MILWAUKEE (AP) — A marketing group in Wisconsin wants to give walking tours of the bar where serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer met and hung out with some of his victims.
But when victims' families and others found out about the tours this week through a Groupon promotion for a cut-rate tour, they started calling for the tour, which they described as insensitive and in poor taste, to end.
Bam Marketing and Media spokeswoman Amanda Morden said Thursday the company is not deterred and the first two tours are Saturday in Milwaukee and have nearly reached the 20-person capacity for each. That upsets neighborhood group president Victor Ray, who says it's too soon for a tour since the crimes are just 2 decades old and many family members of Dahmer's victims are still around.
"I just don't think this is the right timing," said Ray, who heads the Walker's Point Association. "And a tour of the area is not the right thing to do. It's sensationalism in its finest."
Ray said he's received 75 emails, most against the tours, and that some plan to protest Saturday, including some family members of victims. He said he's been in contact with one victim's mother, who asked for his group's help.
"She said 'Do what you can to stop it,'" Ray said. The woman didn't want to be interviewed by reporters.
He met with Morden and another tour group representative Thursday night and hoped he had convinced them to quit the tours. But Morden said they have a legitimate, viable product for people interested in the history of the crimes, rather than the sensational nature of them.
Dahmer, a chocolate factory worker, would frequent gay bars in the area. He was arrested in 1991 and admitted to killing 17 young men, some of whom he mutilated and cannibalized. He was serving life prison sentences when a fellow inmate beat him to death in 1994.
His apartment building — where he stored body parts — was eventually razed. There's been talk over the years about putting a memorial there, but the idea has received mixed reactions. Morden said they hoped to put a plaque with the victims' names on one of the businesses in the area as a memorial.
She also said a portion of the tour profits will be donated to charity, although a specific one hasn't been chosen.
Ray called it a token gesture. "I don't think that's going to make a difference to the community," he said.
The area is in the middle of a revitalized section of Milwaukee, with new restaurants and bars in remodeled buildings that once housed bars Dahmer would frequent.
Morden described it as a legitimate walking tour that looked at the killer's crimes from a historical perspective, rather than with macabre fascination. She compared it to a book or a documentary, but in a different format.
"Whether we like it or not it's part of our city's history," she said. "It's part of our nation's history."
Morden said she thought enough time had passed to look at the crimes objectively. The tour group is sensitive to the victims' families, she said, but has not sought their feedback.
"We are not being evasive in any way," she said. "If there is a concern we would be happy to address it."
At least two schools have expressed interest for educational reasons, she said. Plans have been made to meet with them next week.
Groupon offered two tickets for $25, instead of the normal $60, and called the 1-mile, 90-minute tour a "spine-chilling glimpse" into Dahmer's life. But only 15 tickets sold before the daily-deal website closed the promotion. Spokesman Nicholas Halliwell said in an emailed statement that it was never Groupon's intention to offend anyone.
It's not unusual for gruesome crimes to become part of a city's lore. There are tours in London about Jack the Ripper, in Los Angeles about Charles Manson, and in Boston about the Boston Strangler.
But local tourism group VISIT Milwaukee won't promote it.
"We don't need to give notoriety to an individual like Jeffrey Dahmer who did painful and hurtful things and did nothing to further the community's image," spokeswoman Jeannine Sherman said.
Alderman James Witkowiak said the city can't stop the tours because organizers are using public spaces and they are protected by free speech laws.
It's more of a gray area for Sara Drescher, who manages a pub in the neighborhood. She didn't think it would affect business and she doubted there would be much interest in the tour.
She said she supports people being able to start a business but not at the expense of victims' families.
"It's a difficult thing, and I don't know the right way for it to be handled," Drescher said.