Fact Check

Did Police Return Jeffrey Dahmer's Victim to Him, Whom He Then Murdered?

The real-life Milwaukee serial killer was the subject of a Netflix show in fall 2022.

Published Sep 28, 2022

 (vincent desjardins/Wikimedia Commons)
Image Via vincent desjardins/Wikimedia Commons
Milwaukee police returned Konerak Sinthasomphone to Jeffrey Dahmer after accepting the serial killer’s explanation that the 14-year-old injured boy was his lover. Dahmer then killed the boy.

Fact Check

“Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” was a Netflix show released in September 2022, detailing the actions of notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, who died in 1994. The show is a fictionalized depiction of his gruesome murders of young men in Milwaukee, and the circumstances that led to their deaths.

The story of one victim in particular gained new attention because of a clip from the show that depicted two Milwaukee police officers returning a young boy to Dahmer, while disregarding neighbors' concerns about the boy’s safety. The clip showed a teenage Asian American boy, visibly intoxicated, lying on the ground, while concerned neighbors talked to the police, urging them to investigate the situation. Instead, the police ceded custody of the boy back to Dahmer, who convinced them that he was his lover. Dahmer would eventually kill the boy.

The boy’s name was Konerak Sinthasomphone, a 14-year-old Laotian immigrant, and he was a real-life victim of Dahmer. The scene in question broadly depicted some of the events of that fateful night, and was correct in showing how the policemen did not believe the neighbors' concerns, and handed over Sinthasomphone to Dahmer.

According to a 1991 Associated Press article about the events of that night, the officers involved in that situation were John Balcerzak, Richard Porubcan, and Joseph Gabrish. The article described the incident in the following way:

On May 27, neighbors called the police to report seeing a naked and bleeding boy run from Mr. Dahmer's apartment building. After interviewing Mr. Dahmer, Officer Gabrish and two fellow officers accepted his explanation that the youth was an adult and his lover and that the boy was drunk. The officers went with Mr. Dahmer and the boy to Mr. Dahmer's apartment. The other officers were also suspended. [...]

After Mr. Dahmer was arrested in July, he told the police that he strangled the boy, Konerak Sinthasomphone, soon after the officers left. He also said the body of another victim was in a bedroom during the officers' visit.

We should note that family members of the victims have been critical about the show’s depiction of their real-life tragedy, and have stated that certain scenes felt like “reliving” those periods of their lives.

The family of Sinthasomphone also sued the police officers, claiming police violated their constitutional rights. They claimed that the police discriminated against the boy either because he was Asian or because they thought he was gay. In a 1993 order, the judge presiding over the case described the events in the following way:

To properly address the motion for summary judgment I must again return to the facts, most of which are undisputed. Jeffrey Dahmer met Konerak Sinthasomphone at the Grand Avenue Mall in Milwaukee on the afternoon of May 26, 1991. Sinthasomphone was 14 years old, 5'3" tall, and weighed 110 pounds. He was Laotian and spoke English as well as Laotian. Dahmer offered to pay Sinthasomphone to go home with him so Dahmer could take nude or semi-nude pictures of him. The two proceeded to Dahmer's apartment at 924 North 25th Street in Milwaukee, where Dahmer did, in fact, take pictures of Sinthasomphone. [...]

During the early morning hours of May 27, while Sinthasomphone was drugged, Dahmer left his apartment to buy beer. While he was gone, Sinthasomphone somehow managed to leave the apartment and find his way to the street, where he was seen by, among others, young women named Sandra Smith and Nicole Childress.

At 25th and State, Smith saw a person she describes as a Chinese boy, running naked from State Street toward an alley next to her *1323 mother's apartment at 936 North 25th Street. The boy fell to the ground. Smith thought he was 11 or 12 years old; he had, she says, scrapes on his knees, buttocks, and right shoulder and what appeared to be blood running down his inner thigh from his buttocks. Smith asked Childress to call the police.

While Childress was telephoning, a white male, who turned out to be Dahmer, approached Smith and told her he was Sinthasomphone's friend. He said that Sinthasomphone had a habit of getting drunk on weekends. Smith suspected that Dahmer had caused some of Sinthasomphone's injuries. Dahmer began to lead Sinthasomphone away, with Sinthasomphone trying to break free.

Before they got far, police officers Gabrish and Balcerzak arrived. They were responding to the following dispatch:

36, you got a man down.

Caller states there's a man badly beaten and is wearing no clothes, lying in the street. 2-5 and State. Anonymous female caller. Ambulance sent.

The officers began to assess the situation. It appeared to Gabrish that Dahmer was assisting Sinthasomphone in walking. The officers say there was no sign that Sinthasomphone was trying to break away from Dahmer.

Balcerzak stayed with Dahmer while Gabrish questioned Sinthasomphone. Sinthasomphone did not answer questions. Dahmer, who unknown to the officers was obviously trying to avoid detection, was calm, courteous, and helpful; he responded politely. He gave Balcerzak his name, date of birth, and employment identification. He told Balcerzak that Sinthasomphone was a house guest who drank too much. He said Sinthasomphone's name was John Mung and that he was 18 or 19[4] or 19 or 20[5]. Balcerzak repeated questions in an attempt to determine Dahmer's truthfulness; his answers remained consistent.

