John Wayne Gacy (1942-1994) was an American politician, businessman, husband, father, and charity clown. However, he was also a serial killer who murdered 33 young men between 1972 and 1978.
Many of the victims were found buried under his house in the suburbs of Chicago. Even after fifty years, not all of the victims have been identified through DNA analysis.
Stephen King was inspired by Gacy for his famous character, Pennywise the Clown, in the novel IT, although the writer never admitted to it.
A life that was only normal on the surface
John Gacy was an overweight child who continually sought approval from his peers, who bullied him, and from his father who beat him, under the influence of alcohol, and called him “fat and effeminate”.
Despite this, at eighteen, he ran for local office with the Democratic Party.
At twenty-two, he married Marlynn Myers. However, in the same year, he had his first homosexual experience, a consensual oral encounter with a co-worker.
When his father-in-law offered him the opportunity to manage his three Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants in Waterloo, Iowa, he accepted and proved to be an excellent manager.
In 1967 and 1968, Gacy’s children, Michael and Christine, were born. However, during this time, legal trouble started when a fifteen-year-old boy named Donald Voorhees confessed to his parents that he had been severely molested by John.
He was reported, and while awaiting trial, he convinced one of his employees to assault Donald to intimidate him and discourage him from testifying at the trial.
The fact was discovered, and Gacy was also charged with the aggravating circumstances. Found guilty of sodomy against the boy, he was sentenced to ten years.
On the same day as the sentence, his wife filed for divorce, and he lost his job as the director of his father-in-law’s restaurants.
Pogo the clown
John Wayne Gacy was a model prisoner during his time in jail, which led to a significant reduction in his sentence.
After his release in 1971, he moved back to Chicago and lived with his mother, who helped finance his new house. The next year, he moved in with his second wife, Carole Hoff.
In 1972, he founded PDM Contractors, a construction company that quickly became successful and expanded its services to include building projects and repairs.
During this time, John’s double life became normal. As his morbid impulses as a repressed homosexual became more pressing and violent, he decided to create a respectable public image by joining a “Jolly Joker Clown Club.” The members were volunteers who, dressed as clowns, regularly performed at various charity events and hospitals to entertain sick children.
Gacy created his clown persona, Pogo the Clown, and became an active citizen in the Chicago community. In 1978, he met First Lady Rosalynn Carter and was photographed with her. She signed the photo with the dedication, “To John Gacy. Best wishes. Rosalynn Carter.”
John Wayne Gacy began succumbing to his darkest instincts in 1972 when he lured fifteen-year-old Timothy McCoy to his home, his first victim.
The boy was en route to Nebraska, and Gacy picked him up at a bus stop, promising to show him around Chicago and provide him with a place to sleep for the night.
At trial, Gacy claimed to have woken up with the boy in his bedroom wielding a knife, leading to a struggle in which he defended himself and emerged victorious.
Later, he testified that he found an open carton of eggs and bacon in the kitchen, deducing that the boy had intended to make breakfast for both of them but made the mistake of entering the bedroom to wake John with a kitchen knife.
Timothy’s body was found six years later, along with at least 27 others, in the crawl space of Gacy’s house.
In an interview after his arrest, Gacy admitted that immediately after the first murder, he felt “totally drained” and realized he had had an orgasm while killing the young man. He said:
“That’s when I realized that death was the ultimate thrill.”.
The Mode of Operation
After his first murder, John’s serial predator activity intensified and continued for the next six years. When he divorced his second wife and lived alone, the killings increased dramatically.
His hunting ground became his own company, and his designated victims were young men looking for work as construction workers. His modus operandi was kidnapping, sexual abuse, and after prolonged torture, death by strangulation.
Between September and December 1977, Gacy murdered six young men between the ages of 16 and 21, including two Marines and the son of a Chicago police sergeant.
The following year, strangely, the killer released two of his victims after brutally abusing them for a long time. However, the police disregarded their testimonies and chose to believe Gacy’s claim that he engaged in consensual sadomasochistic sex with them.
The Arrest and Verdict
The disappearance of fifteen-year-old Robert Piest on December 11, 1978, led to Gacy’s arrest.
The boy had confided in the chemist’s where he worked that he had met the jovial owner of PDM Contractors and that he was going to meet him on the night of his disappearance to discuss a job offer.
