The True Story Of Tracy Edwards, The Man Who Escaped Jeffrey Dahmer

One dark July night in 1991, officers out driving in Milwaukee spotted a lone man coming at them out of the shadows. Strangely, he was wearing handcuffs around one wrist. This frightened individual was Tracy Edwards, and he had a story to tell. You see, he’d just spent a few hours in the company of someone whose name was about to make crime history… Jeffrey Dahmer.

How Edwards met Dahmer

Edwards met Dahmer at the Grand Avenue Mall in the city earlier that evening; Dahmer had approached him and made him an unusual offer. He’d asked Edwards to go back to his place to sink some beers. So far, so friendly. But this stranger also requested that they watch one of his favorite movies: The Exorcist III. It all sounded a little creepy, but a financial offer helped sweeten the deal for Edwards.

Money for nothing?

However, in exchange for payment, Dahmer suggested that Edwards pose for some private photos. Was this optional for the potential house guest or not? Either way, Edwards found more pressing issues once he got inside his new friend’s apartment… the appalling smell that entered his nostrils for one thing. He came to suspect that he’d set foot inside a very dangerous place indeed.  

Inside Dahmer’s lair

Dahmer tried to distract Edwards so he could cuff him, though this didn’t go quite to plan, resulting in only one wrist being restrained. The potential victim was then taken to the bedroom, where Dahmer pulled a knife. That, plus the presence of strong chemicals and the horror movie playing on a TV, must have been terrifying for Edwards, who began to beg for his life. 

Disturbing behavior

Edwards may have earned the status of being the only person to escape Dahmer’s clutches, but he still had to sit in that rancid apartment for several hours. The killer managed to make the situation even more chilling still, at one point even resting his head on Edwards’ chest. People magazine recently spoke with Edwards’ defense attorney, Paul Ksicinski, who shed some light on just how the victim was feeling in those terrifying moments.

A lengthy ordeal

Ksicinski relayed Edwards’ statement, which in part read, “Dahmer told me that he would kill me. He was listening to my heart because at…[one] point, he told me he was going to eat my heart.” Then, according to Dahmer’s attorney Gerald Boyle, the killer “started [going] crazy, motionless, sitting and rocking back and forth in a chair.”

How did Edwards get away?

He was also “making these strange noises and talking in tongues.” It was a waiting game of truly horrific proportions, but finally Edwards managed to strike Dahmer and escape from the apartment. Yet even then things weren’t straightforward. “God had to be with me,” Edwards later said in an archive interview, “because he had, like, eight different locks on there.”

Higher powers

“I just picked the right lock out of all of them,” he added. After such an ordeal, it seemed to him that a higher power was on his side. He then encountered the police, though the nightmare still wasn’t over. Edwards needed to tell them what he’d gone through, and urge them to go to Dahmer’s apartment and confront him. 

Dahmer’s arrest

This involved Edwards returning to the scene of the crime, just a short time after barely escaping with his life. It must have taken a lot, but his bravery paid off. Once he’d crossed the threshold and braved the sights, sounds, and smells of Dahmer’s lair, he didn’t have to wait long for justice to take its course. The officers looked around and discovered gory Polaroids. 

What Dahmer said to police officers

Body parts were also found, leaving them in no doubt that Edwards’ story was genuine. After years of unspeakable acts, Dahmer had finally been caught. As he was restrained by the cops, he reportedly said, “For what I did, I should be dead.” His wish was granted, though maybe not in the way he expected, as we’ll see. 

His name becomes infamous

It wasn’t Dahmer’s first brush with the law, but it would be his last. His first slaying had happened well over a decade earlier. The high-profile trial would expose him to the world and establish his infamy alongside other notorious serial killers. People watched and wondered just why it had taken so long to get him behind bars.

Dahmer’s trial

His trial took place in January 1992 — roughly six months after Edwards had flagged down police. The legal proceedings lasted only a matter of weeks, with Dahmer pleading insanity. While he had borderline diagnoses for personality, schizophrenia and psychosis disorders, he was deemed sane enough to take responsibility for his actions. 

Edwards testifies

Testifying against Dahmer was Edwards, who entered not only the courtroom but a media circus. Ksicinski noted Edwards’ view that “God sent me there to take care of the situation”. The man who escaped acted with conviction. The writing was on the wall for Dahmer. He wasn’t remorseful, but all the same he would pay for his horrible crimes.

Dahmer’s convictions

Dahmer was convicted of first-degree murder, with 15 life sentences handed down on February 17, totalling 957 years. He’d killed 17 people, all men and boys. Another life sentence would be added later, after his name was tied to yet another slaying. For most, this ruling closed the book on Dahmer — but not for the families and friends of his victims.

