MILWAUKEE -- People thought it came through the heating ducts and seeped through the very walls. Sometimes it would all but disappear, only to return with a nauseating vengeance.
There were a lot of theories.
Food gone bad. Trash that smelled. Dead mice in the walls.
For more than 14 months at the Oxford Apartments, a worn, beige cinder-block building on the west side of Milwaukee, the search for the stench always seemed to take people to the same place.
Across the hall, Pamela Bass tried stuffing towels under her door to keep it out. Upstairs, Nanetta Lowery lived for less than a month in 313 before moving out to escape it.
Apartment 213 -- home to the quiet, skinny, blond guy named Jeff Dahmer.
He had a variety of explanations: His freezer broke down and the meat spoiled; he'd been away for the weekend and his fish died; it was a sewage problem.
He kept promising to take care of it, and people believed him.
They believed him until 11:25 p.m. July 22, when the door to 213 was flung open and a 32-year-old man fled into the streets with a handcuff dangling from one wrist. He flagged down two police officers and told them about the man who kept a huge knife under his bed inApartment 213.
Authorities say that inside the apartment they found body parts of 11 boys and young men and an array of tools and chemicals that Dahmer used in an assembly line of death for those he lured home.
"What kind of human being would do that?" asked Ms. Bass.
The lawyer representing Jeffrey Dahmer made a blunt assessment.
"This is a very sick young man who has many kinds of mental TC problems," said Gerald P. Boyle.
An authority on Dahmer told the Milwaukee Sentinel: "There's no doubt he's insane."
The comment came from Lionel Dahmer, his father.
In Akron, Ohio, officials said yesterday that they had retrieved what may be a part of a hip bone of Steven M. Hicks, who Dahmer has told investigators was his first victim, Reuters news agency reported.
Authorities in California, Florida and Germany also believe that Dahmer may have stalked victims while living in those places in the past decade, and they are reopening their investigations of unsolved dismemberment slayings. But Dahmer's lawyer Gerald Boyle said his client had asked him "to tell the world that I didn't do those things," referring to any unsolved murders outside Wisconsin or Ohio -- where he admits killing sprees, Reuters reported.
One thing is clear about the life of Jeffrey Dahmer: There were plenty of signs of trouble, but no one paid attention.
He grew up in Bath, Ohio, an affluent suburb 15 miles north of Akron. His father was a chemist, and by the age of 10, Jeff was dousing chicken bones with bleach in an experiment to test their reaction. As a teen-ager, he rendered animals' bodies in acid.
"He was only amused by the bizarre," said Dave Borsvold, who met Dahmer in elementary school.
At Revere High School in Bath, he was a class clown, "but not in a wholesome sense," one classmate told the Akron Beacon-Journal. He showed up for all the club pictures even though he wasn't in any of them, and he used to trace bodies on the floor in chalk, like a homicide detective.
The troubles with liquor began before his teen-age years were over.
In 1978 he went off to Ohio State University, "where he lined up the bottles of booze on his dormitory wall," his father told the Milwaukee Sentinel.
Dropping out, he joined the Army and became a medical technician and military policeman. Stationed in Baumholder, West Germany, he began going on drinking binges that lasted for days. Finally, the Army discharged him early because of alcoholism, his stepmother said.
For the next several years he lived with his grandmother in West Allis, a suburb of Milwaukee. He began to work the night shift at the Ambrosia Chocolate Co. factory.
His drinking continued, and the troubles it caused took a more serious turn.
In 1988 he offered a 13-year-old boy $50 to pose for photos at his home. What followed led to his conviction for fondling the boy.
He was given a one-year prison term and released after 10 months.
Dahmer picked up his victims in bars and shopping malls and on the street. He would bring them back to Apartment 213, where they were drugged, strangled and dismembered, police said. He had sex with some before they died and, in at least one case, with a corpse.
At a casual glance, Dahmer's $300-a-month, one-bedroom furnished apartment looked ordinary -- a beige couch and chair, fish tank, Oriental rug. The smell was odd, as was the video surveillance camera aimed at the door, the lock on the door to the bedroom and the sawing noise the neighbors heard one night. But it was "just neat and clean," said Ms. Bass, who was inside a week before Dahmer's arrest.
Early Tuesday morning, police found it was stocked with the gruesome implements that they say Dahmer used to dispose of his victims' bodies.
After that, the work of the police became far more disturbing. Inside the refrigerator were two boxes, one containing baking soda and the other a human head. Two heads were in bags in a separate freezer. A filing cabinet had three skulls in the top drawer and assorted bones in the bottom; a computer box held two skulls, and a 57-gallon barrel was stuffed with three headless torsos.