John Wayne Gacy, Jr., born March 17, 1932

Chicago, Illinois, United States

a.k.a.  John Gacy, Pogo the Clown, Killer Clown

“A clown can get away with murder.” – Gacy

Born in Chicago to John Wayne Gacy Sr., a machinist, and Marion Elaine Robinson, John Wayne Gacy, Jr. was the second of three children and the only son.  His father, John, was an alcoholic and abused John Jr. from the time he was a very small child.  John Jr. was teased relentlessly by his father, who often called the overweight, ill-at-ease boy a “sissy.”  John Jr. was close to his sisters and mother, however, who affectionately called him “Johnny.”

Most of John Gacy Jr.’s child life was tumultuous.  Gacy suffered a head injury at age 11; he was struck in the head with a swing forming a blood clot in his brain that was undetected until he was 16 and began to have blackouts.  Regular medication dissolved the clot but at 17, Gacy was diagnosed with a heart ailment that he was hospitalized for several times during his life.

Why did Gacy kill young boys?  There are several, possible, logical answers to this question.  First, it was misplaced anger toward his father that drove him to prey on young boys.  He knew from experience their vulnerabilities, and used this against them, as a way of justifying his own inability to fend off his father’s attacks.  He wanted to be like his father so that he could understand his father.  Once he did that, he steadily progressed into one of America’s most prolific and horrifying serial killers.  It was the addiction to power that fueled his desire to kill.

Second, Gacy killed young boys because he was ashamed of his homosexuality.  Even though he was nonchalant about his sexual preferences when his second wife started discovering gay porn stashes, this was a part of his façade.  Gacy didn’t allow anyone to truly know him, aside from his victims, because to truly know him meant immeasurable suffering.  Gacy kept his family separated from his monstrous acts as much as he possibly could.  He reserved his projection of self-hatred for his helpless victims.

How to describe John Wayne Gacy in five words?  Cowardly, paedophile, sadist, murderer, theatrical.

Gacy was likable.  It was a very natural quality he possessed and used to his advantage.  In 1964, Gacy graduated from Northwestern Business College and became a management trainee with the Nun-Bush Show Company.  Weeks later, he was transferred to Springfield, IL, where he met and married a well-to-do woman named Marlynn Myers in September 1964.  He became very active in local community organizations, joining the Jaycees and climbing to Vice-President of the Springfield chapter a year later.

Gacy was offered a job as a manager of a Waterloo, Iowa, KFC franchise purchased by Marlynn’s parents, and he accepted.  After the Gacys settled in Waterloo and had a son and a daughter, rumors of Gacy’s homosexuality began to spread.  Regardless, Gacy was still named “Outstanding Vice-President” of the Waterloo Jaycees in 1967.

There was a dark side to the Jaycee lifestyle Gacy was heavily involved in.  Gacy opened a club in his basement in Waterloo, and invited young boys over to participate in prostitution, pornography, drugs and alcohol.  After the young boy had a few drinks, Gacy would make sexual advances toward him.

Gacy’s life came to an abrupt halt in March 1968 when he was accused of sexually assaulting two teenage boys, aged 15 & 16.  Gacy maintained his innocence and hired another Waterloo boy to assault one of his accusers, but the plan was uncovered by police.  Gacy was convicted of sodomy and sentenced to 10 years in the Iowa State Penitentiary.

John Wayne Gacy’s first mug shot

Gacy’s wife, Marlynn, filed for divorce, and it was final in 1969.  Gacy never saw his children again.  While Gacy was incarcerated, his father died from cirrhosis on Christmas Day, 1969.  Gacy was released from prison after only serving 18 months of a 10-year sentence, due to his good behavior, in 1970.  After he was released, Gacy returned to his home in Illinois to live with his mother, hiding his criminal record from everyone he came into contact with.

Throughout the next six years, Gacy demonstrated odd, violent, abusive and dishonest behavior.  In 1971, he bought a house at 8214 West Summerdale Avenue in an unincorporated area of Norwood Park Township, Cook County, which is just northwest of the Chicago neighborhood Norwood Park.  Underneath the house was a four-foot deep crawl space under the floor.

Gacy was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct on February 12, 1971.  A teenage boy claimed Gacy picked him up and attempted to have sex with him.  The charges were dropped after the boy failed to appear in court.  Luckily for Gacy, the Iowa Board of Parole did not find out about this incident, and he was discharged from parole in October 1971.  Less than a year later, Gacy was arrested again and charged with battery after a young man accused Gacy of impersonating a police officer, and said he was forced into sex by Gacy.  Mysteriously, those charges were also dropped.

