FAQ: What we’ve learned so far

Bill Dorsch

Bill Dorsch

Who’s John Wayne Gacy again?

He was a Chicagoan with a small construction company and one of the world’s most prolific serial killers. In 1978 he was arrested, and in short order he confessed to dozens of murders and to having buried most of the victims in the crawlspace under his house. Eventually 25 victims were identified and the remains of 8 others were interred without ID.

What happened to him?

He was executed by lethal injection in 1994.

Were there witnesses?

Two young men who worked for Gacy and lived with him at times were questioned. When asked where Gacy might have put the bodies, one of them said to look under the house. He also admitted to having a sexual relationship with Gacy and to having spread lime in the crawlspace to disguise the horrible smell. One survivor said another person was involved when he was kidnapped and brutally attacked.

What happened to those two?

Neither was ever charged with anything to do with Gacy. One was the grandson of a powerful local politician. He continues to live in the Chicago area. The other committed suicide.

So what’s up with that place at Miami and Elston?

In the mid 1970s Gacy was the building’s caretaker. After his arrest neighbors called police because they’d seen Gacy engaged in activities that now, in light of the murders, acquired awful new meaning. One called to report having seen him digging long, deep trenches in the yard. Another recalled him working in the basement late at night at making loud banging sounds. Another saw him dragging heavy objects, possibly garbage bags, across the yard in the dark. One caller, a police officer, was told by the police to forget about it.

Who’s still on the case?

Bill Dorsch. He’s a retired Chicago homicide detective who had his own disturbing recollection of a an encounter with Gacy. Alison True and Tracy Ullman have been working on the investigation with him.

Wasn’t there already an investigation there?

There was a brief search in 1998 using evidence supplied by Dorsch, including a report by a ground-scanning-radar company. Despite the police’s apparent confidence that they’d find bodies, investigators dug in only one spot in the yard, and it was where a witness told them not to bother because he’d never seen a trench there. The upshot? Move along, nothing to see here.

More recently, in response to evidence presented by Dorsch and company, Cook County sheriff Tom Dart agreed in the spring of 2012 that it would be worth it to take another look at the property. After waiting for months for a search warrant from the Cook County State’s Attorney, Dart finally did an investigation in the spring of 2013. No one in the press or public was notified of the search, and his results: Nothing to see here, move along. When pressed, Dart’s own expert admitted that the search had been inconclusive, but Dart closed the case anyway.

So now what?

Dart said that now that DNA technology has improved, to try to give names to the eight victims who weren’t identified at the time of Gacy’s arrest, and he put out a national call to try to locate potential victims’ families.

More than 100 families came forward. The sheriff’s office narrowed the field of likely matches to 30 or so who fit the profile of Gacy’s victims. Those people were invited to submit DNA, and one match was made to a victim.

Meanwhile, Sherry Marino, the mother of one previously identified victim, who’d always been suspicious of the remains identified as her son’s, won the right to have them exhumed and tested. Using her own funds and the services of an attorney working pro bono, she managed to prove that they were identified in error.

Dart chose not to concede the error and Marino had to go back to court to ask for the right to exhume the remains of his friend exhumed as well, in case the bodies were switched. She now has that court order as well.

What about the other families of missing persons? They weren’t matched to the known victims but their relatives match the profile of Gacy’s victims.

Dart hasn’t indicated that there’s any effort to locate the bodies of other victims.

What’s happening now?

Stay tuned.

Public records that aren’t

Russel.Nelson.headshotIn December 2013 Bill Dorsch submitted the latest in a long series of requests under the Freedom of Information Act that he’s filed for information about the Gacy investigation. He asked the Cook County state’s attorney’s office for the missing persons report on Russell Nelson, and any “investigative reports, letters, or correspondence between Robert Young and any investigators of the Chicago Police Department or the Cook County Sheriff’s Department during their investigation into the disappearance and death of Russell Nelson.”

FOIA is the federal law that gives citizens access to public records unless the records are shown to be exempt for some specific reason. One reason for a denial, for an example, might be that they’re part of an ongoing prosecution.

In January 2014 Dorsch received a response from the state’s attorney’s FOIA officer, Paul Castiglione, who said no records would be forthcoming and inviting Dorsch to submit his request to the police and the sheriff’s office instead. He also informed Dorsch, as he had to do by law, that he had the right to appeal the decision. The reason Castiglione said, was that according to an appellate judgment delivered in Kendall County in 2013, “The SAO is not a ‘public body’ subject to FOIA.”

In other words, the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, which is funded entirely by taxpayers to conduct legal business on behalf of the citizens of Cook County, asserted that it didn’t have to show the citizens of Cook County any records of that business.

Denials and appeals serve a double whammy to the public good: they cause delays and create financial burdens for the requesters, and they drive up the expense to tax payers in the form of fees to the attorneys fighting requests, suits, and appeals.

Try, Try Again

Dorsch didn’t need the advice. He had already submitted requests to the police and the sheriff. The police responded to Dorsch’s letter by saying they hadn’t handled the Gacy investigation and therefore had no documents. That seemed unlikely, since most of Gacy’s victims went missing in Chicago. But Dorsch would have to appeal to get a hold of them.

The sheriff’s office said Dorsch’s request would demand too much time and effort  to fulfill. And besides which, they said, their current investigation, prompted by pressure exerted on Sheriff Tom Dart by Dorsch’s discoveries, was focusing on unidentified victims–they claimed they didn’t have anything on known victims anyway.

Dorsch finds this last claim particularly absurd: the Cook County sheriff’s office has had all the records relating to Gacy since the day it kicked the Des Plaines police off the case. Gacy was arrested on December 21, 1978, and on December 22 the CCSO took over. The CCSO is and has always been the repository of all records in the case.

On May 22, 2014, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned the appellate court’s ruling in Kendall County, so state’s attorneys are once again subject to FOIA requests. But not everyone has the resources to file requests and lawsuits and take their case all the way to the state supreme court, if not farther if need be, so unfortunately if a public official doesn’t want you to see something chances are still pretty good you won’t.

In the meantime, Tracy Ullman filed a different FOIA request with the Cook County state’s attorney. In April she asked for the missing persons report and other investigation records pertaining to Russell Nelson and Robert Young.

First the SAO suggested that she confer with the sheriff’s office instead. When she protested the SAO assured her that it would look for the records but said it wasn’t clear yet if the office would be able to produce them.

Who Knows What?

Even when public officials appear to be complying with a FOIA request, they can manipulate the results. They can hold back certain documents and redact details from the ones they do turn over.

“They know more than you do, and they know you don’t know what you don’t know,” says Dorsch. “So they can make sure you still don’t know it.”

On the other hand, it helps if they don’t know what you know.

Dorsch has taken another legal step available to him: he requested that Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office review his FOIA requests and the unsatisfactory responses from the county officials.

Photo courtesy The Pine Knot, Cloquet, Minnesota

The disappearing witness

Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 9.52.41 AMOne of the aspects of the Gacy case is that there are witnesses to crimes Gacy was charged with who never testified at his trial. One such witness was Robert Young. Continue reading

What the neighbors saw at Miami

In 1998, the Better Government Association, a Chicago watchdog group, began investigating evidence presented by William Dorsch that showed that while John Wayne Gacy was working as a caretaker at a building at the corner of Miami and Elston, he may have buried additional victims there.

The BGA interviewed Lynn Troester, who had occupied the basement apartment 6114 W. Miami. She describes Gacy’s strange behavior and what she thought it meant after he was arrested.

Here Troester talks about large holes Gacy dug in the yard and then inexplicably left open.

