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John Wayne Gacy

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John Wayne Gacy
John Wayne Gacy.jpg
John Wayne Gacy in May 1978
Born(1942-03-17)March 17, 1942
DiedMay 10, 1994(1994-05-10) (aged 52)
Cause of deathExecution by lethal injection
Other names
  • The Killer Clown[1]
  • Pogo the Clown[2]
Height5 ft 9 in (175 cm)[3]
Political partyDemocratic[4]
Marlynn Myers
(m. 1964; div. 1969)

Carole Hoff
(m. 1972; div. 1976)
ChildrenMichael and Christine Gacy
Parent(s)John Stanley Gacy
Marion Elaine Robinson
(March 12, 1980)
Criminal penaltyDeath (12 counts; March 13, 1980)
Span of crimes
January 3, 1972–December 11, 1978
CountryUnited States
Date apprehended
December 21, 1978
Imprisoned atMenard Correctional Center

John Wayne Gacy (March 17, 1942 – May 10, 1994) was an American serial killer who raped, tortured and murdered at least 33 teenage boys and young men between 1972 and 1978 in Cook County, Illinois (a part of metropolitan Chicago).

All of Gacy's known murders were committed inside his Norwood Park ranch house. His victims were typically induced to his address by force or deception, and all except one of his victims were murdered by either asphyxiation or strangulation with a makeshift garrote, as his first victim was stabbed to death. Gacy buried 26 of his victims in the crawl space of his home. Three other victims were buried elsewhere on his property, while the bodies of his last four known victims were discarded in the Des Plaines River.

Convicted of 33 murders, Gacy was sentenced to death on March 13, 1980 for 12 of those murders. He spent 14 years on death row before he was executed by lethal injection at Stateville Correctional Center on May 10, 1994.

Gacy became known as the "Killer Clown" because of his charitable services at fund-raising events, parades, and children's parties where he would dress as "Pogo the Clown" or "Patches the Clown",[6] characters that he had created.

Early life

John Wayne Gacy was born in Chicago, Illinois on March 17, 1942, the second child and only son of three children born to John Stanley Gacy (June 20, 1900 – December 25, 1969),[7] an auto repair machinist and World War I veteran,[8] and his wife Marion Elaine Robinson (May 4, 1908 – December 6, 1989), a homemaker.[9][10] Gacy was of Polish and Danish ancestry. His paternal grandparents (who spelled the family name as "Gatza" or "Gaca") had immigrated to the United States from Poland (then part of Germany).[11][12] As a child, Gacy was overweight and not athletic. He was close to his two sisters and mother but endured a difficult relationship with his father, an alcoholic who was physically abusive to his wife and children.[13]

Throughout his childhood, Gacy strove to make his stern father proud of him, but seldom received his approval. This friction was constant throughout his childhood and adolescence.[14] One of Gacy's earliest childhood memories was of his father beating him with a leather belt at the age of four for accidentally disarranging car engine components that his father had assembled.[15] On another occasion, his father struck him across the head with a broomstick, rendering him unconscious.[16] His father regularly belittled him and often compared him unfavorably with his sisters, disdainfully accusing him of being "dumb and stupid". Gacy, while regularly commenting that he was "never good enough"[17] in his father's eyes, always vehemently denied ever hating his father in interviews after his arrest.[18]

When he was six years old, Gacy stole a toy truck from a neighborhood store. His mother made him walk back to the store, return the toy and apologize to the owners. His mother informed his father, who beat Gacy with a belt as punishment. After this incident, Gacy's mother attempted to shield her son from his father's verbal and physical abuse,[19] yet this only succeeded in Gacy earning accusations that he was a "sissy" and a "Mama's boy"[20] who would "probably grow up queer".[21]

In 1949, Gacy's father was informed that his son and another boy had been caught sexually fondling a young girl.[22] Gacy's father whipped him with a razor strop as punishment. The same year,[23] Gacy himself was molested by a family friend,[20] a contractor who would take Gacy for rides in his truck, then fondle him. Gacy never told his father about these incidents, afraid that his father would blame him.[24]

Because of a heart condition, Gacy was ordered to avoid all sports at school.[24] An average student with few friends, he was an occasional target for bullying by neighborhood children and classmates.[25] He was known to assist the school truancy officer and volunteer to run errands for teachers and neighbors.[26] During the fourth grade, Gacy began to experience blackouts. He was occasionally hospitalized because of these seizures, and also in 1957 for a burst appendix.[27] Gacy later estimated that between the ages of 14 and 18, he had spent almost a year in the hospital for these episodes, and attributed the decline of his grades to his missing school. His father suspected the episodes were an effort to gain sympathy and attention, and openly accused his son of faking the condition as the boy lay in a hospital bed.[28] Although his mother, sisters, and few close friends never doubted his illness, Gacy's medical condition was never conclusively diagnosed.[29]

One of Gacy's friends at high school recalled several instances in which his father ridiculed or beat his son without provocation. On one occasion in 1957, the same friend witnessed an incident at the Gacy household in which Gacy's father began shouting at his son for no reason, then began hitting him.[30] Gacy's mother attempted to intervene. The friend recalled that Gacy simply "put up his hands to defend himself", adding that he never struck his father back during these physical altercations.[31]

In 1960, at the age of 18, Gacy became involved in politics, working as an assistant precinct captain for a Democratic Party candidate in his neighborhood. This decision earned more criticism from his father, who accused his son of being a "patsy". Gacy later speculated the decision may have been an attempt to seek the acceptance from others that he never received from his father.[32]

The same year Gacy became a Democratic candidate, his father bought him a car,[33] with the title of the vehicle being in his father's name until Gacy had completed the monthly repayments. These repayments took several years to complete, and his father would confiscate the keys to the vehicle if Gacy did not do as his father said. On one occasion in 1962, Gacy bought an extra set of keys after his father confiscated the original set. In response, his father removed the distributor cap from the vehicle, withholding the component for three days. Gacy recalled that as a result of this incident, he felt "totally sick; drained".[34] When his father replaced the distributor cap, Gacy left the family home and drove to Las Vegas, Nevada, where he found work within the ambulance service before he was transferred to work as an attendant at the Palm Mortuary. He worked in this role for three months before returning to Chicago.[35]

In his role as a mortuary attendant, Gacy slept on a cot behind the embalming room.[36] In this role, he observed morticians embalming dead bodies and later confessed that, on one evening while alone, he had clambered into the coffin of a deceased teenage male,[37] embracing and caressing the body before experiencing a sense of shock.[38][n 1] This prompted Gacy to call his mother the next day and ask whether his father would allow him to return home.[40] His father agreed and the same day, Gacy drove back to live with his family in Chicago.

Upon his return, despite the fact he had failed to graduate from high school, Gacy successfully enrolled in the Northwestern Business College,[41] from which he graduated in 1963. Gacy subsequently took a management trainee position within the Nunn-Bush Shoe Company.[42] In 1964, the shoe company transferred Gacy to Springfield to work as a salesman.[35] He was eventually promoted to manager of his department. In March of that year, he became engaged to Marlynn Myers, a co-worker in the department he managed. After a nine-month courtship, the couple married in September 1964. Marlynn's father subsequently purchased three Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants in Waterloo, Iowa, and Gacy and his wife moved to Waterloo so he could manage the restaurants, with the understanding that they would move into Marlynn's parents' home (which was vacated for the couple).[43]

During his courtship with Marlynn, Gacy joined the local Jaycees and became a tireless worker for the organization, being named Key Man for the organization in April 1964.[44] The same year, Gacy had his second homosexual experience. According to Gacy, he acquiesced to this incident after one of his colleagues in the Springfield Jaycees plied him with drinks and invited him to spend the evening upon his sofa; the colleague then performed oral sex upon him while he was drunk.[45] By 1965, Gacy had risen to the position of vice-president of the Springfield Jaycees.[46] The same year, he was named as the third most outstanding Jaycee within the state of Illinois.[47]

Waterloo, Iowa

In 1966, Gacy accepted an offer from his father-in-law to manage three KFC restaurants in Waterloo.[48] The offer was lucrative: Gacy would receive $15,000 per year (the equivalent of $118,783 as of 2019), plus a share of profits earned via the restaurants.[49] Following his obligatory completion of a managerial course, Gacy relocated to Waterloo with his wife later that year.[50]

In Waterloo, Gacy joined the local chapter of the Jaycees, regularly offering extended hours to the organization in addition to the 12- and 14-hour days he worked managing three restaurants. Although considered ambitious and something of a braggart by his colleagues in the Jaycees, he was highly regarded as a worker on several fund-raising projects. In 1967, he was named "outstanding vice-president" of the Waterloo Jaycees.[51] At Jaycee meetings, Gacy would often provide free fried chicken to his colleagues and insisted upon being given the nickname "Colonel".[52] The same year, Gacy served on the Board of Directors for the Waterloo Jaycees.[53]

Gacy's wife gave birth to two children: a son named Michael was born in February 1966, followed by a daughter named Christine in March 1967. Gacy himself later described this period of his life as "perfect", adding that he finally earned the long-sought approval of his father. On one occasion in July 1966, Gacy's parents paid a visit to Iowa, during which his father apologized privately to him for the physical and emotional abuse he had inflicted on him throughout his childhood, before proudly informing him: "Son, I was wrong about you."[54]

However, there was an unseemlier side of Jaycee life in Waterloo that involved wife swapping,[45] prostitution, pornography, and drug use. Gacy was deeply involved in many of these activities and regularly cheated on his wife with local prostitutes.[55] He is also known to have opened a "club" in his basement, where he allowed his employees to drink alcohol and play pool. Although Gacy employed teenagers of both sexes at his restaurants, he socialized only with his young male employees. Many were given alcohol before Gacy made sexual advances toward them, which, if rebuffed, he would claim were jokes or a test of morals.[56]

First offenses

In August 1967, Gacy committed his first known sexual assault upon a teenage boy. The victim was a 15-year-old named Donald Voorhees, the son of a fellow Jaycee. Gacy lured Voorhees to his house with the promise of showing him pornographic films.[57] Gacy plied Voorhees with alcohol and persuaded the youth to perform oral sex upon him. Over the following months, several other youths were sexually abused in a similar manner, including one whom Gacy encouraged to have sex with his own wife before blackmailing the youth into performing oral sex upon him.[56] Gacy tricked several teenagers into believing he was commissioned with conducting homosexual experiments in the interests of "scientific research", for which each was paid up to $50.[58]

In March 1968, Voorhees reported to his father that Gacy had sexually assaulted him. Voorhees Sr. immediately informed the police and Gacy was arrested and subsequently charged with oral sodomy in relation to Voorhees and the attempted assault of a 16-year-old named Edward Lynch.[59] Gacy vehemently denied the charges and demanded to take a polygraph test. This request was granted, although the results indicated Gacy was nervous when he denied any wrongdoing in relation to either Voorhees or Lynch.[60]

Gacy publicly denied any wrongdoing and insisted the charges against him were politically motivated – Voorhees Sr. had opposed Gacy's nomination for appointment as president of the Iowa Jaycees.[61] Several fellow Jaycees found Gacy's story credible and rallied to his support. However, on May 10, 1968, Gacy was indicted on the sodomy charge.[60]

"The most striking aspect of the test results is the patient's total denial of responsibility for everything that has happened to him. He can produce an 'alibi' for everything. He presents himself as a victim of circumstances and blames other people who are out to get him ... the patient attempts to assure a sympathetic response by depicting himself as being at the mercy of a hostile environment."

