John Wayne Gacy

John Wayne Gacy
John Wayne Gacy

Mug shot of John Wayne Gacy
Background information
Birth name John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
Born March 17, 1942(1942-03-17)
Chicago, Illinois, USA
Died May 10, 1994(1994-05-10) (aged 52)
Crest Hill, Illinois, USA
Cause of death Lethal injection
Sentence Death
Number of victims: 33
Span of killings 1972–1978
Country United States
State(s) Illinois
Date apprehended December 1978

John Wayne Gacy, Jr. (March 17, 1942 – May 10, 1994) was an American serial killer and rapist who sexually assaulted and murdered at least 33 teenage boys and young men between 1972 and 1978. Gacy buried 26 of his victims in the crawlspace of his home, buried three others elsewhere on his property, and discarded the remains of his last four known victims in a nearby river. He was convicted of 33 murders and sentenced to death for 12 of these killings in March 1980. He was executed in May 1994.

Gacy later 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.


Early life

John Wayne Gacy was born in Chicago, Illinois, the only son and the second of three children born to John Stanley Gacy (June 20, 1900 – December 25, 1969), a machinist and World War I veteran, and Marion Elaine (née Robinson; May 4, 1908 – December 14, 1989), who worked as a homemaker.[1][2][3] Gacy was of Polish and Danish heritage (his paternal grandparents had been born in Poland).[4][1] As a child, he was both overweight and nonathletic. He was close to his two sisters and mother (who affectionately called him "Johnny"),[5] but had a difficult relationship with his father, an alcoholic who was physically abusive toward his wife and children,[6] often beating them with a leather belt.[7] Throughout his childhood and adolescence, Gacy tried to make his father proud of him, but seldom received his approval; the elder Gacy regularly belittled him, often calling him a "sissy",[5][8] "stupid" and a "Mama's boy".[7] At the age of nine, Gacy was molested by a family friend.[7] When he 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. His father suspected the episodes were an effort to gain sympathy and accused his son of faking.[9] Gacy was prescribed medication to dissolve the clot.[10][11] Gacy attended four different high schools but dropped out of every one, never actually graduating. At the age of 20, following an argument with his father, Gacy left home and moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, where he worked in a mortuary for three months before returning to Chicago.[12] Without returning to high school, Gacy enrolled in and eventually graduated from Northwestern Business College.[13][14] He obtained a management-trainee position with the Nunn-Bush Shoe Company shortly after graduation. In 1964, Gacy was transferred to Springfield, Illinois to work as a salesman.[12] There he met co-worker Marlynn Myers, and they married in September 1964. After completing his apprenticeship, Gacy was promoted to manager of his department. He became active in local Springfield organizations, joining the Jaycees and rising to vice-president of the Springfield chapter by 1965.[15]

Move to Iowa, first offenses and imprisonment

Following a lucrative offer from Gacy's father-in-law to appoint him manager of three KFC restaurants,[16] Gacy and his wife moved from Illinois and settled in Waterloo, Iowa. Gacy and his wife had two children; a son named Michael, born in March 1967, followed by a daughter, named Christine, in October 1968. Shortly after his arrival in the city, Gacy had his first known homosexual experience: a colleague of the Waterloo Jaycees — which Gacy had joined upon his arrival in the city — performed oral sex on him while he was drunk.[17] Gacy was an enthusiastic worker for the Waterloo Jaycees, becoming a tireless worker on several fund-raising projects. In 1967, he was named "outstanding vice-president" of the Waterloo Jaycees.[18] These achievements even earned approval from Gacy's father, who mentioned his previous criticism of his son during a 1967 visit to Waterloo and concluded the conversation with Gacy Jr. with the words: "Son, I was wrong about you."[19]

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

Section of report detailing Gacy's 1968 psychiatric evaluation.[20]

