To Serve and Protect
(part two of four)
For most of Jeffrey Dahmer’s victims, the details around their disappearance and demise are sparse. Police records depend on the recollection of the only living witness, Dahmer himself. But in the case of one victim, there were more witnesses to the events leading up to the murder.
On the evening of May 27, 1991, two Milwaukee police officers responded to a call from two 17-year-old African-American women, Sandra Smith and Nicole Childress. The women had found a 14-year-old Laotian-American boy in the street. The boy, named Konerak Sinthasomphone, was apparently drugged and bleeding from the anus.
The officers arrived in time to find the women protecting the boy from 31-year-old Jeffrey Dahmer, who was insisting he be allowed to take the boy home with him. After sizing up the situation, the officers agreed to release the boy to Dahmer. The women protested, indicating the boy’s injury, and the officers threatened them with arrest.
The officers escorted Sinthasomphone back to Dahmer’s apartment. Despite what must have been a strong odor from the decaying body of Tony Hughes, whom Dahmer had killed three days earlier, they left the couple in the apartment. Dahmer later explained that he murdered the boy only moments after the police left.
We might want to explain the behavior of the police officers as gross negligence or simple incompetence. But because those two women had called 911, there were records of conversations between the police officers, their dispatcher, and the women involved.
May 27, 1991; 2:00 a.m
Dispatcher: “Milwaukee emergency. Operator 71.”
Nicole Childress: “OK. Hi. I am on 25th and State. And there’s this young man. He’s buck-naked and he has been beaten up. He is very bruised up. He can’t stand. He has no clothes on. He is really hurt. And I, you know, ain’t got no coat on. But I just seen him. He needs some help. . . .”
After investigating, an officer reported back to the dispatcher.
Officer: “The intoxicated Asian naked male [laughter in background] was returned to his sober boyfriend.” [more laughter]
An officer later reported that the assignment was completed and that the squad was ready for new duties.
Officer: “Ten-four. It will be a minute. My partner is going to get deloused at the station.” [laughter on the tape]
A short time later, Glenda Cleveland, the mother of one of the young women called the police to inquire about the incident. She was eventually connected to one of the investigating officers.
Cleveland: “Yeah, uh, what happened? I mean my daughter and my niece witnessed what was going on. Was anything done about the situation? Do you need their names or information or anything from them?”
Officer: “No, not at all.”
Cleveland: “You don’t?”
Officer: “Nope. It was an intoxicated boyfriend of another boyfriend.”
Cleveland: “Well, how old was this child?”
Officer: “It wasn’t a child. It was an adult.”
Cleveland: “Are you sure?”
Cleveland: “Are you positive? Because this child doesn’t even speak English.† My daughter had, you know, dealt with him before, seeing him on the street. You know, catching earthworms.”
Officer: Ma’am. Ma’am. I can’t make it any more clear. It’s all taken care of. He is with his boyfriend, in his boyfriend’s apartment, where he has his belongings also.”
Cleveland: “But what if he’s a child? Are you positive he is an adult?”
Officer: “Ma’am, like I explained to you, it’s all taken care of. It’s as positive as I can be. I can’t do anything about somebody’s sexual preference in life.”
Cleveland: “Well, no, I am not saying anything about that, but it appeared to have been a child. This is my concern.”
Officer: “No. No. He’s not.”
Cleveland: “He’s not a child?
Officer: “No, he’s not. OK? And it’s a boyfriend-boyfriend thing. And he’s got belongings at the house where he came from. He has very nice pictures of himself and his boyfriend and so forth.”
Cleveland: “OK, I am just, you know. It appeared to have been a child. That was my concern.”
Officer: “I understand. No, he is not. Nope.”
Cleveland: “Oh, OK. Thank you. Bye.”
“This could have all been prevented,” said Nicole Childress, one of the young women. “If they had listened that night, that little boy would still be alive and all the others wouldn’t be dead.”1
Had the police been paying even a little bit of attention to the scene before them, the stench in Dahmer’s apartment might have tipped them off that something was wrong. Had they bothered to call in the routine background check on Dahmer that procedure required, they would have learned that Dahmer had been convicted of molesting Konerak’s older brother some years earlier. Had they not been so amused by the apparent otherness of the situation, they might have saved the boy’s life as well as the lives of the four victims who followed Sinthasomphone.
In response to a public outcry over the incident, the two officers were terminated from the Milwaukee Police force. After appealing, both officers were reinstated with back pay totaling over $100,000 and were named “Officers of the Year” by the Milwaukee Police Association for their “righteous battle to regain their jobs.”
Sergeant Dennis Forjan, president of the Milwaukee Police Supervisors Organization, said he and his fellow officers were “elated” by the decision to reinstate the officers. “There were many elected officials who were out there demanding the dismissal of these officers, primarily black officials,” he added.2
One of the officers, John Balcerzak, was elected President of the Milwaukee Police Association in May, 2005.
The family of Konerak Sinthasomphone later brought a civil suit against the City of Milwaukee, charging that it had violated his right to the equal protection of the law based on race, sex, and sexual orientation. (Sinthasomphone, Estate of, v. City of Milwaukee, 1995). The parties eventually reached a settlement of $850,000.
In the next post: the families get their day in court.
†Sinthasomphone’s family later said that Konerak did speak English.
1“Black Men Tragic Victims of White Milwaukee Man’s Gruesome Murder Spree.” Jet, August 12, 1991.
2Joe Williams, Tom Held and Dan Parks, “Many Elated with Ruling on Fired Officers Apologies Due, Union Chief Says.” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 28, 1994.