Section of report detailing Gacy's 1968 psychiatric evaluation.[62]

On August 30, 1968, Gacy persuaded one of his employees, an 18-year-old named Russell Schroeder, to physically assault Voorhees in an effort to discourage the boy from testifying against him at the upcoming trial. Schroeder agreed to lure Voorhees to a secluded spot, spray Mace in his face and beat him. Gacy promised to pay Schroeder $300 if he followed through on the plot. In early September, Schroeder lured Voorhees to an isolated county park, sprayed Mace supplied by Gacy into the youth's eyes, then beat him, all the while shouting that he was not to testify against Gacy at his upcoming trial.[63][64]

Voorhees managed to escape, and immediately reported the assault to the police, identifying Schroeder as his attacker. Schroeder was arrested the following day. Despite initially denying any involvement, he soon confessed to having assaulted Voorhees, indicating that he had done so at Gacy's request. Gacy was arrested and additionally charged in relation to hiring Schroeder to assault and intimidate Voorhees.[65]

On September 12, Gacy was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation at the Psychiatric Hospital of the State University of Iowa.[62] Two doctors had examined Gacy over a period of 17 days before concluding he had an antisocial personality disorder (a disorder which incorporates constructs such as sociopathy and psychopathy),[66] was unlikely to benefit from any therapy or medical treatment, and that his behavior pattern was likely to bring him into repeated conflict with society.[67] The doctors also concluded he was mentally competent to stand trial.[67]

Mug shots of Gacy, following his December 1968 sodomy conviction

Conviction and imprisonment

Upon advice from his attorney, Gacy entered a plea of guilty to one count of sodomy in relation to the charges filed against him by Donald Voorhees. He pleaded not guilty to the other charges lodged against him by other youths at a formal arraignment held on November 7, 1968. Before the judge, Gacy contended that he and Voorhees had indeed engaged in sexual relations, yet he insisted Voorhees had offered his sexual services to him and that he had acted out of curiosity.[67] His story was not believed. Despite his lawyers' recommendations for probation,[68] Gacy was convicted of sodomy on December 3, 1968,[67] and sentenced to 10 years at the Anamosa State Penitentiary.[69] On the day Gacy was convicted and sentenced, his wife petitioned for divorce,[70] requesting possession of the couple's home, property, sole custody of their two children and subsequent alimony payments.[71] The Court ruled in her favor and the divorce was finalized on September 18, 1969. Gacy never saw his first wife or children again.[72]

During his incarceration in the Anamosa State Penitentiary, Gacy rapidly acquired a reputation as a model prisoner.[73] Within months of his arrival, he had risen to the position of head cook. He also joined the inmate Jaycee chapter and increased their membership figure from 50 to 650 in the span of less than 18 months. He is also known to have both secured an increase in the inmates' daily pay in the prison mess hall[74] and to have supervised several projects to improve conditions for inmates at the prison.[75] On one occasion, Gacy oversaw the installation of a miniature golf course in the prison's recreation yard.[76]

In June 1969, Gacy first applied to the State of Iowa Board of Parole for early release: this application was denied. In preparation for a second scheduled parole hearing in May 1970, Gacy completed 16 high school courses, for which he obtained his diploma in November 1969.[77]

On Christmas Day 1969, Gacy's father died from cirrhosis of the liver.[77] Gacy was not told that his father had died until two days after his death. When he heard the news, Gacy was said to have collapsed to the floor, sobbing uncontrollably, and had to be supported by prison staff.[77] Gacy requested supervised compassionate leave from prison to attend his father's funeral in Chicago, but his request was denied.[78]


Gacy was granted parole with 12 months' probation[79] on June 18, 1970, after serving 18 months[80] of his 10-year sentence.[81][82] Two of the conditions of his probation were that Gacy would relocate to Chicago to live with his mother and that he was to observe a 10 p.m. curfew,[80] with the Iowa Board of Parole receiving regular updates as to his progress.[83]

Upon his release, Gacy told a friend and fellow Jaycee named Clarence Lane—who picked him up from the prison upon release and had remained steadfast in his belief of Gacy's innocence[80]—that he would "never go back to jail" and that he intended to re-establish himself in Waterloo. However, within 24 hours of his release, Gacy relocated to Chicago to live with his mother.[80] He arrived in Chicago on June 19 and shortly thereafter obtained a job as a short-order cook in a restaurant.[84]

On February 12, 1971, Gacy was charged with sexually assaulting a teenage boy.[85] The youth claimed that Gacy had lured him into his car at Chicago's Greyhound bus terminal and driven him to his home, where he had attempted to force the youth into sex. This complaint was subsequently dismissed when the youth failed to appear in court. The Iowa Board of Parole did not learn of this incident (which violated the conditions of his parole) and eight months later, in October 1971, Gacy's parole ended.[83] The following month, records of Gacy's previous criminal convictions in Iowa were subsequently sealed.[86][n 2]

With financial assistance from his mother, Gacy bought a house in Norwood Park Township, an unincorporated area of Cook County. The address, 8213 West Summerdale Avenue, is where he resided until his arrest in December 1978 and where all his known murders were committed. In August 1971, shortly after Gacy and his mother moved into the house, he became engaged to Carole Hoff, a divorcee with two young daughters. Hoff, whom he had briefly dated in high school, had been a friend of his younger sister. His fiancée moved into his home soon after the couple announced their engagement. Gacy's mother subsequently moved out of the house shortly before his wedding, which was held on July 1, 1972.[89]

One week before Gacy's wedding, on June 22, he was arrested and charged with aggravated battery and reckless conduct. The arrest was in response to a complaint filed by a youth named Jackie Dee, who informed police that Gacy, impersonating a police officer, had flashed a sheriff's badge, lured him into his car, and forced him to perform oral sex.[90] These charges were later dropped after the complainant attempted to blackmail Gacy into paying money in exchange for dropping the charges.[91]

Gacy with First Lady Rosalynn Carter on May 6, 1978, six years after the killings began and seven months before his final arrest. A pin indicating special Secret Service clearance is visible on his jacket.[92]

Businessman and community volunteer

Following Gacy's marriage to Carole Hoff, his new wife and stepdaughters moved into the Summerdale Avenue house.[93] Gacy had quit his job as a cook and started his own construction business, PDM Contractors (PDM being the initials for 'Painting, Decorating, and Maintenance').[94] The business initially undertook minor repair work, such as sign-writing, pouring concrete, and redecorating, but later expanded to include projects such as interior design, remodeling, installation, assembly, and landscaping. By 1978, the gross of PDM's annual turnover was over $200,000.[95]

In 1973, Gacy and a teenage employee of PDM Contractors traveled to Florida to view property Gacy had purchased. On the first night in Florida, Gacy raped the youth in their hotel room.[96] As a result, this youth refused to stay in the same hotel room as Gacy and instead slept on the beach. Upon returning to Chicago, this employee drove to Gacy's house as he was in his yard and beat him. Gacy's mother-in-law stopped the youth from further attacking Gacy and he drove away. Gacy explained to his wife that the attack happened because he had refused to pay the youth for poor quality work.[97]

His neighbors in Norwood Park considered Gacy gregarious and helpful; he was active in his local community and hosted annual summer parties beginning in 1974.[98] He also became active in Democratic Party politics, initially offering the labor services of his PDM employees free of charge.[4] Gacy was rewarded for his community services by being appointed to serve upon the Norwood Park Township street lighting committee.[87] He subsequently earned the title of precinct captain.[88][99] In 1975, Gacy was appointed director of Chicago's annual Polish Constitution Day Parade—he supervised the annual event from 1975 until 1978. Through his work with the parade, Gacy met and was photographed with First Lady Rosalynn Carter on May 6, 1978.[100][n 3]

Through his membership in a local Moose Club, Gacy became aware of a "Jolly Joker" clown club whose members would regularly perform at fund-raising events and parades in addition to voluntarily entertaining hospitalized children.[102] In late 1975, Gacy joined the Jolly Jokers and created his own performance characters: "Pogo the Clown" and "Patches the Clown."[103] Gacy designed his own costumes and taught himself how to apply clown makeup, although some professional clowns noted the sharp corners Gacy painted at the edges of his mouth are contrary to the rounded borders that professional clowns normally employ, so as not to scare children.[4] Gacy is known to have performed as Pogo or Patches at numerous local parties, Democratic party functions, charitable events, and at children's hospitals.[104] He is also known to have arrived, dressed in his clowning garb, at a favorite drinking venue named "The Good Luck Lounge" on several occasions with the explanation he had performed at a charitable event and was stopping for a social drink before heading home.[105]

Gacy as "Pogo the Clown". He stated that acting as a clown allowed him to "regress into childhood".[106]

By 1975, Gacy had told his wife that he was bisexual.[107] After the couple had sex on Mother's Day that year, he informed her this would be "the last time" they would ever have sex.[96] He began spending most evenings away from home only to return in the early hours of the morning with the excuse he had been working late.[108] His wife observed Gacy bringing teenage boys into his garage and also found gay pornography and men's wallets and identification cards inside the house[109] When she once confronted Gacy about who these items belonged to, he angrily informed her the property was none of her business.[109] They divorced by mutual consent in March 1976.[110]

First murders

Murder of Timothy McCoy

On January 2, 1972, Gacy picked up 16-year-old Timothy Jack McCoy from Chicago's Greyhound bus terminal.[111] Gacy took McCoy—who was traveling from Michigan to Omaha[112]—on a sightseeing tour of Chicago, and then drove him to his home with the promise that he could spend the night and be driven back to the station in time to catch his bus. According to Gacy's later account of the murder, he awoke the following morning to find McCoy standing in his bedroom doorway with a kitchen knife.[113] Gacy leaped from his bed and McCoy raised both arms in a gesture of surrender, tilting the knife upwards and accidentally cutting Gacy's forearm (Gacy had a scar on his arm to support this account).[114] He then twisted the knife from McCoy's wrist, banged his head against his bedroom wall, kicked him against his wardrobe and walked towards him. McCoy then kicked him in the stomach and Gacy grabbed the youth, wrestled him to the floor, then stabbed him repeatedly in the chest as he straddled him with his body.[107] Gacy claimed he then went to his kitchen and saw an opened carton of eggs and a slab of unsliced bacon on his kitchen table. McCoy had also set the table for two; he had walked into Gacy's room to wake him while absentmindedly carrying the kitchen knife in his hand.[115] Gacy subsequently buried McCoy in his crawl space and later covered the youth's grave with a layer of concrete.[116]

In an interview after his arrest, Gacy stated that immediately after killing McCoy, he felt "totally drained", yet noted that he had experienced a mind-numbing orgasm as he killed the youth. He added: "That's when I realized that death was the ultimate thrill."[115]

Second known victim

Gacy later stated that the second time he committed murder was around January 1974. The victim is believed to have been an unidentified teenage youth with medium brown hair estimated to be aged between 14 and 18 whom Gacy strangled[117] before stowing the youth's body in his closet prior to burial. Gacy later stated that fluid leaked out of this youth's mouth and nose as he was stored in his closet, staining his carpet.[118] As a result of this experience, Gacy later stated he regularly stuffed cloth rags or the victims' own underwear in their mouths to prevent a recurrence of this incident. This particular unidentified victim was buried about 15 feet (4.6 m) from the barbecue pit in Gacy's backyard.[119][n 4]