A shattered life

It certainly didn’t resolve matters for Edwards, either. In conversation with People, Ksicinski described what was going on with his client. He “analogized it to the old Humpty Dumpy rhyme where he sat on the wall and was pushed over with this and could never get his pieces back together again”. Dahmer didn’t take Edwards’ life, yet he still inflicted untold damage upon it.

The night out

We’ll return to Edwards’ life post-Dahmer a little later. For now, let’s focus on who Edwards was before the terrible encounter. He doesn’t appear to have enjoyed a carefree existence, as we’ll see. That said, he was certainly enjoying himself on the night he met Dahmer. Reports state he was with a group of friends and they were drinking.

A terrible turn

He was also agreeable to the idea of going back with Dahmer, though the idea that he was accompanying a serial killer must have been the furthest thing from his mind. So, he was either a very trusting person, or savvy enough to work out when something was worth doing. He would have the rug pulled out from under him in the most devastating way.

Publicity wasn’t good for Edwards

When Edwards testified against Dahmer, he earned the respect of millions, not only in America but around the world. Yet his decision came at great personal cost. Not only was he revisiting something traumatic, but it led to a curveball that surprised onlookers — he himself was identified as a suspect in a sexual assault case involving a minor. 

Dahmer’s background

This unexpected turn of events only served to make the Dahmer case a still-more-disturbing tale. Yet front and center was the prolific killer who preyed upon unsuspecting males and left behind a trail of blood and depravity that echoes in the public consciousness today. Dahmer was born in Milwaukee in 1960. His father was a research chemist named Lionel and his mother was Joyce, who worked in communications.       

Sinister interests

Joyce reportedly suffered from mental health issues, and it’s said that she took up the majority of the family’s attention. Lionel was also away a lot studying, and it became apparent that young Jeffrey wasn’t the most conventional of children. He’d had a hernia operation during his early years for one thing. Also, he developed an interest in animal carcasses. 

Chaos down the road

In one eerie exchange, Dahmer asked his chemist father about the use of bleach in preserving animal skeletons. A pretty odd question maybe, but Lionel assumed this was a scientific inquiry from a keen young mind. Why wouldn’t he? Lionel encouraged his son’s pursuits. How could he have known he was fostering dark instincts, leading to chaos down the road?

The first victim

Dahmer’s first victim was Steven Hicks, an 18-year-old hitchhiker. The year was 1978. Dahmer had recently graduated, and he wanted to live out a creepy fantasy. He had an idea “about picking up a hitchhiker, and taking him back to the house, and having complete dominance and control over him.” He revealed all this to TV show Inside Edition during his incarceration.

Dahmer continues his life

According to him, the murder wasn’t planned in advance. Hicks was picked up and brutally killed by Dahmer, who strangled and beat him before cutting up his body. The remains wound up in trash bags. Dahmer wouldn’t act on his urges for the best part of a decade after that. He joined the Army, but was discharged after a couple of years.    

A fully-fledged serial killer

Alcoholism loomed large, and he engaged in lewd conduct. He became involved with Milkwaukee’s gay scene, resuming his murderous activities with the killing of 25-year-old Steven Tuomi, though Dahmer said he didn’t recall murdering him. He then began finding victims more frequently. The last person he killed was Joseph Bradehoft, also 25, who he’d met a month before Edwards.

The death of Dahmer

As we mentioned, upon arrest, Dahmer apparently told officers that he should die for his crimes. And although he was eventually locked up, he would later meet a violent death himself behind bars. In 1994 Dahmer and another prisoner, Jesse Anderson, were attacked by Christopher Scarver, who reportedly used a metal bar and brute force to fatally injure his fellow inmates. The trio were supposed to be on a work detail.

What happened to Edwards after the trial?

As we mentioned earlier, Edwards had been linked to a sexual assault case. Authorities over in Mississippi recognized and subsequently charged and extradited him. It isn’t clear from reports what consequences Edwards faced as a result of this. While that was going on, tensions were running dangerously high in Milwaukee, with allegations of discriminatory behavior made against the local force.

Accusations against the police

Newspaper The Deseret News reported at the time that Chief of Police Philip Arreola, not to mention civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, had “sought to ease tensions inflamed by charges of racist conduct by police who earlier let Dahmer slip through their fingers.” There had apparently been an opportunity to arrest Dahmer on May 27, weeks before the Edwards case, but that hadn't happened.

Edwards became homeless

Edwards would go on to be charged with drug possession, property damage and other offenses after his return to Milwaukee. He also attempted to take the police to court, seeking $5 million in damages. Edwards argued that, if the cops had done their job properly, Dahmer would have been stopped earlier. Yet the case was thrown out, and Edwards ended up living on the streets between 2002 and 2011. 

