Dahmer: The view from City Hall

CREATED Jul 16, 2011

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MILWAUKEE - The international spotlight shined bright on Milwaukee in the days following July 22, 1991.

In most instances a city would welcome that kind of attention, but this was a completely different story.

“The biggest thing was to make sure the criminal justice system worked properly and that the community tried to recover from what was a traumatic event,” recalls former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist.

Norquist was the top official, the boss at City Hall when the news came down that Jeffrey Dahmer, a man who killed 17 people over a period of 13 years, was taken into custody inside an apartment at 924 N. 25th Street. 

The world would subsequently learn of Dahmer’s depraved crimes and Milwaukee’s mayor would watch as the city was divided by the acts of this heinous serial killer.

Community Grows Concerned

The criminal investigation into Dahmer would uncover information that threatened to tear Milwaukee apart. 

Dahmer disproportionately selected African Americans and homosexuals as his victims, leading many in the community to believe he was motivated by race and sexual orientation.

Looking back, Norquist believes there should have been a more detailed release of the investigation’s factual elements to the public to quell rumors and provide comfort to a very concerned community.

“It is useful to get involved and give up-to-date information to the public.  It did seem like there was a lot of information that didn’t get to the public right at the beginning that probably should have.”

Norquist was told by the police department that the chief wanted to handle the major press releases and interactions with the media.

The former mayor wishes he would have played a larger role.

“You do want to hold back from passing judgment when you’re trying to get somebody locked up so you do have to be a little bit careful about what you say, but a lot of the information I think could have gotten out a little bit sooner.”

Once that information did reach the public, reports of dismemberment and cannibalism sent shockwaves around the globe.

Media Frenzy Ensues

“Obviously everybody knew this was going to be a trial people from all over the world wanted to cover,” says Mark Zoromski.

Zoromski worked for channel 6 news at the time and was recruited to be the broadcast pool coordinator for the Dahmer trial, the gatekeeper between the court and those in the media who wanted direct access.

“We had reporters there from London.  We had reporters from Univision.  There were people from over the world,” explains Zoromski. 

“We had 104 news organizations and 435 journalists total that covered the trial.”

The world watched as Dahmer was brought in front of a jury each day and his demented secrets were divulged in court. 

In Milwaukee, the proceedings stood for more than a serial killer’s show trial.

“The Dahmer trial was important from a community point of view.  People in this community needed to see that trial.  They needed to see that justice was served in order to move on.”

And former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist believes that is exactly what happened.

Families Affected for Life

Jeffrey Dahmer was swiftly tried and convicted and Milwaukee worked for years to move past the trauma he caused, but there are still many in the community who continue to be deeply affected by the crimes.

“The families of the children that were killed were affected by it forever, for the rest of their lives.  But the community itself, it’s not something they think about very often.”

Having met with many of the victims’ families, Norquist knows the anguish and evil Dahmer unleashed is still very much alive in some ways.  

But today, 20 years later, Milwaukee has moved forward.

“Milwaukee is a big complicated city it has got all kinds of things in its history.  This is one of the worst, or the worst.  But I don’t think it has any lasting significant effect on the city.” 

“I don’t give Dahmer credit for that.”