Who was John Wayne Gacy?

John Wayne Gacy

For starters, if you already have a fear of clowns, well this story will not help you at all.

John Wayne Gacy Jr. born on March 17, 1942  in Chicago, Illinois, was an American serial killer. He sexually assaulted, tortured and murdered at least 33 teenage boys and young men between 1972 and 1978 in Cook County, Illinois and Chicago.

For many, he was an ordinary man who loved to entertain children by dressing up as Pogo the Clown. He actually hosted many parties for his neighborhood. and was an outstanding and active member of his communities.

He was the only son among three children born to John Stanley Gacy, and his wife Marion Elaine Robinson.

As a young child, Gacy was not athletic at all, often having problems socializing with other kids because of this. He had a very good relationship with his two sisters and his mother. Not the same can be told about his dad, who is believed to have been an abusive husband and father. As a child he was often beaten and verbally abused by him. As hard as he tried to get his father‘s approval, it only lead to more abusive words and behavior.

His bullying continued throughout his teenage years. He was often targeted by his classmates and children from the neighborhood for being overweight and slower than other kids. He also spent a lot of time in the hospital until he was 18 years old, accusing blackouts. This really didn’t help in his relationship with his father.

Gacy leaves his home

Soon after, following many altercations with his father, Gacy left home and found a job as a mortuary assistant in Las Vegas, Nevada. However, he immediately called his mother asking if his father would allow him to come back home. After his return, though he dropped out of high school, he successfully enrolled in the Northwestern Business College, from which he graduated in 1963.

Gacy’s first marriage

In 1964, the shoe company he was working for, transferred Gacy to Springfield where he was promoted to manager of his department. It is there where he met his future wife. Marlynn Myers, which he married in September 1964.  Marlynn’s father owned three Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants in Waterloo, Iowa, and Gacy and his wife moved there so he could manage the restaurants.

John Wayne Gacy

His life seemed finally perfect. These being his own words. Gacy and his wife had two children and he became an outstanding member of his community. He even managed to finally get his father‘s approval, which he long craved for. He was a hard worker and an intelligent man.

But like any wonders, this only lasted a short period of time. He soon became involved in prostitution and cheating on his wife. At his work, he used to socialize with his young male employees. Having access to many victims this way.

Gacy’s first sexual assault

In 1967, Gacy committed his first sexual assault upon a teenage boy. The boy‘s name was Donald Voorhees and he was only 15 years old. He lured him to his basement with the promise of pornographic movies and gave him alcohol. During the following months he continued luring more teenage boys and force them to perform oral sex upon him. Eventually Voorhees confessed to his father what Gacy had done to him.

Gacy was charged with sodomy. He vehemently denied all the accusations, claiming that the accusations were politically motivated (The father of his victim was against him being elected as president of the Iowa Jaycees). Nevertheless, he was indicted with sodomy charges. In the following month of August, Gacy convinced 18 year old Russell Schroeder to follow Voorhees and threaten him not to testify in his upcoming trial, in exchange for 300 dollars. Russel did as told. However, Voorhees escaped and reported the assault. Russel admitted and said the attack was orchestrated by Gacy.

Gacy’s first sentence

Gacy entered a plea of guilty to one count of sodomy but he pleaded not guilty to the other charges against him by other abused victims. On  December 3, 1968, he was sentenced to 10 years at the Anamosa State Penitentiary. The same day his wife petitioned for divorce. After the divorce was finalized, Gacy never saw his first wife or children again.

In prison, Gacy became a model inmate. He followed up with 16 high school courses, receiving a diploma for it. He had many achievements in prison. Upon hearing about his father‘s death, he took it hard, crying and sobbing. His request to attend the funeral was denied.

Gacy is granted parole

After serving 18 months of his sentence, he was granted parole with the condition that he moved back to Chicago to his mom. He did so. On February 12, 1971, Gacy again was accused of sexually assaulting a teenage boy. But the charges were dropped when the young boy did not show up in court. The Iowa Board of Parole did not learn of this incident and eight months later, in October 1971, Gacy’s parole ended. To top this, the following month, Gacy’s previous criminal convictions in Iowa were subsequently sealed.

John Wayne Gacy

On July 1972 he remarried to Carole Hoff and moved in into a new house which he bought with the help of his mother. He became again an active member of his community. He also build a successful business called PDM Contractors. It is then when he discovered his alter ego in the shape of Pogo The Clown. By 1976 they got divorced when his wife noticed that he was bringing young boys into their basement.

John Wayne Gacy - Serial Killer

This was a long introduction, isn‘t it? However, it is vital to understand the background of this notorious serial killer. Gacy was able to hide very well in his community. Running and building successful businesses and entertaining children. The fact that his records were sealed allowed him to start over without anyone knowing about his previous conviction. This way, he was allowed to be near young boys without being considered a danger. Though he managed to obtain a good life for which he worked for, his violent desires surfaced even more between 1976-1978.