"The handcuff trick" and "the rope trick"

By 1975, Gacy's business was expanding rapidly; by his own later admission, he began working 12- and 16-hour days to fulfill agreed commitments upon an increasing number of contracts. Gacy freely admitted that 1975 was also the year in which he began to increase the frequency of his excursions for sex with young males.[121] He would often refer to these jaunts as his "cruising".[122]

Much of the labor workforce of PDM Contractors consisted of high school students and young men. One of these youths was a 15-year-old named Anthony Antonucci, whom Gacy had hired in May 1975. In July 1975, Gacy arrived at the youth's home while the youth was alone, having injured his foot at work the day prior. Gacy plied the youth with alcohol, wrestled him to the floor and cuffed Antonucci's hands behind his back.[123] The cuff upon Antonucci's right wrist was loose: Antonucci freed his arm from the handcuff after Gacy left the room. When Gacy returned, Antonucci—a member of his high school wrestling team—pounced upon him. The youth wrestled Gacy to the floor, obtained possession of the handcuff key and cuffed Gacy's hands behind his back. Gacy screamed threats, then calmed down and promised to leave if Antonucci removed the handcuffs. The youth agreed and Gacy left the house.[123] Antonucci later recalled that Gacy had told him as he lay on the floor: "Not only are you the only one who got out of the cuffs; you got them on me."[124]

One week after the attempted assault on Antonucci, on July 31, 1975, another of Gacy's employees, 18-year-old John Butkovich, disappeared.[125] The day before his disappearance, Butkovich had threatened Gacy over two weeks' outstanding back pay.[126] Gacy later admitted to luring Butkovich to his home while his wife and stepchildren were visiting his sister in Arkansas,[126] ostensibly to settle the issue of Butkovich's overdue wages. Gacy conned the youth into allowing his wrists to be cuffed behind his back, at which point Gacy strangled him to death and buried his body under the concrete floor of his garage. Gacy later admitted to having "sat on the kid's chest for a while"[127] before killing him. Butkovich's Dodge sedan was found abandoned in a parking lot with the youth's wallet inside and the keys still in the ignition.[128] Butkovich's father called Gacy, who claimed he was happy to help search for the youth but was sorry Butkovich had "run away".[129] Gacy was questioned about Butkovich's disappearance and admitted that the youth and two friends had arrived at his apartment demanding Butkovich's overdue pay, but claimed all three youths had left after a compromise had been reached. Over the following three years, Butkovich's parents called police more than 100 times,[129] urging them to investigate Gacy further.[130]

Deceiving youths into donning handcuffs became Gacy's typical modus operandi in subduing his victims. After plying a youth with drink, drugs or generally gaining his trust, Gacy would produce a pair of handcuffs (occasionally as part of a clowning routine) which he would persuade his intended victim into donning.[n 5] With his victim manacled and unable to free himself, Gacy would then make a statement to the effect of: "The trick is, you have to have the key", before proceeding to rape and torture his captive. He would finish with "the rope trick", placing a rope over his victim's neck and tying a makeshift tourniquet until the victim was strangled to death.


Following a heated argument regarding her failing to balance a PDM Contractor's checkbook correctly in October 1975,[132] Carole Gacy asked her husband for a divorce. Gacy agreed to his wife's request although, by mutual consent, Carole continued to live at 8213 West Summerdale until February 1976, when she and her daughters moved into their own apartment. One month later, on March 2, the Gacys' divorce—decreed upon the false grounds of Gacy's infidelity with women[133]—was finalized.[134]

Although Gacy remained gregarious and civic-minded, several neighbors became aware of erratic changes in his behavior after his divorce in March 1976 and subsequent arrest in December 1978. This behavior included hearing his car arrive and depart in the early hours of the morning; noting lights switching on and off in his home at odd hours and his keeping company with young males.[133] One neighbor would later recollect that, for several years, she and her son had repeatedly been awoken by the repeated sounds of muffled screaming, shouting, and crying in the early morning hours, which she and her son had identified as emanating from a house adjacent to theirs on Summerdale Avenue.[135][136]

Cruising years: 1976–1978

The majority of Gacy's murders were committed between 1976 and 1978, which he later referred to as his "cruising years" now that he had his house to himself. One month after his divorce was finalized, Gacy abducted and murdered an 18-year-old youth named Darrell Samson. Samson was last seen alive in Chicago on April 6, 1976. Five weeks later, on the afternoon of May 14, a 15-year-old named Randall Reffett disappeared while walking home from Senn High School; the youth was gagged with a cloth,[137] causing him to die of asphyxiation.[138] Hours after Reffett had been abducted, a 14-year-old named Samuel Stapleton vanished as he walked to his home from his sister's apartment.[133] Both youths were buried in the same grave in the crawl space.[139]

Victims Darrell Samson and Gregory Godzik. Samson was found buried beneath Gacy's dining room floor. Godzik was buried in the crawl space.

On June 3, 1976, Gacy killed a 17-year-old Lakeview youth named Michael Bonnin. He disappeared while traveling from Chicago to Waukegan,[140] and was strangled with a ligature and buried in the crawl space.[137] Ten days later, a 16-year-old Uptown youth named William Carroll was murdered and buried directly beneath Gacy's kitchen. Carroll may have been the first of four males known to have been murdered between June 13 and August 6, 1976, and who were buried in a common grave located beneath Gacy's kitchen and laundry room.[141][n 6]

The three identified youths killed between June 13 and August 6 were aged between 16 and 17 years old, whereas the only unidentified male known to have been murdered between these dates is a man with medium dark brown hair estimated to have been aged between 23 and 30 years old and between 5 ft 1 in and 5 ft 6 in (150 and 170 cm) tall. This man had two missing upper front teeth at the time of his disappearance,[143] leading investigators to believe this particular victim most likely wore a denture. He was buried directly beneath the body of a 16-year-old Minnesota youth named James Haakenson, who is last known to have phoned his family on August 5, and whose body was itself buried directly beneath that of a 17-year-old Bensenville youth named Rick Johnston, who was last seen alive on August 6.[144][145][n 7]

On July 26, 1976, Gacy employed an 18-year-old named David Cram. On August 21,[148] Cram moved into his house. The following day, Gacy conned Cram into donning handcuffs while the youth was inebriated. Gacy swung Cram around while holding the chain linking the cuffs, then informed him that he intended to rape him. Cram, who had spent a year in the Army, kicked Gacy in the face, then freed himself from the handcuffs as Gacy lay prone. One month later, Gacy appeared at Cram's bedroom door with the intention to rape him and said: "Dave, you really don't know who I am. Maybe it would be good if you give me what I want."[149] Cram resisted Gacy's attempts to assault him and Gacy left his bedroom. After this incident, Cram moved out of Gacy's home and subsequently left PDM Contractors, although he did periodically work for Gacy over the following two years.[150] Shortly after Cram had vacated Gacy's residence, another employee of PDM Contractors, 18-year-old Michael Rossi, moved into Gacy's house.[151][152][153]

Two further unidentified males are estimated to have been killed between August and October 1976. One of these victims was buried directly above the body of William Carroll, who had been murdered on June 13, yet higher than the body of Rick Johnston, who was last seen on August 6. This particular unidentified male is estimated to have been aged between 15 and 24 years old and had light brown hair. Sequential burial patterns of victims within the crawl space, plus the circumstantial fact that Cram had not lived with Gacy until August 21, leave a possible date of between August 6 and 20, 1976 as the time this particular man was murdered.[154] The second unidentified male likely to have been murdered between August and October 1976 is a youth with dark brown, wavy hair, aged between 18 and 22 years old, who is known to have suffered from an abscessed tooth at the time of his murder. This male was buried in the northeast corner of the crawl space. Subsequent recollections by an employee of PDM Contractors of a trench Gacy had directed him to dig before the termination of his employment on October 5, 1976 being the location where this particular victim was buried suggests a date between August and October 1976 as being when this particular victim was murdered.[154]

On October 24, 1976, Gacy abducted and killed two teenage friends named Kenneth Parker and Michael Marino:[155] the two youths were last seen outside a restaurant on Clark Street. Both youths were strangled and buried in the same grave in the crawl space. Two days later, a 19-year-old employee of PDM Contractors named William Bundy disappeared after informing his family he was to attend a party. Bundy was also strangled and buried in the crawl space, buried directly beneath Gacy's master bedroom.[156]

In December 1976, another PDM employee, 17-year-old Gregory Godzik, disappeared: he was last seen by his girlfriend outside her house after he had driven her home following a date.[157] Godzik had worked for PDM for only three weeks before he disappeared. In the time he had worked for Gacy, he had informed his family Gacy had had him "dig trenches for some kind of (drain) tiles" in his crawl space.[152] Godzik's car was later found abandoned in Niles. His parents and older sister, Eugenia, contacted Gacy about Greg's disappearance. Gacy claimed to the family that Greg had run away from home, having indicated to Gacy before his disappearance that he wished to do so. Gacy also claimed to have received a recorded answering machine message from Godzik shortly after the youth had disappeared. When asked if he could play back the message to Godzik's parents, Gacy stated that he had erased it.[152][158]

A month later, on January 20, 1977, John Szyc, a 19-year-old acquaintance of Butkovich, Godzik, and Gacy, disappeared. Szyc was lured to Gacy's house on the pretext of selling his Plymouth Satellite to Gacy. He was buried in Gacy's crawl space directly above the body of Godzik.[159] A ring worn by Szyc, which bore his initials, was retained in a dresser in Gacy's master bedroom.[160] Gacy also kept Szyc's portable Motorola TV in his bedroom and later sold the youth's car to Michael Rossi.[161]

Between December 1976 and March 1977, Gacy is known to have killed an unidentified young man estimated to be around 25 years old.[162] An inscription upon a key fob found among the personal artifacts buried with this unknown victim suggests his first name may have been Greg or Gregory.[163] His body was buried in the crawl space beneath the body of a 20-year-old named Jon Prestidge, a Michigan youth visiting friends in Chicago whom Gacy killed on March 15. After the murder of Prestidge, Gacy is believed to have murdered one further unidentified youth exhumed from his crawl space, although the timing of this particular youth's murder is inconclusive. The youth was buried parallel to the wall of Gacy's crawl space directly beneath the entrance to his home. The two victims murdered on the same day in May 1976 were buried alongside this youth, yet sequential burial patterns of three victims murdered in 1977 leave an equal possibility this particular victim may have been murdered in the spring or summer of 1977. All that is known about this youth is that he was aged between 17 and 21 years old and that he had suffered a fractured left collarbone before his disappearance.[164][n 8]

In March 1977, Gacy was hired as a construction supervisor for PE Systems, a firm which specialized in the nationwide remodeling of drugstores. As a result of this contract, Gacy regularly traveled to other states to supervise construction projects and he later stated that, through both businesses (PDM Contractors and PE Systems), he would often simultaneously work on up to four construction projects,[165] with almost 80 buildings being successfully remodeled in 1977 alone. In April 1977,[166] Michael Rossi moved out of Gacy's home; the same month, Gacy became temporarily engaged to a woman he had been dating for three months, and his fiancée moved into his house. By mutual agreement, the engagement was called off in June of that year and his fiancée moved out of his home.[165] The following month, Gacy killed a 19-year-old Crystal Lake youth named Matthew Bowman. He was buried in the crawl space with the tourniquet used to strangle him still knotted around his neck.[167]

