The John Wayne Gacy Case: a Timeline and Everything We Know About the 'Killer Clown's' Reign of Terror
“John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise” premieres March 18 on NBC’s streaming app Peacock and features a never before seen full prison interview with Gacy.
The forthcoming Peacock docuseries, “John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise,” examines the life of notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy and tries to shed light on the investigation into what led to his arrest.
Between 1972 and 1978, Gacy tortured and murdered at least 33 teenagers and young men inside his own home. At the time of his arrest, he was known as the largest mass murder in the history of the United States.
Gacy was considered "the worst animal to ever have existed in this century,” former Cook County State's Attorney Terry Sullivan told Inside Edition in 1991.
Gacy seemed to be a pillar of his community, meeting the likes of First Lady Roslyn Carter and appearing at charity events as a clown to entertain children. But the clown costume would become his murderous calling card, and the media would eventually dub him “The Killer Clown."
What We Know About John Wayne Gacy's Troubled Past
He grew up in a blue collar family in Chicago and reportedly experienced an abusive childhood. His father was reportedly a drunk who beat Gacy and his siblings, as well as their mother.
He was 22 when he married Marlynn Myers in 1964. They had two children: Michael, born in 1966, and Christine, born in 1967.
Gacy was well-liked in the community, but he was not without troubles. In 1968, he was convicted of sexually assaulting two teen boys and was sent to prison for it. Gacy and Myers divorced before he was released on parole in 1970. By 1971, he was charged again with sexual assault, but the case was later dropped.
Gacy married again soon after these first run-ins with the law. In mid-1972, he married Carole Hoff. Little did she know, he had already killed his first victim.
John Wayne Gacy's "Killer Clown" Emerges
Gacy took his first life in January 1972, stabbing a teenage boy to death in his home. He did not continue this method of killing, however. His method of killing changed with his next victim.
It was in the early 1970s that Gacy began dressing up as a clown. He called himself “Pogo the Clown.” He appeared at children’s parties and charity events. He also went on to own his own construction company in a Chicago suburb.
"Pogo" would play a role in his later killings. Gacy would lure his victims to his home by pretending to be a police officer or falsely promising them work in construction. Then, often times dressed as "Pogo," he would drug and sexually assault his victims. He then strangled almost all of them and buried as many bodies as he could in the crawl space of his home.
He would only dump four bodies in the Des Plaines River because his crawl space was full.
Despite the foul stench of decaying bodies in his home, Gacy was even able to convince his wife and guests that the smell coming from the crawl space was simply mold and moisture building up.
How John Wayne Gacy's Brutal Rampage Ended
By 1978, Gacy and Hoff were divorced. He had fixed himself as leader in the community, hosting parties and continuing to dress up as "Pogo." But his dark side finally met the light after 15-year-old Robert Piest was reported missing.
Cops learned that Gacy was the last to see the teen, and they obtained a search warrant to look in the construction owner’s home.
“We found other pieces of identification that belonged to other young male individuals and it didn’t take too long to see that there was a pattern here that the identifications belonged to people who were missing throughout the Chicago-metro area,” Joe Kozenczak, chief of police in Des Plains, Illinois, told Inside Edition in 1991 after searching Gacy’s home.
Cops eventually uncovered 29 bodies in Gacy's crawl space.
John Wayne Gacy's Confession and How Justice Was Served
Kozenczak said Gacy soon confessed to him in gruesome detail about how he killed his victims.
“John used to like to read the Bible and certain excerpts from the Bible to his victims as they were dying,” Kozenczak said. “He was essentially not finished with the victims once they died because he was a necrophiliac.”
In 1981, a jury in Cook County, Illinois found Gacy guilty on 33 counts of murder. He was sentenced to death.
Gacy would spend 13 years on death row while in prison. But his name didn't disappear from public view. He found acclaim and notoriety as an artist, selling paintings from behind bars. Some of his paintings included self portraits, landscapes and images of children’s characters like the Seven Dwarfs from “Snow White,” as well as “Pogo."
His paintings would even circle around in galleries around the country in cities like Chicago and Boston.
Gacy would also get tons of fan mail, which he would respond to with his own personal stationary. Many of his letters and paintings were compiled in the book, “They Call Him Mr. Gacy,” which was released in 1989. It is unknown if the killer profited from the sales of the book, but it was reported that the anthology sold a “substantial amount” of copies.
This infuriated the relatives of his victims.
“Certainly his abilities to get his name out and his paintings out and all of the rest of the things outside the jail walls is something that just adds another burden to the back of the victims families who are out there right now,” Sullivan, the former Cook County state attorney, told Inside Edition in 1991.
Gacy was executed by lethal injection on May 10, 1994. In 2020, some of his art work listed on auction sites for upwards of $12,000.
John Wayne Gacy's Reign of Terror Is Not to Be Forgotten, Even After His Death
In 2017, 41 years after his disappearance, the remains of one of Gacy’s unnamed victims was identified as James “Jimmie” Byron Haakenson. Haakenson was just 16 years old when he left his family’s Minnesota home for adventure in the summer of 1976.
The remaining victims were given gravestones that said “We Are Remembered,” but were still connected to the monster that took their lives. Jimmie, for instance, was known as "Gacy Victim #24."
The teen’s family long suspected he may be one of Gacy’s many victims, and in 1979, his mother tried to confirm whether her son was among the dead. “Dental records, however, were not available and were the main scientific method at the time to determine if Jimmie was one of the victims,” the Cook County Sheriff’s Office said.
Haakenson’s mother has since passed away, officials said.
Authorities continued to hold out hope that the remaining victims would be given their names back, and in 2011, Sheriff Thomas Dart reopened the investigation.
With the hopes that technological advancements would make developments possible, Dart sent out a request for saliva samples of relatives of men who disappeared between 1970 and Gacy’s arrest in 1978.
“In a way, we’re basically trying to prove someone’s worst nightmare, which is awful,” Dart told The New York Times in 2011. "But the statement we have heard the most from families is that they have been waiting for 30 years to know."
Weeks later, authorities identified the remains of William George Bundy, who disappeared after he left home in October of 1976. He was 19 years old.
It would be another six years before Haakenson’s remains were identified, as DNA samples collected from the teen’s two siblings, as well as detective work that confirmed timelines, led to a positive identification in July 2017, officials said.
Haakenson’s remains were found in the crawl space beneath Gacy’s home. The bodies of two other men bodies were found in the same grave — Rick Johnston, who was identified at the time of the initial investigation, and Victim #26, whose name remains unknown.
It’s unclear how or when Haakenson and Gacy met, but investigators believe he was murdered at or near the same time as the other victims found in the grave. Johnston was heard from on August 6, one day after Haakenson.
As of 2021, six of Gacy’s victims remain unidentified, according to Cook County Sheriff’s Office.
A spokesperson for the Cook County Sheriff's Office told Inside Edition Digital that if anyone has information about their missing male relative was a Gacy victim, they can visit the Sheriff's website and under "Investigations" there is a tab for "Unidentified Gacy victims" where individuals can submit information. They may also reach the Sheriff's dept. at (708) 865-6244.
“John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise” premieres March 25 on NBC’s streaming app Peacock and features a never before seen full prison interview with Gacy.
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