John Wayne Gacy, Jr. (March 17, 1942 – May 10, 1994) was an American serial killer and rapist, also known as the Killer Clown, who was convicted of the sexual assault and murder of a minimum of 33 teenage boys and young men in a series of killings committed between 1972 and 1978 in Chicago, Illinois.
All of Gacy’s known murders were committed inside his Norwood Park Township home; his victims would typically be lured to this address by force or deception and all but one victim was murdered by either asphyxiation or strangulation with a tourniquet (his first victim was stabbed to death). Gacy buried 26 of his victims in the crawl space of his home; three further 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 for 12 of these killings on March 13, 1980. 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” due to his charitable services at fundraising events, parades and children’s parties where he would dress as “Pogo the Clown”, a character he devised himself.
John Wayne Gacy was born in Chicago, Illinois, the second of three children born to John Stanley Gacy (June 20, 1900 – December 25, 1969) and Marion Elaine Robinson (May 4, 1908 – December 14, 1989). Gacy was of Polish and Danish heritage. (His paternal grandparents had been born in Poland.) As a child, he was overweight and unathletic. He was close to his two sisters and mother, but endured a difficult relationship with his father, an alcoholic who was physically abusive toward his wife and children.
Throughout his childhood, Gacy strove to make his father proud of him, but seldom received his approval: one of Gacy’s earliest childhood memories was of being beaten with a leather belt by his father at the age of 4 for accidentally disarranging car engine components his father had assembled. He was regularly belittled by his father and often compared unfavorably with his sisters, enduring disdainful accusations of being “dumb and stupid”. The friction between father and son was constant throughout his childhood and adolescence, yet in interviews after his arrest, Gacy always vehemently denied he hated him. When he was 6 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 told 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, yet this only succeeded in Gacy earning accusations from his father that he was a “sissy” and a “Mama’s boy” who would “probably grow up queer.”
At the age of nine, Gacy was molested by a family friend, a contractor who would take Gacy for rides in his truck, then fondle him. Gacy never told his father about these incidents as he was afraid his father would blame him.
At school, where he was ordered to avoid all sports due to a heart condition, Gacy was an average student with few friends who was an occasional target for mockery and bullying by neighborhood children and classmates. He was known to assist the school truant officer and volunteer to run errands for teachers and neighbors. During the fourth grade, Gacy began to suffer blackouts. He was occasionally hospitalized due to these seizures, and also in 1957 for a burst appendix. Gacy later estimated that he spent almost a year in the hospital for these episodes between the ages of 14 and 18, and attributed the decline in his grades to his time out of school. His father suspected the episodes were an effort to gain sympathy, on one occasion he accused his son of faking even as the boy lay in a hospital bed.
Gacy’s medical condition was never conclusively diagnosed, although his mother, sisters and few close friends themselves never doubted his illness. A friend of Gacy’s named Richard Dalke recalled several instances in which Gacy Sr. ridiculed or beat his son without provocation, on one occasion in 1957, Gacy’s father began shouting at his son for no reason, then began hitting him. Gacy’s mother attempted to remonstrate between her son and her husband. Dalke recalled Gacy simply “put up his hands to defend himself”, adding that he never struck his father during these altercations.
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 himself later speculated the decision may have been an attempt to seek the acceptance from others that he never received from his father.
The same year Gacy became a Democratic Party candidate, his father bought him a car, with the title of the vehicle being in his father’s name until Gacy had completed the monthly repayments to his father. These repayments took several years to complete, and his father would confiscate the keys to the vehicle if Gacy would 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 of keys from him and used the extra set of keys to drive the vehicle. 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”. When his father replaced the distributor cap, Gacy drove to Las Vegas, Nevada, where he found work within the ambulance service before he was transferred to work as a mortuary attendant. He worked in this role for three months before returning to Chicago.
In his role as a mortuary attendant, Gacy slept in a cot behind the embalming room. In this role, he observed morticians embalming dead bodies and later confessed to the fact that on one evening while alone, he had clambered into the coffin of a deceased teenage male, embracing and caressing the body before experiencing a sense of shock.
The sense of shock prompted Gacy to call his mother the next day and ask whether his father would allow him to return home. 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 from which he graduated in 1963. Gacy subsequently undertook a management-trainee position within the Nunn-Bush Shoe Company.
In 1964, the Nunn-Bush Shoe Company transferred Gacy to Springfield, Illinois, initially to work as a salesman, although Gacy was subsequently promoted to manager of his department. In March of that year, he became engaged to Marlynn Myers, co-worker within the department he managed. After a nine-month courtship, the couple married in September 1964. Marlynn Myers’ father subsequently purchased three Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants in Waterloo, Iowa, and he and his wife moved to Waterloo in order for him to manage the restaurants, with the understanding that Gacy and his wife would move into Marlynn’s parents’ home.
