MILWAUKEE — A planned walking tour of the Milwaukee haunts where serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer trolled for victims has drawn protests from victims' family members and others, prompting online deal-maker Groupon to cancel its promotion for discounted tickets.
Critics of the tour, including family members of some of the young men Dahmer murdered, say the it is an attempt to exploit an ugly part of the city's history and want it stopped before the first sightseers hit the sidewalks.
But tour-organizer Bam Marketing and Media has said it's not deterred. Each of the company's first two trips through the Walker's Point neighborhood, scheduled for Saturday, had nearly reached the 20-person capacity by Thursday, said spokeswoman Amanda Morden.
Walker's Point Association president Victor Ray said Saturday, or any day in the near future, is too soon. Dahmer's crimes are just two decades old and many of his victims' family members are still around, he said.
"I just don't think this is the right timing," Ray said. "And a tour of the area is not the right thing to do. It's sensationalism in its finest."
Dahmer, a chocolate factory worker, spent years frequenting Walker's Point-area gay bars. He was arrested in 1991 and admitted 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.
The apartment building where Dahmer stored body parts eventually was razed. Walker's Point now sits in the middle of a revitalized section of Milwaukee, with new restaurants and bars in remodeled buildings that once housed the bars where Dahmer went.
Ray said most of dozens of emails he's received this week have criticized the tour, and there are plans by victims' relatives and others to protest the first tour Saturday afternoon. Ray said one victim's mother specifically asked for his group's help.
"She said 'Do what you can to stop it,'" Ray said. The woman did not want to be interviewed by reporters.
Morden said Friday they still plan to hold the tour, but she has spoken to police and they will be present. She said they will allow tour-goers to attend another tour if they don't want to deal with the protesters and expected media, but no one has rescheduled or canceled.
"I fully respect and expect people to utilize their right to peacefully assemble," she said.
Morden said the Bam Marketing is sensitive to victims' families, 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."
Morden said her group hopes 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.
Ray met tour group representatives Thursday in hopes of persuading them to call off their plans. But Morden said the group is offering a legitimate look at Dahmer's crimes from a historical perspective, rather than with macabre fascination.
Groupon had earlier this week offered two tour tickets for $25, instead of the normal $60, for what it called a 1-mile, 90-minute "spine-chilling glimpse" into Dahmer's life. 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 and draw. There are tours in London about Jack the Ripper, in Los Angeles about Charles Manson, and in Boston about the Boston Strangler.
But the VISIT Milwaukee tourism group won't be promoting Dahmer.
"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.
Morden, though, compared the tour to a book or documentary, just 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."
Sara Drescher, who manages a pub in the neighborhood, sees more of a gray area. 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," she said.
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