Read an Excerpt
The Jeffrey Dahmer Story
Little Boy Lost
Monday, May 27, 1991
He was only fourteen years old and running for his life, trying to get away from the tall man. For a time, he thought he had made it, that he had escaped, just as his brother had done. Two young women had come out of the darkness to help him, and when the big fire engine showed up, a woman fire fighter wrapped his naked body in a blanket. Now, three policemen, shining badges and all, stood only a fingertip away as he leaned against the fender of a blue-and-white squad car.
The legs of the dark-haired, olive-skinned youngster were streaked with some of the blood that had oozed from his violated anus. Tears coated his cheeks with a dry sheen. He was cold, and his head felt stuffed with cotton because he had been drugged. Konerak Sinthasomphone was terrified, trapped in a nightmare on the hard streets of Milwaukee, still unable to do much more than shake his head and softly say, "No." But now the police were here. They would arrest the tall man, just as they had when his brother got into trouble with a man several years ago.
Monday, May 27, was a gentle night in Milwaukee as an early spring pushed away the bitter winter. A few more months, come summer, and people would flock to the streets for festivals and food and the kind of backslapping comradeship that neighborhoods in big cities enjoy. Even at this time of night, people would be sitting in the parks or coming home from the movies or just walking around two blocks over on Twenty-seventh Street. There would be plenty of people around in about a month, when the weather really warmed up. But right now, Konerak felt as alone as he ever had felt in his young life.
What he had just endured in that foul-smelling apartment with the tall man had left him confused and shattered and desperately in need of help. He knew that more bad things, things like those he had seen in the pictures scattered around the apartment, might happen if he did not get out of there.
In a stroke of good fortune, while Konerak was still passed out in the apartment the man had gone out to buy beer. The boy, in pain, awoke, managed to yank open the wooden door, and ran away.
But he could not actually run very fast because the sleeping potion had robbed him of the quickness he always showed when tearing down the sidelines on a soccer field, clipping the ball along with the side of his foot. He felt as if he were moving through heavy molasses. He told his legs to hurry, but they refused to obey his command. Instead, he sidled along in a kind of stagger; that was the best he could do. Stark terror fueled what little energy he could muster to escape, for he knew the tall man would be coming after him. Konerak could only hope someone might intervene. That was his only chance. One foot ahead of another, he wobbled along, out into the street. But the tall man was striding quickly toward him, catching up.
Konerak, a handsome Laotian youngster, had been missing from his home since the previous day, when he had vanished on his way to the usual Sunday soccer practice in Mitchell Park. As an Asian boy, he instinctively took to soccer the way American boys seem to know how to throw a baseball from the time they are in the crib. Konerak kept up with the fortunes of the Milwaukee Brewers, but they were already falling behind the pack in the American League East and it was hard to bring much enthusiasm to bear for astring of losses. The Green Bay Packers were idle until fall, so football was not of interest for the time being. Soccer was where a small kid with lightning reflexes could shine. Size didn't really matter on the soccer field, and for a little guy, that was important. Konerak had dreams of becoming a professional soccer player, like his heroes Pelé, Beckenbauer, and Maradona. He religiously worked out lifting weights with his legs to make them stronger for the field and got into a game at every opportunity.
The Sinthasomphone family was relatively new to the United States. After the long, bruising conflict in Indochina was won by the Communists, the family had decided that the brutal regimes that had taken over Saigon, Phnom Penh, and Vientiane were offering only additional years of pain and hardship, despite their declarations of helping the people. In 1980, the family fled Laos, abandoning the sparkling air and the emerald mountains and lush jungles for a place that was truly foreign to them, a city in the United States, the place the American GIs who fought in Indochina used to refer to as "the World," as if Laos and Vietnam and Cambodia were on some far-distant planet. Milwaukee, which since its beginning has been a melting pot for various cultures. In Milwaukee, it is assumed that a family has roots in some foreign land and that the first generation speaks English with an accent. Their children will speak the language better, and the grandchildren will grow up with thepromise and the problems of any American child. As they watch the third generation grow up, grandparents may wonder if they made the right decision in leaving the old country, as they see the kids listening to loud music and wearing their hair funny and not respecting their elders. Konerak was three years old, the youngest of eight children, when he came to Milwaukee. With the experiences he gained on the streets and in school, he was speeding up the timetable. He was Asian in heritage, but American to the core.