Serious charges

He used alcohol and drugs to cope with the fallout. “I have no doubt that Tracy was pushed over the edge,” Ksicinski told People, adding, “and I only hope that he is surviving. I mean, his life was completely destroyed.” In 2011 Edwards got involved in a situation on a Milwaukee bridge, where he faced another serious accusation, leading to a charge of homicide. 

What really happened on the bridge?

He spent 18 months behind bars after someone was thrown from the bridge. Ksicinski defended Edwards, saying the guilty party “was, in fact, a friend of his. They were all homeless, and they were, unfortunately, abusing alcohol.” The lawyers said that Edwards was “trying to pull him [the victim] back off the bridge” rather than cause him harm. Eyewitnesses appeared to put Edwards in the frame, though. 

A class action

As described by All That’s Interesting, Edwards pleaded guilty to aiding a felon, thus avoiding the homicide charge. The website — posting in November 2022 — stated that Edwards’ current whereabouts were unknown. It’s also been noted that a class action suit, brought on behalf of the families of Dahmer’s victims, resulted in compensation. Edwards wasn’t involved in this.

Edwards withdraws

How come Edwards didn’t participate in the action? It’s been speculated that he wanted to distance himself from the situation, in order to protect his mental health, although this hasn’t been confirmed. Edwards himself doesn’t appear to be around to ask. Without him there to verify, commentators will naturally offer varying opinions. Not just commentators either: TV producers have weighed in on the matter, too.

The Netflix version

In 2022 Netflix released a drama based on the murderer’s life story, titled DahmerMonster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story. This had been put together by producers Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan, both known for their shows focusing on true-crime stories such as The Watcher. Playing the title role is Evan Peters,who also stars in Murphy’s American Horror Story.

Edwards on-screen

DahmerMonster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story ran to ten episodes, though in future Netflix intends to extend the theme using different real-life “monsters”. Edwards features as a character in the very first episode, played by Shaun J. Brown of The Great Indoors fame. From there, the series goes back to Dahmer’s roots and follows his development from troubled young person to serial murderer.

The world can watch what unfolded

Naturally, the high-profile Netflix production meant Edwards’ name was in the headlines once again. As we’ve seen, the new coverage has led to Edwards’ former associates, such as attorney Ksicinski, making fresh statements about him and his wellbeing. A true-crime series can often open old wounds and bring back painful memories for all concerned. 


Responses to Murphy and Brennan’s take on the Dahmer story have been mixed. Negative reviews claim the series exploits the killer’s notoriety. Families of Dahmer’s victims were also critical of the production. Streaming numbers were reportedly healthy, with the show proving a popular, if uncomfortable, success. Variety magazine interviewed Murphy about his creative process in making the show.

Murphy responds

Faced with criticism that he apparently favored Dahmer’s portrayal over that of his victims, Murphy responded that he was “never interested in Jeffrey Dahmer, the monster.” He added, “I was interested in what made him. I think that the fact that all of the characters in this are seen as true humans makes some people uncomfortable.”

Lionel Dahmer

Dahmer’s father Lionel reportedly wasn’t consulted about the Netflix series, despite contributing his own book to the narrative, titled A Father’s Story. Murphy states that the story he wanted to tell was a “specific” one, and the father’s personal perspective didn’t need to be included. Richard Jenkins of Six Feet Under and Burn After Reading plays Lionel in the show.

Acting honors

Years of research went into the series, with Peters reportedly staying in character for long periods of time. “I really went back and forth on whether I should do it or not,” he revealed, to Variety. “I knew it was going to be incredibly dark and an incredible challenge”. Peters and Jenkins have each been nominated for both Golden Globe and Satellite Awards.

Other Dahmer performances

Peters isn’t the first actor to play Dahmer on both the small and big screen. For example, Jeremy Renner, better known for his appearances in the Avengers and Mission: Impossible franchises, portrayed him in a 2002 movie, also titled Dahmer. And Ross Lynch, of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, played him in 2017’s My Friend Dahmer. This was based on a graphic novel created by Dahmer’s high-school friend “Derf” Backderf.

Focus on Edwards

Edwards plays a small but defining role in Dahmer’s case. Yet, while the focus continues on this globally infamous serial killer, Edwards’ own situation has arguably been overlooked. It appears his whereabouts are unknown even while his name and on-screen portrayals are being screened in millions of homes. And any discussion of Edwards will inevitably reference to the man who tried to kill him. 

The man who ended Dahmer’s terror

“He underestimated me,” Edwards said at one point about his attacker. Thankfully, it seems he did. Edwards landed a blow on Dahmer and put him away for life. He is a stark reminder of the human dimension behind such attention-grabbing stories. Without his quick thinking, Dahmer’s murderous habits would likely have continued a while longer. Indeed, he might never have been caught.