During his courtship with Marlynn, Gacy joined the Jaycees and became a tireless worker for the organization, being named Key Man for the organization in April 1964. The same year, Gacy had his second homosexual experience. According to Gacy, he acquiesced to this incident after a colleague of his within the Springfield Jaycees plied him with drinks, invited him to spend the evening upon his sofa, then performed oral sex upon him while he was drunk.
By 1965, Gacy had risen to the position of vice-president of the Springfield Jaycees. The same year, he was named as the third most outstanding Jaycee within the State of Illinois.
Move to Iowa
In 1966, Gacy’s father-in-law offered him the opportunity to manage the three Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants he had purchased in Waterloo. The offer was lucrative: $15,000 per year plus a share of profits. Gacy accepted the offer and, following his obligatory completion of a managerial course, he and his wife relocated to Waterloo in the autumn of that year.
In Waterloo, Gacy joined the local chapter of the Jaycees, regularly offering extensive hours to the organization in addition to the twelve- and fourteen-hour days he worked as a manager of three KFC restaurants. Although considered ambitious and somewhat of a braggart by his colleagues in the Jaycees, he was highly regarded as a tireless worker on several fund-raising projects. In 1967, he was named “outstanding vice-president” of the Waterloo Jaycees. At Jaycee meetings, Gacy would often provide free fried chicken to his colleagues and insisted upon being given the nickname “Colonel” by his colleagues. The same year, Gacy served on the Board of Directors for the Waterloo Jaycees.
Gacy’s wife gave birth to two children during the time the couple lived in Iowa: a son named Michael was born in March 1967, followed by a daughter named Christine in October 1968. Gacy later described this period of his life as being “perfect”. His achievements in life earned him approval from his father, who told him during a 1967 visit, “Son, I was wrong about you.”
However, there was a seedier side of Jaycee life in Waterloo, one that involved wife swapping, prostitution, pornography and drugs. Gacy was deeply involved in many of these activities and regularly cheated on his wife. He is also known to have opened a “club” in his basement, where he allowed employees to drink alcohol and play pool. Although he employed teenagers of both sexes at his restaurants, he socialized only with his male employees. Many were given alcohol before Gacy made sexual advances toward them, which he would dismiss as a joke if the teenager rebuffed his advances.
In August 1967, Gacy committed his first known sexual assault upon a teenage boy. The youth was a 15-year-old named Donald Voorhees, the son of a fellow Jaycee. Gacy lured the youth to his house upon the promise of showing Voorhees pornographic films. Gacy plied Voorhees with alcohol and persuaded the youth to perform oral sex upon him. Several other youths were sexually abused over the following months, including one whom Gacy encouraged to sleep with his wife before blackmailing the youth into performing oral sex upon him. Several teenagers were tricked into believing Gacy was commissioned with carrying out homosexual experiments in the interests of “scientific research,” for which the youths were each paid up to $50.
In March 1968, Donald 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. Gacy vehemently denied the charges and demanded to take a polygraph test. This request was granted, although the results indicated Gacy was lying when he denied any wrongdoing in relation to either Voorhees or Lynch.
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 Iowa Jaycees.) 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.
On August 30, 1968, Gacy persuaded one of his employees, an 18-year-old named Russell Schroeder, to physically assault Donald Voorhees in an effort to discourage the boy from testifying against him at his upcoming trial. The youth agreed to lure Voorhees to a secluded spot, spray Mace in his face and beat the youth upon the promise that if he did so, he would be paid $300. In early September, Schroeder lured Voorhees to an isolated county park, sprayed the Mace supplied by Gacy into the youth’s eyes, then beat him, all the while shouting that the youth was not to testify against Gacy at his upcoming trial.
Voorhees immediately reported the assault to police, identifying Schroeder as his attacker, and the youth was arrested the following day. Despite initially denying any involvement, the youth confessed to having assaulted Voorhees, indicating that he had done so at Gacy’s behest. Gacy was arrested and additionally charged in relation to hiring Schroeder to assault and intimidate Voorhees. On September 3, Gacy was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation at the Psychiatric Hospital of the State University of Iowa. Two doctors examined Gacy over a period of 17 days and concluded he had antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), was unlikely to benefit from medical treatment, and his behavior pattern was likely to bring him into repeated conflict with society. The doctors also concluded he was mentally competent to stand trial.
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. His story was not believed. Despite his lawyers’ recommendations for parole, Gacy was convicted of sodomy on December 3, 1968, and sentenced to 10 years at the Anamosa State Penitentiary. The day Gacy was sentenced, his wife petitioned for divorce, requesting possession of the couple’s home, property and subsequent alimony payments. The Court ruled in her favor and the divorce was finalized in September 1969. Gacy never saw his first wife or children again.
Inside the Anamosa State Penitentiary, Gacy rapidly acquired a reputation as a model prisoner. Within months of his arrival, he had risen to the position of head cook, Gacy also joined the inmate Jaycee chapter and increased their membership figure from 50 to 650 in the space 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 and to have actively supervised several projects to improve conditions for inmates at the prison. On one occasion, Gacy oversaw the installation of a miniature golf course in the prison’s recreation yard.
