They were working their way through Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, because Dahmer, who confessed to murdering 17 young men and boys, was interested in Judgment Day. And within the chapters they read Wednesday is a verse that now seems particularly apt.
"In those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die," according to Revelation 9:6. "And death shall flee from them."
Dahmer had told his minister and his attorney that he wanted to die, and when he finally caught up with death in a prison bathroom Monday morning, perhaps the greatest surprise was that it had eluded him so long.
His slaying, apparently by another inmate, remained, in the hours afterward, the final mystery in an incomprehensible tale. During a 13-year killing spree, Dahmer drugged, strangled and dismembered many of his victims; cannibalized some; and had sex with at least one corpse.
He was caught July 23, 1991, only after a handcuffed man escaped and flagged down police. Another victim, a 14-year-old boy, had tried to flee just seven weeks earlier, but police returned him to his murderer after Dahmer said they had merely interrupted a lovers' quarrel.
Prison officials refused Monday to identify Dahmer's attacker, who had not been charged as of late Monday. But the Associated Press identified the principal suspect as a 25-year-old Milwaukee man who was convicted of the June 1990 execution-style slaying of a Wisconsin Conservation Corps crew chief during a holdup in Milwaukee. The suspect, a high school dropout who had been laid off from the corps' carpentry training program, is serving a life sentence at the Portage prison.
While prison officials had no immediate explanation for the slaying, some whose loved ones died in Dahmer's dingy Milwaukee apartment saw his death as justice served.
And the way in which Dahmer died has renewed the lurid attention that ensures he will continue to live, at least for a time, in notoriety.
In the second attempt on his life in less than five months, Dahmer was beaten to death soon after he and two other prisoners were taken at 7:50 a.m. to clean the bathrooms in a gymnasium at Columbia, a maximum-security facility about 40 miles north of Madison, according to Wisconsin Corrections Secretary Michael Sullivan.
Another inmate on the work detail, Jesse Anderson, also was beaten and was listed in critical condition Monday night at the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison. Anderson, like Dahmer, is a killer of some notoriety in Wisconsin. He was convicted of bludgeoning his wife in a Milwaukee parking lot in April 1992.
The third inmate is believed to be the attacker. Sullivan would only identify him as a former Milwaukee resident who was convicted of first-degree intentional homicide in 1992 with a parole date of 2042.
A guard found Dahmer on the floor of the staff bathroom next to the gym at 8:10 a.m., unresponsive and bleeding from massive head wounds, Sullivan said.
There was blood on the tile floor and on a tile wall. A bloody broom handle lay nearby, although Sullivan said he could not identify it as the murder weapon because Dahmer could have also been thrown against the floor and suffered injuries in other ways.
Anderson was found in the prisoners' shower room, also bleeding from head injuries.
Dahmer, who was 34, was pronounced dead at 9:11 a.m. at Divine Savior Hospital in Portage.
He had spent the first year of his 16 consecutive life sentences in isolation at Columbia, which holds about 600 prisoners. But he recently agreed to be placed in the general population and was assigned to a janitorial detail three weeks ago, according to Sullivan.
There were two guards and a recreational officer working in the area at the time of the killing, but the officer had left to escort some inmates to the gym, Sullivan said.
While he said he did not know the motives for the attacks, Sullivan said he did not believe race was a factor. Most of Dahmer's victims were black, and Anderson tried to blame his wife's murder on two young black men.
Last July, another inmate had tried to slash Dahmer's throat during chapel services, but the blade on his homemade plastic knife fell off before Dahmer was injured.
"Mr. Dahmer concluded, I concluded and the staff concluded that his life was not in jeopardy," Sullivan said.
Gerald Boyle, who had served as Dahmer's defense attorney, said his client had sought the transfer to the prison's general population, and Ratcliff said Dahmer didn't think he was at risk from other inmates.
After the July attack, Dahmer said he thought he got along well with other prisoners, Ratcliff said. The man who tried to stab him, Dahmer told the minister, was a Cuban prisoner who hoped to win deportation back to Cuba by committing an outrageous act.
But Boyle and Ratcliff, who knew Dahmer as well as anyone could, also said he wanted to die.
"Dahmer had a death wish, and I know that he didn't have the gumption to do it himself, so I predicted that the day would come when he would be killed in prison," Boyle said during a Milwaukee news conference.
Ratcliff said Dahmer had asked him if he were sinning by continuing to live after he had killed so many others.
Although Wisconsin does not impose the death penalty, "he believed he should be put to death," said Ratcliff, who is minister at the Church of Christ in Madison.
So did the families of a number of Dahmer's victims. At a news conference called by the lawyer who represents the families of eight victims, the mood was unabashedly triumphant.
"Whoever did kill him, he's my hero," declared Janie Hagen, the 32-year-old sister of Richard Guerrero, who died in 1988.
The family members' comments were so exultant that when reporters asked if the jubilance wasn't a bit excessive, Hagen shot back: "Nobody lost a loved one like we did. When you lose a loved one, this is how you get."
At the Flint, Mich., home of Wadell and Rose Fletcher, the loneliness of the fourth Thanksgiving without her son, Matt Turner, persisted.
Dahmer picked up Turner at the Greyhound bus station in Chicago after the Gay Pride Parade on June 30, 1991, killed the 20-year-old at the Milwaukee apartment, and placed his head in a freezer.
"I don't wish death on anybody," said Wadell Fletcher, Turner's stepfather, "but at least I don't have to worry about seeing Jeffrey Dahmer paraded up and down the TV screen anymore. These people commit terrible crimes, and it seems they turn out to be the heroes. It's hard."