In August 1977, a clue emerged to the disappearance of John Szyc: Michael Rossi, who had bought Szyc's car from Gacy, was arrested for stealing gasoline from a service station while driving the car. The attendant noted the license plate number and police traced the car to Gacy's house.[n 9][168] When questioned, Gacy told officers that Szyc had sold the car to him in February with the explanation that he needed money to leave town. The police did not pursue the matter further,[169] although they did inform Szyc's mother that her son had sold his car to Gacy.[170]

In late 1977, Gacy began dating Carole Hoff[171] in the hope of a reconciliation.[n 10] By the end of 1977, Gacy is also known to have murdered an additional six young men between the ages of 16 and 21. The first of these six victims, 18-year-old Robert Gilroy, was last seen alive on September 15. Gilroy—the son of a Chicago police sergeant[173]—was suffocated and buried in the crawl space. On September 12, Gacy had flown to Pittsburgh to supervise a remodeling project and did not return to Chicago until September 16.[174] As Gacy is known to have been in another state at the time the youth was last seen, it is possible that Gacy's subsequent claims that he had not acted alone in some murders may have held credence. Ten days after Gilroy was last seen, a 19-year-old U.S. Marine named John Mowery disappeared after leaving his mother's house to walk to his own apartment. Mowery was strangled to death and buried in the northwest corner of the crawl space perpendicular to the body of William Bundy.[156]

On October 17, a 21-year-old Minnesota youth named Russell Nelson disappeared: he was last seen outside a Chicago bar. Nelson died of suffocation and was also buried in the crawl space. Less than four weeks later, a 16-year-old Kalamazoo youth named Robert Winch was murdered and buried in the crawl space, and on November 18, a 20-year-old father-of-one named Tommy Boling disappeared after leaving a Chicago bar. Both Winch and Boling were strangled to death[175] and both youths were buried in the crawl space directly beneath the hallway.[176]

Three weeks after the murder of Tommy Boling, on December 9, a 19-year-old U.S. Marine named David Talsma disappeared after informing his mother he was to attend a rock concert in Hammond.[177] Talsma was strangled with a ligature and buried in the crawl space.[178]

On December 30, 1977, Gacy abducted a 19-year-old student named Robert Donnelly from a Chicago bus stop at gunpoint.[179] Gacy drove Donnelly home with him, raped him, tortured him with various devices, and repeatedly dunked his head into a bathtub filled with water until he passed out, then revived him. Donnelly later testified at Gacy's trial that he was in such pain that he asked Gacy to kill him to "get it over with",[180] to which Gacy replied: "I'm getting round to it." After several hours of assaulting and torturing the youth, Gacy drove Donnelly to his place of work, removed the handcuffs from the youth's wrists, and released him. Donnelly reported the assault and Gacy was questioned about it on January 6, 1978. Gacy admitted to having had "slave-sex" with Donnelly, but insisted everything was consensual. The police believed him and no charges were filed.[181] The following month, Gacy killed a 19-year-old youth named William Kindred, who disappeared on February 16, 1978, after telling his fiancée he was to spend the evening in a bar.[182] Kindred was the final victim to be buried in Gacy's crawl space,[183][184] and Gacy began disposing of his victims in the Des Plaines River.[185]

In March 1978, Gacy lured a 26-year-old named Jeffrey Rignall into his car. Upon entering the car, the young man was chloroformed and driven to the house on Summerdale, where he was raped, tortured with various instruments including lit candles and whips, and repeatedly chloroformed into unconsciousness.[186] Rignall was then driven to Lincoln Park, where he was dumped, unconscious but alive. Eventually, he managed to stagger to his girlfriend's apartment. Rignall was later informed the chloroform had permanently damaged his liver. Police were again informed of the assault but did not investigate Gacy. Rignall was able to recall, through the chloroform haze of that night, Gacy's distinctive black Oldsmobile, the Kennedy Expressway and particular side streets. He staked out the exit on the Expressway where he knew he had been driven until—in April[187]—he saw the Oldsmobile, which Rignall and his friends followed to 8213 West Summerdale. Police issued an arrest warrant,[188] and Gacy was arrested on July 15. He was facing an impending trial for a battery charge for the Rignall incident when he was arrested in December for the murders.[189]

Des Plaines River: the final murders

Gacy later confessed to police that he had initially considered stowing bodies in his attic, but had been worried of complications arising from "excessive leakage".[190] Therefore, he chose to dispose of his victims off the I-55 bridge into the Des Plaines River. Gacy stated he had thrown five bodies off the I-55 bridge into the Des Plaines River in 1978, one of which he believed had landed upon a passing barge,[191] although only four of these five bodies were ever found.

The first known victim thrown from the I-55 bridge into the Des Plaines River, 20-year-old Timothy O'Rourke, was killed in mid-June after leaving his Dover Street[192] apartment, having informed his roommate of his intention to purchase cigarettes;[193] his body was found 6 miles (10 km) downstream on June 30. On November 4, Gacy killed a 19-year-old named Frank Landingin. His body was found in the Des Plaines River on November 12. Less than three weeks later, on November 24, a 20-year-old Elmwood Park youth named James Mazzara disappeared after sharing Thanksgiving dinner with his family; his body was found on December 28. The cause of death in the case of Landingin was certified as suffocation through the youth's own underwear being lodged down his throat, plugging his airway[194] and effectively causing him to drown in his own vomit.[195] Mazzara had been strangled with a ligature.[196]


On the afternoon of December 11, 1978, Gacy visited a Des Plaines pharmacy to discuss a potential remodeling deal with the owner of the store, Phil Torf. While Gacy was within earshot of a 15-year-old part-time employee named Robert Jerome Piest, he mentioned that his firm hired teenage boys[197] at a starting wage of $5 per hour—almost double the pay Piest earned at the pharmacy.[198]

After Gacy left the store, Piest told his mother that "some contractor wants to talk to me about a job". Piest left the store, promising to return shortly.[199] When Piest failed to return, his family filed a missing person report on their son with the Des Plaines police. The owner of the pharmacy named Gacy as the contractor Piest had most likely left the store to talk with about a job.

Robert Piest, 15, murdered December 11, 1978. Piest's abduction and murder would ultimately lead to Gacy's arrest and the discoveries upon his property.

Gacy denied talking to Piest when Des Plaines police visited his home the following evening,[200] indicating he had seen two youths working at the pharmacy and that he had asked one of them—whom he believed to be Piest—whether any remodeling materials were present in the rear of the store. He was adamant, however, that he had not offered Piest a job and promised to come to the station later that evening to make a statement confirming this, indicating he was unable to do so at that moment as his uncle had just died. At 3:20 a.m., Gacy, covered in mud, arrived at the police station, claiming he had been involved in a car accident.[201]

Upon returning to the police station later that day, Gacy denied any involvement in the disappearance of Robert Piest and repeated that he had not offered the youth a job. When asked why he had returned to the pharmacy at 8 p.m. on December 11, Gacy claimed he had done so in response to a phone call from Phil Torf informing him he had left his appointment book at the store. Detectives had already spoken with Torf, who had stated he had placed no such call to Gacy.[202] At the request of detectives, Gacy prepared a written statement detailing his movements on December 11.[203]

Des Plaines police were convinced Gacy was behind Piest's disappearance and checked Gacy's record, discovering that he had an outstanding battery charge against him in Chicago and had served a prison sentence in Iowa for the sodomy of a 15-year-old boy.[204] A search of Gacy's house on December 13 was ordered by a judge at the request of detectives and turned up several suspicious items: a 1975 Maine West High School class ring engraved with the initials J.A.S., various driver's licenses, handcuffs, a two-by-four with holes drilled in the ends, books on homosexuality and pederasty,[205] a syringe, male clothing too small for Gacy, a 6mm Brevettata starter pistol and a photo receipt from the pharmacy where Robert Piest worked. Police decided to confiscate Gacy's Oldsmobile, along with other PDM vehicles, and assigned two two-man surveillance teams to follow Gacy, while they continued their investigation of Gacy regarding Piest's disappearance.[206]

The following day, investigators received a phone call from Michael Rossi, who informed the investigators both of Gregory Godzik's disappearance[207] and the fact that another PDM employee, Charles Hattula, had been found drowned in an Illinois river the previous year.[208]

On December 15, Des Plaines investigators obtained further details upon Gacy's battery charge, learning the complainant, Jeffrey Rignall, had reported that Gacy had lured him into his car, chloroformed him, raped him and dumped him, with severe chest and facial burns and rectal bleeding, in Lincoln Park the following morning. In an interview with Gacy's former wife the same day, they learned of the disappearance of John Butkovich.[209] The same day, the Maine West High School ring was traced to a John Alan Szyc.[210] In an interview with Szyc's mother the same day, she informed officers of the January 1977 disappearance of her son and that several items from his apartment were also missing, including a Motorola TV set. She added that investigators had informed her the month following his disappearance that her son had apparently sold his Plymouth Satellite to a John Gacy. Investigators noted that one of Gacy's employees, Michael Rossi, drove a similar car to Szyc's: A check of the VIN confirmed the car driven by Rossi had belonged to Szyc.

By December 16, Gacy was becoming affable with the surveillance detectives, regularly inviting them to join him for meals in various restaurants and occasionally for drinks in bars or within his home. He repeatedly denied that he had anything to do with Piest's disappearance and accused the officers of harassing him because of his political connections or because of his use of recreational drugs. Knowing these officers were unlikely to arrest him on anything trivial, he openly taunted them by flouting traffic laws and succeeded in losing his pursuers on more than one occasion.[211]

On December 17, investigators conducted a formal interview of Michael Rossi, who informed them Gacy had sold Szyc's vehicle to him with the explanation that he had bought the car from Szyc because the youth needed money to move to California. A further examination of Gacy's Oldsmobile was conducted on this date. In the course of examining the trunk of the car, the investigators discovered a small cluster of fibers which may have been human hair. These fibers were sent for further analysis. That evening, officers conducted a test using three trained German shepherd search dogs to determine whether Piest had been present in any of Gacy's vehicles.[212] The dogs were allowed to examine each of Gacy's vehicles, whereupon one dog approached Gacy's Oldsmobile and lay upon the passenger seat in what the dog's handler informed investigators was a "death reaction", indicating the body of Robert Piest had been present in this vehicle.[212]

That evening, Gacy invited two of the surveillance detectives to a restaurant for a meal. In the early hours of December 18, he invited the same officers into another restaurant where, over breakfast, he talked of his business, his marriages and his activities as a registered clown. At one point during this conversation, Gacy remarked to one of the two surveillance detectives: "You know… clowns can get away with murder."[213][214]

Civil suit

By December 18, Gacy was beginning to show visible signs of strain as a result of the constant surveillance: he was unshaven, looked tired, appeared anxious and was drinking heavily. That afternoon, he drove to his lawyers' office to prepare a $750,000 civil suit against the Des Plaines police,[215] demanding that they cease their surveillance. The same day, the serial number of the Nisson Pharmacy photo receipt found in Gacy's kitchen was traced to 17-year-old Kim Byers, a colleague of Piest at Nisson Pharmacy, who admitted when contacted in person the following day that she had worn the jacket and had placed the receipt in the parka pocket just before she gave the parka to Piest as he left the store to talk with a contractor.[216] This revelation contradicted Gacy's previous statements that he had had no contact with Robert Piest on the evening of December 11: the presence of the receipt indicated that Gacy must have been in contact with Robert Piest after the youth had left the Nisson Pharmacy on December 11.[217]