The flight to freedom from Laos had been arduous enough, but something else seemed to lurk about the family, something dark and unknown in the land from which freedom had beckoned. Many in the Lao community believe refugee families are not really prepared for life in an American metropolis, where the jungle is made of concrete and the predators are likely to be the most ordinary-looking people. In Indochina, in the midst of war, it was rather easy to distinguish the life-threatening situations. But in America, for the Lao, it was different. Elders say the men and women who left Laos thought they were reaching safe haven in the United States, and realized only through bitter experience that the sidewalks of America are paved not with gold, but with danger.
The Sinthasomphone family had figured that out before Konerak went missing. Three years earlier, in 1988, when Konerak's older brother was thirteen years of age, a tall blond man withstrangely empty eyes had enticed the boy into his apartment, toyed with him sexually for a while, and offered to pay him fifty dollars to let the tall man take pictures of him, pictures in which the boy would not wear any clothes. The boy, frightened, dashed away and got help. Police came and arrested the tall man, and the court, in 1989, sentenced him to eight years in jail. He served ten months in a minimum-security confinement that allowed him to leave for work at night, a leash that was so loose that he occasionally returned to jail in the morning smelling of whiskey, having skipped off his job for a round of drinking. After the semi-jail time, the man was given five years of probation. The Sinthasomphone family thought the nightmare was over. They were wrong. That incident was only the prologue.
Just as his brother had made it to safety, just as in television shows he had seen where evil is always vanquished in the end, Konerak might have allowed himself in the early moments of that Monday morning to believe that he had been saved. He was away from that horrible apartment with its rancid smell, and people had reached out to help him. This was not Laos. This was America and he was an American kid. He may have thought things were turning in his favor. He was almost right.
His plight had not gone unnoticed, for extraordinarily peculiar behavior stands out even in a neighborhood that is big-city blase about mostthings. Two girls from the neighborhood, Nicole Childress, eighteen, and her cousin, Sandra Smith, also eighteen, saw the disoriented boy on a darkened street, naked, with scarlet patches of blood on his behind and a dazed, uncomprehending look of fright on his young face. When they spoke to him, he could only mumble.
The girls were not passive. A tall white man came up and tried to grab the boy, but Smith would not turn him loose, holding on to an arm while her cousin ran to one of the pair of pay telephones on the corner and dialed the emergency number, 911. In minutes, Fire Engine Number 32 rolled up and the two blue-and-white squad cars of the Milwaukee Police Department arrived. Three uniformed officers stepped out.
Cops coming to such a disturbance have one thought in the front of their minds, to restore order as fast as possible. They found two males tussling, one of them naked, and two women helping the smaller one resist. The uniforms settled things down in a hurry around the Oxford Apartments at 924 North Twenty-fifth Street. The police officers waved away the Milwaukee Fire Department rescue team, which had wrapped the young man in a blanket to cover his nakedness. Later reports would indicate that the officers thought the only blood they saw had resulted from a scraped knee.
With things under control, the police wanted to move the situation out of the public eye, away from the gathering crowd. They decided to headup to the apartment of the white man, who was trying to convince them that the naked young man was his lover. But the young women who had dialed the emergency number were not ready to give up so easily, and pestered the police to list them as witnesses. Sandra Smith said later they were told to go away, that they were no longer needed. They did, but when they returned home, upset and angry, they explained the episode to Glenda Cleveland, Sandra's mother, starting a domino effect that would take a bizarre turn. Glenda Cleveland followed up the excited discussion with a telephone call of her own to the police, a call that would eventually be broadcast around the world.
