John Wayne Gacy – the Clown Killer
// December 26th, 2012 // Serial Killers
John Wayne Gacy, Jr. (March 17, 1942 – May 10, 1994) was one of America’s most prolific serial killers. Between the years 1972 and 1978, before he was arrested, convicted, and later executed, Gacy raped and murdered thirty three young boys. He buried 29 of of his victims in the crawl space underneath the basement of his home. When the crawlspace filled with bodies, he began dumping his vicitims in the Des Plaines River. 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”.
The makings of a beast – growing up Gacy
John Wayne Gacy, Jr. was born in Chicago, Illinois, the second of three children, to John Wayne Gacy, Sr. His father was a machinist and his mother, Marion Elaine Robinson, somewhat of a sot. As a child, Gacy was overweight and clumsy. His father, an alcoholic from whom Gacy desperately tried to gain the good graces of, repeatedly degraded his son, calling him a sissy and chastising him for “not being a man”.
An odd incident occurred when Gacy was 11, an event that may have contributed to his “problem”. When he was 11, he received a hard blow to the head from a swing. The trauma formed a blood clot in his brain that went unnoticed until he was 16 and began to suffer from frequent blackouts. Medication was used to dissolve the clot but by then, he had gone 5 years with a dangerous blood clot limiting the blood supply to his brain. The damage was irreparable.
Gacy as an adult – a progression of depravity
During high school, Gacy’s family moved often. Gacy attended four different schools during his high school years. Possessing an antisocial personality, the frequent moves were troublesome to Gacy and he dropped out of school before completing his senior year. Without returning to high school, and after toiling at several meaningless and low-paying jobs, he enrolled in and eventually graduated from Northwestern Business College with a degree in Management. A manager trainee position with the Nunn-Bush Shoe Company followed shortly after graduation, and in 1964, Gacy was given a promotion and transferred to Springfield, Illinois. While working in Springfield, 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 newlywed Gacys immediately jumped at the opportunity.
While living in Waterloo, the Gacys had two children: a son and a daughter. Gacy excelled in his management duties at Kentucky Fried Chicken and continued his involvement in local charitable organizations again joining the Jaycees in his new hometown. Despite his newfound social status, rumors of Gacy’s homosexuality spread throughout the town. He had made several suggestive passes at the young boys who worked for him at the restaurant. Still, rumors aside, the Jaycess Club named him “outstanding vice-president” of the Waterloo Jaycees in 1967.
While experiencing great success in his business life, Gacy’s personal life began to decline rapidly. Gacy cheated on his wife regularly and began submersing himself in drugs, prostitution, and pornography. Gacy even opened a “club” in his basement for the young boys of Waterloo, where he allowed them to drink alcohol while he made provocative sexual advances towards them.
Gacy goes to jail
Gacy’s middle class idyll in Waterloo came crashing down in March 1968. Mark Miller entered the local police station and explained that Gacy had tricked him into being tied up while visiting his home, and had violently raped him. Gacy professed his innocence, explaining that the Jaycee members opposed to promoting him to the President position were setting him up. It appeared that he might beat the charges, but in August of that year Gacy hired another Waterloo youth, Dwight Andersson, for $10 plus $300 more to pay off his car loan, to beat up one of his accusers. Andersson lured Miller to his car and drove him to a wooded area where he sprayed mace in his eyes and began to beat him mercilessly. Miller fought back though and broke Andersson’s nose before escaping to safety. Andersson was caught and confessed that Gacy had paid him to accost Miller. Gacy was quickly arrested. Before the year was out, he was convicted of sodomy and sentenced to 10 years in the Iowa State Penitentiary.
While imprisoned, Gacy’s wife filed a petition for divorce. The divorce was finalized in 1969 and he never saw his children again. Gacy was paroled for good behavior in 1970, after serving only 18 months (prisons were overcrowded at the time and many prisoners were released early). After Gacy was released, he moved back to Illinois and lived with his mother. 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. The house had a four-foot deep crawl space under the floor – an area Gacy would soon make use of.
Shortly after moving into his West Summerdale home, Gacy was charged with disorderly conduct. A teenage boy claimed that Gacy picked him up and tried to force him into having sex. The complaint was dropped when the boy did not appear in court. Gacy was on parole at the time but the Iowa Board of Parole did not learn of the infraction and his parole was discharged in October 1971, one month after the alleged assault. 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 to have 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 Gacy’s Summerdale Avenue house. In 1975, Gacy started his own business, PDM Contractors, a construction company. After only a few years of bliss, his second marriage began to deteriorate. The Gacys’ sex life came to an abrupt halt and John Gacy began to go out late and stay out all night. Carole Gacy found wallets with IDs from young men lying around the house and presumed they were left behind after casual sexual encounters. John Gacy began bringing gay pornography into the home and after four years of marriage, the Gacys divorced.
