsibility to get Patrick’s story in print.

He had a very full life with three grown kids and six grandchildren. He was also a professor of criminology at two universities. He gave back to the community through his involvement with an inner-city sports program. The focus was on sports, but it allowed police to connect with kids and mentor them. The police would help the kids with homework and listen to the kids’ problems. This six-foot-seven police officer became known as “Coach Kennedy” and he organized basketball competitions.

I felt compelled to take his project through to completion. The investigation took place in 1991. Detectives did not have all the forensic tools we have now. To get a confession involved great skill as an interviewer. He was a gifted detective.

You mentioned that systematic racism in the Milwaukee police force may have played a role in Dahmer’s getting away with his crimes for so long. What led you to draw that conclusion?

There was a crime involving a 14-year-old Laotian boy named. Konerak Sinthasomphone. Jeffrey Dahmer mistook the boy for much older and picked him up. Back at Dahmer’s apartment, he gave the boy drink with drugs in it and the boy passed out. Dahmer decided he wanted more beer—he was a raging alcoholic— so he left the boy and went to the store. The boy woke up intoxicated but managed to stagger out to the street.

A woman saw the boy and took a windbreaker from the back of her lawn chair, covered up the boy, and tried to help him. A neighbour had called the police and they waited for the police to come. When the police arrived, the woman said, ”This boy is in trouble. He looks like he has been assaulted. You need to help him.” The police said that before they did anything, they would need to gather some more information. They were trying to talk to the boy, but the boy didn’t speak English and he slurred his words.

So this blonde-haired, blue-eyed man shows up with a six-pack and asks, “What’s going on here?” The police say that the boy came out of the apartment and they were trying to ascertain what’s going on. The people around identified Dahmer as a resident of the building, but Dahmer tells the police that the boy isn’t a teenager. “He’s of age and he’s my boyfriend,” he said.

He convinces the police to come up to his apartment. There’s actually a dead body in the apartment, but of course the police don’t know that. They take the boy back up to the apartment with one arm on each officer and Dahmer claims he can produce the boy’s identification. He looks for it and eventually says he can’t find it but offers some Polaroids he took earlier of the boy smiling with a drink. He finally convinces the police that his story is true and they leave. A half hour later, Dahmer killed the boy.

He had this uncanny ability to convince the police because he was white, polite and soft-spoken. The woman on the street was African-American and there were other teenaged girls who said, “I think this boy goes to our school. I think he’s only 14.” The police chose to believe the white guy and dismissed the woman and girls as hysterical. The issues of race and criminal justice were problems that Patrick wanted to work on. Police behaviour is very timely right now in light of Black Lives Matter and the deaths of black people at the hands of police.

How did you structure the book?

The story is told in first person. Patrick begins the book by describing getting ready to work the third shift. He tells the story of catching Dahmer and interrogating him. The story wraps up on the final day when Dahmer plead guilty. The only thing that was up for debate was whether he was sane or not. Dahmer was found sane and sentenced to prison for the rest of life. Patrick ends the story in and amongst all the media hoopla about the guilty verdict and the families’ receiving closure. Kennedy comes home and he’s alone.

I did an introduction that places the story and 1991 and describes the milieu. I kept the story in Patrick’s first-person narrative and added an analysis at the end of the book. The final part is my interview with Patrick and his observations and insights on Dahmer and a biography about Patrick.

Who’s the target audience for this book?

I think this book will appeal to anyone who is interested in the true-crime genre. I think it is also interesting from a criminal history perspective. I am hoping too that there might be some interest from the criminal justice side of things because Patrick did teach criminal justice. He tried to work very closely with the training of new officers and better screening. As I previously mentioned, there were incidents where Dahmer managed to fool police. Patrick wanted to make sure history did not repeat itself and address the systemic issue in the justice system. It’s a tragedy that he died at the age of 59, but this book will allow his legacy to live on.

Written by Candice G. Ball
Copy Edited by Vikki Wood

 

Red Wine

redwine

Some jazz and a glass of shiraz
wild black currant and black pepper—
making me sloppy-tongued and rosy.

Even though I try to pace myself
I am a varietal drunk—
wine and trouble is the only pairing I know.

Oh pinot noir!
Your ripe cherry scent seducing me
with notes of clove and allspice—
you played me like a blood-red violin.

Red red wine you make me feels so fine
until the memory curtain drops to black
long before last call.

The morning after—
a purple-stained mouth
and sobriety crushed over sour grapes.

—Candice G. Ball

 

Five strategies to beat the winter blues

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It’s 8:00 a.m. in Winnipeg in late August. The sky is the colour of nicotine-stained apartment walls. It’s no December sky, but it’s certainly not proper August light—and it’s only going to get worse.

For as far back as I can remember, the shorter days of fall ushered in a more sober, down-to-business mood. But some years, the lack of light put me flat out of business; and the December solstice, the darkest day of the year, usually marked my lowest low.