But for the moment, the police moved the two principals in the unfolding drama inside of the blocky apartment building and upstairs to apartment 213, the one pointed out by the slender white man with the wispy mustache. He continued his apologetic explanation, seemingly ashamed for being involved in such a ruckus. Since he spoke so calmly, the police officers began to feel that more important crimes were out there in the night, waiting to be thwarted. There were thieves and muggers, dope dealers and murderers who needed to be caught, and valuable time was being wasted standing here trying to referee what obviously amounted to nothing more than a domestic spat.
The tall man was glib and soft-spoken, not at all nervous, while the Asian guy seemed drunkand couldn't put together a coherent sentence. Whom to believe in this kind of situation? The tall guy admitted that he knew his Asian friend had been out on the street; that, he claimed, was why he had been trying to bring him back. It had happened before. They were homosexual lovers, he said, and they lived together in the apartment and tonight they had gotten to drinking a little too much and angry words were exchanged. He was really nineteen, much older than he looked. The man said he was sorry and that it wouldn't happen again. The police saw a few pictures of the younger man, apparently wearing only his underwear.
Konerak was terrified but could not articulate his case, propped up silently on the sofa while the men talked. The police seemed to be believing the tall man! What about the pictures that littered the floor and were tacked on the walls, photos that showed other naked men. Konerak had been raped! What of the smell that the tall man would tell investigators permeated the apartment from a corpse in the next room which he said had been smelling like hell when the three cops questioned him about the Asian kid.
But patrol work on the streets of a big city can put a coating of steel on normal human emotions. If a police officer takes every crime scene, every victim, every sob story too deeply and lets it get under his or her skin, then that is a cop who is likely to become another statistic in the suicidecolumns. Best to keep a distance. Settle things down, but don't let it get to you personally.
They established that the two were homosexual lovers, and cops who don't like to get involved in arguments between a man and wife just hate to get between a couple of arguing homosexuals. When police go into the homes of such people, they claim sometimes that pornographic books and pictures are the norm rather than an exception. Quiet things down and move on.
"What happened in Milwaukee, ... that was normal, and I'll tell you why," a talk show-caller who described himself as a former paramedic told a Cleveland radio station. "Out of all of the calls that I went to, when there were gay people involved, okay, 95 percent of them, when you walked into the apartment, there was a strange odor. There was an exotic perfume or incense, there was, a lot of times, there were animal odors. I've been in places there was pornography, in boxes, stacked up to the windowsill. There were rows that you had to walk through because of the pornography. Tapes, movies, books, you just ignore that, you don't even see it."
The Milwaukee Police Association, the policemen's union, stated later that the officers on the scene found nothing to indicate anything was seriously wrong. As a matter of fact, things began to calm to such a point that the three officers did not feel it necessary to run a basic background check on either male they were questioning.
Had they done so, they would have learned some very interesting facts. They would have learned that the thirty-one-year-old white man, Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer, was convicted in 1989 of second-degree sexual assault on a teenage boy. They would have learned that Dahmer had done time for the crime and was still on probation. And they would have discovered that the Asian lad before them, the one who seemed too drunk to be understood, was only fourteen years old, not nineteen as Dahmer had claimed. And they would have learned that the boy was the younger brother of the child Dahmer had been convicted of molesting two years earlier. Dahmer had told the court during that 1989 case that he was sorry for what he had done, much as he was telling the police talking to him now that he was sorry, and that he would make sure that such an impolite interruption would not happen again.
The cops did not pick up their car radio microphones to call District Three headquarters and ask for the background checks, so they did not learn any of those things. Instead, they officially wrote it off as an argument between a couple of gays, got back into their cars, and drove away, off to patrol duties, back to serious crime.
The shiny badges going out the door, heading away from him, were the last things that Konerak Sinthasomphone would ever see as the door closed and Dahmer turned toward him, with those empty eyes and a face that was suddenly churning with anger.
When the cops got downstairs, they were somewhat amused by the interrogation they had just conducted, totally unaware of the horror that was going on in the very apartment where they had been standing moments before. One called in to the station to report. "Intoxicated Asian, naked male, was returned to his boyfriend." On a tape recording of the call, laughter was audible.
"My partner is going to get deloused at the station," the reporting officer said.
There was more laughter, and the two squad cars drove away.
Copyright © 1991, 1992, 1995 by Don Davis.