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. Gacy’s father died from cirrhosis of the liver on Christmas Day 1969. Gacy was not told that his father had died until two days after his death. When he heard the news, Gacy broke down in tears and had to be supported by prison staff. Gacy requested supervised compassionate leave from prison to attend his father’s funeral, but his request was denied.
Gacy was granted parole with 12 months’ probation on June 18, 1970, after serving 18 months of his 10-year sentence. Upon his release, Gacy announced to a friend who collected him from prison that he intended to re-establish himself in Waterloo. However, within 24 hours of his release, Gacy opted to relocate to Chicago to live with his mother. He arrived in Chicago on June 19 and obtained a job as a short-order cook in a restaurant.
On February 12, 1971, Gacy was charged with sexually assaulting a teenage boy. The youth claimed that Gacy had lured him into his car at Chicago’s Greyhound bus terminal and had attempted to force him into sex. The 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 the records of Gacy’s previous convictions were subsequently sealed, he was restored to full citizenship in October 1971. Gacy hid his criminal record until police began investigating him for his later murders.
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, would be where he resided until his arrest in 1978 and where all his known murders would be 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 and Gacy’s mother subsequently moved out of the house shortly before his wedding, which was held on July 1, 1972.
A week before Gacy’s wedding, on June 22, 1972, he was again arrested and charged with battery after another young man complained to 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 upon him. These charges were dropped after this complainant attempted to blackmail Gacy into paying money in exchange for dropping the charges.
Businessman and community volunteer
Following Gacy’s marriage to Carole Hoff, his new wife and stepdaughters moved into the Summerdale Avenue house. In 1972, Gacy quit his job as a cook and started his own construction business, PDM Contractors (PDM being the initials for ‘Painting, Decorating and Maintenance’). The business initially undertook minor repair work, such as signwriting, 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.
In 1973, Gacy and an employee of PDM Contractors traveled to Florida to view property Gacy had purchased. On the first night the two were alone in Florida, Gacy raped the youth in their hotel room. As a result, this youth refused to stay in the same hotel room as Gacy and instead slept on a beach. Upon returning to Chicago, this employee drove to Gacy’s house as Gacy 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 this attack happened because he had refused to pay the youth for poor quality work he had performed.
To his neighbors in Norwood Park, Gacy became known as a gregarious, helpful individual, active in his local community and, from 1974, hosting annual summer parties. He also became active in Democratic Party politics, initially offering the labor services of his PDM employees free of charge. Gacy was rewarded for his community services by being appointed to serve upon the Norwood Park Township street lighting committee. He subsequently earned the title of precinct captain. In 1975, Gacy was appointed director of Chicago’s annual Polish Constitution Day Parade, an annual event he was to supervise from 1975 until 1978. Through his work with the parade, Gacy met and was photographed with then First Lady Rosalynn Carter on May 6, 1978. Rosalynn Carter signed one photo: “To John Gacy. Best wishes. Rosalynn Carter”. 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 received a special clearance by the Secret Service.
Through joining a local Moose Club, Gacy became aware of a “Jolly Joker” clown club whose members — dressed as clowns — would regularly perform at fundraising events and parades in addition to voluntarily entertaining hospitalized children. By late 1975, Gacy had joined the Jolly Jokers and had created his own performance character, “Pogo the Clown.” Gacy designed his own costumes and taught himself how to apply clown makeup. 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. Gacy is known to have performed as Pogo at numerous local parties and charitable events, and although he often spoke of entertaining at children’s hospitals, there is no evidence of him doing so. Gacy 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 just performed as Pogo and was stopping for a social drink before heading home.
By 1975, Gacy had openly admitted to his wife he was bisexual. On May 11 (Mother’s Day), after making love, he informed her they would never again have sex. 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. His wife observed Gacy bringing teenage boys into his garage and also found gay pornography inside the house. The Gacys divorced by mutual consent in March 1976.
On January 2, 1972, Gacy picked up 15-year-old Timothy Jack McCoy from Chicago’s Greyhound bus terminal. Gacy took McCoy who was traveling from Michigan to Omaha 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. Gacy later said that he awoke the following morning to find McCoy standing in his bedroom doorway with a kitchen knife in his hand. Gacy leapt 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 the scar on his arm to support this claim). Gacy 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. 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. Gacy subsequently buried McCoy in his crawl space and later covered the youth’s grave with a layer of concrete.
In an interview after his arrest, Gacy stated that immediately after killing McCoy, he felt “totally drained”, yet noted that he had experienced orgasm as he killed the youth. In this 1980s interview, he added: “That’s when I realized that death was the ultimate thrill.”
Gacy later stated that the second time he killed was around January 1974. The victim was an unidentified teenage youth with medium brown, curly hair estimated to be aged between 15 and 17 whom Gacy strangled 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
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.”
