The System that Created and Destroyed Christopher Scarver
The System that Created and Destroyed Christopher Scarver
By Cassidy Marshall
To most of us, the name Christopher Scarver does not hold much weight. In other words, it is not a household name. Not like the name “Jeffrey Dahmer” is, at least. Or if it is, you probably only heard of it due to the recent episode of “Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” that depicts his murder of Dahmer. And it makes sense that we do not uphold the name Christopher Scarver in the way that we do Jeffrey Dahmer, right?
Playing Christopher Scarver does not win you a Golden Globe. Playing Jeffrey Dahmer does. We cannot spin Christopher Scarver’s teenage years into a psychological true crime flick for the Tribeca Film Festival. We can do that with Jeffrey Dahmer. As much as they hate him, everyone loves Jeffery Dahmer.
One would assume that, with all of Dahmer’s notoriety, the man who murdered one of the most prolific serial killers in American history, would be a little more well known to the public – yet the little that the public does know about Christopher Scarver, the man who murdered Jeffrey Dahmer along with one other prisoner in November 1994, does not seem to reflect the level of sympathy you would expect to befall a man with Scarver’s past. We could pretend that we have some sense of morality over the murder of Jeffrey Dahmer, that we suddenly believe he did not deserve everything that came to him in the end, or we could get straight to the point and acknowledge that the reason nobody wants to acknowledge Christopher Scarver is because he is a Black man. Acknowledging him, truly and properly attending to him in the way that he deserves, would require acknowledging the racial motivation behind Dahmer’s crimes in a way that our Justice system has been historically hesitant towards doing. Why would they want to bring their own crimes to light?
One of the more distasteful truths about the case against Jeffrey Dahmer was that law enforcement actively enabled him to continue murdering for an extended period. It would be against the best interests of law enforcement to acknowledge their wrongdoings by Christopher Scarver because it would mean having to acknowledge their wrongdoings throughout the entirety of Jeffrey Dahmer’s serial killings. It is no secret that law enforcement agencies were not exactly motivated to protect gay men during the eighties, but the second those men were non-white, their chances of law enforcement intervening were essentially non-existent. Beyond his initial arrests and convictions, there were a myriad of times that the police had ample opportunity to capture him, and instead, their lack of motivation to protect non-white gay men allowed Dahmer to continue. In fact, authorities were handed the chance to stop Dahmer in his tracks practically on a silver platter; in May 1991, fourteen-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone escaped Dahmer’s apartment after hours of torture while Dahmer was out of the apartment, and three women discovered him naked, bleeding, and disoriented (Walsh, 1991). The women immediately contacted authorities, and Officers John Balcerzak and Joseph Gabrish arrived to investigate the scene (Walsh, 1991). The women were told to “butt out” and “shut the hell up” by the officers, who then returned Sinthasomphone to Dahmer’s care after he had convinced them that he was not only an adult, but his intoxicated boyfriend; Sinthasomphone’s body would be discovered two months later, along with the bodies of four other men who had been killed in the time since the police initially made contact (Walsh, 1991). All charges against both officers were later dropped, with both being reinstated to the police force (Walsh, 1991). Fourteen out of Jeffrey Dahmer’s seventeen victims were non-white; of that fourteen, nine were Black (Campbell, 1996).
Christopher Scarver is not a serial killer. Deprived of equity from childhood, Scarver is a man who was promised by his boss that he would be trained and hired to a full-time position (Terry, 1994). When that promise fell through, Scarver, who had been hearing voices and suffering from messianic delusions for some time by this point, showed up to the job site with a gun and demanded money, eventually fatally shooting employee Steven Lohmann (Terry, 1994). It was for this that he ended up in prison with Jeffrey Dahmer.