The same evening, Michael Rossi was interviewed a second time: on this occasion, Rossi was more cooperative, informing detectives that in the summer of 1977, Gacy had had him spread ten bags of lime in the crawl space of the house.[218]

On December 19, investigators began compiling evidence for a second search warrant of Gacy's house. The same day, Gacy's lawyers filed the civil suit against the Des Plaines police. The hearing of the suit was scheduled for December 22. That afternoon, Gacy invited two of the surveillance detectives inside his house. On this occasion, as one officer distracted Gacy with conversation, another officer walked into Gacy's bedroom in an unsuccessful attempt to write down the serial number of the Motorola TV set they suspected belonged to John Szyc. While flushing Gacy's toilet, this officer noticed a smell he suspected could be that of rotting corpses emanating from a heating duct; the officers who previously searched Gacy's house had failed to notice this, as on that occasion the house had been cold.[206]

Both David Cram and Michael Rossi were interviewed by investigators on December 20. Rossi had agreed to be interviewed in relation to his possible links with John Szyc as well as the disappearance of Robert Piest. When questioned by Detective Joseph R. Kozenczak as to where he believed Gacy had placed Piest's body, Rossi replied: "In the crawl space; he could have put him in the crawl space."[219] A polygraph test conducted upon the youth showed his responses to questions to be inconclusive; however, upon his agreeing to a subsequent visual test in which a map of Cook County was divided into 12 grid sections numbered 1 to 12, with Gacy's home marked in the fourth grid section, Kozenczak noted an extreme response in Rossi's blood pressure when asked: "Is the body of Robert Piest buried in grid number 4?"[220] Upon hearing this question, Rossi refused to continue the polygraph questioning, although he did discuss further his digging trenches in the crawl space and remarked upon Gacy's insistence that he not deviate from where he was instructed to dig.[221]

Cram himself informed investigators of Gacy's attempts to rape him in 1976 and stated that after he and Gacy had returned to his home after the December 13 search of his property, Gacy had turned pale upon noting a clot of mud on his carpet which he suspected had come from his crawl space. Cram then stated Gacy had grabbed a flashlight and immediately entered the crawl space to look for evidence of digging. When asked whether he had been to the crawl space, Cram replied he had been asked by Gacy to spread lime down there and also dug trenches upon Gacy's behest with the explanation they were for plumbing.[218] Cram stated these trenches were 2 feet (0.61 m) wide, 6 feet (1.8 m) long and 2 feet (0.61 m) deep—the size of graves.[222]

Verbal confession

On the evening of December 20, Gacy drove to his lawyers' office in Park Ridge to attend a pre-scheduled meeting he had arranged with them, ostensibly to discuss the progress of his civil suit. Upon his arrival, Gacy appeared disheveled and immediately asked for an alcoholic drink, whereupon Sam Amirante fetched a bottle of whiskey from his car. Upon his return, Amirante asked Gacy what he had to discuss with them. Gacy picked up a copy of the Daily Herald from Amirante's desk; he pointed to a front-page article covering the disappearance of Robert Piest and informed his lawyers: "This boy is dead. He's in a river."[223]

Over the following hours, Gacy gave a rambling confession that ran into the early hours of the following morning. He began by informing Amirante and Stevens he had "been the judge ... jury and executioner of many, many people",[224] most of whom he stated were buried in his crawl space, and others in the Des Plaines River. Some victims he referred to by name; most he dismissed as "male prostitutes", "hustlers" and "liars" whom he would give "the rope trick". On other occasions, he stated he would wake up to find "dead, strangled kids" on his floor, with their hands cuffed behind their back.[225] In reference to Robert Piest, Gacy stated that as he placed the tourniquet around his neck, that Piest was "crying, scared".[226]

As a result of the alcohol he had consumed, Gacy fell asleep midway through his confession and Amirante immediately arranged a psychiatric appointment for Gacy at 9 a.m. that morning. Upon awakening several hours later, Gacy simply shook his head when informed by Amirante he had earlier confessed to killing approximately 30 people, stating: "Well, I can't think about this right now. I've got things to do."[227] Ignoring his lawyers' advice regarding his scheduled appointment, Gacy left their office to attend to the needs of his business.[227]

Gacy later recollected his memories of his final day of freedom as being "hazy", adding that he knew his arrest was inevitable and that, in his final hours of freedom, he intended to visit his friends and say his final farewells.[228] Upon leaving his lawyers' office, Gacy drove to a Shell gas station where, in the course of filling his rental car, he handed a small bag of cannabis to the attendant, a youth named Lance Jacobson. Jacobson immediately handed the bag to the surveillance officers, adding that Gacy had told him: "The end is coming (for me). These guys are going to kill me." Gacy then drove to the home of a fellow contractor, Ronald Rhode. Inside Rhode's living room, Gacy hugged Rhode before bursting into tears and saying: "I killed thirty people, give or take a few." Gacy then left Rhode's home to meet with Michael Rossi and David Cram. As he drove along the expressway, the surveillance officers noted he was holding a rosary to his chin as he prayed while driving.[229]

After talking with Cram and Rossi at Cram's home, Gacy had Cram drive him to a scheduled meeting with Leroy Stevens. As he spoke with his lawyer, Cram informed the officers that Gacy had earlier divulged to both himself and Rossi that the previous evening, he had confessed to his lawyers his guilt in over thirty murders. Upon concluding his meeting with his lawyer, Gacy had Cram drive him to Maryhill Cemetery, where his father was buried.[230]

As Gacy drove to various locations that morning, police outlined their formal draft of their second search warrant. The purpose of the warrant was specifically to search for the body of Robert Piest in the crawl space. Upon hearing radioed reports from the surveillance detectives that, in light of his erratic behavior, Gacy might be about to commit suicide, police decided to arrest him upon a charge of possession and distribution of marijuana[231] in order to hold him in custody as the formal request for a second search warrant was presented. At 4:30 on the afternoon of December 21, the eve of the hearing of Gacy's civil suit, the request for a second search warrant was granted by Judge Marvin J. Peters.[232]

Armed with the signed search warrant, police and evidence technicians quickly drove to Gacy's home. Upon their arrival, officers found that Gacy had unplugged his sump pump and that the crawl space was flooded with water; to clear the water they simply replaced the plug and waited for the water to drain. After it had done so, an evidence technician named Daniel Genty entered the 28-by-38-foot (8.5 m × 11.6 m) crawl space,[233] crawled to the southwest area, and began digging. Within minutes, he had uncovered putrefied flesh and a human arm bone. Genty immediately shouted to the investigators that they could charge Gacy with murder.[234] Genty added the remark: "I think this place is full of kids."[234]

Arrest and confession

After being informed that the police had found human remains in his crawl space and that he would now face murder charges, Gacy told officers he wanted to "clear the air",[235] adding that he knew his arrest was inevitable since he had spent the previous evening on the couch in his lawyers' office.[236]

In the early hours of December 22, 1978, Gacy confessed to police that since 1972, he had committed 25 to 30 murders, all of whom he falsely claimed were of teenage male runaways or male prostitutes,[237] whom he would typically abduct from Chicago's Greyhound Bus station, from Bughouse Square or simply off the streets. The victims would often be grabbed by force or conned into believing Gacy—often carrying a sheriff's badge and placing spotlights on his black Oldsmobile—was a policeman.[238] Others would be lured to his house with either the promise of a job with his construction company, or with an offer of money for sex.[239]

Once back at Gacy's house, the victims would be handcuffed or otherwise bound, then sexually assaulted and tortured. To muffle his victims' screams, Gacy would often stick cloth rags or items of the victim's own clothing in their mouths. Some victims had been partly drowned in his bathtub before they had been revived, enabling Gacy to continue his prolonged assault.[240] Many of his victims had been strangled with a tourniquet, which Gacy referred to as his "rope trick"; occasionally, the victim had convulsed for an "hour or two" after the rope trick before dying. With only two exceptions, all his victims had died between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.[241] When asked where he drew the inspiration for the two-by-four found at his house in which he had manacled many of his victims, Gacy stated he had been inspired to construct the device from reading about the Houston Mass Murders.[242][n 11]

The victims were usually lured alone to his house, although on approximately three occasions,[237] Gacy had what he called "doubles"—occasions wherein he killed two victims on the same evening. After death, the victims' bodies would typically be stored beneath his bed for up to 24 hours before burial in the crawl space, although the bodies of some victims had been taken to his garage and embalmed prior to their burial.[246]

Most victims were buried in Gacy's crawl space, where he would periodically pour quicklime to hasten the decomposition of the bodies.[247] In January 1979, he had planned to further conceal the corpses by covering the entire crawl space with concrete.[99] Gacy stated he had lost count of the number of victims buried in his crawl space and had initially considered stowing bodies in his attic before opting to dispose of his victims off the I-55 bridge into the Des Plaines River.[190] Thus the final five victims—all killed in 1978—were disposed of in this manner, because his crawl space was full.[73][248][64]

When specifically questioned about Robert Piest, Gacy confessed to strangling the youth at his house on the evening of December 11 after luring him there, adding that he had been interrupted by a phone call from a business colleague while doing so; he also admitted to having slept alongside the youth's body that evening,[249] before disposing of the corpse in the Des Plaines River the following evening. The reason he had arrived at the Des Plaines police station in a dirty and disheveled manner in the early hours of December 13 was that he had been in a minor traffic accident after disposing of Piest's body, en route to his appointment with Des Plaines officers. In this accident, his vehicle had slid off an ice-covered road, and he had unsuccessfully attempted to free the vehicle himself before the vehicle had to be towed from its location.[250] He also confessed to police he had buried the body of John Butkovich in his garage.[251] To assist officers in their search for the victims buried in his house, Gacy drew a rough diagram of his basement upon a phone message sheet to show where the bodies were buried.[252]

The crawl space at 8213 Summerdale. Twenty-six victims were found buried in this location. 41°58′34″N 87°49′57″W / 41.97619°N 87.832421°W / 41.97619; -87.832421

Search for victims

Accompanied by police, Gacy returned to his house on December 22 and showed police the location in his garage where he had buried Butkovich's body. The police then drove to the spot on the I-55 bridge from which he had thrown the body of Piest and four other victims. Only four of the five victims Gacy claimed to have disposed of in this way were recovered from the Des Plaines River.[183][253]

Between December 22 and 29, 1978, 27 bodies were recovered from Gacy's property, 26 of which were found buried in his crawl space, with one additional victim, John Butkovich, being found buried beneath the concrete floor of his garage precisely where Gacy had marked the youth's grave with a can of spray paint.[254] Following a temporary postponement of the excavations imposed in January 1979 because of a severe winter snowfall in Chicago, excavations of the property resumed in March—despite Gacy's insistence to investigators that all the victims' bodies buried upon his property had been found.[255][64]

On March 9, the body of a 28th victim was found buried in a pit close to a barbecue grill in the backyard of the property: the victim was found wrapped within several plastic bags and wore a silver ring on the fourth finger of his left hand, indicating the possibility he had been married.[256] One week later, on March 16, the skeletal remains of another victim were found buried beneath the joists of the dining room floor,[257] bringing the total number of bodies exhumed at 8213 West Summerdale Avenue to 29.[257] In April 1979, Gacy's vacant house was demolished.[258]

Three additional bodies, which had been found in the nearby Des Plaines River between June and December 1978, were also confirmed to have been victims of Gacy.[259]

Several bodies unearthed at Gacy's property were found with plastic bags over their heads or upper torsos.[n 12] In addition, several of the bodies were found with the ligature used to strangle them still knotted around their necks. In other instances, cloth gags were found lodged deep down the victims' throats, leading the Cook County medical examiner to conclude that 12 victims buried beneath Gacy's property died not of strangulation, but of asphyxiation.[95] In some cases, bodies were found with foreign objects such as prescription bottles lodged into their pelvic region, the position of which indicated the items had been thrust into the victims' anus.[261] All the victims discovered at 8213 Summerdale were in an advanced state of decomposition, and the medical examiner chiefly relied upon dental records to facilitate the identification of the remains.