One week after the attempted assault on Antonucci, on July 29, 1975, another of Gacy’s employees, 17-year-old John Butkovitch, disappeared. The day before his disappearance, Butkovitch had threatened Gacy over two weeks’ outstanding back pay. Gacy later admitted to luring Butkovitch to his home while his wife and stepchildren were visiting his sister in Arkansas, ostensibly to settle the issue of Butkovitch’s overdue wages. Gacy conned the youth into cuffing his wrists behind his back, then 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” before killing him. Butkovitch’s Dodge sedan was found abandoned in a parking lot with the youth’s wallet inside and the keys still in the ignition. Butkovitch’s father called Gacy, who claimed he was happy to help search for the youth but was sorry Butkovitch had “run away.” Gacy was questioned about Butkovitch’s disappearance and admitted that the youth and two friends had arrived at his apartment demanding Butkovitch’s overdue pay, but claimed all three youths had left after a compromise had been reached. Over the following three years, Butkovitch’s parents called police more than 100 times, urging them to investigate Gacy further.
Following a heated argument regarding her failing to correctly balance a PDM Contractors checkbook in October 1975, 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, the Gacys’ divorce was finalized.
Within one month of his divorce, Gacy had abducted and murdered an 18-year-old youth named Darrell Sampson. Sampson 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 and strangled. 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. Both youths were buried in the same grave in the crawl space.
On June 3, 1976, Gacy killed a 17-year-old Lakeview youth named Michael Bonnin. Bonnin was strangled with a ligature and buried in the crawl space. 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 youths 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. (This common grave also held the body of a fifth youth estimated to have been killed after this date.) The two identified youths killed between June 13 and August 6 were aged 16 and 17 years old, the two unidentified youths are respectively estimated to have been aged between 15 and 19 and 22 and 30 years old. The first of these two unidentified youths known to have been murdered between these dates is a youth with medium dark brown hair estimated to have been aged between 22 and 30 years old and between 5 ft 1 in (1.55 m) and 5 ft 6 in (1.68 m) tall. This youth is also known to have had two missing upper front teeth at the time of his disappearance, leading investigators to believe this particular victim most likely wore a denture. All that is known about the second unknown youth known to have been murdered between these dates is that he had dark brown hair, was estimated to have been aged between 15 and 19 years old and that he was strangled to death.
On July 26, 1976, Gacy employed an 18-year-old named David Cram. On August 21, Cram moved into his house. The following day, Gacy conned the youth into donning handcuffs while the youth was inebriated. Gacy swung Cram around while holding the chain linking the cuffs, then informed the youth 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 the youth and said: “Dave, you really don’t know who I am. Maybe it would be good if you give me what I want.” 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.
Two further unidentified youths are estimated to have been killed between August and October 1976. One of these youths was buried directly above the body of William Carroll, who had been murdered on June 13, yet higher than the body of a 17-year-old Bensenville youth named Rick Johnston, who was last seen on August 6. This particular unidentified youth is estimated to have been aged between 21 and 27 years old and sequential burial patterns of victims within the crawl space, plus the circumstancial fact that Cram had not lived with Gacy between the dates of August 6 and August 20, leave a possible date of between August 6 and August 20, 1976 as the time this particular youth was murdered. The second unidentified youth likely to have been murdered between August and October 1976 is a youth with dark brown hair aged between 19 and 21 years old, who is known to have suffered from an abscessed tooth at the time of his murder. This youth was buried in the northeast corner of the crawl space. Subsequent recollections by an employee of PDM Contractors of a trench Gacy had ordered him to dig on or before October 5, 1976, being the location where this particular victim was buried suggest a date between August and October 5, 1976, as being when this youth was murdered.
On October 24, 1976, Gacy abducted and killed two teenage friends named Kenneth Parker and Michael Marino: 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.
In December 1976, another PDM employee, 17-year-old Gregory Godzik, disappeared: he was last seen by his girlfriend outside her house having driven her home following a date. 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. 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.
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. A ring worn by Szyc, which bore his initials, was retained in a dresser in Gacy’s master bedroom. Gacy also kept Szyc’s portable Motorola TV in his bedroom and later sold the youth’s car to another of his employees, 18-year-old Michael Rossi.
Between December 1976 and March 1977, Gacy is known to have killed an unidentified young man estimated to be around 25 years old. 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.
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), almost 80 buildings were successfully remodeled in 1977 alone. In April 1977, 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. 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.
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. (Rossi lived with Gacy at this point and had worked for PDM Contractors since May 1976.) 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, although they did inform Szyc’s mother that her son had sold his car to Gacy.
Throughout the autumn and winter of 1977, Gacy began dating Carole Hoff in the hope of a reconciliation. (Carole became engaged to another man the following year.) By the end of 1977, Gacy is also known to have murdered a further 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, 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. 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.
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 and both youths were buried in the crawl space directly beneath the hallway.
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. Talsma was strangled with a ligature and buried in the crawl space.
On December 30, 1977, Gacy abducted a 19-year-old student named Robert Donnelly from a Chicago bus stop at gunpoint. 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,” 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. 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. Kindred was the final victim to be buried in Gacy’s crawl space, and Gacy began disposing of his victims in the Des Plaines River.