However, there was a seamier side of Jaycee life in Waterloo: one that involved wife swapping,[17] prostitution, pornography and drugs. Gacy was deeply involved in many of these activities, and regularly cheated on his wife.[21] In late 1967, Gacy began to molest teenage male employees of the restaurants he managed.[22] Gacy opened a "club" in his basement, where he allowed employees to drink alcohol before he made sexual advances toward them.[22] One youth was encouraged to sleep with Gacy's wife, then blackmailed into performing oral sex upon Gacy.[22] Several teenagers were conned into believing Gacy was commissioned into carrying out homosexual experiments in the interests of "scientific research", for which the youths were paid up to $50.[23]

Gacy's double life in Waterloo came to a sudden halt in March 1968 when two local boys, aged 15 and 16, accused him of sexually assaulting them.[24] Gacy professed his innocence, but in August of that year he hired another Waterloo youth to physically assault one of his accusers in an effort to discourage the boy from testifying against him. The youth was caught and confessed, and Gacy was arrested.[25] On September 3, Gacy was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation at the Psychiatric Hospital of the State University of Iowa.[20] Two doctors examined Gacy over a period of 17 days and concluded he was an antisocial personality, unlikely to benefit from medical treatment and whose behavior pattern was likely to bring him into repeated conflict with society.[26] The doctors also concluded he was mentally competent to stand trial.

John Gacy's mug shot, taken in December 1968.

On December 3, 1968,[27] Gacy was convicted of sodomy and sentenced to 10 years at Anamosa State Penitentiary, located in Jones County, Iowa.[27][28] The day Gacy was sentenced, his wife petitioned for divorce[29] and requested possession of the couple's home, property and subsequent alimony payments.[30] The Court ruled in her favor and the divorce was final in September 1969. Gacy never saw his first wife or children again.[31]

In prison, Gacy rose to the position of head cook and was a model prisoner:[32] joining an all-inmate Jaycee chapter in which he actively supervised several projects to improve conditions for inmates at the prison[33] and even managed to secure an increase in the inmates' daily pay in the prison mess hall. He also oversaw the installation of a miniature golf course in the prison's recreation yard.[34] In June 1969, Gacy first applied to the State of Iowa Board of Parole for early release, which was initially 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.[35] Gacy's father died from cirrhosis of the liver on Christmas Day 1969.[35] Gacy was not told his father had passed away until two days after his death. When he heard the news, he broke down in tears and had to be supported by prison staff.[35] Gacy requested compassionate leave from prison to attend his father's funeral, but his request was denied.[36]


Gacy was granted parole with 12 months' probation[37] on June 18, 1970 after serving 18 months[38] of his 10-year sentence.[39][40] 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.[38] He arrived in Chicago on June 19 and obtained a job as a short-order cook in a restaurant.[41]

On February 12, 1971, Gacy was charged with sexually assaulting a teenage boy.[42] 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.[43] Gacy hid his criminal record until police began investigating him for his later murders.[44]

With financial assistance from his mother, Gacy bought a house at 8213 West Summerdale in an unincorporated area of Norwood Park in August 1971. Shortly after Gacy and his mother moved into the house, he became engaged to a woman named Carole Hoff, a divorcee whom he had briefly dated in high school, who had two young daughters. His fiancee moved into his home soon after the couple announced their engagement and Gacy's mother moved out of the house shortly before his wedding, which was held on July 1, 1972.[45]

On June 22, 1972, Gacy 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 the complainant attempted to blackmail Gacy into his dropping the charges in exchange for money.[46]

John Gacy with First Lady Rosalynn Carter in May 1978.

Businessman and community volunteer

Following Gacy's marriage to Carole Hoff, his new wife and stepdaughters moved into the Summerdale Avenue house.[47] 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').[48] 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, PDM's annual turnover would gross over $200,000.[49]

By 1975, Gacy had ceased to have sexual relations with his wife after openly admitting to her he was bisexual.[50] 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.[51] His wife observed Gacy bringing teenage boys into his garage and also found gay pornography inside the house.[52] The Gacys divorced by mutual consent in March 1976.[53]

Gacy became active in his local community activity and projects, including entertaining at picnics and parties as a clown and volunteering to clean the township Democratic Party office where he offered the labor services of his PDM employees free of charge.[54] Gacy was rewarded for his services by being appointed to serve upon the Norwood Park Township street lighting committee.[55] He subsequently earned the title of precinct captain.[8] 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.[56] 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 Gacy is wearing an "S" pin, indicating a person who has received a special clearance by the Secret Service.[57]

Gacy as "Pogo The Clown".

