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John Wayne Gacy, Jr. (March 17, 1942 – May 10, 1994) was an Americanmarker serial killer.

Between 1972 and 1978, the year he was arrested, Gacy raped and murdered at least 33 young men and boys. Although some of his victims' bodies were found in the Des Plaines River, he buried 26 of them in the small crawl space underneath the basement of his home and three more elsewhere on his property. He became known as "Killer Clown" because of the popular block parties he would throw for his friends and neighbors, entertaining children in a clown suit and makeup under the alias "Pogo the Clown".

Early life

John Wayne Gacy, Jr. was born in Chicago, Illinois, the second of three children, to John Wayne Gacy, Sr. (June 20, 1900 – December 25, 1969), a machinist, and Marion Elaine Robinson (May 4, 1908 – December 14, 1989). Cook County marriage records provide his mother's name as Marion E. Robertson.

Gacy was of Polish and Danish heritage. Overweight and unathletic, he had a troubled relationship with his father, an alcoholic who was physically abusive and repeatedly called his son a "sissy". He was close to his sisters and mother, who affectionately called him "Johnny".

When Gacy was 11, he was struck on the forehead by a swing. The resulting head trauma formed a blood clot in his brain that went unnoticed until he was 16, when he began to suffer blackouts. He was prescribed medication to dissolve the clot.

After attending four different high schools, Gacy dropped out before completing his senior year and left his family, heading west. After running out of money in Las Vegas, Nevada, he worked long enough to earn money to travel back home to Chicago. Without returning to high school, he enrolled in and eventually graduated from Northwestern Business College. A management trainee position with the Nunn-Bush Shoe Company followed shortly after graduation, and in 1964, Gacy was transferred to Springfield, Illinoismarker. There he met coworker Marlynn Myers, and they married in September 1964. He became active in local Springfield organizations, joining the Jaycees and rising to vice-president of the Springfield chapter by 1965.

Marlynn's parents, who had purchased a group of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) franchises, offered Gacy a job as manager of a Waterloo, Iowamarker KFC, and the Gacys moved there from Springfield.

Imprisonment, divorce, parole

The Gacys settled in Waterloo and had two children: a son and a daughter. Gacy worked at his KFC franchise and joined the Jaycees. Rumors of Gacy's homosexuality began to spread but did not prevent him from being named "outstanding vice-president" of the Waterloo Jaycees in 1967. However, there was a seamier side of Jaycee life in Waterloo, one that involved prostitution, pornography, and drugs, in which Gacy was deeply involved. Gacy was cheating on his wife regularly. Gacy opened a "club" in his basement for the young boys of Waterloo, where he allowed them to drink alcohol and made sexual advances towards them.

Gacy's middle class life in Waterloo came crashing down in March 1968 when two Waterloo boys, aged 15 and 16, accused him of sexually assaulting them. Gacy professed his innocence, but in August of that year he hired another Waterloo youth to beat up one of his accusers. The youth was caught and confessed, and Gacy was arrested. Before the year was out, he was convicted of sodomy and sentenced to 10 years in the Iowa State Penitentiarymarker.

Gacy's imprisonment was rapidly followed by his wife's petition for divorce, which was final in 1969. He never saw his children again. During his incarceration, Gacy's father died from cirrhosis on Christmas Day 1969. Gacy was paroled for good behavior in 1970, after serving 18 months. After Gacy was released, he moved back to Illinois to live with his mother. He successfully hid this criminal record until police began investigating him for his later murders.

Businessman and political activist

Gacy moved in with his mother and got a job as a chef in a Chicago restaurant. In 1971, with his mother's financial assistance, he bought a house at 8213 West Summerdale Avenue, in an unincorporated area of Norwood Park Township, Cook Countymarker, which is surrounded by the northwest side Chicago neighborhood of Norwood Parkmarker. The house had a four-foot deep crawl space under the floor.

On February 12, 1971, Gacy was charged with disorderly conduct; a teenaged boy claimed that Gacy picked him up and tried to force him into sex. The complaint was dropped when the boy did not appear in court. The Iowa Board of Parole did not learn of this, and Gacy was discharged from parole in October 1971. On June 22, 1972, Gacy was arrested again and charged with battery after another young man said that Gacy flashed a sheriff's badge, lured him into Gacy's car, and forced him into sex. Again charges were dropped.

