Jeffrey Dahmer is one of the most infamous serial killers in American history. Between 1978 and 1991, he murdered 17 young men and boys in the Milwaukee area, committing horrific acts of cannibalism and necrophilia.
While much has been written about Dahmer himself, less is known about the woman who became his stepmother – Shari Jordan.
Shari Jordan’s marriage to Jeffrey’s father, Lionel Dahmer, gave her a unique and disturbing window into the disturbed mind of one of history’s most notorious killers.
As a witness to some of the strangeness that occurred within the walls of their family home, her perspective provides rare insight into Dahmer’s early years and the warning signs that he was more than just an odd child.
Who Was Shari Jordan?
Shari Jordan was born Shari Ball on May 8, 1953 in Columbus, Ohio. After graduating high school in 1971, she attended Ohio State University. It was there that she met her first husband, Michael Jordan. The two married and had a daughter named Jessica in 1975.
In 1978, Shari and Michael divorced. Soon after, she met Lionel Dahmer at a business meeting. Lionel was in the process of divorcing Jeffrey’s mother, Joyce Flint. Despite the messy circumstances, Shari and Lionel hit it off right away. They quickly became romantically involved.
Their relationship raised some eyebrows due to the timing and Lionels ongoing divorce litigation. However, they didn’t let that stop them. Shari and Lionel got married in January 1979 in Wisconsin.
Becoming Jeffrey Dahmer’s Stepmother
When Shari Jordan married Lionel Dahmer, she became the stepmother of his son from his first marriage – 12-year-old Jeffrey Dahmer. By all accounts, Jeffrey was thrilled when his father remarried. He had resented his parents’ bitter divorce and the custody battle that ensued. Shari, with her warm and outgoing personality, was a welcome addition to the fractured family.
In an interview, Shari recounted the first time she met young Jeffrey at his mother’s Ohio home:
“He was just the cutest little boy. He came up and gave me a big hug. I saw him as being vulnerable. He was embarrassed and ashamed at what had happened with his parents.”
She said she immediately felt very protective towards Jeffrey and wanted to “mother” him. She also saw their similar backgrounds as a way to bond – both had gone through parental divorce at a young age.
According to Shari, Jeffrey was on his best behavior those first few meetings. He was quiet, polite and eager to make a good impression on his dad’s new love interest. She found him very sweet and likable.
Of course, we now know that behind closed doors, Jeffrey had already begun exhibiting disturbing behavior – he had killed his first victim, hitchhiker Steven Hicks, just months prior. But to Shari Jordan, the Jeffrey she was getting to know seemed like a smart, sensitive kid who just needed some stability.
Settling Into Family Life
After marrying Lionel, Shari Jordan settled into the role of dutiful housewife and stepmother. The family moved into a new home in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis.
By all appearances, Shari did her best to create a peaceful, loving home. She took pride in keeping their home meticulously clean and decorated. Cooking hearty meals for her husband and stepson was another way she showed her domestic devotion.
Early on, Shari tried to find ways to connect with the reserved Jeffrey. They would occasionally cook or bake treats together. She also took him on little shopping trips to pick out new clothes and school supplies.
To the outside world, they looked like a normal, happy American family. But Shari sensed that Jeffrey always seemed a bit distant from her. He was polite, but never warmed up to her the way she had hoped. He mostly kept to himself.
Still, she continued to make an effort with her challenging stepson. She knew he was still hurting from his parents’ split and understood his guardedness.
Early Signs of Trouble
It didn’t take long for some puzzling behavior to emerge from Jeffrey. Within the first year of their marriage, Shari made a few disturbing discoveries about her teenage stepson.
One alarming incident occurred when Jeffrey was 14 years old. Shari Jordan walked into his bedroom and found him unconscious from having too much beer. Shockingly, he had raided the liquor cabinet and replaced the empty bottles with water to avoid detection.
In an interview with Inside Edition in 2017, Shari reflected on this moment:
“I would never have guessed that Jeffrey was, in essence, becoming a closet alcoholic. He was only 14 or 15 years old.”
While most parents would be horrified to find their young teen passed out drunk, Shari seemed to brush it off as normal adolescent rebellion. She told Lionel about it, but they didn’t feel the need to address Jeffrey’s drinking with any serious consequences or treatment.
Things only got worse from there. The next year, Shari was cleaning Jeffrey’s bedroom and made an unsettling discovery – a male mannequin decorated strangely, with nails and colored stones glued to the head. She immediately showed Lionel, but again, they found excuses for their son’s peculiar curiosity.
Looking back, these were clearly red flags something was seriously wrong with Jeffrey Dahmer. But Shari and Lionel were in denial. They seemed to always rationalize away his weird behaviors. Their complacency gave Jeffrey free rein to nurture his sick fantasies.