Gacy became aware of a "Jolly Joker" Clown Club when he joined the local Moose Club, whose members—dressed as clowns—would regularly perform at fundraising events and parades as well as voluntarily entertain hospitalized children.[58] By late 1975, Gacy had joined the Jolly Jokers and had created a performance character, "Pogo The Clown".[54] He designed his own costumes and taught himself how to apply clown makeup.[54] 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.[54] Gacy performed as Pogo at local parties and events, and though he often spoke of entertaining at children’s hospitals, there is no evidence of his doing so.[54] 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.[59]


On January 2, 1972, Gacy picked up a 15-year-old youth named Timothy Jack McCoy from Chicago's Greyhound bus terminal. Gacy took McCoy — who was traveling en route from Michigan to Omaha[60] — on a sightseeing tour of Chicago, and then drove him to his home on 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.[61] 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).[62] 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.[50] 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.[63] Gacy subsequently buried McCoy in his crawl space and later covered the youth's grave with a layer of concrete.[64]

Three years later, in July 1975, one of Gacy's employees, 17-year-old John Butkovitch, disappeared. The day prior to his disappearance, Butkovitch had threatened Gacy over two weeks' outstanding back pay.[65] Gacy later admitted to luring Butkovitch to his home while his wife and stepchildren were visiting his sister in Arkansas,[65] 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"[66] 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.[67] 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 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,[68] urging them to investigate Gacy further.[69]

Victims Darrell Sampson (left) and Gregory Godzik (right). Sampson was found buried beneath Gacy's dining room floor. Godzik was buried in the crawl space.

Gacy's second wife divorced him eight months later, and Gacy began to kill more frequently as he now had the house to himself. Between April and October 1976, Gacy killed a minimum of eight youths between the ages of 14 and 18, seven of whom were buried in his crawlspace, and one beneath his dining room floor. In December 1976, another Gacy employee, Gregory Godzik, disappeared. 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.[70] Godzik's 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 prior to 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.[70][71]

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.[72] Gacy later sold Szyc's car to another of his employees.[73] In April 1977,[74] following the March 15 murder of 20-year-old Jon Prestidge—a Michigan youth who disappeared while visiting friends in Chicago—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.[75] Between July and December 1977, Gacy killed a further seven young men between the ages of 16 and 21, including the son of a Chicago Police Sergeant.[76] In August 1977, a clue emerged to the disappearance of John Szyc when the 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.[77]

On December 30, 1977, Gacy abducted a 19-year-old student named Robert Donnelly from a Chicago bus stop at gunpoint.[78] Gacy drove Donnelly home with him, raped him, tortured with various devices, and repeatedly dunked his head into a bathtub filled with water until he passed out, before Gacy 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",[79] 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.[80] The following month, Gacy killed a 19-year-old youth named William Kindred, who disappeared February 16, 1978 after telling his fiancée he was to spend the evening in a bar.[81] Kindred was the final victim to be buried in Gacy's crawl space,[82][83] 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.[84] Rignall was then driven to Lincoln Park, where he was dumped, unconscious but alive, and 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[85]—he saw Gacy's distinctive black Oldsmobile, which Rignall and his friends followed to 8213 West Summerdale. Police issued an arrest warrant,[86] 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.[87]

Robert Piest, 15. Murdered December 11, 1978.


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.[88]

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.[89] 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 called him the next day,[90] 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.[91] Upon returning to the station later that day, Gacy flatly denied any involvement in Piest's disappearance, and denied offering him 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 Iowa for sodomy.[92] A search of Gacy's house, ordered by a judge at the request of detectives, on December 13, turned up several suspicious items: a 1975 high school class ring, other people's driver's licenses, handcuffs, a two-by-four with holes drilled in the ends, books on homosexuality and pederasty,[93] 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 regarding Piest's disappearance.[94] Gacy filed 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.