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 repeatedly chloroformed into unconsciousness. 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 remembered, through the chloroform haze of that night, Gacy’s 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, he saw Gacy’s distinctive black Oldsmobile, which Rignall and his friends followed to 8213 West Summerdale. Police issued an arrest warrant, 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.
Gacy later confessed to police that 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, 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 and found 6 miles (10 km) downstream on June 30. Four months later, on November 4, Gacy killed a 19-year-old named Frank Landingin. His body was found in the Des Plaines River on November 12. Three weeks after the murder of Landingin, 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 due to the youth’s own underwear being lodged down his throat. Mazzara had been strangled with a ligature.
On December 11, 1978, John Gacy visited a Des Plaines pharmacy to discuss a potential remodeling deal with Phil Torf, the owner of the store. While discussing the potential deal with Torf, Gacy was heard mentioning that his firm hired teenage boys while he was within earshot of a 15-year-old employee named Robert Jerome Piest.
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. 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.
Gacy denied talking to Piest when Des Plaines police visited his home the following evening, 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 3:30 a.m., Gacy, covered in mud, arrived at the police station, claiming he had been involved in a car accident.
Upon returning to the police station later that day, Gacy flatly 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. At the request of detectives, Gacy prepared a written statement detailing his movements on December 11.
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 sodomy. A search of Gacy’s house on December 13, ordered by a judge at the request of detectives, turned up several suspicious items: a 1975 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, a syringe, 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 assign two two-man surveillance teams to follow Gacy, while they continued their investigation of Gacy regarding Piest’s disappearance.
The following day, investigators received a phone call from Michael Rossi, who informed the investigators both of Gregory Godzik’s disappearance and the fact another PDM employee, Charles Hattula, had been found drowned in an Illinois river the previous year.
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, while he was suffering 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. The same day, the Maine West High School ring was traced to a John A. Szyc. 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 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.
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. 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.
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.”
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, demanding the police surveillance cease. The same day, the serial number of the Nisson Pharmacy photo receipt found in Gacy’s kitchen was traced to a 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 his parka pocket just before she gave the parka to Piest as he left the store to talk with a contractor. 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.
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.
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 failed to notice this as on that occasion the house had been cold.
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 (whose vehicle investigators had established he drove) as well as the disappearance of Robert Piest. When questioned by Detective Joseph 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.” 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?” 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.
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. Cram stated these trenches were two feet wide, six feet long and two feet deep—the size of graves.
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.”
Over the following hours, Gacy gave a rambling confession which 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,” 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. In reference to Robert Piest, Gacy harked that as he placed the tourniquet around his neck, that Piest was “crying, scared.” 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.” Ignoring his lawyers’ advice regarding his scheduled appointment, Gacy left their office to attend to the needs of his business.
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. 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 marijuana 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.
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.
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 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.
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 crawl space and crawled to the southwest area of the crawl space 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.
Arrest and confession
After being informed that 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,” adding that he knew his arrest was inevitable since he had spent the previous evening on the couch in his lawyers’ office.
In the early hours of December 22, 1978, Gacy confessed to police that since 1972, he had committed approximately 25 to 30 murders, all of whom he falsely claimed were teenage male runaways or male prostitutes, 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 and 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.
at Gacy’s house, the victims would be handcuffed or otherwise bound, then choked with a rope or a board as they were sexually assaulted. Gacy would often stick clothing in the victims’ mouths to muffle their screams. 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. 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.
The victims were usually lured alone to his house, although on approximately three occasions, 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. When asked why several bodies were found with plastic bags over their heads or upper torsos, Gacy stated he would cover the victim’s head or upper torso with a plastic bag if he noted bleeding from the nose or mouth.
Most victims were buried in Gacy’s crawl space where, periodically, he would pour quicklime to hasten the decomposition of the bodies. 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. Thus the final five victims, all killed in 1978, were disposed of in this manner because his crawl space was full. When asked about Robert Piest, Gacy confessed to strangling the youth at his house that evening, adding that he had been interrupted by a phone call from a business colleague while doing so, he also admitted to having disposed of Piest’s body in the Des Plaines river and stated that the reason he had arrived at the Des Plaines police station in a 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. He also confessed to police he had buried the body of John Butkovitch in his garage. To assist officers in their search for the victims buried in his house, Gacy drew a diagram of his basement to show where the bodies were buried.
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 Butkovitch’s body, then police drove to the spot on the I-55 bridge from which he had thrown the body of Piest and four other victims (although only four of the five victims Gacy claimed to have disposed of in this way were ever recovered from the Des Plaines River).
Between December 22 and December 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 Butkovitch, 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. Following a temporary postponement of the excavations imposed in January 1979 due to 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.
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 ring on the wedding finger of his left hand, indicating the possibility he had been married. One week later, on March 16, the skeletal remains of another victim were found buried beneath the joists of the dining room floor, bringing the total number of bodies exhumed at 8213 West Summerdale Avenue to 29. In April 1979, Gacy’s vacant house was demolished.
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.