How did the killings start?

On January 2, 1972, Gacy picked up 16-year-old Timothy Jack McCoy from Chicago’s Greyhound bus terminal. Gacy drove him to his home with the promise that he could spend the night and be driven back to the station the following morning.

Gacy repeatedly stabbed McCoy after what he thought was an altercation. What Gacy told the police upon his capture was that McCoy entered in the room holding a knife. They wrestled and eventually Gacy stabbing him to death. Apparently McCoy was actually preparing breakfast and entered in the room still holding the kitchen knife. Gacy buried McCoy in his crawl space and covered it with concrete.

John Wayne Gacy murder scene

Gacy said about the moment of killing: “That’s when I realized that death was the ultimate thrill.”

The Killing Spree

His second victim was murdered in January 1975 and according to Gacy’s own confessions, the victim was a young boy whom he strangled. The victim is unidentified. He was buried about 15 feet from the barbecue pit in Gacy’s backyard.

In July 1975, Gacy went to the home of 15-year-old named Anthony Antonucci. He was one of his employees so it was easy to get himself inside the house, while the boy was alone at home. They wrestled and Gacy handcuffed him. However, the handcuffs were loose and Antonucci managed to escape and attack Gacy. He even manage to put the handcuffs on Gacy. He started screaming and eventually promising that if Antonucci takes off the handcuffs, he will leave the house. Which he did.

A week later, on July 29, 1975, 17-year-old John Butkovitch disappeared. He was an employee of Gacy‘s as well. After an altercation about a two weeks back pay, Gacy lured John at his house with the promise of clearing up his wage issues. He cornered him, handcuffed him and strangled him. He then proceeded burying his body under the concrete floor of his garage.

In the following years Butkovitch‘s parents called the police tens of times asking to investigate Gacy.

Gacy divorces his second wife

He got divorced from his second wife in 1975. She moved out of the house in 1976, and that is when is cruising time started, this time, having the entire house for himself and being able to commit his savage killings undisturbed.

John Wayne Gacy Victims

Gacy’s Victims

Around one month after his second divorce was finalized, Gacy kidnapped and murdered 18-year-old Darrell Sampson. Sampson was last seen alive in Chicago on April 6, 1976. Five weeks later, on May 14, a 15-year-old named Randall Reffett disappeared while walking home from Senn High School. Hours after Reffett’s disappearance, 14-year-old named Samuel Stapleton was never to be seen alive.  After killing the victims, he buried their bodies in his crawl space.

His killings continue

For the next 2 years, his killings continued, kidnapping more and more young males. He used to lure them either on their way home, or on their way to or from school,  on the street or simply kidnapping them. Some of his victims were male prostitutes or runaways. Many were not identified. Gacy used to lure them to his house with the promise of money in exchange for sex or a job offer at his construction company. Once in his house, he used to intoxicate the boys with alcohol or sometimes using chloroform and then he was handcuffing them or sometimes using a  rope to tie their hands. After that he proceeded torturing them, rape them and kill them by asphyxiating them. sometimes with their own under ware stuffed in their mouth.

He buried most of the bodies in his crawl space. 26 to be more exact and 3 more were discovered under his garage. By the end when police was closing in on him, he started disposing the bodies by throwing them in the Des Plaines River via the I-55 bridge. That’s what he did with his last 4 victims.

His Arrest

On December 11, 1978, Gacy went to a Des Plaines pharmacy to discuss a potential remodeling deal with the owner of the store, Phil Torf. There he noticed a young male and he mentioned him that his company hires teenagers. The young boy was Robert Jerome Piest. Robert told his mother that will have an interview with a construction contractor for a better paid job. So he left. When his parents noticed he is not returning, they filed a missing person report and gave all the details they were aware of.

At this point, Des Plaines police went to Gacy’s house tracking him down as being the contractor.  He vehemently denied talking with Jerome and said he will return later to the police station to give a full statement. He did return and continued denying he had anything to do with the disappearance of Robert Jerome Piest.  Gacy’s luck was running out. This time, the police did not stop at his statement. They checked Gacy’s records and that’s when his sexual assault on a 15 year old boy in Illinois popped up. Adding to this also other battery charges against him in Chicago convinced the police that Gacy is behind the disappearance of Robert Jerome.  On December 13 a search was ordered by a judge at the request of detectives. They discovered suspicious items in his house: a 1975 high school class ring engraved with the initials J.A.S., various driver’s licenses, handcuffs, male clothing too small for Gacy. Police decided to assign two-man surveillance teams to follow Gacy.