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

Further investigation into Gacy's background linked him to the disappearance of three additional youths. One of Gacy's employees informed detectives of Gregory Godzik's disappearance,[95] and Gacy's second wife told of the disappearance of John Butkovich.[96] The high school ring found in Gacy's house was traced to John Szyc.[97] On December 18, the Nisson Pharmacy photo receipt found in Gacy's kitchen was traced to a colleague of Piest's, who said she had placed it in his parka pocket just before he left the store, proving conclusively Piest had been in Gacy's house.[98] Another employee revealed Gacy had made him dig trenches in the crawl space of Gacy's house.[99]

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.[94] Gacy had remarked to two of the surveillance officers watching him in the days before his arrest: "You know... clowns can get away with murder."[100] On the afternoon of December 21, the eve of 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.[101] Upon digging in the crawl space of Gacy's Norwood Park Township residence, police quickly found several human bones and informed investigators they could charge Gacy with murder.[102]

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",[103] adding that he knew his arrest was inevitable since he had spent the previous evening on the couch in his lawyers' office.

Mug shot on the day of his final arrest.

In the early hours of December 22, Gacy confessed to police that since 1972, he had committed approximately 25–30 murders, all of whom he falsely claimed were teenage male runaways or male prostitutes,[104] whom he would typically abduct from Chicago's Greyhound Bus station or off the streets and lure to his house with either the promise of a job with his construction company, with an offer of money for sex, or simply grab them by force.

Once back 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.[105]

The victims were usually lured alone to his house, although on approximately three occasions,[104] Gacy had what he called "doubles"—occasions wherein he killed two victims on the same evening.

Most victims were buried in Gacy's crawl space where, periodically, he would pour quicklime to hasten the decomposition of the bodies.[106] Gacy stated he had lost count of the number of victims buried in his crawl space and had thrown the final five victims—all killed in 1978—off the I-55 bridge into the Des Plaines River because his crawl space was full.[32][107] When asked about Robert Piest, Gacy confessed to strangling the youth, 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 Des Plaines police in a disheveled manner in the early hours of December 13 was because he had been in a minor traffic accident after disposing of Piest's body en route to his appointment with Des Plaines officers.[108] He also confessed to police he had buried the body of John Butkovitch in his garage.[109] 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.[110]

Accompanied by police, Gacy returned to his house on December 22 and showed police where he had buried Butkovitch's body, then police drove to the spot on the I-55 bridge where 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 1978 and March 1979, 29 bodies were found at Gacy's property:[111] 26 of the victims were found buried in his crawl space,[112] one victim was found buried beneath the concrete floor of Gacy's garage, another victim was found buried in a pit beneath a barbecue grill in Gacy's back garden[113] and the 29th body was found buried beneath the joists of his dining room floor.[111] 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.[49] Some victims were identified due to their known connection to Gacy through PDM Contractors;[114] 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,[115] was identified because his fishing license was found at Gacy's home;[116] another youth, Tim O' Rourke, was last heard mentioning that a contractor had offered him a job.[82] Of Gacy's identified victims, the youngest 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 have never been identified.

On April 9, 1979, Robert Piest's body was discovered on the banks of the Des Plaines River: his autopsy revealed that "paper-like material" had been shoved down his throat while he was alive.[117]


John Gacy was brought to trial on February 6, 1980, charged with 33 murders.[118] He was tried in Chicago before Judge Louis Garippo; the jury was selected from Rockford, Illinois, due to oversaturation of press coverage in Cook County.[119]

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[120] 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.[121] 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.[122] 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.[111] 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,[123] 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, showing 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".[124] 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. He also testified that Gacy would periodically look into the crawl space to ensure employees did not deviate from the precise locations he had marked.[125] Gacy had testified after his arrest he had had employees (including Gregory Godzik) dig trenches in order that he would "have graves available".[126]

William Kunkle, prosecutor at Gacy's trial, standing before the board displaying the 22 victims identified by the time of Gacy's trial.