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 investigators to conclude that 13 of Gacy’s victims died not of strangulation, but of asphyxiation. 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. Some victims were identified due to their known connection to Gacy through PDM Contractors, others were identified due to their personal artifacts being found at 8213 Summerdale, one victim, 17-year-old Michael Bonnin, who had disappeared June 3, 1976, while traveling from Chicago to Waukegan, was identified because his fishing license was found at Gacy’s home, another youth, Timothy O’Rourke, was last heard mentioning that a contractor had offered him a job. Of Gacy’s identified victims, the youngest were Samuel Dodd Stapleton and Michael Marino, both 14 years old, the oldest were Russell Nelson and James Mazzara, both 21 years old. Seven of the victims have never been identified.
On April 9, 1979, a body was discovered entangled in exposed roots on the edge of the Des Plaines River in Grundy County. The body was identified via dental records as being that of Robert Piest. A subsequent autopsy revealed that “paper-like material” had been shoved down his throat while he was alive.
John Gacy was brought to trial on February 6, 1980, charged with 33 murders. He was tried in Cook County, Illinois, before Judge Louis Garippo, the jury was selected from Rockford, Illinois, due to saturation of press coverage in Cook County.
In the year before his trial, at the request of his defense counsel, Gacy spent over 300 hours with the doctors at the Menard Correctional Center undergoing a variety of psychological tests before a panel of psychiatrists to determine whether he was mentally competent to stand trial.
Gacy had attempted to convince the doctors he was suffering from a multiple personality disorder. His lawyers, however, opted to 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. Three psychiatric experts appearing for the defense at Gacy’s trial testified they found Gacy to be a paranoid schizophrenic who suffered from a multiple personality disorder.
The prosecution’s case was that Gacy was sane and fully in control of his actions. The prosecution produced several witnesses to testify to the premeditation of his actions and the efforts he went to in order to escape detection, plus doctors who 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, Michael Rossi, testified that in August 1977, Gacy had marked a location in the crawl space with sticks and told him to dig a drainage trench.
When asked where in the crawl space he had dug, Rossi turned to a diagram of Gacy’s home on display in the courtroom. The diagram showed where the bodies were found in the crawl space and elsewhere on the property, and pointed to the location of the remains of an unidentified victim known as “Body 13”. 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.
Rossi also testified that Gacy would periodically look into the crawl space to ensure employees did not deviate from the precise locations he had marked. Gacy had testified after his arrest that he had only dug five of the victims’ graves in his crawl space and had had employees (including Gregory Godzik) dig the remaining trenches so that he would “have graves available”.
On February 18, Dr. Robert Stein, 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.” 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. In ten cases, Stein testified that the cause of death could not be determined, although all were ruled as homicides.
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 with evidence that Gacy’s claim was impossible.
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. The youth felt unable to testify, but did briefly attempt to do so, before being asked to step down.
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 the youth testified, Gacy repeatedly laughed at Donnelly’s expense, but the youth 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.
During the fifth week of the trial, Gacy wrote a personal letter to Judge Garippo requesting a mistrial 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. 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 to the Judge if he wished to do so.
On March 11, final arguments from both prosecution and defense attorneys began (these arguments concluded 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.”
After the state’s four-hour closing, counsel Sam Amirante and Robert Motta argued for the defense. Motta and Amirante argued against the testimony delivered by the doctors who had testified for the prosecution. The defense lawyers attempted to portray Gacy as a “man driven by compulsions he was unable to control.” In support of these arguments, the defense counsel repeatedly referred to the testimony of the doctors who had appeared for the defense. Amirante and Motta then argued that the psychology of Gacy’s behavior would be of benefit to scientific research and that the psychology of his mind should be studied.
Following the closing arguments of Amirante and Motta, William Kunkle again argued for the prosecution. Kunkle referred to the defense’s contention of insanity as “a sham,” arguing that the facts of the case hearkened to 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. 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 to not 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!” 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.
The jury deliberated for less than two hours 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. The following day, March 13, both the prosecution and defense made alternate 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, the defense requesting life imprisonment.
The jury deliberated for more than two hours before they returned with their verdict: Gacy was sentenced to death for the twelve counts of murder upon which the prosecution had sought this penalty. An initial date of execution was set for June 2, 1980.
Upon being sentenced, Gacy was transferred to the Menard Correctional Center in Chester, Illinois, where he was to remain incarcerated on death row for 14 years.
After his incarceration, Gacy read numerous law books and thereupon filed voluminous motions and appeals, although he did not prevail upon any. Gacy mainly contended that he had “some knowledge” of only five murders, those of McCoy, Butkovitch, Godzik, Szyc and Piest, and that 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 prison, 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 were sold at various auctions with individual prices ranging between $200 and $20,000 apiece.
In the summer of 1984, the Supreme Court of Illinois upheld Gacy’s conviction and ordered that he be executed by lethal injection on November 14. Gacy filed an appeal against this decision, which was denied by the Supreme Court of the United States on March 4, 1985.
