Saving Jeffrey Dahmer

The world knew Jeffrey Dahmer as a hardened killer. But one pastor knew him as a forgiven sinner.

When Wisconsin minister Roy Ratcliff received a phone call that an inmate at a nearby prison wanted to be baptized, he had no idea that the prisoner in question was Jeffrey Dahmer--a man known worldwide for his crimes of murder, dismemberment and cannibalism.

After performing the requested baptism in 1994, Ratcliff began traveling to the prison for weekly one-hour meetings with Dahmer. In a new book, Ratcliff discusses his experiences--and whether Dahmer's conversion was genuine.

One of the most common questions put to me about Jeff has to do with the sincerity of his faith. And I usually hear this from Christians. They ask if Jeff was truly sincere in his desire for baptism and in his Christian life. My answer is always the same: Yes, I am convinced he was sincere.

This question bothers me. Why question the sincerity of another person’s faith? Baptism represents a change in lifestyle. A person is expected to change after being baptized. When people don’t change, we begin to wonder. Why were they baptized? Did they did not fully comprehend what was involved?

I can understand those kinds of questions.

But Jeff’s circumstance was different. The people asking me didn’t know about his post-baptismal life. They were basing their question on what he did before he was baptized, not after. That bothers me.


Jeff was judged not by his faith, but by his crimes. The questioner always seemed to hope I’d answer: “No, he wasn’t sincere.” The questioner seemed to be looking for a way to reject Jeffrey as a brother in Christ instead of seeing him as a sinner who has come to God. The subtext of such questions was simple. They didn’t want to think of Jeff as a brother. Such ungraciousness is contrary to the Christian spirit.

Was Jeff saved? Were his sins taken away? Is he a Christian believer? Did he repent of his sins? Or was the blood of Christ shed on the cross somehow too weak, too thin, too anemic to cover his sins? Did Jeff mean it when he said, “I’m so sorry for what I’ve done. God help me, I’ll never do that again”?

Why was it inconceivable that Jeffrey Dahmer could come to faith?

I became convinced of Jeff’s sincerity by one happening. On a certain visit we came to the end of our study time together. The prison guard had given us the signal, but right then, before I stood to leave, Jeff bared his soul.

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