It is important to acknowledge the dichotomy between their two situations. Scarver, a Black man, was born just after the conclusion of the Civil Rights Movement and had what some would describe as a “troubled upbringing” (Celebsweek, 2022). In defense of Scarver and his family, America did not exactly make it easy for Black families to have anything other than a troubled upbringing during this time period. By the eleventh grade, Scarver had dropped out of school due to a myriad of substance abuse problems (Celebsweek, 2022). This is a particularly interesting point to highlight because so many white teenagers during this time were also engaging in heavy abuse of substances; in fact, the rate of white teenagers engaging in substance abuse during this time period was nearly six-and-a-half times that of all non-white teenagers (Richards, 1991). Yet, the high school completion rates for non-white students dwindled between fifty and eighty percent, whereas white students remained stable at ninety and ninety-two percent (NCES, 2000). So, despite how much more drugs and alcohol were being abused by white teenagers at this time, so many more of them were still graduating high school than their non-white, sober peers. In short, Scarver was already at a disadvantage whether he had stayed clear of substances or not. He was, and still is, a victim of American institutions that lack empathy towards non-white Americans, particularly Black Americans, in their entirety. Scarver was not in the position he was in by choice.
He was also not in the position that he was in on June 1st, 1990, when he shot Steven Lohmann in an act that would ultimately confine him to life imprisonment, by choice or by his own volition. When a historically disenfranchised individual meets their breaking point, that is always the time when most people turn on them. No one ever stops and wonders what brought them to such a point. It never seems to be acknowledged that no one reaches that point out of desire for it; you get to a point like that out of desperation. Scarver ended up where he was, committing the things that he did, out of desperation. Instead of helping him, the system turned on him and threw him behind bars, where he was faced with a man who openly bragged about murdering, who described how he enjoyed murdering in detail to the press, and who targeted Black men like Scarver (Terry, 1994). Every day, Scarver was faced with a man opposite of himself, a man who was not forced into a desperate position in which he killed to get out of, but instead, a man who sought out murder, who had no other necessity for it other than to feed his own sadistic desires. Dahmer was a man who was in his position by choice.
Jeffrey Dahmer represented all the ways in which a white man can use his whiteness violently. He had tortured and taken the lives of minority men, he had abused the system to his advantage in order to continue doing so, and he had been given an easier shot at life than most of the men he killed were, and yet he had chosen a lower position in life anyways. How is a man like that supposed to be taken as anything but a threat to a man like Scarver? Barring the lack of adequate mental health care being administered to the unwell Scarver, any sane person can see how Scarver came to do what he did, mental health issues or not.
The case of Christopher Scarver’s life is not one that people often jump to defend. In avoiding doing so, they avoid seeing how Scarver does not need our defending. However, he does deserve our empathy. He deserves for us to see his side of things, his perspective on why he did what he did, how he was put in that position, and how blame can be placed on him. From the moment his life began, he was born into a world that would never give him the same footing as it did men like Jeffrey Dahmer. He was born into a world that not only expected but desired for him to succumb to violence, whereas Jeffrey Dahmer chose to succumb to the demons he created for himself. Jeffrey Dahmer does not deserve your attention, the actors who play him do not deserve Golden Globes, and the films about his murders do not deserve worldwide recognition.
We have no romanticism left to give Jeffrey Dahmer, and we cannot take back the infamy we have already showered him in. Nor can we go back in time and give Christopher Scarver the social equity, treatment, or help he deserved. But we can stop romanticizing the man he murdered. We can at least extend an empathetic hand to a man who was not only a victim of the pain that Dahmer caused, but a victim of our system, and a victim of never having gotten a proper telling of his side of the story. It is our duty to learn from the mistakes of our past, and in doing so, we prevent them from recurring in the future; therefore, it is our duty to get to know Christopher Scarver in a way that America has previously been resistant towards doing, otherwise we run the risk of failing men like Christopher Scarver all over again. Beyond that, we run the risk of allowing men like Jeffrey Dahmer to walk amongst us once again. The only similarities shared between the stories of these two men were the ways in which the system failed; failed to protect Scarver and failed to protect us from Dahmer. Our enemy is not found in men like Scarver, or even men like Dahmer, but in these exact systemic failures that simultaneously enable and fail to prevent horrific situations such as these.
The best way for everyday people to lend support to unfairly incarcerated Americans is to show them our kindness and empathy. They are owed, at the very least, a kind word and a sympathetic ear. Christopher Scarver is still alive and still imprisoned at Centennial Correctional Facility in Colorado (Hopkins, 2022). His inmate number is 117801, and you can write him at the address below:
Centennial Correctional Facility (E-1)
P.O. Box 600
Canon City, CO 81215