Two victims were identified because of their known connection to Gacy through PDM Contractors;[262] most identifications were facilitated with the assistance of X-ray charts.[263] These identifications were also supported via personal artifacts being found at 8213 Summerdale: one victim, 19-year-old David Talsma, was identified via comparison of radiology records of a healed fracture of the left scapula matching distress evident upon the 17th skeleton recovered from Gacy's property;[264] another youth, Timothy O'Rourke, was last heard mentioning that a contractor had offered him a job.[183] Of Gacy's identified victims, the youngest were Samuel Dodd Stapleton and Michael Marino, both 14 years old; the oldest was Russell Nelson, who was 21 years old. Six of the victims have never been identified.[265]

On April 9, 1979, a decomposed body was discovered entangled in exposed roots on the edge of the Des Plaines River in Grundy County.[266] The body was identified via dental records as being that of Robert Piest. A subsequent autopsy revealed that three wads of "paper-like material" had been shoved down his throat while he was alive,[267] causing him to die of suffocation.[268]


Gacy was brought to trial on February 6, 1980, charged with 33 murders.[269] He was tried in Cook County, Illinois, before Judge Louis Garippo; the jury was selected from Rockford because of significant press coverage in Cook County.[270]

At the request of his defense counsel, Gacy spent over three hundred hours in the year before his trial with the doctors at the Menard Correctional Center. He underwent a variety of psychological tests[271] before a panel of psychiatrists to determine whether he was mentally competent to stand trial.[272]

Gacy had attempted to convince the doctors that he suffered from a multiple personality disorder.[273] His lawyers opted to have Gacy plead not guilty by reason of insanity to the charges against him, and produced several psychiatric experts who had examined Gacy the previous year to testify to their findings.[274] Three psychiatric experts appearing for the defense at Gacy's trial testified they found Gacy to be a paranoid schizophrenic with a multiple personality disorder.[275][64]

The prosecutors presented a case that indicated Gacy was sane and fully in control of his actions.[257] To support this contention, they produced several witnesses to testify to the premeditation of Gacy's actions and the efforts he went to in order to escape detection. Those doctors refuted the defense doctors' claims of multiple personality and insanity. Two witnesses who testified were PDM employees, who confessed Gacy had made them dig trenches in his crawl space. One of these employees, David Cram,[150] testified that in August 1977,[221] Gacy had marked a location in the crawl space with sticks and told him to dig a drainage trench.[276]

Immediately after Cram had completed his testimony, Michael Rossi himself testified for the state. When asked where he had dug in the crawl space, Rossi turned to a diagram of Gacy's home on display in the courtroom. This diagram showed where the bodies were found in the crawl space and elsewhere on the property. Rossi pointed to the location of the remains of an unidentified victim known as "Body 13".[154] Rossi stated he had not dug any other trenches, but—at Gacy's request—had supervised other PDM employees digging trenches in the crawl space.[221]

Both Rossi and Cram also testified that Gacy would periodically look into the crawl space to ensure they and other employees ordered to dig trenches in the crawl space did not deviate from the precise locations he had marked.[277] Gacy had testified after his arrest that he had only dug five of the victims' graves in his crawl space[278] and had his employees (including Gregory Godzik) dig the remaining trenches so that he would "have graves available".[279]

On February 18, Dr. Robert Stein,[280] the Cook County medical examiner appointed to supervise the exhumation of the victims' bodies from Gacy's home, testified as to how he and his colleagues had conducted the recovery of the remains. Stein testified that the excavation was conducted in an "archeological fashion", adding that all the bodies recovered were "markedly decomposed, putrefied, skeletalized remains".[281] In relation to the cause of death of each victim upon which he had later performed an autopsy, Stein stated he had concluded that thirteen victims had died of asphyxiation; six had died of ligature strangulation and one victim of multiple stab wounds to the chest.[107] Stein testified that the cause of death in ten cases could not be determined, although all were ruled as homicides.[282]

Upon cross-examination, Gacy's defense team attempted to raise the possibility that all 33 murders were accidental erotic asphyxia deaths: Dr. Stein countered this assertion by stating that this claim was highly improbable.[283][284]

Three days after the testimony of Dr. Robert Stein, Jeffrey Rignall testified on behalf of the prosecution, recounting the abuse and torture he had endured at Gacy's hands in March 1978. Rignall repeatedly wept as he recounted his ordeal. In response to questioning relating to whether Gacy appreciated the criminality of his actions, Rignall stated his belief that Gacy was unable to conform his actions to the conduct of law because of the "beastly and animalistic ways he attacked me".[285] Upon specific cross-examination relating to the torture he had endured, Rignall vomited before he was excused from further testimony.[286]

On February 29, one of the youths Gacy had sexually assaulted in 1967, Donald Voorhees, testified to his ordeal at Gacy's hands, and that Gacy had subsequently paid another youth to beat him and spray Mace in his face so he would not testify against him.[287] The youth felt unable to testify, but did briefly attempt to do so, before being asked to step down.[287]

Robert Donnelly testified the week after Voorhees, recounting his ordeal at Gacy's hands in December 1977. Donnelly was visibly distressed as he recollected the abuse he endured at Gacy's hands and came close to breaking down on several occasions. As Donnelly testified, Gacy repeatedly laughed at him,[288] but Donnelly finished his testimony. One of Gacy's defense attorneys, Robert Motta, during Donnelly's cross-examination, attempted to discredit his testimony, but Donnelly did not waver from his testimony of what had occurred.[289]

During the fifth week of the trial, Gacy wrote a personal letter to Judge Garippo requesting a mistrial[290] on a number of bases, including that he did not approve his lawyers' insanity plea approach; that his lawyers had not allowed him to take the witness stand (as he had desired to do); that his defense had not called enough witnesses, and that the police were lying about statements he had purportedly made to detectives after his arrest and that, in any event, the statements were "self-serving" for use by the prosecution.[291] Judge Garippo addressed Gacy's letter by informing him that under the law he had the choice as to whether he wished to testify, and he was free to indicate as much to the judge if he wished to do so.[292]

Closing arguments

On March 11, final arguments from both prosecution and defense attorneys began, with the arguments concluding on the following day. Prosecuting attorney Terry Sullivan argued first, outlining Gacy's history of abusing youths, the testimony of his efforts to avoid detection and describing Gacy's surviving victims—Voorhees and Donnelly—as "living dead".[293] Referring to Gacy as the "worst of all murderers",[294] Sullivan stated: "John Gacy has accounted for more human devastation than many earthly catastrophes, but one must tremble. I tremble when thinking about just how close he came to getting away with it all."[293]

After the state's four-hour closing, counsel Sam Amirante argued for the defense. Amirante argued against the testimony delivered by the doctors who had testified for the prosecution, repeatedly citing the testimony of the four psychiatrists and psychologists who had testified on behalf of the defense.[295] Amirante also accused Sullivan of scarcely referring to the evidence presented throughout the trial in his own closing argument, and of arousing hatred against his client. The defense lawyer attempted to portray Gacy as a "man driven by compulsions he was unable to control".[296]

In support of these arguments, the defense counsel repeatedly referred to the testimony of the doctors who had appeared for the defense, in addition to the testimony of defense witnesses such as Jeffrey Rignall and a former business associate of Gacy's named Mickel Reed—both of whom had testified to their belief that Gacy had been unable to control his actions.[297] Amirante then urged the jury to put aside any prejudice they held against his client, and requested they deliver a verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity, adding that the psychology of Gacy's behavior would be of benefit to scientific research and that the psychology of his mind should be studied.

William Kunkle, prosecutor at Gacy's trial, standing before a board depicting the 22 victims identified by February 1980.

On the morning of March 12,[298] William Kunkle continued to argue for the prosecution. Kunkle referred to the defense's contention of insanity as "a sham", arguing that the facts of the case demonstrated Gacy's ability to think logically and control his actions. Kunkle also referred to the testimony of a doctor who had examined Gacy in 1968. This doctor had diagnosed Gacy as an antisocial personality, capable of committing crimes without remorse. Kunkle indicated that had the recommendations of this doctor been heeded, Gacy would have not been freed.[299]

At the close of his argument, Kunkle pulled each of the 22 photos of Gacy's identified victims off a board displaying the images and asked the jury not to show sympathy but to "show justice". Kunkle then asked the jury to "show the same sympathy this man showed when he took these lives and put them there!"[299] before throwing the stack of photos into the opening of the trap door of Gacy's crawl space, which had been introduced as evidence and was on display in the courtroom. After Kunkle had finished his testimony, the jury retired to consider their verdict.[300]

The jury deliberated for less than two hours[301] and found Gacy guilty of the thirty-three charges of murder for which he had been brought to trial; he was also found guilty of sexual assault and taking indecent liberties with a child; both convictions in reference to Robert Piest.[300][302] The following day, both the prosecution and defense made alternative pleas for the sentence the jury should decide: the prosecution requesting a death sentence for each murder committed after the Illinois statute on capital punishment came into effect in June 1977;[303] the defense requesting life imprisonment.[304]

The jury deliberated for more than two hours before they returned with their decision in the sentencing phase of the trial: Gacy was sentenced to death for the twelve counts of murder upon which the prosecution had sought this penalty.[305][306] An initial date of execution was set for June 2, 1980.[307]

Death row

Upon being sentenced, Gacy was transferred to the Menard Correctional Center in Chester, Illinois, where he remained incarcerated on death row for 14 years.[308]

Isolated in his prison cell, Gacy began to paint. The subjects Gacy painted varied, although many were of clowns, some of which depicted himself as "Pogo". Many of his paintings have been displayed at exhibitions;[309][310] others have been sold at various auctions, with individual prices ranging between $200 and $20,000.[311] Although Gacy was permitted to earn money from the sale of his paintings until 1985, he claimed his artwork was intended "to bring joy into people's lives".[312]

On February 15, 1983, Gacy was stabbed in the arm by Henry Brisbon, a fellow death row inmate known as the I-57 killer. At the time of this attack, Gacy had been participating in a voluntary work program when Brisbon ran towards him and stabbed him once in the upper arm with a sharpened wire. A second death row inmate injured in the attack, William Jones, received a superficial stab wound to the head. Both received treatment in the prison hospital for their wounds.[313]


After his incarceration, Gacy read numerous law books and filed voluminous motions and appeals, although he did not prevail in any. Gacy's appeals related to issues such as the validity of the first search warrant granted to Des Plaines police on December 13, 1978, and his objection to his lawyers' insanity plea defense at his trial.[314] Gacy also contended that, although he held "some knowledge" of five of the murders (those of McCoy, Butkovich, Godzik, Szyc and Piest),[315] the other 28 murders had been committed by employees who were in possession of keys to his house while he was away on business trips.