After seeing the Troester interview, the Chicago Police concurred that the property deserved scrutiny, and conducted an investigation of it in 1998. Now cited by authorities as proof there are no bodies there, the search in fact raised more questions than it answered. Primarily, why did the police dig only at the single spot in the yard where the neighbors told them not to bother with, as they remembered an evergreen in that spot?

In 2011, encouraged by interest from me and Tracy Ullman in his story, Dorsch began tracking down other people who’d lived near the property in the 70s. Ullman recorded interviews with some of them. One, neighbor Mike Nelson describes his recollections of Gacy and his frustration with the search in 1998. He mentions similar mysterious holes in the yard.

Another neighbor, who lived across the street, saw the same holes and describes how they’d randomly appear and disappear. He also says he saw Gacy dragging large heavy bags across the yard in the middle of the night.

Troester’s former husband Bruno Muczynski remembers the holes too. And Gacy working in the basement during the wee hours.

After Gacy was arrested, Muczynski, a Chicago police officer, called his superiors to report his suspicions. The reply he received: “We don’t want no more bodies.”

In response to these interviews and other evidence presented to him by Dorsch, Sheriff Tom Dart appears to agree that the property deserves another look.

Next, after Dart’s own investigators concluded there was no cause for a search, Dorsch submitted further evidence: affidavits, letters, and other materials that indicated the likely presence of human remains at 6114 W. Miami.

Then in March 2013, Dart did conduct a survey of the property, but his methods suggest that it shouldn’t be considered conclusive.

Report: search at Miami short and shallow

DartIn January 2013 it seemed that suspicions about Gacy victims at 6114 W. Miami might finally be laid to rest, one way or another.

Private investigator and former Chicago homicide detective Bill Dorsch had presented Cook County sheriff Tom Dart with compelling new evidence that Gacy, who was executed in 1994, may have buried additional victims at a small apartment building on Chicago’s northwest side where he worked as a caretaker. Then Dorsch’s colleague Tracy Ullman discovered a “hot list,” which forensic investigators were using after Gacy’s arrest in December 1978. The list showed the names of missing persons whom investigators considered extremely likely to have been victims. Some of those boys were never found, and now it seemed possible that they might have been buried at 6114 W. Miami.

Dart agreed in the spring of 2012 that the evidence demanded a closer look at the property. He applied for a search warrant and finally got it at the beginning of this year. He said he’d wait for the spring thaw to do his investigation.

But what happened next raised even more questions than it answered. At the end of March, as the winter waned, Dorsch wrote an open letter to Chicago police officers suggesting they keep an eye on the place, and the letter was published on this website. Mere hours later,  Chicago Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed announced that she’d been personally informed that the search had already been completed–in secret.

Dart had gone to the building about a week earlier, taking FBI dogs and a radar scanning expert from Saint Louis. Dart had decided not to notify his constituents or their representatives in the press. Media requests for an official report were denied.

Ullman left messages for the radar expert but he didn’t return her calls. The FBI said to talk to the sheriff. And the sheriff said: Case closed.

You don’t have to be an expert

Dorsch said this tactic was exactly what he’d expected. But he knew the sheriff would have to issue a report. He filed a request with the sheriff’s office, asking for the report under the Freedom of Information Act. It took about five months for the report to show up–or approximately four months longer than the law says it should have.

Here’s the report, and here’s what, to a nonexpert reader, it reveals:

  • In addition to Dart, the search team included (1) personnel from the sheriff’s police, (2) Special Agent Doug Seccombe and a team from the FBI’s Chicago office, (3) three dogs and their handlers from the FBI’s Quantico office, and (4) Rich Graf, a private contractor who uses radar and thermal imaging to look for changes that might indicate human interference in the soil.
  • The troops assembled in the parking lot at a golf course near the property, then headed for 6114 W. Miami.
  • One of the dogs examined the lawn in front of the building (there is no backyard) for a total of one minute. That’s where, according to multiple witnesses, Gacy dug large, deep trenches. One of the witnesses said he and his friends would jump down into them to “play army.”
  • Another dog spent one minute sniffing the surface of the asphalt driveway, a parking area big enough for two or three vehicles. That’s the place where a witness told Dorsch he saw two men standing together in a large hole about six feet deep. They were allegedly resurfacing the driveway.
  • And a third dog sniffed the surfaces of the sidewalk and laundry room for five minutes.
  • In each of these cases, the report says, the dog “did not indicate for the presence of human decomposition.” It also says that one of the dogs’ handlers said he was “satisfied there are no bodies buried” at the site.

The dogs used are described as “victim recovery canines.” This Slate article explains how such dogs work and suggests that their findings shouldn’t be considered conclusive. Dorsch spoke to a cadaver dog trainer who said the appropriate dogs for this case would be “historical recovery dogs,” which specialize in long-buried remains, but it’s not possible to determine from the report if the dogs used here were specialists.

Ron LaBarca, who conducted a radar scan of the property in 1998, has made his living for decades working for law enforcement and corporate clients to identify anomalies underground that could represent anything from utility lines to gravesites. He’s careful to say that technology doesn’t identify the source of the anomalies, it only shows that they exist. In 1998 he found more than a dozen instances of “non-naturally occurring changes in the soil structure” here, and marked several as “prime areas for further investigation.”

Rich Graf’s work for Dart in March is documented in the report, which shows that he:

  • scanned the concrete pad beneath back porches for 17 minutes and found no anomalies.
  • scanned the sidewalk behind the house for 11 minutes and found an anomaly, which the team, in discussion with the owner, determined was caused by the replacement of a sewage pipe.
  • scanned the parking area for 14 minutes and found one anomaly. The team made four 20-inch deep holes one inch in diameter through the asphalt and one of the dogs was brought back to sniff them. According to his handler, the dog’s response didn’t indicate the presence of human remains in those holes.
  • scanned the lawn for ten minutes and found no anomalies.

He then spent ten minutes on a ladder examining the yard with thermal imaging equipment, which detects energy and moisture on the surface of whatever’s being scanned.

Then a few members of the team eyeballed the basement, where a resident had described hearing Gacy working late into the night. They said that based on their observation of the concrete floor, they were of the opinion that it had never been replaced.

They also noted that Gacy had once billed the building owner for concrete work at the building and noted that there was no record of him having billed for concrete work in the basement.

But let’s ask an expert

Dorsch, who lived around the corner from the Miami property and knew Gacy as the handyman there, became suspicious about the building as soon as Gacy was arrested in December 1978. Though various people’s attempts to report Gacy’s strange behavior there were ignored, Dorsch began collecting evidence. The Better Government Association got interested in 1998, prompting them to bring LaBarca in from New Jersey to scan the same property. LaBarca made his study, which led to an investigation by the Chicago Police.

What the police hoped would come out of that search is open to interpretation. The witness who’d played in Gacy’s trenches says he watched in astonishment as the police prepared to work at the front corner of the triangular yard, “the one spot I told them not to dig.” That’s the only place they worked.

That search was secret too. The work was conducted under a tent and the media and dozens of onlookers were forced to remain across the street, a wide thoroughfare, from which vantage point they could see nothing except the officer who emerged from the tent and declared that the investigation was over. No remains had been discovered.

LaBarca was not allowed to assist or even watch, so he headed for the airport in disgust.

