Dahmer crime changed Milwaukee
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MILWAUKEE - In a matter of hours in July 1991, Jeffrey Dahmer went from the neighbor few knew to the most well-known man in Milwaukee, for all the wrong reasons.
The crimes captivated the nation. Milwaukee became known for the serial killer who kept body parts in his apartment refrigerator.
Tom Donegan was the Milwaukee Common Council president in 1991.
"It just came sweeping over us. Just a sense of horror," Donegan told TODAY'S TMJ4 reporter Tom Murray. "I just wanted to believe that everything was going to be ok and this was going to go away. Of course, it didn't."
Indeed, the Dahmer reputation would linger for a long time.
Bob Greene leads the Merrill Park Neighborhood Association and remembers being chastised just for living in the same area as Dahmer.
"It was just an automatic association, Milwaukee - Dahmer," Greene recounted. "The Dahmer incident so over shadowed anything that good was."
So many of Dahmer' victims were young, black men. Dahmer's community elected Rev. Nathaniel Stampley to the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors shortly after the arrest.
"People felt that it was more of a racist overtone attached to it, hate type crimes," Stampley said.
There was progress out of pain. Donegan, now a Milwaukee County judge, said outrage sparked change after it was exposed that police overlooked, even dismissed clues that could have led to an earlier arrest.
"It really woke up the police department to say 'let's make sure our officers are really careful and sensitive'," Donegan said.
Greene tells me neighbors started paying attention to each other.
"Neighborhood block watches expanded rapidly during that period," Greene said. "People had more town hall meetings. Our organization incorporated in 1991."
Pastor Stampley says it took tragedy to get people to care.
"They began to look out for one another, for their neighbors. It takes tragedies, unfortunately to bring the best out of us," Stampley said.
Friday marks the 20th anniversary of Dahmer's arrest on July 22, 1991.