In mid-1984, the Supreme Court of Illinois upheld Gacy's conviction and ordered that he be executed by lethal injection on November 14.[312] Gacy filed an appeal against this decision, which was denied by the Supreme Court of the United States on March 4, 1985. The following year, Gacy filed a further post-conviction petition, seeking a new trial. His then-defense lawyer, Richard Kling, argued that Gacy had been provided with ineffective legal counsel at his 1980 trial. This post-conviction petition was dismissed on September 11, 1986.[316]

The 1985 decision that he be executed was again appealed by Gacy, although his conviction was again upheld on September 29, 1988, with the Illinois Supreme Court setting a renewed execution date of January 11, 1989.[317]

After Gacy's final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied in October 1993, the Illinois Supreme Court formally set an execution date for May 10, 1994.[318]


On the morning of May 9, 1994, Gacy was transferred from the Menard Correctional Center to Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill to be executed. That afternoon, he was allowed a private picnic on the prison grounds with his family. For his last meal, Gacy ordered a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken, a dozen fried shrimp, french fries, fresh strawberries, and a Diet Coke.[319] That evening, he observed prayer with a Catholic priest before being escorted to the Stateville execution chamber to receive a lethal injection.[320]

Before the execution began, the chemicals used to perform the execution unexpectedly solidified, clogging the IV tube administering the chemicals into Gacy's arm and complicating the execution procedure. Blinds covering the window through which witnesses observed the execution were drawn, and the execution team replaced the clogged tube to complete the procedure. After ten minutes, the blinds were reopened and the execution resumed. The entire procedure took 18 minutes.[321] Anesthesiologists blamed the problem on the inexperience of prison officials who were conducting the execution, stating that had correct execution procedures been followed, the complications would never have occurred. This error apparently led to Illinois' subsequent adoption of an alternative method of lethal injection. On this subject, one of the prosecutors at Gacy's trial, William Kunkle, said: "He got a much easier death than any of his victims."[322]

According to published reports, Gacy was a diagnosed psychopath[323] who did not express any remorse for his crimes. His final statement to his lawyer before his execution was that killing him would not compensate for the loss of others, and that the state was murdering him.[322] His final spoken words were "Kiss my ass."[324]

In the hours leading up to Gacy's execution, a crowd estimated to number over 1,000[325] gathered outside the correctional center; the majority of whom were vocally in favor of the execution, although a number of anti-death penalty protesters were also present. Some of those in favor of the execution wore T-shirts hearkening to Gacy's previous community services as a clown and bearing satirical slogans such as "No tears for the clown".[326] The anti-death penalty protesters present observed a silent candlelight vigil.[327]

After Gacy's death was confirmed at 12:58 a.m. on May 10, 1994, his brain was removed. It is in the possession of Helen Morrison, a witness for the defense at Gacy's trial,[328] who has interviewed Gacy and other serial killers in an attempt to isolate common personality traits of violent sociopaths. His body was cremated after the execution.

In the months following Gacy's execution, many of his paintings were auctioned.[329] Some were bought so that they could be destroyed in a June 1994 communal bonfire held in Naperville, Illinois and attended by approximately 300 people, including family members of nine of Gacy's victims.[329]


Identified victims

Only 27 of Gacy's victims were ever conclusively identified. By the time of Gacy's trial, 22 victims had been identified. In March 1980, two further bodies unearthed from Gacy's crawl space were identified via dental and radiology records[330] as those of Kenneth Parker and Michael Marino; both reported missing on October 25, 1976,[331] the day after they had disappeared.[332][n 13]

In May 1986,[336] the ninth victim exhumed from Gacy's crawl space was identified as Timothy Jack McCoy, Gacy's first victim.[337] One further victim was identified in November 2011 through DNA testing as William George Bundy, a 19-year-old construction worker who was last seen by his family on his way to a party on October 26, 1976.[338] Bundy had apparently worked for Gacy.[338] Shortly after Gacy's arrest, his family had contacted Bundy's dentist in the hope of submitting his dental records for comparison with the unidentified bodies. However, the records had been destroyed after the dentist had retired.[339] A second victim was identified through DNA testing in July 2017 as a 16-year-old from Saint Paul, Minnesota named James Haakenson, who was last known to have contacted his family on August 5, 1976.[340]

Unidentified victims

Six victims remain unidentified, five of whom had been buried beneath Gacy's crawl space, with one additional youth buried approximately 15 feet (4.6 m) from the barbecue pit in his backyard.[355] Experts used the skulls of the unidentified victims to create facial reconstructions.[356] Based upon Gacy's confession, information relative to where the victims were buried in his crawl space relative to Gacy's identified victims, and forensic analysis, police were able to determine the most likely dates when his unidentified victims were killed.[357]

2018 facial reconstructions of Body 10 (left) and Body 13.
Facial reconstructions of the unidentified victims, released to the media in 1980. Depicted left to right are Body 5, Body 9 (later identified as Timothy McCoy), Body 24 (later identified as James Haakenson), Body 19 (later identified as William Bundy), Body 21, Body 28, Body 13, Body 26, and Body 10.

In October 2011, Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart announced that investigators, having obtained full DNA profiles from each of the unidentified victims, were to renew their efforts to identify all of them. At a press conference held to announce this intention, Sheriff Dart stated investigators are actively seeking DNA samples from individuals across the United States related to any male missing between 1970 and 1979.[367] Test results thus far conducted have confirmed the identification of two victims, ruled out the possibility of numerous other missing youths as being victims of Gacy,[368][369] and solved four unrelated cold cases dating between 1972 and 1979.[370][371][372][373]

Identification dispute of Michael Marino

In 2012, DNA tests conducted upon remains identified as those of Michael Marino revealed that the remains had been misidentified. Marino's mother had always doubted the identification of her son because clothing found upon the body was inconsistent with what her son had worn when she last saw him. In addition, the dental X-ray conducted upon the victim identified as Michael Marino had revealed the victim had all of his second molars, whereas a dental X-ray conducted upon Marino in March 1976 revealed one molar had not erupted.[374] Nonetheless, the orthodontist who had identified Marino's remains has stated his conviction in the accuracy of his findings, adding he had "compared 32 teeth, probably half a dozen of them had very distinct fillings and every one of them was consistent with Michael Marino."[n 14]

Possible additional victims

At the time of Gacy's arrest, he had claimed to both Des Plaines and Chicago investigators that the total number of victims he had killed could be as high as 45.[377] However, only 33 bodies were ever found which were linked to Gacy. Investigators did excavate the grounds of his property until they had exposed the substratum of clay beneath the foundations, yet only 29 bodies were found buried upon his property.[378] When asked as to whether there were more victims, Gacy simply stated, "That's for you guys to find out."[379]

On May 8, 1977, a 24-year-old named Charles Hattula was found drowned in a river near Freeport, Illinois.[380] Hattula, an employee of PDM Contractors, had been linked to the initial investigation of Gacy after Robert Piest's disappearance; this was after the same employee who had informed the investigators of Gregory Godzik's disappearance informed them of Hattula's death. Moreover, this employee had stated that Hattula was known to have conflicts with Gacy.[381] Gacy had himself informed several of his employees the youth had drowned after Hattula's body was recovered from the Pecatonica River. Des Plaines authorities had contacted colleagues in Freeport during their investigation into Gacy, but were told the youth had fallen to his death from a bridge.[382] At the time of Hattula's death, Gacy had become engaged, and his fiancée had moved into his home, which leaves a possibility that Gacy had disposed of Hattula's body in the Pecatonica River as opposed to burying the man in his crawl space. However, Hattula's death has been officially ruled as accidental.[382]

Gacy stated that after he had assaulted and then released Jeffrey Rignall in March 1978, he had begun to throw his murder victims into the Des Plaines River. He confessed to having disposed of five bodies in this manner. However, only four bodies were recovered from the river and conclusively confirmed to be victims of Gacy. Given the gap of over four months between the dates of the murders of the first and second victims known to have been disposed in the river, it is possible that this unknown victim may have been killed between June and November 1978.[172]

A retired Chicago police officer named Bill Dorsch[383] has stated he has reason to believe there may be more victims buried within the grounds of the apartment building located at the 6100 block of West Miami Avenue in Chicago; a property which Gacy is known to have been the caretaker of for several years prior to his 1978 arrest. In 1975, Dorsch—then a Chicago police officer—observed Gacy (whom he knew on a casual basis), holding a shovel in the early hours of the morning. When confronted by Dorsch as to his actions, Gacy stated he was performing work that he was too busy to do during the day. Dorsch has also related that several other residents of West Miami Avenue have stated that, in the early- to mid-1970s, they had observed Gacy digging trenches in the grounds of the property;[384] one of these residents has also stated that Gacy would later place plants in the elongated trenches he had dug. At the time these actions had been observed, Gacy had still been married to Carole Hoff.[385]

In March 2012, Cook County Sheriff's officials submitted a request to excavate the grounds of this property. The Cook County State's Attorney denied this request, stating a lack of probable cause as the reason the submission was denied (including the previous 1998 search).[386] However, the sheriff's office had noted that in 1998, a radar survey conducted had noted 14 areas of interest within the property grounds, yet only two of these 14 anomalies had been excavated. Of the 12 remaining anomalies which police had not examined in greater detail on that occasion, four were described as being "staggeringly suggestive" as human skeletons.[387] Moreover, Bill Dorsch had provided police with a letter from the radar company which confirmed the 1998 search of the grounds was incomplete.[388]

A second request to excavate the grounds of West Miami Avenue was submitted to the Cook County State's Attorney by Sheriff Tom Dart in October 2012. This request was granted in January 2013, and a search of the property was conducted in the spring. Both FBI sniffer dogs and ground-penetrating radar equipment were used in the second search of West Miami Avenue; however, the search yielded no human remains.[389][n 15]

Inspiration for the Missing Child Recovery Act of 1984

In 1984, Sam Amirante, one of Gacy's two defense attorneys at his 1980 trial, authored procedures that were incorporated by the Illinois General Assembly into the Missing Child Recovery Act of 1984. Amirante has since stated that the primary inspiration for this legislation was the fact that at the time of the Gacy murders, there had been a 72-hour period which police in Illinois had to allow to elapse before initiating a search for a missing child or adolescent.[391]

The Illinois Missing Child Recovery Act of 1984 removed this 72-hour waiting period. Other states across America subsequently adopted similar procedures and sensibilities, as a result of which a national network aimed at locating missing children was gradually formed. This national network has since developed into the Child Abduction Emergency—commonly known today as an Amber Alert.[391]

Potential accomplices and connections

One of the first things Gacy told investigators after his arrest was that he had not acted alone in several of the murders: he questioned whether individuals he referred to as "my associates" had also been arrested.[235] When questioned as to whether these individuals had participated directly or indirectly in the killings, Gacy replied, "Directly."[235]

Gacy specifically named two PDM employees as being the individuals he had referred to as being involved in several of the murders.[235] In the 1980s, he also informed Robert Ressler that "two or three" employees had assisted him in several murders.[392] Ressler replied that he believed there were unexplained avenues to the case and stated his belief that Gacy had killed more than 33 victims. Gacy neither confirmed nor denied Ressler's suspicions.[n 16]