Tracy Ullman sent LaBarca a copy of the report on the March 2013 operation. He declined to comment on it directly, but he described his own methods in great detail, including exactly how he’d deal with a property of that size. He explained how he’d roll his radar scanner across the lawn and driveway, making multiple passes back and forth, north-south and east-west, to establish a grid pattern small enough to capture any disturbances made by a person digging holes. LaBarca says:

“When we go to a site like this, we do (and did) a one-foot grid because we didn’t know what we were looking for,” LaBarca says. “Yes, bodies were part of the equation but evidence was another probability. The logic was that if someone were to dig a hole to bury a knife or gun or article of clothing, the smallest the disturbance caused by that hand-dug hole would be is approximately one foot. To further ensure the probability of detecting such an excavation, we [also] do a grid in the x and y axis. So now do the math on the real dimensions of that property and decide for yourself if enough time was spent radaring.”

In addition to radar scanning, Dart’s technician Rich Graf used a thermal imaging camera, which this vendor says registers surface temperature differences. Graf wouldn’t take Ullman’s call so she couldn’t ask him if he was looking for heat and emissions from long-decomposed remains on the surface of the yard, but Graf himself admitted to a reporter at the Verge that the only way to determine for sure if there were human remains present would be to do an actual excavation.

Dart wants to use DNA to try to identify potential Gacy victims around the country, but he says his work is finished at 6114 W. Miami. News outlets, both national and local, continue to report on the story as he feeds it to them. Some even make statements for which there is no factual support, e.g., this station: “Sheriff Dart brought in the FBI and internationally renowned experts,” and  “The search in March was comprehensive.” But at least they got exclusive video for their trouble.

Meanwhile, questions about the missing boys on the hot list, who investigators considered extremely likely to be Gacy victims at the time of his arrest, go unanswered, as do questions about Gacy’s associates.

“The Hot List”: Does it name more Gacy victims?

Kenneth Parker, who was allegedly found with the remains of the body now known to have been misidentified as Michael Marino

Kenneth Parker, whose remains were supposed to have been found with the body of Michael Marino. DNA tests prove that Marino was  misidentified. The chaos that was the Gacy investigation suggests other problematic identifications as well as other possible locations of victims.

After the 1978 arrest of John Wayne Gacy, and the horrific contents of his crawlspace were revealed, the Des Plaines police began examining missing-persons files, looking for potential matches for the remains of dozens of bodies they found there. Some of them had been missing for years. Gacy’s first known victim was murdered in 1972.

Could these missing kids have been Gacy victims too?

As the lists of possible victims grew, a profile of the type of person Gacy had targeted began to form. Some names were annotated with comments like “unlikely match.” Others belonged to women, who were also unlikely victims. Some were crossed off because they weren’t considered relevant.

In January 1979 more than 100 potential victims’ names were on lists circulating between the Des Plaines police and the sheriff’s department, which soon took over the investigation.

The name of Kenny Parker is on two of those lists. Parker, who was 16, disappeared with his friend 14-year-old Michael Marino, and two bodies found together in Gacy’s crawlspace were identified as theirs. But last fall, after privately contracting for DNA testing, Marino’s mother, Sherry, received the news that her son had been misidentified: the gravesite she’s been visiting all these years held someone else’s remains.

Was Parker misidentified too? There are reasons to wonder.

The bodies brought in from Gacy’s home were often buried two or three deep, those performing the autopsies, including Cook County medical examiner Robert Stein, forensic anthropologist Clyde Snow, and orthodontist Edward Pavlik, were dealing in many cases with mingled remains.

The autopsy report for the remains attributed to Kenny Parker has a list of names as well. Clyde Snow, now one of the world’s leading forensic anthropologists, told Ullman that those seven names were considered the “hot list,” or boys who seemed extremely likely to have been Gacy victims because their desperate mothers and fathers were so insistent that they were.

Seven names.

Ullman took the seven names on the autopsy report, all last names only:


and cross-checked them against the missing-persons lists. She came up with the following matches:

(1) Bathgate is probably a match for “George Battgate,” or more likely, George Bathgate

(2) Bowman matches up with “William Bowman

(3) Joye matches “Mike Joye

(4) Kulpinski matches “Steven Kulpinski

(5) Lambert matches “Dwight Lambert

(6) Meyers is probably “Joseph Myers,” or more likely, Joseph Meyers

(7) Pearce was the only name she hasn’t been able to cross-reference.

Snow had marked six of the seven “excluded,” but the name Meyers is followed by the remark “Not Excluded.”

Snow, who’s based in Norman, Oklahoma, now as in 1978, when he traveled here to work on the case, was concerned when Ullman reminded him that Joseph Meyers hadn’t been excluded. He plans to go back into his own files to see what else he can discover about that name.

Who was Joseph Meyers? What happened to him and the other six on the hot list? Where are they now?

Here’s a possibility.

After years of investigation retired Chicago homicide detective Bill Dorsch has come to believe that the property at 6114 W. Elston could very well be the resting place of additional victims of Gacy. His work attracted the interest of the Better Government Association in 1998, which led to a search now widely, even officially, characterized as “shoddy.”

Somehow, despite massive media attention, that was the end of it. Until Dorsch and then Cook County sheriff Tom Dart got it going again.

In 2011, after being prompted by Dorsch’s findings, Dart turned his attention to the eight known but never identified victims.

In 2011 more than 100 families submitted the names of missing persons who might be those victims. One family, that of William Bundy, learned that he had in fact been murdered by Gacy, something they’d long suspected and finally knew for certain.

Seven of the original eight remain unidentified. And including the remains attributed to Marino, the number’s back up to at least eight.

And what of the more than 100 other families who told Dart they still think their sons might have been victims?

Dorsch thought they might be bured at 6114 W. Miami. In the spring of 2012, on the strength of Dorsch’s material, Cook County sheriff Tom Dart agreed it was a possibility as well. He announced that he was requesting a search warrant. In January 2013, after an unexplained delay, he got it and confirmed that he’d be conducting a search when the ground thawed.

But things didn’t proceed the way you might expect.

Last August Bill Dorsch filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act asking for names of the family members who’d volunteered to participate in Dart’s DNA testing. Dorsch was hoping he’d be able to connect some dots using those names.

The sheriff turned him down.

Then in March, while Dorsch and members of the media waiting to hear when Dart would investigate at Miami, Sun-Times columnist Michael Sneed announced that Dart had already done the search. He had examined it in secret on a very cold day. Using technology that wouldn’t be much use 35 years after the murders and under frigid conditions, Dart proclaimed the case closed. Even some of his own colleagues considered his testing faulty and his actions ill-advised.

Unless public pressure comes to bear, or some higher authority intervenes, Dart still holds the cards: he has the names of the missing, he has the authority to perform an actual investigation, and he claims to want to identify anonymous victims.

Maybe, as the Chicago police told a witness in 1978, he “don’t want no more bodies.”

Digging in Detroit but No Shovels in Chicago

Screen Shot 2013-06-18 at 2.27.05 PMForty years after Teamsters Union boss Jimmy Hoffa disappeared, the Detroit Free Press revealed that the FBI is searching a field for his remains.

Now an ex-con named Tony Zerilli suggests Hoffa may have been buried there by the Detroit mob.

The parallels with Chicago’s case at Miami and Elston are striking of course, but there’s one major difference.

According to CNN, the FBI in Detroit “spent months looking into Zerilli’s claims before seeking court authorization to excavate the field and look for evidence of a shallow grave.”

Similarly, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart spent months examining testimony suggesting that John Wayne Gacy might have buried victims at 6114 W. Miami before seeking court authorization to investigate the property for evidence of graves.

But whereas the FBI working in Detroit opted to excavate the property in question, Dart instead opted to use “infrared cameras to look for the telltale heat signature of decomposing human remains.” Knowing that the the property was looked at briefly in 1998 in a very controversial and now discredited investigation, Dart nevertheless decided to make his inspection in secret, which doesn’t inspire confidence in the work. Nor does his having decided to close the case at Miami-Elston after using dogs to sniff core samples in below-freezing weather.

