During the peak of the media frenzy when it was discovered that Milwaukee serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer murdered and cannibalized 17 boys and men from 1978 to 1991, many people looked at Joyce, his mother, for clues as to why her son behaved so heinously. While Joyce never admitted to anything that could have caused her son’s deviant behavior, she was a woman who had struggled with mental illness throughout her life and she carried the guilt of her son’s crimes around with her for the rest of her days.
Joyce was a well-educated woman, having earned a Master’s degree in counseling and worked as a manager at various retirement homes in her career. She also had progressive views on homosexuality and worked as a case manager for the Central Valley Aids Team in the ’90s. She tried to kill herself by carbon monoxide poisoning in her garage in 1996, but was unsuccessful and survived the attack. She lived to the age of 64, dying of breast cancer in 2000.
In his memoir, A Father’s Story, Lionel Dahmer wrote that Joyce had trouble with her pregnancy with both Jeffrey and his brother, David. He documented her symptoms in the book, including a feeling of vertigo and stiffness in her muscles. He alleged that she received injections of Phenobarbital and morphine during this time, which made him wonder whether the drugs had any influence on her son’s behavior.