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.
More accusations against Gacy emerge
After Gacy’s divorce from his second wife, Gacy began to quickly unravel. In December 1976, another Gacy employee, Gregory Godzik, disappeared, and his parents also asked police to investigate Gacy, one of the last people known to have spoken to the boy. The police declined to investigate in earnest. In January 1977, John Szyc, an acquaintance of 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 John Szyc. The employee explained that Gacy had loaned him the car. When police questioned Gacy, he told them that Szyc had sold him the car shortly before he disappeared. Once again, the policed failed to pursue the matter any further.
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. Rignall had recently returned from a winter vacation home in Florida to his home in Chicago. While walking through New Town, an area where many popular bars and discos could be found, he found his path blocked by an old black Oldsmobile. The driver leaned out of the window and complemented Rignall on his unseasonable tan. Gacy made small talk and then asked Rignall if he wanted to share a joint while they rode around. After riding and talking for a while, Gacy thrust a rag over his face doused with chloroform. Gacy took the unconscious young man back to the house on Summerdale, raped and tortured him, and dumped him unceremoniously in Lincoln Park. Police had little evidence to go on, but Rignall remembered bits and pieces of the incident including the black Oldsmobile, the Kennedy Expressway, and one particular exit that they had taken. Ringall also recalled waking at one point and seeing the naked man standing before him with a number of various-sized dildos. Ringall noted that Gacy pointed out the dildos to him and boasted how he was going to use each one of them on his wary prisoner. Later the next morning, Rignall awoke, fully clothed, under a statue in Chicago’s Lincoln Park. He was taken to the hospital where he remained for six days. In addition to emotional trauma, Ringall suffered from skin lacerations, burns, and permanent liver damage caused by the chloroform.
Police were skeptical that the rapist could be found but Ringall was persistent and took matters into his own hands. Remembering one of the exits, he staked out the exit on the Expressway until he saw the black Oldsmobile again, which he followed to 8213 West Summerdale. Police issued a warrant and arrested Gacy on July 15. He was released on bail pending the trial.
Gacy assaults continue unabated
While Gacy remained free on bail waiting for his trial, his murderous assaults continued. Elizabeth Piest’s stopped by a pharmacy in the Chicago suburb of Des Plaines, Ill., to pick up her 15-year-old son Robert. Just as Mrs. Piest and her son were about to leave the store, Robert shouted to his mother, “Mom, wait a minute, I’ve got to talk to a contractor about a summer remodeling job that will pay me $5 an hour.” That was the last Mrs. Piest saw of her son. Robert Piest, a 15-year-old boy, disappeared on December 11, 1978. 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 various young men, a pair of handcuffs, a two-by-four with holes drilled in the ends, a syringe, clothing that was much 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.
Police took out a second warrant, went back to the house on Summerdale, and soon found a trapdoor in a bedroom closet concealing a 40 foot crawl space under the house. During an initial brief excursion into the crawl space, police found numerous human bones. After being informed that he would now face murder charges, Gacy confessed to dozens of murders, telling investigators that most were buried in the basement and on his property, and that after the crawlspace had filled, he threw the last five bodies off the I-55 bridge and into the Des Plaines River.
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. Many times he would put handcuffs on himself and with a flourish, release the locked handcuffs. He would then put handcuffs on the victim but refuse to show them the trick. 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.
For the next four months, more and more human remains emerged from underneath the house, some with rope still tied around their necks. Twenty-nine bodies were found in Gacy’s crawlspace 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.
On February 6, 1980, Gacy’s trial began in Chicago. During the trial, he plead not guilty by reason of insanity. However, this plea was rejected outright by the judge. 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 also 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. He was found guilty on March 13 and sentenced to death.
Gacy the 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.
Gacy spent the next 14 years studying books on law and filing numerous and exhaustive appeals and motions, all of which were unsuccessful. On May 10, 1994, Gacy was executed at the Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois, by lethal injection. In a private picnic with his family, his last meal consisted of a dozen deep fried shrimp, a bucket of original recipe chicken from KFC, a pound of fresh strawberries and French fries.
According to reports, Gacy did not express any remorse for the murders. His last statement made 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 before execution 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 from his body. It is currently 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.
Known Gacy victims, with date of disappearance (8 victims remain unidentified)
Timothy McCoy, 18, January 3, 1972
John Butkovich, 17, July 21, 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
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