Renowned forensic pathologist Michael Baden told producer Tracy Ullman that “digging is the best way to determine if remains are present,” and Dart’s own infrared technician told reporter Matt Stroud that “no infrared scan is going to be conclusive without a shred of doubt. ‘No technology is 100 percent.'”

Hoffa’s body may never be found, but his family and the authorities in Detroit seem to care enough to keep looking when they get a good tip. What do the Chicago Police, the Cook County sheriff, and the FBI need to get to the point where they’ll agree this property is worth a thorough investigation?

Maybe they need names. Oh wait: they have some.

Coming up: names of missing persons who may have been Gacy victims.

Report: Dart’s own expert admits quickie search was insufficient

Ground-penetrating radar equipment

Ground-penetrating radar equipment

In an article on the search that Sheriff Tom Dart says he conducted at Miami and Elston on March 20, 2013, the Verge reveals that the radar expert Dart hired to help admitted that the tests made that day were not conclusive. The technician said he does not agree with Dart’s decision to discontinue the investigation.

If you’ve been following the story, you know that Dart got a search warrant for the property because he agreed the evidence demanded it. He says he visited the site with Rich Graf, a ground-scanning-radar technician, on March 20, and equipment similar to what’s shown above. If Gacy buried any victims there, the ground might still bear signs of digging and equipment such as this is capable fo detecting them.

Dart opted to keep his search a secret, only revealing it after the fact. He then announced that the case at the property was closed. He said he’d continue to try to match Gacy’s DNA with unknown murder victims in other states, but that the tests had demonstrated there was nothing to see at Miami-Elston.

Now, at the Verge, Matt Stroud points out some of the holes in that claim.

Graf himself says his tests can’t be considered conclusive. He offers the opinion that there are no bodies at the Miami property, but when pressed he admits to Stroud that the only way to know is to excavate.

Stroud also spoke to Ron LaBarca, the radar technician who took the readings that led to a discredited search of the same property in 1998. LaBarca, who was incensed about the way that initial investigation was conducted, also tells Stroud: “If you really want to know what’s underground, you gotta dig.”

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.

An Open Letter: Bill Dorsch appeals to the “real police”

DorschFor the last year and half Tracy Ullman and I have been working with Bill Dorsch to make public his pro bono detective work on perplexing loose ends in the case of John Wayne Gacy. For more than 15 years Dorsch has been gathering evidence that suggests Gacy may have killed additional victims and that some of them may lie buried at 6114 W. Miami, on Chicago’s northwest side.

Along the way we’ve discovered some secrets about the case that help explain why there’s been so much resistance over the years to doing a thorough investigation of that property.

In response to Dorsch’s findings, Sheriff Tom Dart obtained a search warrant and pledged to investigate. But Dorsch remains skeptical that local authorities are making a sincere effort to find out the truth. We know Dart is in contact with one local reporter about the impending investigation. Is that person being granted exclusive access? What kind of pressure does that put on that person to report only the aspects of the story Dart wants told? What if no one else is there to see?

Anticipating the possibility that Dart may not be completely transparent about any upcoming search, Dorsch has written this letter appealing to current police officers for help.

I am Bill Dorsch the retired Chicago Police detective who has been responsible for pushing the Gacy investigation for the last 14 years. I am writing this to you because spring is upon us and Dart has said that he plans to search the site that I have identified at Miami and Elston. I learned in 1998 that I should not trust the Chicago Police and State’s Attorney.

For 20 years before that I had been talking about that location based on my early morning encounter with Gacy, but I knew just like all of you do that suspicion alone does not allow the police to dig up your property to search for bodies. More was needed and I understood that. In 1998 I was already retired for 4 years. I brought information about new technology that could be used to search the property to my old boss, also retired from the police, and he encouraged me to act on it. With him and other retired command personnel turned our information over to the Chicago Police. I was told that the Chicago Police were willing to assist us in any way possible.

A meeting was arranged by my old boss and held in his office. The first meeting went well but there were a few questions that raised some flags as it was made known that the city was worried about the participation of the Better Government Association. I told them that they need not worry as the BGA was only interested as we all were in finding out if bodies were buried at this site. It was at the second meeting that I knew something was wrong as I saw my old boss and several others backing away from the project. They began attending meetings with the police and SA office and I was not included. It was being said that I had never told anyone in the police department about knowing Gacy, about having dinner at his home, or about seeing him one morning with a shovel. Imagine, you wake up one day and for the next year or more you see John Gacy in the news and don’t tell anyone. Bullshit!

Anyway the dig that was done in Nov. 1998 took a total of two hours. Everyone walked away from that site after the city said there was nothing there. I had only been retired for 4 years so I still had friends at Area 5 and they were calling to tell me that there were problems, that the city did not want this done and that only a handful of people in Area 5 really knew what was going on.

Years went by and during that time always thought that I would get back to this one day as I wanted the answers. Was it just because more bodies found at the Miami location were going to need to be explained or was there much more? Believe me when I tell you there is much more, and now they know that I and others also know why they didn’t and still don’t want this done.

After I started talking about the case again in 2010, I did several interviews in local media. It resulted in my being contacted by Mrs. Sherry Marino, who said she needed my help. She said that her son, Michael, had been identified as one of Gacy’s victims but it had taken three years to identify his body. She said she did not think the body she was given was that of her son. I told her that I would help her get the answer and I took her to the Medical Examiner’s Office. I helped her fill out the forms and I was told that she would receive a reply in about 3 weeks. That was on June 1, 2011, and seven days later I called to give additional info to Nancy Jones, who was still the head of the ME office at that time. Nancy told me that there was no need to have Mrs. Marino review the file because she herself had already reviewed it and verified the identification of her son. She said she had already sent Mrs. Marino a letter. I told Nancy Jones that by law Mrs. Marino had a right to review the file herself.

Not getting help there I asked two very good attorneys, who I knew through my work as a private detective, to assist Mrs. Marino and try to get the remains exhumed so they could be tested. They did and on Oct 6, 2011, the court ruled that Mrs. Marino had the right to exhume the remains for positive identification. You may have heard that the DNA testing which was done proved that the body she had been visiting at the cemetery for more then 30 years was not the body of her son, Michael.

Shortly after that, Oct 12, 2011, Sheriff Dart announced for the very first time that he was interested in identifying the remains of the 8 yet-unidentified victims of John Gacy. He obtained a court order to exhume the remains, but I don’t have the details of that process because like most of the FOIA requests that I have submitted to his office, the request I submitted for that court order has been refused.

People have told me what a great guy Sheriff Dart is and I have no doubt that he is a good family man and I applaud some of the work that I have seen his department do over the years that he has been in charge. However I am more worried about his being a politician then a good man. The two don’t always go well together.

Let me explain why I worry. On June 1, 2011, I was contacted by Dart’s investigator. He said that they had seen my interviews in the press and wanted to speak to me. I told him that I would be happy to do that but I wanted to bring an attorney with me. They did not want me to do that. Days turned into weeks and I did not hear back from them.

On June 14, 2011, I contacted the sheriff’s team myself and was invited to meet with an investigator. At that meeting I turned over the materials that I knew would be helpful to them and the investigation. No questions were asked of me at that meeting.

At the meeting I had given them the same materials that I had given to the Chicago Police and SA in 1998 plus other materials that I had gathered over the following 12 years. I gave them a letter from the radar company that scanned the Miami property, which said that despite provocative preliminary findings, the Chicago police had not allowed them to conduct a proper search of the property.