Michael Rossi questioned

Days after, police started to gather more and more information about his battery charges, they learned about the disappearance of Gregory Godzik and John Butkovich from one of Gacy’s employees: Michael Rossi. Rossi was not very cooperative at the beginning. Eventually after multiple official interviews on December 17 he said that he bought his car from Gacy who bought it off from Szyc (another missing boy) who needed the money to get to California. On December 19, Rossi became even more cooperative and told the police that Gacy once hired him to spread bags of lime in the crawl space of the house.

The police having confiscated all of the cars owned by Gacy, deployed dogs to try to trace down if Robert Jerome was anywhere near his cars. Their instinct was right. Dogs picked up the smell of the victim.

Police pressed Rossi even further and on December 20, he took a polygraph test. When asked if the body of Robert Jerome Piest was buried in the crawlspace of Gacy’s house, his blood pressure changed and refused to continue.  But he did told the police that Gacy instructed him to dig in the crawl space and insisting he did not deviate from where he told him to dig.

With each piece of information discovered, the police grew more confident that they have their killer. Gacy was taunting his surveillance, sometimes even inviting them to drinks or meals. He even shook them off at traffic lights.  However, the constant surveillance made Gacy upset and he filled a civil lawsuit against the police.

Gacy breaks down

Visiting his lawyers to follow up with the lawsuit, Gacy broke down and confessed to the killings in the lawyer’s office.  He then said he wants to give his farewell to all his friends so he went visiting them. Officers were afraid he might commit suicide so they arrested him under marijuana possession charges. He even visited Rossi and confessed to over 30 murders.

On December 21 1978, the police got a second warrant and this time they were looking for the crawl space. Just minutes after the search started, human bones and flesh was surfacing.

John Wayne Gacy was finally caught.

The next day, he confessed to murdering around 30 people. Many of those victims were never identified.

His Known Victims List

Date Name Age
3-Jan-72 Timothy McCoy 16
29-Jul-75 John Butkovitch 17
6-Apr-76 Darrell Sampson 18
14-May-76 Randall Reffett 15
14-May-76 Samuel Stapleton 14
3-Jun-76 Michael Bonnin 17
13-Jun-76 William Carroll 16
5-Aug-76 James Haakenson 16
6-Aug-76 Rick Johnston 17
24-Oct-76 Kenneth Parker 16
26-Oct-76 William Bundy 19
12-Dec-76 Gregory Godzik 17
20-Jan-77 John Szyc 19
15-Mar-77 Jon Prestidge 20
5-Jul-77 Matthew Bowman 19
15-Sep-77 Robert Gilroy 18
25-Sep-77 John Mowery 19
17-Oct-77 Russell Nelson 21
10-Nov-77 Robert Winch 16
18-Nov-77 Tommy Boling 20
9-Dec-77 David Talsma 19
16-Feb-78 William Kindred 19
23-Jun-78 Timothy O’Rourke 20
4-Nov-78 Frank Landingin 19
24-Nov-78 James Mazzara 20
11-Dec-78 Robert Piest 15

Unidentified Victim List:

Date Gender Estimated Age
Jan-74 Unidentified Male 14-18
June-Aug 1976 Unidentified male 22-30
Aug -Oct 1976 Unidentified Male 17-21
Aug-Oct 1976 Unidentified Male 15-24
Dec-March 1976 Unidentified Male 22-32
March-July 1977 Unidentified Male 17-21
Sgt. Jason Moran of the Cook County Sheriff’s Department in 2015

Sgt. Jason Moran of the Cook County Sheriff’s Department in 2015

His Trial

John Wayne Gacy Trial

Gacy was brought to trial on February 6, 1980, charged with 33 murders. During the trial, he tried to convince the judge that he was not sane and fit and he himself is a victim of his alter ego who is the real killer. He failed and he was charged with 12 counts of murder. On on March 13 he was sentenced to death  for each of the 12 counts.

Gacy was executed on  the morning of May 9, 1994.

Follow up on Gacy’s victims:

John Wayne Gacy victim identity discovered

In  July 2017, investigators using advanced DNA testings have managed to identify one of Gacy’s victims bringing the number of unidentified bodies to 6.

The victim was James Byron Haakenson, a 16-year-old boy who had ran away from his home. last time his family heard from him was on Aug. 5, 1976, when he called home and told his mother that he was in Chicago.

6 more victims remain unidentified, and after 4 decades it remains uncertain if those victims will ever get their name back.


John Wayne Gacy – File Number 62-5154



Some facts about Gacy:

  1. He actually met then First Lady Rosalynn Carter on May 6, 1978. It was with 6 months before his arrest. How did the Secret Service miss his past assault accusations, we will never find out. John Wayne Gacy meeting the First Lady
  2. He painted clown in his prison cell (if things were not scary enough until now)
  3. His final words were apparently “Kiss my ass”

If you want to read about more serial killers, you can do it on this page.