After his final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court was denied in October 1993, the Illinois Supreme Court set his execution date for May 10, 1994.
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. That evening, he observed prayer with a Catholic priest before being escorted to the Stateville execution chamber to receive a lethal injection.
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. 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 alternate method of lethal injection. On this subject, one of the prosecutors at Gacy’s trial, William Kunkle, said: “He still got a much easier death than any of his victims.”
According to published reports, Gacy was a diagnosed psychopath 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. It is reported that his final spoken words were simply, “Kiss my ass.”
In the hours leading up to Gacy’s execution, a crowd estimated to number over 1,000 gathered outside the correctional center to observe the execution, the majority of whom were vocally in favor of the execution, although a number of anti-death penalty protesters were also present. Of those in favor of the execution, some wore T-shirts hearkening to Gacy’s previous community services as a clown and bearing satirical slogans such as “No tears for the clown.” The anti-death penalty protesters present observed a silent candlelight vigil.
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 Dr. Helen Morrison, a witness for the defense at Gacy’s trial, who interviewed Gacy and other serial killers in an attempt to isolate common personality traits of violent sociopaths. An examination of Gacy’s brain after his execution revealed no abnormalities.
In the months following Gacy’s execution many of his paintings were auctioned. Nineteen were sold by autograph dealer Steve Koschal, who had commissioned many of them directly from Gacy. Selling prices ranged from $195 for an acrylic painting of a bird to $9,500 for a painting depicting cartoon characters resembling Disney’s Seven Dwarfs playing baseball against the Chicago Cubs. The baseball painting had been autographed by numerous members of the Baseball Hall of Fame, though Koschel admitted that the signers had not been told the identity of the painter. Some were bought so that they could be destroyed: 25 paintings were burned in June 1994 in Naperville, Illinois, at a communal bonfire attended by approximately 300 people, including family members of nine of Gacy’s victims.
Exhibitions of Gacy’s artwork have been held since the 1980s. Gacy dismissed criticism that he was permitted to keep money from the sale of his paintings, claiming his artwork was intended “to bring joy into people’s lives.”
In 2011, the Arts Factory Gallery in Las Vegas sold Gacy’s self-portrait Goodbye Pogo for $4,500 along with 73 other Gacy paintings, drawings and audio recordings to benefit various charitable organizations. The National Center for Victims of Crime, one of the named beneficiaries, demanded that the gallery cease using its name in connection with the sale.
Only 25 of Gacy’s victims were ever conclusively identified. By the time of Gacy’s trial, a total of 22 victims had been identified. In March 1980, two further bodies unearthed from Gacy’s crawl space were identified via dental and radiology records as those of Kenneth Parker and Michael Marino, two teenage friends who were reported missing on October 25, 1976, the day after they had disappeared. However, DNA analysis conducted in 2012 has confirmed that the 14th body exhumed from the crawl space, initially believed to have been Michael Marino, was misidentified.
In May 1986, the ninth victim exhumed from Gacy’s crawl space was identified as Timothy McCoy, Gacy’s first victim. 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. Bundy had apparently worked for Gacy before his murder. 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.
- Timothy McCoy (15) January 3, 1972
- John Butkovitch (17) July 29, 1975
- Darrell Sampson (18) April 6, 1976
- Randall Reffett (15) May 14, 1976
- Samuel Stapleton (14) May 14, 1976
- Michael Bonnin (17) June 3, 1976
- William Carroll (16) June 13, 1976
- Rick Johnston (17) August 6, 1976
- Kenneth Parker (16) October 24, 1976
- William Bundy (19) October 26, 1976
- Gregory Godzik (17) December 12, 1976
- John Szyc (19) January 20, 1977
- Jon Prestidge (20) March 15, 1977
- Matthew Bowman (19) July 5, 1977
- Robert Gilroy (18) September 15, 1977
- John Mowery (19) September 25, 1977
- Russell Nelson (21) October 17, 1977
- Robert Winch (16) November 10, 1977
- Tommy Boling (20) November 18, 1977
- David Talsma (19) December 9, 1977
- William Kindred (19) February 16, 1978
- Timothy O’Rourke (20) June 16–23, 1978
- Frank Landingin (19) November 4, 1978
- James Mazzara (21) November 24, 1978
- Robert Piest (15) December 11, 1978
Suspected misidentified victim
- Michael Marino (14) October 24, 1976
Eight victims remain unidentified, seven of whom had been buried beneath Gacy’s crawl space, one additional youth was found buried about 15 feet (4.6 m) from the barbecue pit in his backyard. Experts used the skulls of the unidentified victims to create facial reconstructions. 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.
- January 1974. Body 28. Backyard. Male aged 14–18.
- June 13 – August 6, 1976. Body 26. Crawl space. Male aged 22–30.
- June 13 – August 6, 1976. Body 24. Crawl space. Male aged 15–19.
- August 6 – October 5, 1976. Body 13. Crawl space. Male aged 17–21.
- August 6 – October 24, 1976. Body 21. Crawl space. Male aged 21–27.