I also gave the sheriff’s people updated addresses of the same people whose names I given them in 1998 plus a video interview with one of the witnesses that the BGA and I did in 1998 after she contacted us to tell us that she had been interviewed but was concerned that they really did not want her info.

So I waited and waited but never heard back from Dart’s team. It was not until March 19, 2012, that I saw Dart talking about Gacy again in the news. He said that he had presented the evidence that I had given to his investigators to SA Anita Alvarez but she had declined to sign the application for a search warrant stating that it was old news and she needed more evidence to grant a search.It was not until May 18, 2012, that I received a phone call from the Cook County investigator again. He told me that Dart had done all he could and that Alvarez had denied the warrant and they could not continue the investigation without new information. He asked me, “Is there anything else you can give us that would keep this investigation alive?”

I told him that I did have more info and we set up a meeting at their office. On May 24, 2012, I met with Dart’s team of investigators and attorneys. I brought an attorney with me to witness the meeting. I asked them what they had done in the eleven months since I gave them the info. I learned that they had done NOTHING. They had not interviewed a single witness. With that said I presented to them affidavits and videos from five of the witnesses whose names I’d already given them but who they had failed to interview. I asked a lot of questions but most of them went unanswered. Some of their stories have been posted on this blog.

Two days later I received a phone call from one of Dart’s attorneys who said that he had seen the videos and he felt the evidence was compelling. He said we have to do something.

On July 13, 2012, I received a request from Dart’s team asking if I could contact the witnesses and arrange a meeting at the Miami location. They had the same contact information for the witnesses I did, as I had given it to them, but I was happy to oblige.

On July 21 and again two weeks later, the witnesses did meet with Dart’s team at the location. Each witness was interviewed separately and each of them walked the investigators around the site pointing out locations where they had seen trenches that were dug by Gacy and the young boys assisting him. Several of the witnesses also told them about holes that Gacy had dug in the basement.

It was not until the January 11, 2013, that Dart announced that Alvarez had finally approved a search warrant. Of course it was far too cold by then to do anything with the frozen ground.

Now the ground is thawing, and this is why I can use your help. I have been retired since 1994 but I do know that it is you–the beat officers, tactical teams, and regular street cops–that cannot be fooled. You have not sold out to promotions and you probably don’t expect to be promoted anytime soon because you don’t have the clout. I need you to keep an eye on that site.

What I fear is that one Friday afternoon Dart will go on the evening news and announce that the site has already been searched and that they found nothing. Case closed.

You and I know that neither the Chicago Police or the Sheriff’s Dept. has the equipment nor the expertise to do the search. What Dart has repeatedly said is that he believes that more of Gacy’s victims could be buried in other states but he stays away from mentioning the Miami location. His spokesperson has said that he expects that the search will not take more then ONE DAY. Gacy is known to have killed 33 people, we have the bodies, but he always said there are more. ONE DAY is better then the two hours devoted in the Nov 1998 search but who is kidding who here? The spokesperson went on to say that a radar scan would be done (only the FBI has the experience) and then they would push rods into the ground and then allow the rods to be sniffed by a dog. He said that if the dog does not alert then the investigation is over.

I have heard some people who said that we should not be wasting time and resources to find additional victims of John Gacy. I am sure that the families of the still missing young men that suspect that their loved one may be a victim do not feel that way. I personally would never walk away from this as my job as an investigator was always to get the truth no matter where it takes you. Anyone who wants to contact me directly can do with the information provided at my website: http://www.nlisinvestigations.com/contact.

I am asking for your help in keeping an eye on that location and thank you for letting me state my concerns.

Be safe,

Bill Dorsch

Pictures: the excavation of Gacy’s home in 1978-’79

More from the Second City Cop blog. He’s posted a link to a Picasa set showing photos from the original excavation at Gacy’s home on Summerdale. Those poor officers must be traumatized still.

If Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart does what’s necessary, there’ll soon be a similar investigation at 6114 W. Miami. Core samples, which is what he’s promised so far, sound a little like picking random straws out of a haystack. What are the chances you’ll find the needle?

Here’s the whole set:


Second City Cop post about Marzullo has some interesting comments

cpdThe unofficial police blog Second City Cop has a post about the familial link  revealed here between one of John Wayne Gacy’s close associates and the renowned Chicago politician Vito Marzullo. The post is the one dated 12:02 AM today, Monday, March 5.

As usual, the comments here provide a fascinating glimpse inside Chicago’s police culture. Here’s one about Bill Dorsch, the retired homicide detective who’s devoted countless hours to the troubling loose ends in the Gacy case and whose findings local officials have been surprisingly quick to dismiss:

“Billy was one of the best Gang Crimes Specialist in the city in the real police-old gang crimes unit.”

Vito Marzullo and Gacy: the biggest open secret in Chicago history?

Vito Marzullo in a 1982 Chicago Tribune photo auctioned on eBay

Vito Marzullo in a 1982 Chicago Tribune photo auctioned on eBay

Private detective Bill Dorsch has uncovered evidence that the number of people John Wayne Gacy murdered is more than 33. He’s pinpointed at least one likely location for burials, and he’s gathered witnesses, affidavits, and testimony and turned them over to law enforcement.

One problem he had getting people to pay attention to his theory is that no one could understand why the authorities would bother with a coverup.

But when you look at the Gacy situation through the prism of Chicago politics, the choices made during his arrests and interrogations begin to make sense.

Gacy, a contractor living on the city’s northwest side, often detained his victims Bughouse Square and in Boystown by impersonating a police officer. During the early and mid 1970s he was accused of a series of violent crimes and–possibly because he was a precinct captain with friends in politics, possibly because the crimes were homosexual in nature–was always released by police.

When Gacy abducted a young man from the northwest suburb of Des Plaines, the suburban police looking for him crossed into Chicago and stumbled on Gacy and his troubled history.

There were several young men living with Gacy on and off through the 70s, and the one who answered the door when the Des Plaines police knocked turned out to be related to one of the most powerful political figures in Chicago.

He and another kid, David Cram, were brought in for questioning. They both revealed information about the scene at Gacy’s house, and about the crawlspace under it, where Gacy had placed the bodies of his victims.

In recent interviews with three law enforcement officials present at the time, Dorsch’s colleague Tracy Ullman was told that the mother of one of the young men arrived at the Des Plaines police station where he was being interviewed and announced something along the lines of “I am the daughter of Vito Marzullo and I’m here to take my son home.” She demanded that the questioning end, saying a lawyer was on the way.

This scene was reported exactly the same way in Killer Clown, the book on the case by Gacy prosecutor Terry Sullivan, but Sullivan doesn’t name Marzullo or his grandson

Next, the attorney who showed up to represent Marzullo’s grandson was none other than Ed Hanrahan, the former Cook County state’s attorney.

The Des Plaines police let the two young men go. But not before they admitted to having dug holes under Gacy’s house, to having spread lime around to suppress the smell, and to having brought young men back to Gacy’s house for work or parties.

According to documents Bill Dorsch obtained from the Des Plaines police department after filing requests under the Freedom of Information Act, when Gacy was questioned by the police about whether the two young men knew what was buried in those holes, Gacy said they never spoke about it, “but if they didn’t know what was down there they were fucking stupid.”

Cram committed suicide in 2001. The other has been arrested for violent crimes over the years, most recently in 2001 in an FBI probe of mafia- and union-related incidents involving movie theaters around the country. He now lives in a northwest suburb of Chicago.

