Dahmer: His possessions
Click on the video link to see TODAY'S TMJ4 raw video of the gathering of evidence and belongings in the Jeffrey Dahmer case outside his apartment.
MILWAUKEE - "An auction of the devil" is one way the media described attorney Tom Jacobson's efforts to raise money for family members of Jeffrey Dahmer's victims.
"What I was trying to do was maximize the amount of money that the families could get for what Jeffrey Dahmer did to their loved ones," explains Jacobson.
Dahmer's killing spree came to an end on July 22nd, 1991 when authorities finally arrested him at his Milwaukee apartment.
The subsequent criminal investigation would show Dahmer murdered 17 men and boys over a period of 13 years, leaving a trail of devastation through Milwaukee that was felt most profoundly by the victims' families.
Jacobson represented 8 of the families in an effort to get them some kind of compensation.
"There was so much exploitation of the Dahmer story and the families. Books were being written, trading cards, voodoo dolls, movies were being made," says Jacobson.
"Everybody was profiting off of the Dahmer story and the victims, and the families were getting nothing."
Jacobson took his arguments to court where he attempted to sue Jeffrey Dahmer in a symbolic $3 billion civil lawsuit.
A judge did award several million dollars to each of the 8 families but realistically, they would never see that money.
"The whole idea of how we had to get compensation, because there wasn't money in Jeffrey Dahmer's pocket, was non-traditional," explains Jacobson.
Those non-traditional methods to get cash from Dahmer prodded at Milwaukee as the community struggled to move past the serial killer, and Jacobson's persistence would quickly turn controversial.
An Unthinkable Auction
Tom Jacobson made several attempts at gathering money for victims' families.
He garnisheed every Jeffrey Dahmer bank account, met with Dahmer in prison and asked for input on how compensation could be derived. Jacobson even tried to arrange a film deal in which Dahmer would tell his life story on camera and the proceeds of the video would be given to the families.
Everything seemed to come up short, which lead to drastic measures.
"The most controversial of all was when I took the assets that Dahmer had and convinced a judge that we were entitled to them," explains Jacobson.
The assets he was given the rights to included more than 300 items from Dahmer's apartment.
A blood-stained carpet, knives, a hatchet, a vat Dahmer used to store body parts and the refrigerator where police discovered a human head.
The seemingly endless list of Dahmer's possessions was set to go on auction for the world to purchase.
Philanthropist Steps in
The mere thought of people around the globe clamoring for a souvenir of the serial killer set off a firestorm of criticism and concern in Milwaukee, leading one local philanthropist to step in.
The late Joseph Zilber began making phone calls, saying the auction could absolutely not happen.
"He called me and said we have to get a hold of that material and we have to destroy it. If it's auctioned that means all of that stuff will be all around the country and all around the world and it will be devastating forever for Milwaukee," explains Mike Mervis, an executive at Zilber's real estate company.
Mervis was heavily involved in Zilber's effort to raise money and purchase all of Dahmer's possessions so they could be destroyed.
"There was a basic human desire to not let it happen," says Mervis.
"We put a story on the PR newswire which went all over the world. We got calls from England and France and Australia; people wanting to help."
Zilber was successful, raising more than $400,000 and striking a deal with Jacobson. All of Dahmer's possessions were then loaded into a dumpster, driven to a landfill in northern Illinois and buried under a giant mound of garbage.
The entire process is documented on video but to this day, the exact location of the landfill is being kept a secret.
"If Joe had not done what he did, in all the places where the materials would be bought wherever they were anywhere around the world or in the United States, you would have had all the media that would have gone on. Hundreds of stories all over the world."
The apartment building where Dahmer carried out the majority of his killings was also demolished and today, 20 years later, the plot remains an empty grassy field.
The current owner tells the city they will take down a fence that surrounds the plot and maintain the area as landscaped greenspace, leaving Dahmer and all physical remnants of him buried in Milwaukee's past.