During the third week of the trial, Gacy's defense team attempted to raise the possibility that all 33 murders were accidental erotic asphyxia deaths: the Cook County Coroner countered this assertion with evidence that Gacy's claim was impossible.[127]

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.[128] The youth felt unable to testify, but did attempt to briefly, before being asked to step down.[128] 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,[129] but the youth finished his testimony. One of Gacy's defense attorneys, Robert Motta, attempted to discredit Donnelly's testimony, but the youth refused to recant.[130]

During the fifth week of the trial, Gacy wrote a letter to Garippo, requesting a mistrial,[131] claiming he had been against the defense's insanity plea, that his defense team had not called enough witnesses, that he had been denied the opportunity to testify (as his defense counsel had advised him) and that the statements given by police as to what he had said after his arrest were false, "self-serving" statements used by the prosecution.[132] Garippo told Gacy that he had the choice as to whether he wished to testify, and was free to indicate if he wished to do so.

On March 11, both counsels began their final arguments (which finished the following day). The prosecution's Terry Sullivan spoke first, outlining Gacy's history of abusing youths and his efforts to avoid detection, and describing Gacy's surviving victims — Voorhees and Donnelly — as "living dead".[133] After four hours of argument, the prosecution rested, followed immediately by the defense, Sam Amirante and Robert Motta. Motta and Amirante rebutted the prosecution doctors' testimony, attempting to portray Gacy as a "man driven by compulsions he was unable to control",[134] and repeatedly referred to the defense doctors' previous testimony. Amirante and Motta then argued that Gacy's psychology should be studied.

The jury deliberated for less than two hours and found Gacy guilty of each murder.[135] 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;[136] the defense requesting life imprisonment. The jury deliberated for more than two hours before sentencing Gacy to death.[137][138]

John Gacy, pictured while incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center in 1992.

Death row and execution

Gacy was incarcerated at the Menard Correctional Center in Chester, Illinois, where he spent a total of 14 years on death row.

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 for prices ranging between $200 and $20,000 apiece.[94]

John Gacy spent much of his time on death row studying books on law and filing numerous, exhaustive appeals and motions, none of which were successful. Gacy contended that he only had "some knowledge" of five of the murders: those of McCoy, Butkovitch, Godzik, Szyc and Piest[139] and contended the remaining 28 murders had been committed by employees who were in possession of keys to his house while he was away on business trips.

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.[140] Gacy filed an appeal against this decision, which on March 4, 1985, the Supreme Court of the United States denied.

On the morning of May 9, 1994, Gacy was transferred from the Menard Correctional Center to Stateville Correctional Center to be executed. That afternoon, he was allowed a private picnic in the prison grounds with his family. That evening, he observed prayer with a Catholic priest before he was escorted to the Stateville execution chamber to receive a lethal injection.[141]

Before the execution began, the chemicals administered 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 a total of 18 minutes to complete.[142] Anesthesiologists blamed the problem on the inexperience of prison officials who were conducting the execution, stating the proper procedures taught in IV 101 would have prevented the error from occurring. 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. In my opinion he got an easier death than he deserved, but the important thing is that he paid for his crimes with his life."[143]

According to published reports, Gacy was a diagnosed psychopath[144] who did not express any remorse for his crimes. His last words to his lawyer prior to his execution were that killing him would not compensate for the loss of others, and that this was the state murdering him.[143] It is reported that his final spoken words, said to a correctional officer as he walked to the execution chamber, were simply "kiss my ass".[145]

In the hours leading up to Gacy's execution, a crowd estimated to number over 1,000[146] gathered outside the correctional center to observe the execution; the majority of them were vocally in favor of the execution, although anti-death penalty protesters were also present. Of those in favor of the execution, some wore T-shirts harking to Gacy's previous community services as a clown and bearing satirical slogans such as "no tears for the clown".[147] The anti-death penalty protesters present observed a silent candlelight vigil.[148]

After Gacy's death was confirmed at 12:58 a.m. 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,[149] 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.[150]