I’d start to feel draggy in October. I found it harder to get out of bed and my energy would start lagging around 3:00 p.m. In an effort to pick myself up, I’d often go for a sugary carb like a muffin. (Back in the ‘90s, we actually thought muffins were a healthy snack, not a carby calorie bomb). Invariably, I would get a burst of energy followed by a crash that would leave me feeling even more lethargic.

I also noticed a shift in my thinking. Self-doubt and negative thoughts would start to take hold in the fall; whereas in the summer, I could just brush them away like a pesky mosquito. Performing mundane tasks would suddenly feel overwhelming. I grew increasingly irritable with people and would occasionally say the things I would only think during lighter months.

By November, I would be in a full seasonal depression. I would gain weight from trying to perk myself up with the carbs, which would cause me to further spiral into a bad place. For many years, I had a winter wardrobe and a summer one.

By December, I felt like I was in a bleak, black-and-white Scandinavian film shot in the dead of winter and my life seemed futile and doomed. Every minute would be packed with more existential angst than Woody Allen film. Somehow I survived these winter funks, but it was downright miserable. When I finally got the official diagnosis that I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) just over a decade ago, I felt relieved because the sleep specialist not only gave me a diagnosis; he offered viable solutions.

Over the years, I have mastered the art and science of combating winter blues. Here is my attack strategy:

1. Light Therapy

I start using a portable light therapy device in late August. My light therapy product of choice is The Litebook. Clinical research showed the wavelengths of light emitted by The Litebook likely assists in regulating the body’s melatonin levels. It also increases the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin. I like the Litebook because they conducted clinical trials and it’s Canadian company. I use the device for 30 minutes each morning and it staves off that groggy, draggy feeling.

2. Exercise

Although it is often the last thing I want to do when I’m feeling lethargic and it’s minus 30 out, exercise instantly elevates my mood, clears my thinking and makes me feel vivacious. I exercise as much for the mental benefits as I do for the physical. I work out at least five times a week, and I feel best when I exercise long and hard enough to break a sweat.

3. Proper Nutrition

Although my body wants nothing but processed carbs, I’ve succumbed enough times to know that giving my body sugar and starch will only end in sugar spikes and crashes and weight gain. I strive to eat lean and clean because there’s nothing more depressing than popping buttons and splitting pants—and that is what will happen if I don’t watch it. When I fall off the wagon like I did last weekend (mmmmm BBQ chicken pizza), I do not sweat it because that will only lead to more self-sabotage, but I do get right back on the wagon.

4. No Alcohol

Alcohol is a depressant and it’s full of sugar and empty calories. For those reasons, I abstain. I can remember years that I felt in tipsy good cheer, but it was an inauthentic buzz and I would always feel blue the next day. If you suffer from any kind of depression, putting a depressant in your body is generally a bad idea, although self-medicating with alcohol is extremely common.

5. Bright Lights, Sparkles and Charity

I used to despise Christmas and all the emotionally exploitative marketing and commercialization that goes with it. Railing against it, however, did not help my mood. Over the years, I have learned to love lights, the festively decorated houses and all the sparkly, glittery wrappings. I regard them as a kind of light therapy. I also make sure I have glittery toenails so I can look at the sparkles when I practise hot yoga.

Charity also helps. By focusing on those in need, I get into the spirit of giving. One year I was Santa to a senior. “My” senior provided a list of things she wanted and I shopped around for toiletries that I thought she’d like, consulted beauty advisors about what body sprays seniors prefer and got her a sweater the colour of the flower after which she was named. It did wonders for my soul and I get excited when I think about her opening all the goodies I put together for her.

So that’s what works for me. I could easily succumb to it and live like a nocturnal beast for half the year, but I do not like to waste time and suffer needlessly. Bright light therapy, exercise, good sleep hygiene, proper nutrition and sleep and soul activities keep me in good cheer even during the darkest days of the year.

Why I got hooked on hot yoga

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It wasn’t David Beckham, Lady Gaga, George Clooney or Gwyneth Paltrow who turned me onto Bikram yoga. It was my dear friend Melinda. She’s an accomplished executive in the energy industry, a mother of two and a devoted yogini. She touted the benefits of hot yoga, and she looked fabulous with her glowing skin and toned body. She also seemed at peace with herself and whatever life sent her way.

I did eventually make my way down to a hot yoga class and my only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner. It proved to be the antidote to so many of my ailments from my migraines to a sluggish immune system.

For those of you who have never been to a hot yoga class, here’s what you can expect: the room is set to 40 degrees Celsius and it’s humid. Classes last 90 minutes, and during each class you methodically work your way through 26 postures. The classes are über-structured and there’s etiquette about when you can drink, blow your nose and pee (before and after class). Leaving the room is frowned upon.

You may pour sweat. Some people occasionally take the “wind-clearing” posture literally. During almost every class I ask myself, “Why am I doing this to myself?” I asked myself that every single day during a 30-Day Challenge I did a few years ago, but at the end of those 30 days, I felt like a goddess, albeit a sweaty one.