In June 1972, Gacy married Carole Hoff, an acquaintance from his teenage years. Hoff and her two daughters moved into the Summerdale Avenue house. In 1975, Gacy started his own business, PDM Contractors, a construction company. At the same time, his marriage began to deteriorate. The Gacys' sex life came to a halt, and John Gacy would go out late and stay out all night. Carole Gacy found wallets with IDs from young men lying around. John Gacy began bringing gay pornography into the house. The Gacys divorced in March 1976.

Gacy became active in the local Democratic Party, first volunteering to clean the party offices. In 1975 and 1976, he served on the Norwood Park Township street lighting committee. He eventually earned the title of precinct captain. In this capacity, he met and was photographed with First Lady Rosalynn Carter, who was in town for the annual Polish Constitution Day Parade, held on May 6, 1978. Gacy was directing the parade that year, for the third year in a row. Carter posed for pictures with Gacy and autographed the photo "To John Gacy. Best Wishes. Rosalynn Carter". In the picture, Gacy is wearing an "S" pin, indicating a person who has received special clearance by the United States Secret Service. During the search of Gacy's house after his arrest, this photo caused a major embarrassment to the Secret Service.


On January 3, 1972, Gacy, engaged to marry his second wife, picked up a youth named Timothy McCoy from the Greyhound bus station in Chicago and drove him to his home where, the following morning, the youth was stabbed to death and buried in Gacy's crawlspace. According to Gacy, this killing was unintentional, committed in the mistaken belief the youth intended to attack him with a knife from his kitchen.

Three years later, in July 1975, one of Gacy's employees, John Butkovich, disappeared. Butkovich had recently left Gacy's employment after an argument over back pay. Gacy later admitted to luring Butkovitch to his home while his wife and stepchildren were visiting his sister in Arkansasmarker. 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. Butkovich's parents urged police to check out Gacy, but nothing came of it and the young man's disappearance went unsolved.

Gacy's second wife divorced him eight months later, and Gacy began to kill in earnest. Between April and October of 1976, Gacy killed a minimum of eight youths, all buried in his crawlspace. In December 1976, another Gacy employee, Gregory Godzik, disappeared. As with Butkovitch, Godzik's parents asked police to investigate Gacy, one of the last people known to have spoken to the boy. In neither case did the police pursue Gacy, nor did they discover his criminal record. In January 1977, John Szyc, an acquaintance of Butkovich, Godzik and Gacy, disappeared. Gacy later sold Szyc's Plymouth Satellite to another of his employees. During 1977, Gacy killed a further eight young men, including the son of a Chicago Police Sergeant.

In August of 1977, a clue emerged to the disappearance of John Szyc when the same employee to whom Gacy had sold Szyc's car was arrested for stealing gasoline from a station while driving Szyc's car. Upon investigating the theft, Gacy told officers that Szyc had sold the car to him before leaving town. The police did not pursue the matter further.

Not all of Gacy's victims died. In December 1977, a 19-year-old man complained that Gacy had kidnapped him at gunpoint and forced him into sex. Yet again, Chicago police took no action. In March 1978, Gacy lured Jeffrey Rignall into his car. Gacy chloroformed the young man, took him back to the house on Summerdale, raped and tortured him, and dumped him alive in Lincoln Parkmarker. Police drew a blank, but Rignall remembered, through the chloroform haze of that night, a black Oldsmobile, the Kennedy Expressway, and some side streets. He staked out the exit on the Expressway until he saw the black Oldsmobile, which he followed to 8213 West Summerdale. Police issued a warrant, and arrested Gacy on July 15. He was facing trial on a battery charge for the Rignall incident when he was arrested in December for the murders.

By early 1978, following the February murder of nineteen-year-old William Kindred, Gacy began disposing of his victims in the Des Plaines River, having filled up his crawlspace with corpses.


