In the summer of 1998, Bill Dorsch had retired from the Chicago Police Department and was working as a private detective for IFPC, an investigative services company run by Jim Fruin, the commander of detectives whom Dorsch had worked under at Chicago’s Area Five. The Better Government Association was looking into the horrifying robbery/murder in suburban Palatine that became known as the Brown’s Chicken Massacre and asked Dorsch to come in for a conversation about how the Palatine police had conducted the investigation. During a break, Dorsch was asked casually what kinds of cases really stayed with him, and on his list he included Gacy and some of the haunting stories concerning the property at Miami-Elston where Gacy had worked as a caretaker. He said he’d phoned in his suspicions upon Gacy’s arrest, but that he didn’t think there’d been any follow-up.
The BGA was intrigued and before long, they and IFPC had brought US Radar, based in Matawan, New Jersey, to Chicago to take a look at the property.
The building, which contains five apartments and a utility area across from the unit in the basement, sits on the northwest corner of West Miami and North Elston, a diagonal artery. It’s very close to the building to the north, with only a sidewalk separating the two and giving access to the apartments’ back doors. The property’s open space is the triangular yard in front of the structure and a small parking lot to the west of it.
On October 7, 1998, US Radar, with company president Ron LaBarca in the driver’s seat, surveyed portions of the front yard and the parking lot. They hadn’t spoken to the building’s owner, but the scan, done with noninvasive ground-penetrating radar, which is used to detect the presence of everything from geologic features to plastic landmines, was performed in broad daylight and no one asked them to stop.
Their report to the BGA showed numerous instances of “non-naturally occurring changes in the soil structure” and characterized their findings as “extremely compelling.” They indicated several as “prime areas for further investigation.”
The report was duly submitted to the Chicago police and after LaBarca interpreted his findings for them, they seemed to agree that “further excavation” was in order. A Chicago Tribune story on November 11 and follow-ups in other local media may have sealed the deal.
But the CPD’s search warrant application, prepared in case they ran into any resistance from the owner, reveals without a doubt that the police were well persuaded by the evidence. Written by Sergeant Frank Cappitelli to be signed by Detective Edwin Dickinson (though it never was), the document reads:
“Based on the facts of my investigation . . . [Gacy] is the most prolific known serial killer in the State of Illinois . . . and there is credible scientific evidence to believe that the possibility exists that human remains are buried in the yard and black top contiguous to 6100-6114 W. Miami. . . . I believe that there are buried remains located [there].”
On November 23 the police mustered at the site and prepared to dig.
Nevertheless, there were indications that the search wouldn’t come to much.
Dorsch says his old friend and police colleague Rocky Rinaldi began to deliver messages indicating he’d be persona non grata at the site that day.
The police brought Ron LaBarca back to Chicago to rescan the property for them, but when he arrived on site the morning of the dig, he was informed that the excavation would encompass only a small area of the front lawn. He urged the police to include the basement and the parking lot, but they refused to revise their approach.
Caution tape formed a wide perimeter, which kept the gathering media and other observers a good 50 feet from the action.
And before the dig got under way, LaBarca was informed that he was leaving. He was taken back to O’Hare, where he watched the proceedings on an airport TV.
LaBarca had a lot to say about this treatment, which we’ll get to in a later post.
Another person watching the dig on TV was someone who had been a teenager living across the street from the building in the 1970s. He’d been asked by the police to point out the locations of some very strange events he’d observed, and he was curious to see what they’d do with the information he gave them. What they did, or didn’t, do was completely confounding.