What happened to the cops who let Jeffrey Dahmer go, officers Balcerzak and Gabrish?

Alexandra Ciufudean September 22, 2022
What happened to the cops who let Jeffrey Dahmer go, officers Balcerzak and Gabrish?
Photo by Curt Borgwardt/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images

The crimes of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer are getting renewed attention with Netflix’s Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, starring Evan Peters as the titular monster.

Dahmer was finally caught in 1991 after several brushes with the law, including an incident a few months previously, when two officers dismissed one of his escaped victims and handed the boy back to Dahmer.

So what happened to the cops who let Dahmer and his escaped victim go? Did officers Balcerzak and Gabrish’s careers end with that wrong call?


Photo by Curt Borgwardt/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images

The one that (almost) got away

Just a few months before his eventual arrest, in May 1991, Dahmer brought home 14-year-old Konerak Sinthasomphone. Dahmer had met the boy at a shopping mall and invited him over after promising a photo shoot but, once there, Dahmer drugged and assaulted him.

After drilling a hole in his victim’s skull and injecting his frontal lobe with hydrochloric acid, Dahmer left the apartment to buy alcohol. He returned to find some of his neighbors and the police surrounding a naked and dazed Sinthasomphone.

Although unable to speak and “badly beaten,” the teen had managed to escape and flagged down Dahmer’s neighbors, Nicole Childress, 17, and Sandra Smith, 18, for help.

Photo by © Ralf-Finn Hestoft/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Police officers Joseph Gabrish and John Balcerzak arrived at the scene responding to a “man down” alert. They found “what appeared to be a young man, naked and dazed wrapped in a blanket with Milwaukee Fire Department paramedics. Jeffrey Dahmer was standing at his side,” per OnMilwaukee.com.

Despite neighbor Glenda Cleveland’s insistence the boy was in his early teens and needed help, Dahmer managed to convince the officers Sinthasomphone was his 19-year-old boyfriend and had had too much to drink.

The two cops let Dahmer and the teen go after a cursory inspection of the serial killer’s apartment. Had they investigated the foul odor coming from the bedroom, they would have found the decomposing body of Dahmer’s previous victim, along with other grizzly pieces of evidence.

Recordings from the incident reveal the two officers joking about the situation: “The intoxicated Asian naked male [laughter in background] was returned to his sober boyfriend.”

Sinthasomphone was killed and dismembered later that night.

What happened to the cops who let Jeffrey Dahmer go?

Dahmer was finally arrested in July 1991, with a victim count of 17.

According to The Advocate, the cops who let Jeffrey Dahmer go were fired by police chief Phillip Arreola for “acts of omission” such as a “failure to take witnesses’ names at the scene” and failure to take an “obviously incapacitated child into protective custody,” the Washington Post reported.

Officers John A Balcerzak, 34, and Joseph Gabrish, 28, bore the brunt of these charges and were let go while a third officer, who was also on the scene, Richard Porubcan, 25, was put on job probation for a year.

Per the Post, Porubcan “was allowed to keep his job because of his relative inexperience and because he was less culpable in handling the incident.”

Officers Balcerzak and Gabrish appealed their dismissals and, although the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission upheld the decision in 1992, two years later the officers were reinstated by a court order, with back pay of about $55,000 each.

Photo by © Ralf-Finn Hestoft/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Where are officers John Balcerzak and Joseph Gabrish now?

Officers John Balcerzak and Joseph Garish went on to have flourishing careers in law enforcement and public service.

Officer Balcerzak was elected president of the state police union, the Milwaukee Police Association, a role in which he served between 2005 and 2009, On Milwaukee reported. He retired in 2017 and has since owned a tavern, Heavy reports.

Officer Gabrish left the Milwaukee police force and in 1993 became a policeman in Grafto, Wisconsin. There, he climbed the ranks until he was named interim police chief and served as captain of the Grafton PD, the Ozaukee Press reported.

He was also police chief in the nearby town of Trenton, where he lived, having founded that police department in 1997.

Gabrish went on to get a master’s degree and eventually retired from the police force.

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Alexandra is Head of Entertainment at The Focus, managing a growing team of outstanding graduate and experienced writers. She has worked previously as an editor, writer and content specialist across web, video and social platforms and has a bachelor's in English Linguistics and a master's in Comparative Literature.