In the months following Gacy's execution many of his paintings were auctioned. A total of nineteen were sold by autograph dealer Steve Koschal, who had commissioned many of them directly from Gacy.[151] Selling prices ranged from $195 for an acrylic painting of a bird to $9500 for a painting depicting cartoon characters resembling Disney's seven dwarfs playing baseball against the Chicago Cubs.[152] 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.[153] 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.[152]

Exhibitions of Gacy's artwork have been held since the 1980s[154] and continue to be held.[155] 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".[140]

In 2011 the Arts Factory Gallery in Las Vegas sold Gacy's self-portrait Goodbye Pogo ($4,500) and 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.[156]


Identified victims (age in parentheses)

Only 25 of Gacy's victims were ever identified. By the time of Gacy's trial, 22 victims had been identified. In March 1980, Dr. Robert Stein was able to identify two further bodies unearthed from Gacy's crawl space as those of Kenneth Parker and Michael Marino, two teenage friends who were reported missing on October 25, 1976;[157] the day after they had disappeared.[158] In 1986, one further unidentified victim was eventually identified as Timothy McCoy, Gacy's first victim.[159]

  • Timothy McCoy (15) January 3, 1972[160]
  • John Butkovitch (17) July 29, 1975[133]
  • Darrell Sampson (18) April 6, 1976[161]
  • Randall Reffett (15) May 14, 1976[162]
  • Samuel Stapleton (14) May 14, 1976[163]
  • Michael Bonnin (17) June 3, 1976[162]
  • William Carroll (16) June 13, 1976[164]
  • Rick Johnston (17) August 6, 1976[163]
  • Kenneth Parker (16) October 24, 1976[165]
  • Michael Marino (14) October 24, 1976[165]
  • Gregory Godzik (17) December 12, 1976[166]
  • John Szyc (19) January 20, 1977[167]
  • Jon Prestidge (20) March 15, 1977[164]
  • Matthew Bowman (19) July 5, 1977[168]
  • Robert Gilroy (18) September 15, 1977[168]
  • John Mowery (19) September 25, 1977[168]
  • Russell Nelson (21) October 17, 1977[168]
  • Robert Winch (16) November 10, 1977[168]
  • Tommy Boling (20) November 18, 1977[168]
  • David Talsma (19) December 9, 1977[169]
  • William Kindred (19) February 16, 1978[170]
  • Timothy O' Rourke (20) June 16–23, 1978[171]
  • Frank Landingin (19) November 4, 1978[172]
  • James Mazzara (21) November 24, 1978[87]
  • Robert Piest (15) December 11, 1978[89]

Unidentified victims

Eight victims remain unidentified: seven from Gacy's crawl space and one from beneath his barbecue pit.[173] Experts used the skulls of the unidentified victims to create facial reconstructions.[174] Based upon Gacy's confession, 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.[175]

  • January, 1974. Body 28. Barbecue pit. Male aged 14–18.[176]
  • June 13 - August 6, 1976. Body 26. Crawl space. Male aged 22–30.[177]
  • June 13 - August 6, 1976. Body 24. Crawl space. Male aged 15-19[178]
  • August 6 - October 24, 1976. Body 21. Crawl space. Male aged 21–27.[179]
  • August 6 – October 5, 1976. Body 13. Crawl space. Male aged 17–21.[180]
  • January 20 – March 15, 1977. Body 5. Crawl space. Male aged 22-32.[181]
  • March 15 - July 5, 1977. Body 10. Crawl space. Male aged 17–21.[182]
  • July – September, 1977. Body 19. Crawl space. Male aged 17–21.[183]

On October 12, 2011, Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart announced that investigators, having obtained full DNA profiles from each of the eight unidentified victims, are renewing their efforts to identify all of Gacy's victims. 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.[184] Test results thus far conducted upon family members are pending and will take several weeks to complete.[185]

