Sheriff Dart announced last week that he’d done a search at the property at Miami and Elston that Bill Dorsch has identified as the likely location for additional victims of John Wayne Gacy. Gacy was the caretaker at the building for several years, and after he remarried he set his mother up in a ground-floor apartment there.
Dart was acting on evidence Dorsch hand-delivered to sheriff’s investigators and on interviews Dorsch arranged for them with witnesses. Dart has continually asserted publicly that he’s been working to reexamine the evidence in the Gacy case in hopes of identifying additional victims, producing “closure” for their families, and putting various other mysteries to rest. But it’s taken more than a year for him to act at Miami-Elston, and now that he has, he’s raising more questions than he’s answering.
In January, after Dart finally obtained a search warrant for the property, he said he’d be waiting till the ground thawed to do a search.
On February 25, Fox News reported that Dart said it would be “several months before they start taking a closer look at the location . . . as the grounds are still frozen. When they do, they’ll start by taking soil samples from a few feet down and then cadaver dogs will be used to see if the samples contain evidence of human remains.”
Then on March 25 I published an open letter from Dorsch, a retired Chicago police homicide detective, to Chicago police officers asking them to keep an eye on the property. Spring was approaching and he had a strong feeling Dart might not inform anyone if and when he decided to have a look. The following day the post was linked on the popular unofficial police blog Second City Cop, and hundreds of its readers clicked over here to read the letter.
You’ll never believe what happened next!
That very afternoon, Michael Sneed reported in the Chicago Sun-Times that Dart had already conducted a search. She said it had taken place a week before! And things weren’t looking too promising. In fact, Sneed claimed, “It’s over.”
The search had been conducted in secret.
Dart had promised members of the media, from different news organizations, that they would be notified when he intended to start, and that they would be allowed to film the proceedings. But Sneed reported on March 26 that on March 20, accompanied by the FBI and sniffer dogs, Dart had already made his inspection.
News organizations all over the country have seen fit to publish news as this case has unfolded (with varying degrees of accuracy); it’s clear from their language and reporting that they’ve read the deep background on the case posted here. And many of them reported Sneed’s news.
But even though they’re aware of the suspicious circumstances around the case, and the multiple occasions on which the public has been disrespected by the authorities involved here, they cited no source other than Sneed herself.
Not one of them mentioned the timing, the cold, the failure to alert the press, or the lack of transparency in such a high-profile investigation.
At least two reporters employed by two different large media concerns called Dart to ask how Sneed had got the news, and Dart’s office claimed it had been leaked to her by a spokesperson from the Cook County state’s attorney. That explains (maybe) how Sneed got the news, but not why Dart had decided to do his inspection in secret. Nevertheless, those reporters had little choice but to wait till Dart released his test results, which he said he would do in the coming weeks.
Then AP’s Don Babwin published a longer story on April 12 detailing Dart’s story about that cold day. Once again, a single report by a hand-picked outlet was republished widely, nationally, without asking Dart the obvious questions raised by his secret activity.
Dart’s spokesman said that two sniffer dogs brought in for the job had been less than excited by core samples taken from the ground at Miami and Elston. One report said that “sheriff’s police, the FBI and Infrared Diagnostics, Inc.” had participated in the search.
But for some reason Babwin took it upon himself to conclude even more than the sheriff had.
“If serial killer John Wayne Gacy murdered more young men in the 1970s than the 33 whose bodies he stashed under his house or tossed in a river, detectives now know one thing for sure: He didn’t bury any at his mother’s residence.”
Not even he went so far as to claim any such thing (in public anyway).
Babwin’s AP story was accompanied in some versions by a photo that was misleading at best: an unlabeled aerial shot of the brief investigation in 1998 that also proved “fruitless.” A caption for the outdated photo has since been added.
Other versions of Babwin’s story ran with a picture taken late last year when Dart announced that he planned to submit Gacy’s DNA to a national database. Maybe those outlets liked that picture for this story because it looked sciencey. And because no one had actually interviewed Dart this time around.
And yet a third image used elsewhere was taken in 1998, when Dorsch’s efforts led to ground-scanning radar experts being brought in to inspect the property at Miami-Elston. Their report shows multiple anomalies in the ground suggesting the possibility of corpses. Though that data led to the scheduling of a search, people in the media, and even public officials including Dart, have begun over the past year to refer to that investigation as “shoddy” or otherwise incomplete.
But without transparency what confidence can any of us have that the current inspection was bona fide?
And what’s it go to do with you?
We know that political connections can affect the process of law enforcement in this town. In the last year alone we’ve seen that it took a grieving mother seven years to get Mayor Daley’s nephew brought up on charges after her son died from a punch outside a Rush Street bar. (Note: “renewed attention” on a cold-ish case involving a mayoral relative doesn’t just happen–it has to be forced, and David Koschman’s mother forced it.)
But what if you or someone you know gets punched or goes missing or gets fleeced? Would it bother you that the scales of justice have a heavy tilt?
Since Dart didn’t invite anyone to watch his alleged inspection of Miami-Elston, and he didn’t hold a press conference to discuss it, no one has been able to ask him questions about it in a public forum.
Questions like these:
Why did you decide to inspect when the ground was still frozen?
What time of day were you there?
How long did it take?
How many samples were taken?
Where exactly were they taken from?
How do those areas square with areas pointed out by eyewitnesses and the previous radar scans?
What further tests do you plan to do on the samples and/or the property?
Who is Infrared Diagnostics, Inc. and will you release their images?
Dart himself made the case in his search warrant application: the testimony Dorsch assembled suggests the strong possibility of victims’ bodies at Miami and Elston. Will we have to be satisfied by what appears to have been a cursory glance at the soil conducted by dogs on a very cold day? Dart may be strongly motivated not to find anything. Reporters are probably the only people who can make sure the search doesn’t end here.