Life After Jeffrey’s Arrest
Jeffrey Dahmer managed to keep his gruesome secret life hidden from his family for over a decade. But in 1991, when he was finally arrested for his crimes, Shari Jordan’s world came crashing down.
She and Lionel were horrified and disgusted to learn what Jeffrey had been doing – not only killing innocent victims, but performing sex acts on and harvesting body parts from their corpses. The extent of their son’s depravity was almost impossible to comprehend.
In the aftermath, Shari struggled with guilt and embarrassment. She was wracked with pain for the victims and their families. She also worried about the stigma now attached to the Dahmer name, for her sake as well as her younger son David’s.
Shari actively avoided media attention, unlike Lionel who gave interviews trying to explain how things went so wrong. She mostly retreated from public view altogether.
In one of her few public statements, on Larry King Live in 2004, Shari discussed her stepson’s mental state:
“We had no idea that there was that side of him… There must have been a progression of events in Jeffrey’s mind that changed the way he was thinking.”
Though stricken by the tragedy, she did maintain sporadic touch with Jeffrey in prison before his death in 1994. She sent him Bible passages and spoke to him on the phone occasionally. While she could not forgive what he had done, some small part of her still cared for him.
Life After Dahmer: Is Shari Dahmer Still Alive?
Following the shocking revelations about Jeffrey Dahmer, Shari Jordan was left to pick up the pieces and carry on. She continued her marriage to Lionel and lived with him in Ohio where they had relocated.
By all accounts, Shari focused her energy on family. She remained very close with her daughter Jessica and adored her young grandkids. Her life revolved around being a loving mother and grandmother.
Shari Jordan also developed a special bond with her younger son, David Dahmer, who struggled with carrying his infamous family name. He credited his mother with getting him through the hardest times after the news broke.
In her later years, Shari was known to be a warm, friendly presence by her Ohio neighbors. She died of cancer at age 58 in 2012.
Her husband Lionel passed away two years later at age 84. They are survived by their son David and daughter Jessica, as well as Shari’s five grandchildren.
Insights into Jeffrey Dahmer’s Childhood
As a member of Jeffrey Dahmer’s household during his crucial adolescent years, Shari Jordan was privy to parts of his life few others got to witness. While we can never fully know what goes on inside the mind of a serial killer, Shari’s perspective offers some insights.
Based on her recollections, some key factors she observed in Jeffrey’s childhood and teen years may have influenced his descent into violence:
- Parental divorce and abandonment issues: Jeffrey struggled deeply with his parents’ bitter split. Shari believes he felt rejected by both parents. Their fighting over his custody left him feeling out of control. This likely damaged his sense of security.
- Alcohol abuse: Shari discovered Jeffrey’s secret drinking at just 14 years old. His unhealthy use of alcohol to cope at such a young age impaired his judgment. It may have also unleashed violent tendencies.
- Social awkwardness: Shari noticed that Jeffrey always seemed uncomfortable interacting with others, even as a teen. His inability to connect likely fueled his isolation and fantasy world.
- Lack of parental discipline: Shari and Lionel consistently failed to set firm boundaries for Jeffrey’s misbehaviors. Their leniency taught him he could escape consequences, empowering his deviance.
- Compartmentalization: Jeffrey was skilled at concealing his dark side and projecting a polite, compliant facade. This ability to keep his real self compartmentalized prevented any intervention.
Of course, most children with these struggles do not grow up to become serial killers. But in Jeffrey Dahmer’s case, the combination of biological, psychological and social factors created the perfect storm for nurturing his homicidal tendencies.
Shari Jordan’s perspective reminds us of the pressing need for parents, teachers and communities to be vigilant about troublesome childhood behavior.
Early intervention could potentially prevent at-risk kids from spiraling down a destructive path. Though we can never fully predict or control human behavior, we must do everything possible to foster healthy development.
Final Thoughts on Shari Jordan
Shari Jordan led an ordinary Midwestern life until a horrific turn of events linked her forever with one of America’s most sadistic killers. As Jeffrey Dahmer’s stepmother, she experienced closeup the bizarre psychological descent of the boy who became a monster.
By all accounts, Shari was a compassionate woman who tried her best to bring happiness to her blended family. That her efforts were not enough to save Jeffrey from his dark compulsions was surely a heavy burden for her to bear.
But rather than live in the shadow of her infamous stepson, she focused on nurturing relationships with those still around her. Despite enduring immense shock and grief, she went on being a devoted mother and grandmother.
While we will never fully uncover what forces molded Jeffrey Dahmer into a serial murderer, Shari Jordan’s perspective offers a thought-provoking glimpse into his formative years. Perhaps her biggest lesson is that no family is ever really immune from the unimaginable – even when they follow the rules of society.