In a 1978 documentary on Marzullo by Media Burn Archives’ Tom Weinberg, political reformer and alderman Leon Despres describes the Chicago Democratic Machine as being composed of 35,000 people who make a living off politics. In a voiceover, historian Milton Rakove says that politics at the ward level “is not about issues. It’s about garbage cans, street holes, can you get someone a job. . . . For them politics is basically taking care of people, doing favors for people, getting a job themselves out of it, so they can make a living themselves.”

One remarkable sequence shows Marzullo sitting in his ward office, dispensing favors as constituents approach one at a time to ask for help with asphalt, pothole fixes, and city jobs.

In Boss, the iconic Chicago columnist Mike Royko describes Marzullo like this:

A short, erect, tough, and likable man, he has had a Republican opponent only once in four elections to the City Council. Marzullo has about four hundred patronage jobs given to him by the Democratic Central Committee to fill. . . . Marzullo can tick off the jobs he fills:

“I got an assistant state’s attorney, and I got an assistant attorney general, I got an electrical inspector at twelve thousand dollars a year, and I got street inspectors and surveyors, and a county highway inspector. I got an adminis­trative assistant to the zoning board and some people in the secretary of state’s office. I got fifty-nine precinct captains and they all got assistants, and they all got good jobs. The lawyers I got in jobs don’t have to work precincts, but they have to come to my ward office and give free legal advice to the people in the ward.”

Service and favors, the staples of the precinct captain and his ward boss.

Even before Gacy was arrested for murder, several other young men accused him of kidnapping and abuse. Their complaints received little sympathy from the police. As one high-ranking member of the police told Ullman and me recently, “It was just one butt fucker’s word against another’s.”

In March 1978 one badly wounded but determined survivor, Jeffrey Rignall, told police he’d been kidnapped, subdued with chloroform, and brutally raped by Gacy, and that another man had been present. Police refused to investigate, but later Rignall rented a car and, using details he remembered as he’d floated in and out of consciousness, tracked down Gacy on his own. Then he returned to the police and made the positive ID. Gacy was charged with misdemeanor battery but released on bail.

Cook Country Sheriff Tom Dart has submitted Gacy DNA to a national database in hopes of establishing a connection to murders in other states. More important, though with less fanfare, he has pledged to investigate the property at Miami and Elston on Chicago’s northwest side where Gacy worked as a handyman. What he means by “investigate” remains to be seen.

Bill Dorsch found witnesses who established good reasons to believe there are bodies buried there. A previous investigation of the property in 1998 was suspiciously brief.

This time around, the families of people who disappeared in the 1970s, whose names are on record, deserve a thorough search.

If reporters don’t pay attention, no one will

When it comes to history and how it’s reported in the news, do you want to know what really happened or do you want to know what public officials want to tell you?

Anyone can make mistakes, and I don’t mean to pick on Associated Press reporter Don Babwin, but his January 12 piece on Sheriff Tom Dart’s announcement that he intends to take a look at the property at Miami and Elston is a case in point. The story was reposted from  Long Island to Lubbock to Vancouver. With such wide distribution, any errors in it threaten to become “fact.” And similar errors have shown up in many other reports.

As will become very clear, government officials have their own reasons to want certain facts of this case obscured. And media scrutiny of them has been less than enthusiastic over the years. We don’t need to contribute to the confusion. Let’s get a few things straight.

AP reports, “Detectives who have long wondered if John Wayne Gacy killed others besides the 33 young men he was convicted of murdering may soon get to search for bodies underneath an apartment complex where his late mother once lived.”

Sheriff Tom Dart says he’ll test core samples from the yard of the five-unit building (not a “complex”) where witnesses saw Gacy inexplicably digging large trenches, but no one has mentioned digging “underneath” it. However, the basement work area and the apartment next to it, where Gacy’s mother lived during some of the time he was burying bodies at his own home, should be of very special interest.

More important, there are plenty of people who wonder if Gacy committed additional undisclosed murders, but private investigator and retired homicide detective Bill Dorsch seems to be the only one who has “long wondered.” He’s been trying to get officials to respond to compelling evidence for 15 years. If “detectives” are claiming that they, too, have “long wondered,” why did it take Dart’s investigators a year to get back to Dorsch after he presented them with the names of witnesses who had testimony about Gacy’s behavior?

AP says “Dart has been pushing [state’s attorney Anita] Alvarez’s office for months to sign off on the warrant, but [county spokesman Frank] Bilecki said the sheriff’s office was asked for more evidence.”

Dart may say he’s been pushing, or the reporter may be assuming he has, as the application was first submitted in March 2012. But that was a year after Dorsch gave them crucial information and the names of witnesses who could supply testimony. And when that application was denied on the basis of insufficient evidence, Dorsch obligingly gave them more. The sheriff’s investigators could have discovered the same things Dorsch did, but they don’t appear to have tried. Dart then submitted Dorsch’s signed affidavits and videotaped interviews along with an updated warrant application. He didn’t receive approval for the search from Alvarez until November. I guess he could have been pushing for it, but if he were it probably wouldn’t have taken four months: a search warrant application like that could have been turned around in a few hours.

AP: “Dart’s office then found records showing that Gacy, a contractor, had done handyman work at the complex.”

Dart’s office didn’t need records. The witnesses Dorsch turned up have long maintained that he replaced the blacktop in the driveway for no apparent reason, that he dug large holes in the yard, and that he made loud noises in the basement late at night. The same data led to an investigation at the site in 1998. That search, unfortunately, was far from thorough. And that’s putting it mildly.

AP says Dart’s office “located witnesses whose sworn affidavits raised intriguing questions about Gacy’s activities there.”

After Bill Dorsch tracked down the witnesses, interviewed them, got them on tape, got signed affidavits from them, and turned it all over to Dart’s office, Dart’s investigators asked Dorsch if he could supply contact information for them. I guess that’s what they mean by “located.”

AP: “Bilecki said that investigators would bring in high-tech thermal imaging devices that detect underground anomalies indicating something may have been buried.”

Dart may want to do some new imaging, but he already has the report filed by Ron LaBarca, who was brought here from New Jersey in 1998 to use “high-tech thermal imaging devices” to “detect underground anomalies.” Which he did.

AP: “The apartment complex was searched in 1998, and more than a dozen underground anomalies were located, but for whatever reason, not all of those sites were investigated further, Bilecki said.”

The building was not searched in 1998. After extreme pressure brought about by the Better Government Association, after it heard Dorsch’s evidence, the Chicago Police did agree to investigate. But “for whatever reason,” LaBarca was hustled out of town before the action started. Police set up a tent in one corner of the yard, the one spot a witness now says he told them not to bother with, as there’d been no hole there. The press was kept at bay across the street, while investigators went to work in the tent. We’ll probably never know what went on under that tent, but after a few hours the “investigation” was billed as a failure and the circus moved out of town.

LaBarca was furious. He wrote a scathing letter to Bill Dorsch, complaining of his treatment and criticizing the police–and offering to help Dorsch with any further investigation.

AP: Gacy’s case has remained in the headlines thanks largely to Dart, who has been trying to identify the remains of still unknown victims and who has voiced questions about whether there may be victims whose remains either haven’t been found or haven’t been linked to one of the most notorious serial killers in American history.

It’s in the headlines thanks to Dart’s recent activities, no question there. For years Bill Dorsch has been trying mightily to capture the attention of the media and law enforcement, including the FBI, in hopes of locating victims’ remains and reuniting them with grieving families. Now that Dart is finally responding to the evidence Dorsch collected, perhaps we’ll finally see some results.

Tracy Ullman appeals to parents of missing in Huffington Post

What’s the point of trying to uncover new evidence in the long cold case of John Wayne Gacy? Tracy Ullman explains on Huffington Post. It’s the parents.

