The Ancestors Claim Glenda Cleveland, The Woman Who Tried to Stop Jeffrey Dahmer
Mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer was bludgeoned to death in 1994 within a year or two of his incarceration. Frankly, I was surprised that he lasted that long in the slammer. Many believe the reason for his death was in his horrific preying upon black and Asian American men: having sex with them, killing them, dismembering their bodies, and eating and retaining their body parts. Indeed, Christopher Scarver, a deranged black convict and Dahmer’s killer, called what he did, “the work of God.” However, few people were patting Scarver on the back for delivering the payback on Dahmer.
In contrast, Glenda Cleveland, his neighbor, who twenty years ago tried to help one of his victims who had escaped naked and bleeding from his apartment, and could have finally blown the lid off Dahmer’s crimes had she had been believed by Milwaukee police, died alone and in relative obscurity on Christmas Eve, December 24, 2010, in her apartment of natural causes. She was 56.
Glenda Cleveland died a heroine.
In the early morning hours of May 27, 1991, 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone (by coincidence, the younger brother of the boy whom Dahmer had molested) was discovered on the street, wandering naked, heavily under the influence of drugs and bleeding from his rectum. Two young women from the neighborhood found the dazed boy and called 911. Dahmer chased his victim down and tried to take him away, but the women stopped him. Dahmer told police that Sinthasomphone was his 19-year-old boyfriend, and that they had an argument while drinking. Against the protests of the two women who had called 911, police turned him over to Dahmer. They later reported smelling a strange scent while inside Dahmer’s apartment, but did not investigate it. The smell was the body of Tony Hughes, Dahmer’s previous victim, decomposing in the bedroom. The two policemen did not make any attempt to verify Sinthasomphone’s age and failed to run a background check that would have revealed Dahmer was a convicted child molester still under probation. Later that night, Dahmer killed and dismembered Sinthasomphone, keeping his skull as a souvenir.
Wiki doesn’t tell the whole story, though.
This is part of the telephone record of Glenda Cleveland’s conversation with Milwaukee police, as well as that of her niece, Nicole Childress. This is From The Desk of Mr. Knappy-Head:
May 27, 1991; 2:00 a.m
Dispatcher: “Milwaukee emergency. Operator 71.”
Nicole Childress: “OK. Hi. I am on 25th and State. And there’s this young man. He’s buck-naked and he has been beaten up. He is very bruised up. He can’t stand. He has no clothes on. He is really hurt. And I, you know, ain’t got no coat on. But I just seen him. He needs some help. . . .”
After investigating, an officer reported back to the dispatcher.
An officer later reported that the assignment was completed and that the squad was ready for new duties.
Officer: “Ten-four. It will be a minute. My partner is going to get deloused at the station.” [laughter on the tape]
A short time later, Glenda Cleveland, the mother of one of the young women called the police to inquire about the incident. She was eventually connected to one of the investigating officers.
Cleveland: “Yeah, uh, what happened? I mean my daughter and my niece witnessed what was going on. Was anything done about the situation? Do you need their names or information or anything from them?”
Officer: “No, not at all.”
Cleveland: “You don’t?”
Officer: “Nope. It was an intoxicated boyfriend of another boyfriend.”
Cleveland: “Well, how old was this child?”
Officer: “It wasn’t a child. It was an adult.”
Cleveland: “Are you sure?”
Cleveland: “Are you positive? Because this child doesn’t even speak English. My daughter had, you know, dealt with him before, seeing him on the street. You know, catching earthworms.”
Officer: Ma’am. Ma’am. I can’t make it any more clear. It’s all taken care of. He is with his boyfriend, in his boyfriend’s apartment, where he has his belongings also.”
Cleveland: “But what if he’s a child? Are you positive he is an adult?”
Officer: “Ma’am, like I explained to you, it’s all taken care of. It’s as positive as I can be. I can’t do anything about somebody’s sexual preference in life.”
Cleveland: “Well, no, I am not saying anything about that, but it appeared to have been a child. This is my concern.”
Officer: “No. No. He’s not.”
Cleveland: “He’s not a child?
Officer: “No, he’s not. OK? And it’s a boyfriend-boyfriend thing. And he’s got belongings at the house where he came from. He has very nice pictures of himself and his boyfriend and so forth.”
Cleveland: “OK, I am just, you know. It appeared to have been a child. That was my concern.”
Officer: “I understand. No, he is not. Nope.”
Cleveland: “Oh, OK. Thank you. Bye.”
Yet Cleveland, her daughter, Sandra Smith and her niece, Nicole Childress, were not entirely convinced. They knew something was wrong with Apartment 213 of the Oxford Apartments. Had been wrong on all counts for months on end. The stench on that floor was persistent and foul. They didn’t know what it was then, but it was found to be the stench of rotting human flesh. Most people have no idea what human death smells like, except for those who have been a part of battlefields, killing fields, genocides, or mass executions. Remarkably, Cleveland didn’t stop there. She kept raising the alarm.
