Something stinks

dognoseSheriff Dart announced last week that he’d investigated 6114 W. Miami–the property that Bill Dorsch identified as the likely location for additional victims of John Wayne Gacy–and found nothing.

Gacy was the caretaker at the building for several years, and after he married a woman with two daughters he moved his mother into the ground-floor apartment there.

Dart was acting on evidence Dorsch hand-delivered to sheriff’s investigators and on interviews with witnesses that Dorsch arranged. 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, Dart said, “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.”

Spring was approaching, and even though Dart had promised members of different news organizations that they would be notified when he intended to start–and that they would be allowed to film the proceedings–Dorsch was concerned that Dart might keep things quiet. So Dorsch wrote an open letter to Chicago police officers asking them to keep an eye on the property. The following day the post on this site was linked on Second City Cop, a blog popular among police officers, and hundreds of its readers clicked over here to read the letter.

That same afternoon, Michael Sneed, who’s often first with news from the sheriff, reported in the Chicago Sun-Times that Dart had already conducted a search. She said it had taken place a week before. “It’s over,” Sneed announced.

The day she cited would have been a strange day to perform a search. It had been particularly chilly, even for March in Chicago. The temperature was well below freezing and the wind chill made it feel another 20 degrees colder. If you were waiting for the ground to thaw, you’d still have been waiting.

News organizations all over the country have published news as this case has unfolded (with varying degrees of accuracy), and many of them reported Sneed’s news. But none cited any other source other than Sneed herself.

No one of mentioned the timing, the extreme cold, the failure to alert the press, or the lack of transparency for 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. Those reporters had little choice but to wait for news when Dart released his test results, which he said he would do in the coming weeks.

Then AP’s Don Babwin published an interview with Dart on April 12. And once again, a single report by a hand-picked outlet was republished widely, nationally, without anyone asking Dart the obvious questions about his secrecy.

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.

Babwin jumped to even more conclusions 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.”

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.” [Update: A caption for the outdated photo has 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 also 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 how does the public know the current inspection was bona fide?

It was recently revealed that it took a grieving mother seven years to get the perpetrator to court after her son died from a punch outside a Rush Street bar. It may have been relevant that the perpetrator was Mayor Daley’s nephew.

Special treatment  has been accorded to the clouted recently and forever.

Since Dart didn’t invite anyone to watch his alleged inspection of Miami-Elston, and he didn’t even hold a press conference to discuss his alleged results, he hasn’t received any questions 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 that there might be bodies there in his search warrant application. Dart may be strongly motivated not to find anything. Reporters are among the only people who can make sure the search doesn’t end here.

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About Alison

Chicagoan, journalist

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