If you watched the new Jeffrey Dahmer Netflix series, Monster — Dahmer, you already know that the notorious serial killer carried out 17 murders over the course of more than 10 years before getting caught in July 1991. As the series depicts, Dahmer’s violent record could have ended earlier that summer — sparing five of his victims — if not for the action (or lack thereof) of responding officers John Balcerzak and Joseph Gabrish.
In Episode 2 of the Dahmer series, neighbor Glenda Cleveland and her family members express concern for 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone, who appeared outside Dahmer’s apartment, drugged and undressed. Dahmer explained the child’s behavior by saying he was drunk and claiming they lived together as partners. Despite Konerak’s condition, Balcerzak and Gabrish ultimately believed Dahmer, who went on to kill Konerak shortly after their departure, according to the Associated Press.
The episode also features the actual 911 call between Cleveland and Balcerzak, in which the officer repeatedly insists that Konerak was of age. “I can’t do anything about somebody’s sexual preferences in life,” he said, after which Cleveland clarified she was only concerned about the boy being a minor.
According to The Washington Post, Balcerzak and Gabrish were fired for not bringing the “obviously incapacitated child into protective custody,” once Dahmer’s crimes were revealed months later. (In real life, a third officer, Richard Porubcan, was also involved and suspended but not dismissed.) “At the time, with the information we had — to this day I think we did the appropriate thing, the best that we could,” Balcerzak told Milwaukee’s WTMJ in 1991.
By the time the officers were brought back onto the force in 1994 — and given $55,000 backpay apiece — Balcerzak had become a tavern owner, per the AP. It’s not clear if Balcerzak still operates that business, but he did go on to serve as president of the Milwaukee Police Union, according to Milwaukee Magazine. Balcerzak’s leadership was criticized in a 2008 opinion piece posted on the magazine’s site, claiming that the officer “[had] done little to let the younger and minority membership know he cares.”
Balcerzak is no longer working as a police officer after retiring in 2017, according to WTMJ. The Milwaukee Police Department congratulated Balcerzak upon his retirement, per Newsweek, though their tweet was apparently deleted after facing criticism in the 2020 protests against police brutality.