Nearly 30 years after his death, Jeffrey Dahmer is still a household name. But there is one name that played an important role in his capture that has been largely ignored until now. Netflix’s Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is not just a miniseries about the Milwaukee Monster. It is also one of the first projects on this case to pay special attention to Glenda Cleveland.
Cleveland, one of Dahmer’s neighbors, was one of the first people to suspect something was wrong with Dahmer and contacted authorities about him. It’s reasonable to think that if the police had listened to Cleveland, Jeffrey Dahmer would have been arrested two months earlier and five of his victims would have been spared. Played by Niecy Nash in the Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan miniseries, Cleveland stands as one of the most heroic figures in this case that you’ve probably never heard of.
Who was Glenda Cleveland?
Although Dahmer’s story is well known, this important figure is not mentioned by name in most versions. Glenda Cleveland was one of Jeffrey Dahmer’s neighbors who also lived at The Oxford Apartments in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The complex was in a predominantly black neighborhood where the white Dhamer stood out. The real tragedy of this case is not just that Dahmer was responsible for the murders of 17 boys and men. It is that the authorities were told several times that something was wrong, and yet, because of the racism and homophobia of the police, those warnings were ignored. Cleveland was one of the loudest of these rejected voices.
Cleveland first warned her landlord about the bizarre smells and sounds coming from Dahmer’s apartment. But it wasn’t until May 1991 that she contacted the police. Cleveland was one of three distressed women who discovered 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone outside North 25th Street. At the time, the Laotian teen was completely naked and incoherent.
They would later learn that Sinthasomphone’s inability to speak was due to Dahmer having drilled a hole in his head and filled it with hydrochloric acid. The serial killer lured Sinthasomphon to his apartment after promising to pay him as a model. Dahmer later claimed that his victim took only two poses before becoming unconscious due to the drugs the older man had given him. Dahmer then sexually assaulted the boy, who later managed to escape from his apartment. Coincidentally and unbeknownst to Dahmer, Sinthasomphone was the younger brother of a boy Dahmer had arrested in 1988 for drugging and sexual assault.
Cleveland and the two other women who found the teen, of course, knew nothing of these horrors. But Cleveland was convinced that Sinthasomphon was in danger. She repeatedly tried to call the police and was ignored. When the police finally arrived, Dahmer convinced them that Sinthasomphon was not a child but his adult lover and that they were in the middle of a domestic dispute. The officers took his word for it and left the scene without further investigation.
But Cleveland’s involvement in this case didn’t stop there. After finally managing to get an officer to the scene, she called the police again to check Sinthasomphon and was put in touch with one of the case officers. “He assured me that he (the victim) was not a child,” Cleveland said in 1991. “He said he was an adult and it was a domestic argument between two homosexuals.”
The more questions she asked the authorities, the more she was fired. Cleveland called the police again after seeing a photo of Sinthasomphon in the paper announcing his disappearance. She even tried to contact the FBI at one point. She was ignored almost every time.
Almost exactly two months later, in July 1991, Dahmer lured 32-year-old Tracy Edwards to his apartment. Edwards would become Dahmer’s last victim before he was captured and arrested. If the authorities had listened to Cleveland, it was possible that the lives of Sinthasomphon, 20-year-old Matt Cleveland Turner, 23-year-old Jeremiah Benjamin Weinberger, 24-year-old Oliver Joseph Lacy, and 25-year-old Joseph Arthur Bradehoft could all be have been spared.
After Dahmer’s arrest, Reverend Jesse Jackson met with Cleveland and briefly summarized what happened. “The police chose the word of a murderer over an innocent woman,” he said at the time.
Is Glenda Cleveland alive today?
Cleveland died on December 24, 2010 at the age of 56. A coroner later stated that she died of natural causes due to heart disease and high blood pressure. Perhaps ironically, the Milwaukee police officers were the ones who found Cleveland’s body after acting on a tip from a civilian.
Cleveland has been honored for her heroic actions by the Common Council, the County Board, and Mayor John Norquist. She even received awards for her involvement in this case. But as much as Cleveland was praised at the local level, she was written from the larger story of the Dahmer case.