Nearly 30 years after his death, Jeffrey Dahmer is still a household name. But there’s one name that was instrumental to his capture that’s been largely ignored — until now. Netflix‘s Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story isn’t just a miniseries about the Milwaukee Monster. It’s also one of the first projects about this case to pay special attention to Glenda Cleveland.
One of Dahmer’s neighbors, Cleveland was one of the first people who suspected something was off about Dahmer and to contact authorities about him. It’s reasonable to think that if police had listened to Cleveland, Jeffrey Dahmer would have been arrested two months earlier and five of his victims would have been spared. Portrayed by Niecy Nash in the Ryan Murphy and Ian Brennan miniseries, Cleveland stands as one of the most heroic figures in this case you’ve likely never heard of.
Who Was Glenda Cleveland?
Though the Dahmer story is well known, most versions don’t mention this important figure by name. Glenda Cleveland was one of Jeffrey Dahmer’s neighbors who also lived in The Oxford Apartments in Milwaukee, Wis. The complex was in a predominantly Black neighborhood where the white Dhamer stood out. The true tragedy of this case isn’t just that Dahmer was responsible for the murders of 17 boys and men. It’s that the authorities were told that something was wrong several times, and yet, due to the racism and homophobia of the police force, those warnings were ignored. Cleveland was among the loudest of these dismissed voices.
Cleveland first alerted her landlord to the bizarre smells and sounds coming from Dahmer’s apartment. But it wasn’t until May of 1991 that she contacted the police. Cleveland was among three distressed women who discovered 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone outside of North 25th Street. At the time, the Laotian teenager was completely naked and incoherent.
They would later learn that Sinthasomphone’s inability to speak was due to the fact that Dahmer had drilled a hole into his head and filled it with hydrochloric acid. The serial killer lured Sinthasomphon to his apartment after promising to pay him to model. Dahmer later claimed that his victim only made it through two poses before falling unconscious due to the drugs the older man had given him. Dahmer then sexually assaulted the boy, who later managed to escape his apartment. Coincidentally and unbeknownst to Dahmer, Sinthasomphone was the younger brother of a boy Dahmer had been arrested for drugging and sexually assaulting back in 1988.
Photo: Getty Images
Of course, Cleveland and the two other women who found the teenager knew nothing about these horrors. But Cleveland was convinced that Sinthasomphon was in danger. Repeatedly, she tried calling the police and was ignored. When the police finally arrived, Dahmer managed to convince them that Sinthasomphon wasn’t a child but his adult lover and that they were in the middle of a domestic dispute. The officers took him at his word and left the scene without investigating further.
Yet Cleveland’s involvement in this case didn’t stop there. After she finally managed to get an officer on the scene, she called the police again to check on Sinthasomphon and was put in contact with one of the officers on the case. “He assured me that he (the victim) was not a child,” Cleveland said in 1991. “He said he was an adult and that it was a domestic squabble between two homosexuals.”
The more questions she asked authorities, the more she was dismissed. Cleveland called the police yet again after seeing a picture of Sinthasomphon in the paper, announcing his disappearance. She even tried to contact the FBI at one point. Nearly every time she was ignored.
Almost exactly two months later in July of 1991, Dahmer lured 32-year-old Tracy Edwards into his apartment. Edwards would become Dahmer’s final victim before his capture and arrest. If the authorities had listened to Cleveland, it’s 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 would have all been spared.
After Dahmer’s arrest, the Reverend Jesse Jackson met with Cleveland and succinctly summarized what happened. “Police chose the word of a killer over an innocent woman,” he said at the time.
Is Glenda Cleveland Alive Today?
Cleveland passed away on December 24, 2010 at the age of 56. A medical examiner later declared that she died of natural causes due to heart disease and high blood pressure. Perhaps ironically, Milwaukee police officers were the ones who found Cleveland’s body after acting on a citizen’s tip.
For her heroic actions, Cleveland was honored by the Common Council, the County Board, and Mayor John Norquist. She even received awards for her involvement in this case. Yet as much as Cleveland was praised on a local level, she was written out of the larger narrative of the Dahmer case.