Gacy remarried in 1972, this time to a teenage acquaintance, Carole Hoff.  Hoff moved her two daughters into the Summerdale Avenue house and three years later, Gacy started his own business, PDM Contractors.  It was around this time that his marriage to Carole began to deteriorate and Gacy began killing; Gacy began staying out all night and Carole found strange things in his absence like wallets with IDs from young men and gay pornography.  Just four years after they married, the Gacys were divorced in March 1976, and Carole moved out with her two daughters.  By the time Carole left, Gacy had already killed two boys, Timothy McCoy and John Butkovich, and had buried their bodies in the crawlspace under the floor.

8214 West Summerdale Avenue

After Carole left, Gacy turned inward and focused on intertwining his perversions with his professional life, killing zealously.  Just prior to the Gacys’ divorce, Gacy had created a character he coined “Pogo the Clown.”  He took pride in his unique style of face-painting, saying he painted the sharp corners at the edges of his mouth contrary to the rounded borders that professional clowns typically have because he said he didn’t want to “frighten small children.”  Pogo the Clown performed at many parties and events and at the Good Luck Lounge, a local bar he frequented before going home.

Gacy became a fixture in Chicago’s Democratic Party, eventually earning him special clearance by the United States Secret Service.  By then, he had killed and buried around 20 young boys, burying most of them in the crawlspace at his home, and when he ran out of space there, he started dumping bodies in the Des Plaines River.

JohnGacy & RosalynnCarter
Gacy & First Lady Rosalynn Carter, 1978

On December 11, 1978, Gacy lured Robert Piest, a 15-year-old boy, away from his after school job on the pretense of discussing a construction job, one of the many ways he lured young boys into his home.  Piest happened to alert his mother prior to his disappearance, telling her in their last conversation, that “some contractor wants to talk to me about a job.”  He was never seen alive again.

Des Plaines police were convinced Gacy had something to do with Piest’s disappearance, and checked his criminal record, finding an outstanding battery charge against him in Chicago and that he had served time in Iowa for sodomy.  After obtaining a search warrant, police found several suspicious items including a high school class ring, driver’s licenses, handcuffs and various pornography.  Upon further investigation, Gacy was linked to the disappearance of three other youths.

On December 20, 1978, Gacy invited two surveillance detectives into his home. The detectives immediately noticed the smell of corpses coming from a heating duct.  In the days prior to his arrest, Gacy pompously claimed to two police officers, “You know, clowns can get away with murder!”  On December 22, police obtained a second search warrant of Gacy’s residence.  Officers arrested Gacy on a marijuana possession charge to detain him while they searched the house.  When they started digging in the crawlspace of Gacy’s Norwood Park Township home, police uncovered several human bones and charged Gacy with murder.

“I was born in a state of confusion,” Gacy’s response to arresting officers when asked where he was born. Here he is pictured, laughing at his own wit.

Gacy confessed to police that since 1972, he killed approximately 25-30 young men and boys, telling detectives that most victims’ bodies could be found in the crawlspace at his residence in the basement, or in other places around the property.  After he had filled his crawlspace with bodies, he threw approximately five bodies off of the I-55 bridge into the Des Plaines River.  Gacy drew a diagram of his placement of the bodies in the basement to aid police with their search.

On February 6, 1980, Gacy’s trial began in Chicago, Illinois.  Gacy entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, but it was rejected.  According to Gacy’s lawyer, Sam Amirante, Gacy was sane before and after the murders, only losing his mind during the commission of.  During the trial, Gacy found humor in his circumstances, saying that the only thing he was truly guilty of was “running a cemetary without a license.”  At another time during the trial, Gacy’s lawyer tried to claim that all 33 murders were accidental, caused by erotic asphyxia.  This was dismissed by the Cook County Coroner with evidence that Gacy’s assertion was impossible.  Gacy had already confessed to police and could not have this evidence suppressed.  The jury found him guilty on March 13, 1980 and sentenced him to die by lethal injection.

On May 10, 1994, Gacy was executed at Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois, by lethal injection.  It was a media field day and crowds gathered in celebration outside the penitentiary, cheering when Gacy was pronounced dead after a botched execution.  (An inexperienced executioner caused an unexpected clog which delayed Gacy’s death by ten minutes.)

After his execution, Gacy’s brain was removed and it is now in the possession of Dr. Helen Morrison, a defense witness at Gacy’s trial who interviewed Gacy and other serial killers trying to isolate common personality traits of violent sociopaths.  Research and thorough examination of Gacy’s brain revealed no abnormalities.