A photo of Jeffrey Dahmer entering the courtroom. This picture highlights his singular rigid posture: spine ramrod straight, shoulders squared, and arms stiff at his sides. He isn’t wearing glasses because he took them off every day before walking into court so that he wouldn’t be able to see the faces of the people around him. Dahmer displayed an outward appearance of calm emotionlessness, which The Washington Post unkindly went as far as to call “necrotic vacancy,” throughout his trial, barely talking or even moving and keeping his eyes firmly downcast. “His only reaction to testimony seems to be faster blinking as he looks at his lap or the edge of the table,” observed The Milwaukee Journal. Contrary to the media’s perceptions, Dahmer’s lawyer Gerald Boyle stated that his client was actually extremely distraught and tense, declaring, “He’s a very desperate young man. He is very troubled, and he is in a high, anxious mood because of what has happened.” Indeed, Dahmer’s lack of any response at all in court, and his comments in psychologist interviews, give off the impression of a man so intensely private and ashamed that he would rather disappear off the face of the earth than suffer the scrutiny of the public gaze. “I just feel like imploding upon myself, you know? I just want to go somewhere and disappear,” he confessed to psychologist Kenneth Smail.
Dahmer’s appearance throughout his trial reflected his increasingly fragile, agitated mental state. Initially, he was so anxious about how he would look in front of the cameras that he managed to persuade Detective Patrick Kennedy to loan him an old outfit of his son’s in lieu of the standard orange jumpsuit. As the weeks passed and the stress of having every single one of the (literal) skeletons in his closet being dragged out into the open and minutely examined took its toll, however, Dahmer lost the energy to maintain his looks. He gained a substantial amount of weight, neglected to shave or wash his hair, and wore the same ill-fitting brown sports coat and slacks for several days in a row. Dahmer was so intent on making himself as invisible as possible in court that he refused even to speak in his own defense, saying, “I’m not going to get up on the bench and say anything, that’s for sure, no way … I’m not going to sit up in front of all those people and try to answer questions.”