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.
Later, after that first call, the cops involved made even more racist and homophobic jokes about the incident, which was also caught on 911 tapes. Mr. Knappy-Head further relates:
Had the police been paying even a little bit of attention to the scene before them, the stench in Dahmer’s apartment might have tipped them off that something was wrong. Had they bothered to call in the routine background check on Dahmer that procedure required, they would have learned that Dahmer had been convicted of molesting Konerak’s older brother some years earlier. Had they not been so amused by the apparent otherness of the situation, they might have saved the boy’s life as well as the lives of the four victims who followed Sinthasomphone.
Two months later, of course, those cops weren’t laughing any more.
The two Milwaukee police officers who had “investigated” the call were fired after public anger, protests, and pressure. However, both officers were later reinstated with back pay and were named “Officers of the Year” by the Milwaukee Police Association for their “righteous battle to regain their jobs.” One of the officers, John Balcerzak, was elected President of the Milwaukee Police Association in May, 2005.
It’s episodes like the Dahmer mass murders, along with the unsolved murder of Mitrice Richardson and the police murders of Oscar Grant and Sean Bell, that makes people say that cops are too much a law unto themselves. This is the mindset that makes them abet murder that they are charged with solving or preventing. This is why the police resist community control. They don’t want to be wrong; everything that they do is right. Those firings should have stuck. Those guys shouldn’t have been allowed back on the streets or been promoted or given $100,000 paydays. The authorities condone not only ineptitude, incompetence and corruption, but racism, class contempt, and homophobia. They promote and reinforce the idea that law enforcement is not on people’s side as they say they are.
Jeffrey Dahmer’s murder spree also sounds a lot like that of the recently discovered black serial killer of black women, Anthony Sowell. Both preyed upon the people around them, and counted on the fact that in patrolling a poor, predominantly black neighborhood, the cops wouldn’t pay much attention to a serial killer among people considered useless and worthless in the first place. Druggies. Homeless black women. Chronically jobless.
[..A] memorial service is planned for spring when family and friends can more easily travel here from Cleveland’s birth state of Mississippi and other places.
In a touch of irony, it was Milwaukee police officers acting on a citizen tip who entered Cleveland’s apartment and discovered her body on the floor. Neighbors had become concerned after not seeing her for a few days. The medical examiner’s office ruled it was a natural death caused by heart disease and high blood pressure. Smith blames the cigarette habit her mother could not kick.
You might think Cleveland would have quickly moved away from the neighborhood of 25th and Kilbourn after Dahmer’s horrors were uncovered after his arrest in July of 1991. “Why don’t you move away from that house on haunted hill?” one of her brothers sometimes teased. “I’m not going anywhere,” she would fire back.
She stayed on 25th St. until 2009, her daughter said, and had lived alone since then in an apartment less than a mile away at 32nd and Wisconsin.
According to Wikipedia, the notorious Oxford Apartments where these horrors were perpetrated was later torn down. A plan to convert the empty lot into a memorial garden on behalf of Dahmer’s victims has since failed to materialize.
Cleveland kept some of the honors, awards and plaques she received from local women’s organizations and citizens’ groups for her concern and persistence, as well as from the Milwaukee Common Council and the Milwaukee County Board on a wall of her apartment. Even the Milwaukee Police Department belatedly gave her an award. One of nine children born to Mississippi farming parents, she and her siblings were taught to always tell the truth and to help others in trouble.
At the time of her death, Cleveland was unemployed. She had lost her minimum wage, data-entry position several years ago, and like many in this economy, she had probably lost hope that she would find work again. Instead, Cleveland became a second mother to her daughter’s children. Though Glenda Cleveland’s only child, Smith has produced nine children. Sandra Smith is a nurse who lives on the South Side of Milwaukee.
It is reported that for a time, Cleveland also stayed in touch with surviving members of Konerak Sinthasomphone’s family, and was even invited to and attended a brother’s wedding.
Occasionally people on the street still recognized Cleveland from her days in the news. [Sandra] Smith said she and her mother didn’t talk much anymore about their encounter with Dahmer.
“I try not to think about it because it should have been different,” Smith said. “A lot of things could have been prevented. I try not to dwell on that.”
I firmly believe that certain people come among us to give and to teach all of us something. Glenda Cleveland, with her little, working-class life, was supposed to be here. If anything, she was supposed to be here to give a warning. She was a woman and a mom, and she sensed that there was something wrong, and that someone needed rescue and care. She was also here to reinforce those ethics are supposed to be lost and gone in the late 20th and early 21st century (and among black people) about the value of caring for others’ lives even beyond those of one’s own skin color or culture. Something that I believe that is lost and gone from law enforcement. Something that I believe is gone from some of those who are elected or charged with looking out for everyone’s interests.
There is a reason why you are here, too.
Thank you, Glenda. Come back to us again.