What I put into Bikram yoga is nothing compared to dividends it delivers. My attention span has improved, I feel more relaxed and I sleep better. I can better manage the stress of a demanding full-time job and my part-time freelance gigs. The classes also help mitigate the impact of cycling, running and weight lifting. I believe that practising regularly goes a long way to minimizing injuries and strains.

One of the other perks is the incredible people you’ll encounter. They are the friendliest, most supportive of group of people you’ll ever meet. They come in all shapes and sizes; there’s no body shaming.

I have heard about diehard Bikram yoga lovers just walking out of class one day and never going back. They’re burnt out on the 90-minute time commitment, the sweaty yoga apparel, and the repetition of the same 26 postures over and over and over again. I feared that was happening to me when I recently had a rough class and did the unthinkable: I left the room and didn’t go back for a few months.

At first, I enjoyed the break, but then I noticed my attention span grew shorter as did my patience. I started to experience aches and pains after runs. I also missed my sweaty family. I recently returned to classes and I’m not turning my increasingly flexible back on hot yoga again.

Practising Bikram yoga has given me things I lacked: structure, focus and discipline. I am a rebel and I hate being told what to do. But the rewards have been so immense and have trickled into other areas of my life. For 90 minutes a day, about three days a week, I do what I am told.

There’s a saying that if you can control your breathing, you can control your life. There have been times when it has been difficult to breathe in the heat and humidity, but I listened to my instructors and breathed through my nose and all anxiety dissipated. I have used that technique outside the hot room to control anxiety and anger.

I know that the 90 minutes away from my iPhone, my work email, my personal email, Facebook and Twitter has also changed my life. I shut the world out for 90 minutes in class and I don’t know if I could do this on my own. I have been known to text from the treadmill. You’d be surprised how much a 90-minute break from all the noise and constant communications will reduce your stress level.

I go to Studio 26 Hot Yoga, a well-respected studio in Winnipeg, because the instructors stick to the dialogue and sweat the sweat. Several of the instructors used to be professional dancers and the owner of the studio, Todd Miller, has worked in the fitness industry for 30 years and danced professionally for many years. I have a dance and gymnastics background and I appreciate the corrections I get from people who have similar training.

So I am officially hooked on hot yoga and will be getting my sweat on for years to come.

Winnipeg, My Winnipeg

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Winnipeg, My Winnipeg! In the middle of summer, you’re so easy to love, but in the winter you test my commitment and make me dig deep to come up with reasons to stay.

I still haven’t forgotten the winter of 2014. The last time Winnipeg experienced such a brutal winter Crystal Gayle’s “Don’t it Make my Brown Eyes Blue” and the Bee Gees “How Deep is Your Love” topped the charts. In 1978, I would’ve made the annual train trip with my family to visit my grandfather in Winnipeg, but I don’t remember the cold. I remember eating warm apple pie at Mother Tucker’s, buying strawberry Kissing Potion from Polo Park, and the smell of mothballs in my grandfather’s orderly basement.

I was born in Winnipeg, but my dad, a periodontist, got hired by the University of Saskatchewan’s Faculty of Dentistry, so we moved back to his hometown. My mother moved away from her hometown but she always remained a Winnipegger. Trips to see my grandfather Vic in Winnipeg were one of the high points of my childhood.

When I moved to Winnipeg after I graduated from University of Saskatchewan in 1994, I fell in love with Winnipeg as a young adult. I drank pitchers of beer and listened to the blues at the Windsor Hotel, I went to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s premiere of Dracula, and I soaked up the vibrant art and literary scenes.

Before I began the corporate career climb that took me to Calgary, I had the fortune of running with some gifted poets in Winnipeg. We gave raucous poetry readings at Cousin’s and other venerable Winnipeg institutions. Through a program put on by the Manitoba Writers’ Guild, Catherine Hunter mentored me and took me through a rigorous rework of my poetry manuscript, Painted Women.

In Winnipeg, I became a poet. I didn’t realize that until I sat across from Linda Holeman at a Starbucks in Calgary to interview her for the Calgary Herald. “Oh, you’re the poet from Winnipeg,” she said before we discussed her novel, The Linnet Bird. It took me aback because my business card said Associate Editor, Oilweek. I profiled writers for the Herald, but my beat was primarily energy with an emphasis on oilsands—Alberta’s black gold.

It’s the poetry that lured me back to Winnipeg and it’s the poets, novelists, playwrights, musicians, artists, actors and dancers who keep me here. So rather than complaining about our provincial bird—the mosquito—or about how Winnipeg is colder than Mars in the wintertime, I’m going to pay homage to the city of my birth and profile some of the local folks who matter to me.

My tribute to Winnipeg will be a series of short Q&A’s with Winnipeg movers and shakers that you can read in five minutes. It’s the least I can do for the city that has given me so much.