The police who went to John’s house to ask for information immediately noticed the nauseating smell of rot. This time they were not deceived by the excuse of a malfunctioning sewer system.
At least 27 bodies were found in various stages of decomposition in a crawl space under the floor of Gacy’s house, in the basement, and in the concrete beneath the barbecue area of the garden.
The killer confessed that he had thrown the last five victims off the Des Plaines River bridge, bringing the official number of murders to 33.
To this day, five bodies remain unidentified. During the trial, the defense attempted the insanity plea, claiming that Gacy acted on behalf of Jack, his evil alter ego. However, psychiatric evaluations revealed his full capacity to understand and act, aggravated by a particular propensity for sadism and a total lack of empathy.
During a specific cross-examination on torture, Jeffrey Rignall, who was inexplicably released by Gacy after unspeakable hours of abuse, vomited in court and was excused from further testimony.
When investigators asked John if there were more victims, he replied:
“That’s for you guys to find out.”.
Gacy was sentenced to death by unanimous decision of the jury, who found him guilty of multiple murders, kidnapping, torture, sodomy, and concealing bodies.
Gacy remained on death row at the Menard Correctional Center in Chester for fourteen years, during which he wrote numerous appeals to commute his death sentence to life imprisonment. His requests were always denied.
The sentence was executed on May 10, 1994, by lethal intravenous injection.
His last statement to his lawyer before the execution was:
“Taking my life will not compensate for the loss of the others. ”.
His last words before his death were simply:
“kiss my ass!”
The Peculiar Hypothesis of Potential Accomplices
Gacy never expressed any remorse for his brutal actions and instead, he always tried to find ways to avoid his sentence.
One of the first things he asked investigators after his arrest was whether his “associates” had been arrested, hinting that he did not act alone during the murders.
Some defense attorneys and investigators actually looked into the possibility that he had accomplices and went so far as to state that there was:
“overwhelming evidence Gacy worked with an accomplice”.
Indeed, Jeffrey Rignall, who was attacked, tortured, and fortunately released by Gacy in March 1978, insisted that at one point during his ordeal, a young man with brown hair knelt in front of him and witnessed the abuses.
He also reported seeing a light turn on in another part of the house.
Despite this disturbing testimony, this theory was not pursued in court due to a lack of evidence to support it.
Presumably, Gacy tried every trick in the book to partially exonerate himself, as evidenced by his ability to postpone his execution date twice.
John Wayne Gacy was, to some extent, a product of American society during the 1950s/90s, a time when sexual liberation was only superficial and far from real.
Being part of a cultural, ethnic, and/or sexual minority during that era was truly constraining and at times, dangerous.
Gacy was one of many homosexuals who tried to repress their nature in the name of sadly misguided morality. And this type of “morality,” as we know, has caused more damage than the atomic bomb.
Isolated in his prison cell, Gacy began painting, drawing inspiration from various subjects: birds, skulls, his own home, and most notably, clowns, and himself in the guise of his character, Pogo the clown.
Many of his works have been exhibited in various shows, while others have been sold at auction for individual prices ranging from $200 to $20,000 and are now part of private collections.
Like other serial killers, Gacy has made his way into popular culture. The cover of Acid Bath’s debut album, When the Kite String Pops, features a cartoonish depiction of Gacy as Pogo the clown.
In 2003, director Clive Saunders released the movie “Gacy.”
One of Marilyn Manson’s metal band members took on the stage name “Madonna Wayne Gacy,” which combined the name of the popular pop singer with that of the serial killer.
In the fifth season of the popular series “American Horror Story,” the character of John Wayne Gacy, played by John Carroll Lynch, visits the Hotel Cortez where the story takes place.
Netflix, a platform full of true crime content, couldn’t miss out on the opportunity and, in 2022, released “Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes,” which tells the killer’s biography through the testimonies of people who have dealt with him directly or indirectly.
Additionally, in the miniseries “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story” (Netflix 2022), Gacy played by Dominic Burgess appears in the final episode, highlighting a strange coincidence. At the exact moment Gacy was executed on May 10, 1994, Jeffrey Dahmer was receiving Christian baptism, and during this event, a total solar eclipse occurred, which many interpreted as “a mystical sign,” the light that after being obscured by darkness, inexorably returns to shine.