Undated photo of Gacy
Robert Piest, a 15-year-old boy, disappeared on December 11, 1978 from the Des Plainesmarker pharmacy where he worked after school. The same evening, Gacy, whose firm specialized in pharmacy design and construction, had visited the store to discuss a potential remodelling deal with the owner that evening. Gacy was heard mentioning that his firm hired teenage boys while he was within earshot of Piest. After Gacy left the store, Piest told his mother, who had come to collect her son that "some contractor wants to talk to me about a job". He left the store, promising to return shortly. When Piest failed to return, his family filed a missing persons 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 called him the next day, and promised to come to the station later that evening to make a statement confirming this, indicating he was unable to do so 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 station later that day, Gacy flatly denied any involvement in Robert Piest's disappearance, and denied offering the youth a job.

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 Iowamarker for sodomy. A search of Gacy's house on December 13 turned up several suspicious items: a 1975 high school class ring, drivers' licenses for other people, handcuffs, a two-by-four with holes drilled in the ends, books on homosexuality and pederasty, a syringe, clothing too small for Gacy, and a photo receipt from the pharmacy where Robert Piest worked. Police decided to assign two two-man surveillance teams to follow Gacy, while they continued their investigation of Gacy into Piest's disappearance. Gacy issued a $750,000 civil suit against the Des Plaines police, demanding the police surveillance cease. The hearing of his suit was scheduled for December 22.
Mug shot on the day of his final arrest.
Further investigation into Gacy's background linked him to the disappearance of three further youths. One of Gacy's employees informed detectives of Gregory Godzik's disappearance, through interviewing Gacy's second wife, they learned of the disappearance of John Butkovich and the high school ring found in Gacy's house was traced to John Szyc. On December 18, the Nisson Pharmacy photo receipt found in Gacy's kitchen was traced to a colleague of Piest's who admitted she had placed it in his parka jacket just before he left the store, proving conclusively Piest had been in Gacy's house. Another employee revealed Gacy had made him dig trenches in the crawlspace of his house.

On December 20, 1978, Gacy invited two of the surveillance detectives inside his house. The police noticed the smell of 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. On December 22, the same day as the hearing of Gacy's civil suit, police obtained a second search warrant of Gacy's house. To hold Gacy in custody while the search commenced, officers arrested Gacy on a charge of marijuana possession. Upon digging in the crawlspace of Gacy's Norwood Park Township residence, police quickly found several human bones and informed investigators they could charge Gacy with murder.

Arrest and confession

After being informed that he would now face murder charges, Gacy confessed that since 1972, he had committed approximately 25-30 murders, telling investigators that most victims were buried in the basement or elsewhere on his property. Once the crawlspace was full, he threw the last five bodies off the I-55 bridge and into the Des Plaines River. Gacy drew police a diagram of his basement to show where the bodies were buried.

Gacy told the police that he would pick up male teenage runaways or male prostitutes from the Chicago Greyhound Bus station or off the streets, and take them back to his house by either promising them money for sex, offering them a job with his construction company, or simply grabbing them by force. Once they got back to his house, he would handcuff them or tie them up in another way. Gacy would often stick clothing in their mouths to muffle their screams. After this, he would choke them with a rope or a board as he sexually assaulted them, then bury the bodies in his crawlspace. Periodically, Gacy would pour lime in the crawlspace to hasten the decomposition of the bodies.

Police had already gone back to the house to search for more remains, mostly in the basement. For the next four months, more and more human remains emerged from the house, as reporters, TV news crews, and astonished onlookers watched. Between December 1978 and March 1979, twenty-nine bodies were found at Gacy's property,, twenty-six of them in his crawlspace. Several of the bodies were found with the ligature used to strangle them still knotted around their neck. In other instances, cloth gags were found lodged deep down the victims' throat, leading the investigators to conclude that thirteen of Gacy's victims died not of strangulation, but of asphyxiation caused by gags shoved down their throats.The youngest identified victims were Samuel Stapleton and Michael Marino, both 14 years old; the oldest were Russell Nelson and James Mazzara, both 21 years old. Eight of the victims were so badly decomposed that they were never identified. Robert Piest's body was discovered on the banks of the Des Plaines River on April 9.

Trial and execution

On February 6, 1980, Gacy's trial began in Chicago. During the trial, he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. However, this plea was rejected outright; Gacy's lawyer, Sam Amirante, said that Gacy had moments of temporary insanity at the time of each individual murder, but regained his sanity before and after to lure and dispose of victims.