- October 24, 1976. Body 14. Crawl space. Male aged c. 14.
- December 1976 – March 15, 1977. Body 5. Crawl space. Male aged 22–32.
- March 15 – July 5, 1977. Body 10. Crawl space. Male aged 17–21.
On October 11, 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. Test results thus far conducted have confirmed the identification of one victim, ruled out the possibility of numerous other missing youths as being victims of Gacy and solved two unrelated cold cases dating from 1972 and 1978 respectively.
In October and December 2011 respectively, two youths whom investigators had initially believed were likely matches to unidentified victims of Gacy were found alive. One of these individuals, Harold Lovell, had disappeared from Aurora in May 1977 at age 19. Lovell was located in Florida and subsequently reunited with his family. Lovell had been listed by investigators as one of the most likely matches for the eight unidentified victims, having last told his mother he was to find a construction job. The other individual, Theodore Szal, had disappeared from Glen Ellyn in March 1977 at age 24. Szal was located in Oregon and had also worked in construction before his disappearance.
In September 2012, sheriff Thomas Dart announced that through efforts made to identify Gacy’s unidentified victims, investigators had solved an unrelated cold case relating to a 21-year-old Peoria youth named Daniel Noe. Noe, an Illinois native, was last seen alive on September 30, 1978, hitchhiking from Bellingham to Chicago. His remains had been found near Mount Olympus in 2010. As Noe had been listed as a possible unidentified victim of Gacy, investigators had collected DNA samples from his family which, although negative when compared to the seven remaining unidentified victims exhumed from Gacy’s property, proved a positive match to the unidentified remains found in Utah in 2010.
Efforts to identify Gacy’s unidentified victims solved one further unrelated cold case in May 2013. The case solved was that of a missing 16-year-old named Steven Soden, who was last seen alive April 3, 1972, in New Jersey and who was suspected by his family to have traveled to Chicago, where his father lived. Soden’s sister had contacted investigators in 2011 to submit a DNA sample for comparison with Gacy’s unidentified victims. Although not a match with any of Gacy’s victims, the DNA samples provided matched those of an unidentified body found in April 2000 in Burlington County, close to where Soden was last seen alive.
Identification dispute of Michael Marino
On October 25, 2012, DNA tests conducted upon remains identified in 1980 through dental analysis as those of a missing Chicago youth named 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.
The original misidentification of the body identified as Michael Marino has been disputed due to the fact the body was identified in 1980 via dental records and neither an upper nor a lower jaw bone was present upon the exhumed body, leading to strong speculation that either the body of Marino may have been buried as that of Kenneth Parker and vice versa, or the incorrect set of unidentified remains of another unidentified victim of John Gacy had been released to Marino’s mother as those of her son. In addition, the orthodontist who initially identified Marino’s remains has stated he is convinced his initial findings are correct, stating: “The dental identification is 100 percent solid … no question. We compared 32 teeth, probably half a dozen of them had very distinct fillings and every one of them was consistent with Michael Marino.”
Investigators acknowledge that strong circumstantial evidence points to the remains of the 14th body unearthed from the crawl space as being those of Michael Marino, including the fact that the body shared a common grave with that of Kenneth Parker; a close friend of Marino who disappeared on the same day as him.
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. 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.
On May 8, 1977, a 24-year-old named Charles Hattula was found drowned in a river near Freeport, Illinois. 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. 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. 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 youth in his crawl space. However, Hattula’s death had been ruled as accidental.
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 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.
As a successful contractor, Gacy is also known to have both visited numerous states across America and visited Canada during the years he is known to have killed. When asked as to whether there were more victims, Gacy simply stated: “That’s for you guys to find out.”
Detective Bill Dorsch has stated he has reason to believe there may be more victims buried elsewhere. In 1975, he claims that he saw a person he believes to be Gacy digging upon the property of the apartment building he then resided in, located at the 6100 block of West Miami Avenue in Chicago. Gacy is known to have been the caretaker of this property in 1975. When confronted by Dorsch as to his actions, Gacy stated he was performing work that he was too busy to do during the day. Another resident says she also has reason to believe there may be additional victims buried at that location, stating Gacy had dug a number of large trenches around the property where fresh plants would later be planted.
In March 2012, Cook County Sheriff’s officials submitted a request to excavate the grounds of this property. However, the Cook County State’s Attorney denied this request, stating a lack of probable cause as the reason the submission was denied, adding that there had been a search of the property conducted in 1998. 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. Moreover, Detective Dorsch, who had informed investigators of the possibility of Gacy having buried victims’ bodies at West Miami Avenue, had provided police with a letter from the radar company who had conducted the 1998 search of the property which stated the initial search of the grounds was incomplete.
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.
Some parties have questioned the integrity and thoroughness of the second search conducted of West Miami Avenue, citing the fact the ground of the property was still frozen on the date of the search (March 20) and adding the facts 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. Moreover, no images of the second search of West Miami Avenue have been released to the press, the released images date from the search conducted in 1998.