Tracy Ullman

Tracy Ullman

Politicians’ public statements raise doubts about sincerity

Creative Commons-trinitymemphis.org

Creative Commons-trinitymemphis.org

The Cook County’s sheriff and state’s attorney are both on record agreeing that the property at Miami and Elston deserves investigation.

But after Michael Sneed revealed on a recent Friday night that State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez had approved Sheriff Tom Dart’s search warrant application, the sheriff’s communications director Frank Bilecki told the Chicago Tribune that “being able to close a chapter of it at this property would be nice.”

There’s more from Dart’s office: “‘We’re not going in with backhoes and the whole nine yards,’ Bilecki said. ‘We don’t expect to be there more than a day.”

If there are human remains in that yard, it will take more than a day to deal with them. Despite seeming to agree that there’s compelling reason to explore the property, Dart sounds confident he won’t find anything.

If you recall, the same property was examined briefly in 1998, but the search was inconclusive. The president of the ground-scanning radar company, Ron LaBarca, who had personally scanned the property and found anomalies demanding a closer look, sent private investigator Bill Dorsch an angry letter afterward decrying the city’s methods.

The recent Trib story continues: “The work will be relatively non-invasive, Bilecki said. Investigators will use devices that scan the ground for anomalies, he said. If any are found, a small hole will be drilled in the ground at that spot, and cadaver dogs will then sniff that spot, he said.”

How small? As we know from previous scans of the yard there are considerable anomalies in the way the ground has settled in the yard. Will a small core sample hit the remains? And as Bill Dorsch says, “Whose dogs?”

Bilecki also said it would be a while before any investigation would take place, telling the Trib “the sheriff’s office will have to enlist the help of the FBI and private companies to search the property.”

But private investigator Bill Dorsch, who independently collected all the evidence Dart is now working with, says the FBI already has all the technology required to scan and test the property.

And Dorsch personally spoke with the FBI weeks ago. He hand-delivered to them the same materials he had previously given to the sheriff: affidavits, videotaped interviews, and other documents. So it shouldn’t be too hard to persuade them to help out.

There are videotaped interviews with eyewitnesses who saw Gacy at the property digging holes, making strange noises in the basement in the middle of the night, and carrying a shovel in the middle of the night.

Another eyewitness is still angry that in 1998 the police dug in the one spot he told them not to bother: because during the time Gacy was involved with the property, there had been an evergreen there.

A new Gacy investigation or just more talk about investigating?

Evan-Amos/Creative Commons

Evan-Amos/Creative Commons

The news that Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez finally responded to Sheriff Tom Dart’s request for a search warrant for 6114 W. Miami with a long-overdue thumbs up was welcome indeed. That’s not to say that we’re popping corks around here.

There’s ample reason to believe that Gacy got up to no good at 6114 W. Miami. But the authorities have known about that evidence since Gacy was arrested in 1978.

In fact Bill Dorsch’s original hunch, which he reported upon Gacy’s arrest, led to a brief investigation in 1998, years after Gacy had been executed for his crimes. The investigation raised more questions than it answered, and turned up nothing of substance. Among the questions are whether anyone involved really wanted to find anything or whether it was easier to let Gacy and his hellish legacy rest.

But the relatives of people who might be buried there likely would prefer to be reunited with the remains. For that reason Dorsch has continued to press for results. He’s met resistance and ridicule every step of the way.

Now it appears the pressure Dorsch created–partly by finding eyewitnesses, recording their testimony, and handing it over to various members of law enforcement–has made it impossible for Dart, and finally Alvarez, to ignore the facts. They say they plan to bring in ground-scanning technology to locate any areas where the ground may have been disturbed.

Doubtless the anomalies that were revealed by ground-scanning technology in 1998 will show up again. If they do, investigators will dig out some core samples and have them examined by corpse-sniffing dogs. That sounds promising, though as Dorsch is fond of saying when we talk about how a new investigation might go, “Whose dogs?”

Sources close to the 1998 search say they examined the two most likely spots and found nothing so they quit. Were they likely spots? That’s a matter of dispute, actually, but we can hope that the same methods won’t be employed here.

If the results from two tiny core samples are inconclusive, will the investigation end there?

It’s on.

Alvarez: Go for it.

Alvarez: “Yeah, OK I guess.”

Bill Dorsch deserves a good night’s sleep tonight. If Michael Sneed’s report, just posted online, is correct, the sheriff’s finally been given the go-ahead by the state’s attorney to perform a search for additional victims of the serial killer John Wayne Gacy at the apartment building where Gacy worked as a caretaker in the mid-70s.

The capitulation comes on a Friday night, a time carefully chosen, no doubt, to attract the least possible attention. Local politicos typically use Friday to announce stories they want to get buried in the news cycle by whatever happens over the weekend. Good luck with that.

Previous posts here detail the testimony of various eyewitnesses who saw what seems in retrospect to be evidence that Gacy was boldly burying bodies at the corner of Miami and Elston, on Chicago’s northwest side.

Have a look at our exclusive videos and see if you’re as mystified as we’ve been about why it took so long for Sheriff Tom Dart and SA Anita Alvarez to agree that the property deserved a look.

One person and one person alone is responsible for any new discoveries. Former Chicago police detective William Dorsch had a hunch and he wouldn’t let it go. Hang on to your wig hats, there’s a lot more to come.

Is Alvarez too political to consider search warrant application?

Cook County state's attorney Anita Alvarez

Cook County state’s attorney Anita Alvarez

Rob Wildeboer reports on WBEZ that attorneys for victims of police torture under Jon Burge–and other officers who remain unprosecuted–say that Cook County state’s attorney Anita Alvarez is unfit to review these cases. Now a class action petition has been filed seeking new evidentiary hearings in torture cases.

This who’s who, created by John Conroy at the Chicago Reader when I was editor in chief there, outlines who knew what when about the scandal. Implicated officials include former mayor Richard M. Daley, and former state’s attorneys Jack O’Malley and Richard Devine.

Though Alvarez wasn’t elected to the office of state’s attorney till 2008, she held multiple prestigious appointments, including chief of staff, under Devine, while the office was aware of the torture.

The same issues of conflict arise with Alvarez in the case of still-buried victims of John Wayne Gacy and the way the original prosecution was handled by the state’s attorney.

Evidence will show (stay tuned) why local officials would have wanted to resolve the 1978 serial murder case quickly and quietly. It may seem absurd to suggest that there was any chance of maintaining quiet around 33 known murders, but somehow quiet was achieved. The facts are emerging nevertheless.

One of the many interesting things about the case is the possibility that there are victims who haven’t been found yet, whose families and loved ones would no doubt like to know of their whereabouts. Multiple witnesses (video clips in earlier posts here) report activity by Gacy that points strongly to the presence of burials at Miami and Elston, at the building on the northwest side where Gacy was a caretaker.

Alvarez’s champion Devine was the SA in 1998 when a Better Government Association probe led to a brief investigation of the Miami-Elston site. There’s ample reason to believe that dig was dispatched quickly and was never intended to produce results.

Sheriff Tom Dart has finally been persuaded to file an application for a warrant to search that property. And yet it sits unaddressed on Alvarez’s desk. Perhaps Alvarez isn’t the best person to ask for action in the case.

It languishes while the weather gets colder and the ground gets harder.

How Sherry Marino finally got the news about her son

Michael Marino

Reporters are finally paying attention to Sherry Marino.

What they’re reporting is this. Her long-held suspicions about the remains identified as those of her son were correct. They belong to someone else.