  • On October 26, 2011, investigators announced that Harold Lovell, who had disappeared from Aurora in May of 1977 at age 19, had been found alive in Florida and reunited with his family.[186] Lovell, whose family had believed he was a victim of Gacy, had been listed by investigators as one of the most likely matches for the eight unidentified victims;[187] having last told his mother he was to find a construction job.[188]



  • The made-for-TV film To Catch a Killer, starring Brian Dennehy as John Wayne Gacy, was released in 1992. The film is largely based on the investigation of Gacy, following the disappearance of Robert Piest, by Des Plaines Police and their efforts to arrest him before the scheduled civil suit hearing on December 22.
  • A feature film, Gacy, was released in 2003. This film cast Mark Holton in the role of John Gacy and largely focuses upon Gacy's life after he moved to Norwood Park in 1971 up until his arrest in 1978.
  • The made-for-TV film Dear Mr. Gacy was released in 2010, starring William Forsythe as John Wayne Gacy. The film is based upon the book The Last Victim, written by Jason Moss.[189] The film focuses upon the correspondence between Moss and Gacy before Gacy invited Moss to visit him on death row in 1994.
  • A horror film, 8213: Gacy House, was also released in 2010. This film focuses upon a fictional account of a team of paranormal investigators basing themselves in a house constructed on the former site of Gacy's home and attempting to contact his spirit.


  • Buried Dreams: Inside the Mind of Serial Killer John Wayne Gacy, written by Tim Cahill (ISBN 1-85702-084-7).
  • Johnny and Me: The True Story of John Wayne Gacy, written by Barry Boschelli (ISBN 1-4343-2184-3).[190]
  • Killer Clown: the John Wayne Gacy Murders, written by Terry Sullivan and Peter T. Maiken (ISBN 0-7860-1422-9).
  • The Last Victim: A True-Life Journey into the Mind of the Serial Killer, written by Jason Moss and Jeffrey Kottler, Ph.D (ISBN 0-7535-0398-0).
  • The Man Who Killed Boys, written by Clifford L. Linedecker (ISBN 0-312-95228-7).
  • John Wayne Gacy: Defending A Monster, written by Sam L. Amirante and Danny Broderick (ISBN 1-616-08248-8).




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Cited works and further reading

  • Cahill, Tim (1986). Buried Dreams: Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer. Bantam Books. ISBN 0553051156. OCLC 12421532. 
  • Foreman, Laura; The editors of Time-Life Books (1992). Serial Killers: True Crime (Hardcover ed.). Time-Life Books. ISBN 978-0-783-50001-0. 
  • Kozenczak, Joseph R.; Henrikson, Karen (November 3, 2003). The Chicago Killer: The Hunt for Serial Killer John Wayne Gacy. Philadelphia: Xlibris. ISBN 1401095321. OCLC 54782106. 
  • Linedecker, Clifford L. (1980). The Man Who Killed Boys: A True Story of Mass Murder in a Chicago Suburb (First ed.). St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0312511574. OCLC 5564916. 
  • Linedecker, Clifford L. (1986). The Man Who Killed Boys: A True Story of Mass Murder in a Chicago Suburb (Paperback ed.). St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0312952287. 
  • Peck, Dennis L.; Dolch, Norman Allan (2001). "Behavior Beyond the Boundaries". Extraordinary Behavior: A Case Study Approach to Understanding Social Problems. Greenwood. ISBN 0275970574. OCLC 43694355. 
  • Ressler, Robert; Schactman, Tom (1992). Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Hunting Serial Killers for the FBI. New York: St Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-95044-6. OCLC 27658115. 
  • Sullivan, Terry; Maiken, Peter T. (2000). Killer Clown: The John Wayne Gacy Murders (Paperback ed.). Pinnacle. ISBN 0786014229. OCLC 156783287. 
  • Moss, Jason; Kottler, Jeffrey, Ph.D (1999). The Last Victim: A True-Life Journey into the Mind of the Serial Killer. ISBN 0-7535-0398-0. 
  • Amirante, Sam L.; Broderick, Danny (2011). John Wayne Gacy: Defending a Monster. Skyhorse Publishing. ISBN 978-1-61608-248-2. 

External links

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