Birth name: John Wayne Gacy, Jr. Alias(es): Pogo the Clown Born: March 17, 1942(1942-03-17) Chicago, Illinois, USA Died: May 10, 1994 (aged 52) Crest Hill, Illinois, USA Cause of death: Lethal injection Penalty: Death
Killings Number of victims: 33 Span of killings: 1972–1978 Country: United States State(s): Illinois Date apprehended:
John Wayne Gacy, Jr. (March 17, 1942 – May 10, 1994) was an American serial killer.
Between 1972 and 1978, the year he was arrested, convicted, and later executed, Gacy raped and murdered thirty-three young men and boys. Although some of his victims' bodies were found in the Des Plaines River, he buried 29 of them in the small crawl space underneath the basement of his home. 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".
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.
He 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, Illinois. 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, Iowa 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 Penitentiary.
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 with Rosalynn Carter, 1978
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 County, which is surrounded by the northwest side Chicago neighborhood of Norwood Park. 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.
In July 1975, one of Gacy's employees, John Butkovich, disappeared. Butkovich had recently left Gacy's employ after an argument over back pay Butkovich was owed. Butkovich's parents urged police to check out Gacy, but nothing came of it and the young man's disappearance went unsolved.
After Gacy's divorce from his second wife, the killings began in earnest. In December 1976, another Gacy employee, Gregory Godzik, disappeared, and his 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. Later that year, another of Gacy's employees was arrested for stealing gasoline from a station; the car he was driving had belonged to Szyc. Gacy said that Szyc had sold the car to him before leaving town, and the police failed to 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 in Lincoln Park. 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 other murders
Robert Piest, a 15-year-old boy, disappeared on December 11, 1978 from the Des Plaines pharmacy where he worked after school. Just before he vanished, Piest told a co-worker he was going to a house down the street to talk to "some contractor" about a job. Gacy had been at the pharmacy that night discussing a remodeling job with the owner. Gacy denied talking to Piest when Des Plaines police called him the next day, but the Des Plaines police did what Chicago police failed to do and checked Gacy's record, discovering that he had done time for sodomy. A search of Gacy's house on December 13 turned up some suspicious items: a 1975 high school class ring, drivers' licenses for other people, handcuffs, a two-by-four with holes drilled in the ends, a syringe, clothing too small for Gacy, and a photo receipt from the pharmacy where Piest worked. Detectives also noticed an offensive odor coming from the basement of the house.
Further investigation revealed Godzik's disappearance. The high school ring was traced to Szyc. From Gacy's second wife, they learned of Butkovich.
On December 21, 1978, one of Gacy's employees told the police that Gacy had confessed to more than 30 murders. Shortly thereafter, Gacy was arrested for marijuana possession. Police took out a second warrant, went back to the house on Summerdale, and found human bones in the crawlspace. After being informed that he would now face murder charges, Gacy confessed to some 25-30 murders, telling investigators that most were buried in the basement and on his property, and that he threw the last five bodies, after the crawlspace was full, 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, or just 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. Gacy would also keep the bodies with him for as long as decomposition would allow.
The 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. Twenty-nine bodies were found in Gacy's crawlspace and on his property between December 1978 and March 1979. 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 County 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 Center in Crest Hill, Illinois, 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 any 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, who interviewed Gacy and other serial killers in an attempt to isolate common personality traits of violent sociopaths; however, an examination of Gacy's brain after his execution by the forensic psychiatrist hired by his lawyers revealed no abnormalities.
* 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, Illinois 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 & Punishment 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.