New Dahmer documentary set to feature never-before-heard interviews between killer and his defense team
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Roughly two weeks after Ryan Murphy's drama series Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story took Netflix by storm, Academy Award nominated filmmaker Joe Berlinger is ready to add his own work to the list of movies, shows and documentaries highlighting the gruesome crimes committed by Jeffrey Dahmer.
"It's coincidental that there's also a scripted thing," Berlinger said. "I don't think we're trying to tap into the hype or anything like that. I don't think of it in those ways."
Conversations With A Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes will be available to watch on Netflix on Friday, Oct. 7. It's the third installment in Berlinger's Conversations With a Killer series, which has also featured documentaries on Ted Bundy and John Wayne Gacy.
Contrary to the drama series released by Murphy, Berlinger's documentary-style project features interviews with key Milwaukee players who helped document the Dahmer story in real-time, including former Milwaukee television reporter Jeff Fleming. The project also features never-before-heard tape recordings of conversations between Dahmer and the co-chair on his defense team, Milwaukee attorney Wendy Patrickus.
"It was fascinating for me to speak to everybody and put this story back together, but to see it through the eyes of Wendy Patrickus really was the reason to do the show," Berlinger said. "It's a story that's been told before, but not in this way, with these tapes, through the eyes of the person who was actually able to glean all of this critical information to make victim identifications."
Patrickus has been practicing law as a defense attorney in Milwaukee for over 30 years. In fact, the trial of Jeffrey Dahmer was her first job.
"I had just gotten out of school and took the bar exam," Patrickus said. "Got thrown into the deep end of the pool as you'd say."
The deep end might be putting things lightly. Patrickus, at the direction of her boss Gerald Boyle, was tasked with sitting across a table from Dahmer and listening to the serial killer share his account of the gruesome acts that included the torture and murder of 17 men and boys in both Ohio and Wisconsin between 1978 and 1991.
"I had to be non-judgmental," Patrickus explained, regarding her conversations with Dahmer. "I wanted to earn his trust so that we could get additional information that would support what we were doing in an insanity plea, and the more that came out, the more it was supported."
While that may have been the case, the jury ruled Dahmer was not insane. He was sentenced to 15 consecutive life sentences to be served at the Columbia County Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin. That's where he was killed in November 1994.
Patrickus says to this day, she doesn't regret the work she did, even though it did cost her some friendships.
"This was my job, you know? I was told to go see him. I was a part of that law firm at that time that defended him," Patrickus said. "From the day that I took my oath in the Supreme Court to defend the constitution and do what I do as a lawyer. I have no regrets in that."
Now, all this time later, Patrickus says she felt like it was the right time to get the tapes, which had been kept away locked in a drawer, into the hands of a talented and responsible filmmaker like Berlinger.
"I think what Joe did with this case was very extraordinary," Patrickus said. "I wanted to contextualize it. There was a lot of speculation about what Jeff was saying and without hearing his voice. I think that it gives everything into a better context and there's a little bit more understanding."
Berlinger says while the tapes from Patrickus helped shape the project, a challenge he and his team had to face was the lack of participation from the families of victims impacted by Dahmer's crimes. He says not one family agreed to take part in the documentary.
"To me, bringing Dahmer to life was, that's the easy part, but bringing the victims to life, and honoring them as best you can in a show like this is always the challenge and the line you want to ride," Berlinger said. "What I say to the families is, nothing will bring back a loved one, and the trauma is unimaginable, but if these stories are told in a responsible way, it allows us to, potentially, at least there's a dialogue, so we can prevent this in the future."
Patrickus echoed those thoughts regarding victim sensitivity.
"I think this opens up the door a little bit where there's some additional information, where hopefully it helps people understand," Patrickus said. "Hopefully, it can give some of the families some closure."
Stay with CBS 58 News for more coverage regarding the new documentary, Conversations with a Killer: The Jeffrey Dahmer Tapes, including an interview with former Milwaukee journalist Anne Schwartz, who authored the book Monster: The True Story of the Jeffrey Dahmer Murders.