A few minutes after Balcerzak and Gabrish arrived, another squad came to the scene. Officers Richard Porubcan, also a defendant here, and Pete Mozejewski were providing "informal backup" to Balcerzak and Gabrish.

The officers decided to take Sinthasomphone and Dahmer back to Dahmer's apartment. Either because Sinthasomphone stumbled or because he was resisting, Gabrish and Porubcan physically escorted him. They entered the rear of the apartment building and went to Dahmer's apartment. Once inside Dahmer's apartment, the officers saw no signs of any assault, struggle, or conflict. The officers found Sinthasomphone's clothing and saw colored, almost nude photographs of Sinthasomphone posing in a fashion which led them to conclude that Dahmer and Sinthasomphone had a consensual gay relationship. [...]

The officers, thinking they had verified that Sinthasomphone belonged with Dahmer, left Sinthasomphone in the apartment. Dahmer killed Sinthasomphone some 30 minutes later.

Gabrish told The Milwaukee Journal in August 1991, "God as my witness, I just didn't dump a little boy in the hands of a murderer. That's not what happened.”

"We're trained to be observant and spot things," he continued. "There was just nothing that stood out, or we would have seen it. I've been doing this for a while, and usually if something stands out, you'll spot it. There just wasn't anything there." The judge dismissed a key claim that the officers violated Sinthasomphone's civil rights, maintaining that they couldn't be expected to realize the threat Dahmer posed. The family did, however, settle with the Milwaukee Common Council and were paid $850,000.

Meanwhile, Dahmer’s neighbors maintained that Sinthasomphone was not removed by the officers because the witnesses were Black and Dahmer was white. All the police officers were white, as well.

A 2011 obituary in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel of Glenda Cleveland, the woman who called the police to the scene, stated:

Cleveland described countless times how she called the police that fateful night, how she finally reached an officer connected with the incident, and how she asked him repeatedly if the male with Dahmer was a child in peril. She called back a few days later after seeing Konerak's photo in a newspaper article about his disappearance. No one got back to her. She tried again. Same result. She even tried calling the FBI, but got nowhere. Five of Dahmer's 17 murders, including Konerak, came after Cleveland tried to alert police.

What happened to the police officers? While Dahmer was sentenced to life in prison, Gabrish and Balcerzak were fired from the police force. They were, however, eventually reinstated a few years later with back pay. Gabrish retired in 2019 after serving in the village of Grafton, Wisconsin, since 1993. Balcerzak also retired from the Milwaukee police in 2017.


“Commission Votes To Appeal Reinstatement of Fired Cops.” AP NEWS, https://apnews.com/article/f98037903dc4131b5a63ed08359f05f8. Accessed 28 Sept. 2022.

“Estate of Sinthasomphone v. City of Milwaukee, 838 F. Supp. 1320 (E.D. Wis. 1993).” Justia Law, https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/838/1320/2255276/. Accessed 28 Sept. 2022.

"Estate of Sinthasomphone v Milwaukee (1992)." https://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/Sinthasomphone.html. Accessed 28 Sept. 2022.

“Gabrish Named Interim Chief.” Ozaukee Press, 28 Aug. 2019, https://ozaukeepress.com/content/gabrish-named-interim-chief. Accessed 28 Sept. 2022.

“Glenda Cleveland, the Jeffrey Dahmer Witness Who Alerted Police, Died in 2011 at Age 56. This Is Her Obituary.” Jsonline, https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/2022/09/26/2011-obituary-glenda-cleveland-who-alerted-police-dahmer/8118749001/. Accessed 28 Sept. 2022.

Lowry, Brian. “How Netflix Turned Jeffrey Dahmer into Its ‘star’ of the Month.” CNN, 27 Sept. 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/09/27/entertainment/jeffrey-dahmer-netflix-star/index.html. Accessed 28 Sept. 2022.

“Officer Defends Giving Boy Back to Dahmer.” The New York Times, 26 Aug. 1991. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/1991/08/26/us/officer-defends-giving-boy-back-to-dahmer.html. Accessed 28 Sept. 2022.

“Officers Are Dismissed in Milwaukee Slaying.” The New York Times, 8 Sept. 1991. https://www.nytimes.com/1991/09/08/us/officers-are-dismissed-in-milwaukee-slaying.html. Accessed 28 Sept. 2022.

“Police in Dahmer Case Admit Making Mistake.” The New York Times, 16 Oct. 1992. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/1992/10/16/us/police-in-dahmer-case-admit-making-mistake.html. Accessed 28 Sept. 2022.

Vlamis, Kelsey. “My Brother Was Murdered by Jeffrey Dahmer. Here’s What It Was like Watching the Netflix Show That Recreated the Emotional Statement I Gave in Court.” Insider, https://www.insider.com/rita-isbell-sister-jeffrey-dahmer-victim-talks-about-netflix-show-2022-9. Accessed 28 Sept. 2022.

Watts, Marina. “Milwaukee PD Criticized for Old Tweet Congratulating Cop Who Left Dahmer Victim.” Newsweek, 19 June 2020, https://www.newsweek.com/milwaukee-pd-congratulate-retired-cop-who-laughed-off-teen-victim-dahmer-1512130. Accessed 28 Sept. 2022.

“Wisconsin State Journal 26 Apr 1995, Page 3.” Newspapers.Com, https://www.newspapers.com/image/404003795/. Accessed 28 Sept. 2022.

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.

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