While on trial, Gacy joked that the only thing he was guilty of was "running a cemetery without a license." At one point in the trial, Gacy's defense tried to claim that all 33 murders were accidental deaths as part of erotic asphyxia, but the Cook Countymarker Coroner countered this assertion with evidence that Gacy's claim was impossible. Gacy had made an earlier confession to police, and was unable to have this evidence suppressed. He was found guilty on March 13 and sentenced to death.

Gacy spent the next 14 years studying books on law and filing numerous and exhaustive appeals and motions, all unsuccessful. While awaiting execution, Gacy was interviewed by Robert Ressler as the centerpiece of a documentary about his crimes. The transcripts were published in Ressler's book, I Have Lived In The Monster. Gacy, at one point, claimed that one of them was killed in self defense.

On May 10, 1994, Gacy was executed at Stateville Correctional Centermarker in Crest Hill, Illinoismarker, by lethal injection. His execution was covered by the media, and crowds of people gathered for "execution parties" outside the penitentiary, with numerous arrests for public intoxication, open container violations, and disorderly conduct. Vendors sold Gacy-related T-shirts and other merchandise, and the crowd cheered at the moment when Gacy was pronounced dead.

According to reports, Gacy did not express remorse for his crimes. His last words to his lawyer in his cell were to the effect that killing him would not bring anyone back, and it is reported his last words were "kiss my ass," which he said to a correctional officer while he was being sent to the execution chamber.

Before the execution began, the lethal chemicals unexpectedly solidified, clogging the IV tube that led into Gacy's arm, and prevented any further passage. Blinds covering the window through which witnesses observed the execution were drawn, and the execution team replaced the clogged tube with a new one. Ten minutes later, the blinds were reopened and the execution resumed. It took 18 minutes to complete. Anesthesiologists blamed the problem on the inexperience of prison officials who were conducting the execution, saying that proper procedures taught in "IV 101" would have prevented the error. This apparently led to Illinois' adoption of a different 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."

After his execution, Gacy's 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 sociopath. Examination of Gacy's brain after his execution by the forensic psychiatrist hired by his lawyers revealed no abnormalities.


Known Gacy victims, with date of disappearance.

  • Timothy McCoy, 18, January 3, 1972
  • John Butkovich, 17, July 29, 1975
  • Darrell Sampson, 18, April 6, 1976
  • Randall Reffett, 15, May 14, 1976
  • Sam 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 25, 1976
  • Michael Marino, 14, October 25, 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, 1978
  • Frank Landingin, 19, November 4, 1978
  • James Mazzara, 21, November 24, 1978
  • Robert Piest, 15, December 11, 1978

Originally, nine of the bodies remained unidentified. One was eventually identified as Timothy McCoy, leaving eight Gacy victims unidentified.

In film

Brian Dennehy starred as Gacy in the television film To Catch a Killer, aired in 1992. The feature film Gacy, starring Mark Holton as John Gacy, was released in 2003.

While awaiting execution, Gacy was interviewed by Robert Ressler in conjunction with a documentary about the crimes. The transcripts were published in Ressler's book, I Have Lived in the Monster.

Gacy as an artist

During his 14 years on death row, Gacy took up oil painting, his favorite subject being portraits of clowns. He said he used his clown act as an alter ego, once sardonically saying that "A clown can get away with murder". His paintings included pictures of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and his fellow serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer and Ed Gein. They are among the most famous examples of serial killer art.

Many of Gacy's paintings were sold at auction after his execution. Nineteen were put up for sale, prices ranging from $195, for an acrylic painting of a bird, to $9500 for a depiction of dwarfs playing baseball against the Chicago Cubs. Some bought Gacy's paintings to destroy them. A bonfire in Naperville, Illinoismarker in June 1994 was attended by 300 people, including family members of nine victims who watched 25 of the paintings burn.

The privately owned National Museum of Crime & Punishmentmarker exhibits two Gacy paintings including “Baseball Hall of Fame”, signed by 46 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame including Duke Snider, Willie Mays, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Sandy Koufax, Yogi Berra, and Roy Campanella. President Richard Nixon also signed the work. All signers were unaware that Gacy was the artist.


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Cited works and further reading

  • Kozenczak, Joseph R. & Karen Henrikson. The Chicago Killer. Xlibris Corporation. November 3, 2003. ISBN 1401095321.

External links

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