Jeffrey Rignall, who had been assaulted and tortured by Gacy in March 1978, was adamant that at one point during his abuse and torture, a young man with brown hair, kneeling before him, watched his abuse.[394] When this youth realized Rignall had regained consciousness, he was again chloroformed into unconsciousness. Rignall also informed police that as Gacy was raping and assaulting him, a light was switched on in another part of the house.[395]

Moreover, on one occasion during the surveillance of Gacy prior to his arrest, two of the surveillance officers followed Gacy to a bar to which Gacy had driven to meet two of his employees. At the bar, the surveillance officers overheard a hushed conversation between Gacy and one of his employees in which the youth asked Gacy the question: "And what? Buried like the other five?"[215]

In interviews following his arrest and conviction, Gacy repeatedly claimed that he was not present in Chicago when 16 of the identified victims had disappeared. In one interview, he stated that at the time of his arrest, four PDM employees were also considered suspects in the disappearances of the missing individuals investigators had linked to Gacy—all of whom he stated were in possession of keys to his house.[396] One of these employees was a young man named Philip Paske, who is known to have been a close associate of a man named John Norman. At the time, Norman operated a nationwide sex trafficking ring based in Chicago.[397] At least two victims believed to have been murdered by Gacy, Kenneth Parker and Michael Marino, are known to have last been seen alive close to where Norman resided at the time of their disappearance,[398] and Gacy is known to have been aware of Paske's connections. This led to the theory Gacy may have been connected to this trafficking ring.[399]

Later investigations

In 2012, two Chicago lawyers named Steven Becker and Robert Stephenson[400] publicly stated that, having reviewed archived records relating to Gacy's business travels for both PDM Contractors and PE Systems, it is likely that Gacy may have been assisted by one or more accomplices in a minimum of three murders.[401] In each case, Becker and Stephenson state that official documents attest to the fact that Gacy was in another state at the time the youths in question disappeared. In one case, that of 18-year-old Robert Gilroy, investigators found that on September 12, 1977—three days before Gilroy's disappearance—Gacy had flown to Pittsburgh and did not return to Chicago until the day after the youth had disappeared.[401]

Investigators also note that Robert Young, the traveling companion with whom victim Russell Nelson was visiting Chicago at the time of his disappearance in October 1977, gave differing accounts of the youth's disappearance to both Nelson's family and investigators. To Nelson's family, Young had stated Nelson failed to arrive at a bar at a prearranged time; to investigators, Young claimed he had last seen Nelson standing among a crowd who had gathered outside a Chicago bar and when his attention was diverted for a few moments, Nelson simply disappeared. Investigators contend this could not have happened without his traveling companion noticing.[402]

Young is known to have filed a missing person's report with Chicago police, before unsuccessfully requesting money from Nelson's parents to finance a search for their son. When Nelson's two brothers arrived in Chicago to search for him, Young had offered both brothers a job with Gacy's construction company.[401] Young was never summoned to testify at Gacy's trial as to the circumstances surrounding Nelson's disappearance.[402]

In a third case, travel records indicate Gacy was at a scheduled job site in Michigan at 6:00 a.m. on September 26, 1977—the day following the disappearance of 19-year-old John Mowery, who was last seen leaving his mother's house at 10:00 p.m. on September 25.[401] Mowery's roommate was a PDM employee who had formerly lived with Gacy and had moved into Mowery's apartment less than one week before the youth's disappearance. Two witnesses have stated that this roommate had recommended to Mowery that he meet "a man who is going out of town" two days prior to the youth's disappearance.[395]

Criminal defense attorneys and investigators researching the possibility Gacy had not acted alone in several of the murders have stated there is "overwhelming evidence Gacy worked with an accomplice".[403]



  • The made-for-TV film To Catch a Killer, starring Brian Dennehy as Gacy, was released in 1992. The film is largely based on the investigation of Gacy, following the disappearance of Robert Piest, by Des Plaines Police and their efforts to arrest him before the scheduled civil suit hearing on December 22.
  • A feature film, Gacy, was released in 2003. This film cast Mark Holton in the role of Gacy and depicts Gacy's life after he moved to Norwood Park in 1971 up until his arrest in 1978.
  • The made-for-TV film Dear Mr. Gacy, released in 2010, stars William Forsythe as Gacy. The film is based upon the book The Last Victim, written by Jason Moss.[404] The film focuses upon the correspondence between Moss and Gacy before Gacy invited Moss to visit him on death row in 1994.
  • The horror film 8213: Gacy House was released in 2010 and is based upon paranormal investigators spending a night in the house built on the former site of 8213 Summerdale Terrace.[405]


  • 29 Below, by Jeffrey Rignall and Ron Wilder (ISBN B0006XG56Y).
  • A Question of Doubt: The John Wayne Gacy Story, by John Wayne Gacy (ISBN 1-87886-503-X).
  • Buried Dreams: Inside the Mind of Serial Killer John Wayne Gacy, by Tim Cahill (ISBN 1-85702-084-7).
  • John Wayne Gacy: Defending a Monster, by Sam L. Amirante and Danny Broderick (ISBN 1-616-08248-8).
  • Johnny and Me: The True Story of John Wayne Gacy, by Barry Boschelli (ISBN 1-4343-2184-3).[406]
  • Killer Clown: The John Wayne Gacy Murders, by Terry Sullivan and Peter T. Maiken (ISBN 0-7860-1422-9).
  • Killer Clown: The True Story of John Wayne Gacy, by Aimee Baxter (ISBN 978-1-973-75535-7).
  • The Chicago Killer, by Joseph R. Kozenczak and Karen M. Kozenczak (ISBN 978-1401095314).
  • The Last Victim: A True-Life Journey into the Mind of the Serial Killer, by Jason Moss and Jeffrey Kottler, Ph.D (ISBN 0-7535-0398-0).
  • The Man Who Killed Boys, by Clifford L. Linedecker (ISBN 0-312-95228-7).
  • Unfinished Nightmare: The Search for More Victims of Serial Killer John Wayne Gacy, by Chris Maloney (ISBN 978-1466080317).
  • Destination Gacy: A Cross-Country Journey to Shake the Devil's Hand, by Nancy Rommelmann (ISBN 978-1940838380).


  • The Discovery Channel has broadcast an episode relating to Gacy's crimes within the true crime series The New Detectives: Case Studies in Forensic Science. This documentary features an interview between Gacy and FBI profiler Robert Ressler, whom Gacy claimed to have known when both he and Ressler were children. (As a child, Ressler had lived just four blocks from Gacy in Chicago and Gacy had delivered groceries to Ressler's family.)
  • The Investigation Discovery channel has broadcast two documentaries about the Gacy murders. The first documentary focusing upon Gacy's crimes was commissioned for the Most Evil series, a forensics program in which a forensic psychiatrist named Michael Stone analyzes various murderers and psychopaths. The second Investigation Discovery program on Gacy is featured in the Evil Lives Here series. This program explores how Gacy's actions affected his family. Gacy's sister and niece are among those interviewed.
  • The Biography Channel has broadcast a 45-minute documentary on the crimes of John Wayne Gacy.
  • The television program, Psychic Investigators, has broadcast an episode entitled "What Lies Below".[407] This program focuses upon the consultation between Detective Joseph Kozenczak and a psychic named Carol Broman, whom Kozenczak had met on December 17, 1978 to discuss the whereabouts of the body of Robert Piest.[408]
  • The Lifetime Movies network series Monster in My Family has broadcast a 42-minute episode focusing on the murders committed by Gacy. This episode, titled "Killer Clown: John Wayne Gacy", was initially broadcast in August 2015. The episode features Karen Kuzma, the sister of John Wayne Gacy, and her daughter, and focuses upon formative events in Gacy's life that may have initiated his later crimes.[409][410]

See also


  1. ^ Gacy would later claim to have engaged in acts of necrophilia with corpses on approximately two occasions while he worked at the Palm Mortuary. He would justify his actions by claiming the bodies he had defiled were "just dead things" who "couldn't tell anybody".[39]
  2. ^ Gacy would successfully hide his criminal record from friends, business associates and political acquaintances; these individuals would only learn the truth of his past after police had begun investigating him for his later murders.[87][88]
  3. ^ Rosalynn Carter signed one photo: "To John Gacy. Best wishes. Rosalynn Carter".[101] The event later became an embarrassment to the United States Secret Service, as in the pictures taken, Gacy can be seen wearing an "S" pin, indicating a person who has been given special clearance by the Secret Service.[92]
  4. ^ An unidentified victim found in the crawl space may also have been the victim Gacy hearkened to as having murdered around this date. Gacy is known to have stated to investigators his second murder victim had also been buried in the crawl space close to his first murder victim, although at his 1980 trial, prosecutor William Kunkle inferred his second murder victim had been buried beneath his barbecue pit.[120]
  5. ^ Gacy referred to this method of subduing his victims as the "handcuff trick". He would typically cuff his own hands behind his back, then surreptitiously release himself with the key before offering to show his intended victim how to release himself from the handcuffs.[131]
  6. ^ This common grave also held the body of a fifth male estimated to have been killed after this date.[142]
  7. ^ Due to their relative burial positions in the crawl space, plus the fact Haakenson and Johnston disappeared just 24 hours apart, and the two youths' bones were commingled together,[146] investigators believe the two youths may have been murdered on the same day—possibly at the same time.[147]
  8. ^ Statements made by Gacy following his arrest leave a possibility this victim may have been murdered as early as 1974. His NamUs case report can be found here, and a facial composite can be seen here
  9. ^ Rossi had lived with Gacy until April 1977[166] and had worked for PDM Contractors since May 1976.
  10. ^ Carole became engaged to another man the following year.[172]
  11. ^ The Houston Mass Murders were a series of killings uncovered in 1973 in which one Dean Corll, with two teenaged accomplices, had also used a wooden device fitted with handcuffs to restrain their male victims throughout their sexual abuse and torture.[243][244] Gacy was likely inspired to dupe his victims into donning handcuffs from press coverage relating to the Houston Mass Murders.[245]
  12. ^ Gacy had stated in a January 1979 interview that he would cover the victim's head or upper torso with a plastic bag if he noted bleeding from the nose or mouth.[260]
  13. ^ Disputed[333] DNA and dental tests conducted between 2012 and 2016[334] have confirmed that neither body found in the common grave in Gacy's crawl space initially believed to hold the youths' bodies was actually Marino.[335]
  14. ^ The original misidentification of the body identified as Michael Marino has been disputed because neither an upper nor a lower jaw bone was present upon the exhumed body.[375] DNA testing conducted upon the body of Kenneth Ray Parker has also proven that Marino's body had not been mistakenly buried as that of Parker,[334] leading to speculation that the incorrect set of unidentified remains of another victim of Gacy had been released to Marino's mother as those of her son,[376] or the possibility both youths had been misidentified. (Kenneth Parker's relatives refused to submit to DNA testing.)
  15. ^ Some parties have questioned the integrity and thoroughness of the second search conducted of West Miami Avenue;[390] citing the fact the ground of the property was still frozen on the date of the search (March 20), that the press had not been informed that the property had been searched until 6 days after the search had been conducted, and that the sniffer dogs used had solely been provided core samples of soil to test.
  16. ^ Gacy is known to have given Ressler a painting with a written inscription reading: "Dear Bob Ressler, You cannot hope to enjoy the harvest, without first laboring in the fields".[393]


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Cited works and further reading

External links