In May 2011, Sherry Marino approached investigator and retired Chicago Police homicide detective Bill Dorsch after hearing on the news about his pro bono investigation into the Gacy story. She’d been frantic when her son disappeared in 1976. Then, after Gacy’s crimes were discovered, she was given a set of remains and told he was among the victims. But she’d always suspected that the remains weren’t his, and she’s clung to the hope ever since that he might still be alive.

At a meeting with us last winter at her favorite Chinese restaurant, on Irving Park Road near Damen, she described what she’s been through.

When he didn’t return home that night in 1976 as expected, she went directly to the police. They sent her home to wait. And days and then weeks went by. She and her two daughters posted flyers all over their neighborhood of Uptown, reaching into Lakeview and other surrounding areas.

A few days after Gacy was arrested, in December 1978, she submitted her son’s dental records to the police. It wasn’t until  three years later that a knock on the door brought an answer: Her son was dead, one of the victims of Gacy. Distrustful after all those years of waiting, she pressed them for evidence, visiting the morgue and asking for an autopsy report. She says she was admonished instead: “Just be thankful that you have a body, they told her.”

In May 2011, her hopes revived when she heard Dorsch was pursuing loose ends in the case, Marino approached Dorsch for help, and he assured her she had every right to the documents related to her son’s case.

In June he met Marino at the medical examiner’s office and helped her fill out a request for the autopsy report and any other evidence on Michael. Dorsch says the medical examiner, Nancy Jones, told them it would take three or four weeks to find and review the file and that he’d get a call when it was ready.

On June 8 he called in for an update and spoke to Jones. “She had already located and reviewed the file and was positive that the body she received was Michael Marino,” he says. “Nancy Jones told me that she had already sent Mrs. Marino a letter telling her that they had positively identified her son and she need not return. I told Nancy Jones that we did not want a letter–we wanted to see the file. I informed her that we would take additional steps to guarantee Mrs. Marino’s rights.”

Dorsch had been in touch during his investigation with a couple of lawyers he knew through his work with the Center on Wrongful Convictions, Bob Stephenson and Steve Becker. Now he realized that to get any satisfaction, Marino would have to go to court to request an exhumation and DNA testing, so he asked them to assist. They agreed to help her, and within days they had filed the necessary court papers.

It took months, but on October 6, 2011, Marino won the right to have the remains exhumed.

About a week later, on October 12, 2011, Sheriff Tom Dart announced his intentions to exhume the remains of the eight Gacy victims who had never been identified.

The results of that investigation so far have been reported: the identity of one victim was established, and it was determined that another person thought to have been killed by Gacy wasn’t.

But if Sheriff Dart is sincere about wanting to get to the bottom of some of the mysteries swirling around Gacy, his probing won’t end with the remains of these nine bodies.

As for Marino, Dart refuses to acknowledge that the remains of her son were misidentified because the DNA testing wasn’t under his control.

The sheriff asks Dorsch for help

Sheriff Tom Dart’s announcement this week that he’s submitted an application for a search warrant to State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez is good news for anyone hoping the government will try to identify any heretofore unknown victims. He says he’s asking for permission to excavate the property at Miami and Elston on Chicago’s northwest side where Gacy worked as a caretaker. An investigation of the yard in 1998 was inconclusive at best.

Tom Dart agreeing to file a search warrant last summer

Bill Dorsch has been discovering evidence about the property since 1998, and despite his willingness,  and attempts even, to share his findings, local authorities have been slow to act.

By May 2011, news coverage may have forced investigators to act. Dorsch received a call from the sheriff’s office asking if he could supply them with evidence. He gave them some that June, and five months later Dart announced he was reopening the case. This development was reported in the media, but then nothing. There was no further official action until March 2012, when Dart announced he was applying for a search warrant.

State’s attorney Anita Alvarez turned him down, saying he lacked sufficient evidence.

Dorsch had discussed his findings in an interview on WLS radio a full year earlier. National media had reported on Dart’s announcement and the new evidence. You might think the possibility of finding new victims of one of the world’s most notorious serial killers would be treated as an ongoing story. But the media generally prefer to report on things that happen rather than things that don’t.

I began posting about Dorsch’s investigation on this site, and ten days later, in May 2012, a year after Dorsch had last heard from the sheriff, Dart’s people called again. They said if Dorsch could give them more evidence they’d take another look. So far the sheriff had ignored what he’d already told them about the site and yet they wanted him to hand over even more. Dart had his own investigators–and budget. Why didn’t they do their own investigating?

Nevertheless, Dorsch gave them signed affidavits from witnesses he had independently located and interviewed. Dart seemed to be on board. I posted a clip from our interview with him here on June 6.

Dart wanted his team to meet personally with each of those witnesses, and asked Dorsch, without deputizing him officially, to help. Dorsch arranged interviews with each witness separately. Each one led the investigators around the property, pointing out where they’d seen Gacy digging long, deep trenches in the yard, large holes that would remain open for days and then get filled in overnight. That appeared to do the trick. Dart continued to agree with us that their testimony certainly indicated there ought to be a dig.

And then nothing.

Dorsch has turned up evidence suggesting that the police have known all along that there were probably bodies at Miami and Elston. He’s discovered important information about Gacy associates and new details about those involved in the arrests.

We know Dart took a high-level meeting with people involved in the unsuccessful investigation in 1998.

A couple of days ago Dart’s office contacted members of the media (though not us) and told them the search warrant had been filed and is under consideration by Alvarez.

Tom Dart’s baby steps do not satisfy

You’ve probably heard the news about the Peoria teen who went missing in 1978. His parents had long labored under the assumption that he’d been a victim of John Wayne Gacy, but when their DNA was put into a national database, it matched the remains of a person found by hikers in Utah in 2010.

If you can imagine their relief, knowing their child hadn’t been tortured and murdered by one of the sickest killers this country has known, try to imagine the ongoing pain of the more than a hundred families still wondering if their loved ones were among his victims.

As I reported here earlier, Sheriff Tom Dart agrees that the evidence shown here and here is compelling and warrants a search. So why isn’t he searching? Is he not yet prepared for the shitstorm that’s sure to ensue if remains are found at 6114 W. Miami? Surely the longer he sits on this information the larger the shitstorm grows. Ask the possible victims’ families.

A FOIA request for the names of the families who suspect their relatives may have been Gacy victims has been denied by the Cook County sheriff’s office.

Video: The view from the garden apartment

As I mentioned earlier, Sheriff Tom Dart’s investigators recently spent a day interviewing people who lived near the intersection of Miami and Elston when John Wayne Gacy had access to a small apartment building there.

Bill Dorsch had collected their testimony over the years and presented it to the sheriff in the form of videos and signed affidavits. Their stories helped persuade Dart that an investigation is in order, and he’s pledged to file an application for a search warrant. Then about a week ago he sent his investigators to meet with the witnesses.

One of the people Dorsch introduced them to was Lynn Troester, who lived in the building from 1967 to 1974. She lived in the garden apartment (that’s Chicagoese for the one below ground level) with her husband at the time, Bruno Muczynski. Dorsch, Tracy Ullman, and I spoke to Muczynski not long ago about what he had witnessed there (here’s video from that interview). He and Troester are among the many residents of the neighborhood who had “aha moments” when Gacy was arrested.

Dorsch’s own concerns about the property eventually came to the attention of the Better Government Association, and in 1998, 20 years after Gacy had been arrested and four years after his execution, the police did conduct a brief investigation of the property. What happened at that dig–and what inside sources related to him about it–led Dorsch to conclude that their efforts had been less than serious.

What Troester told the BGA’s Mike Lyons in 1998 suggests that the basement should be investigated.

She also describes him digging mysterious large trenches in the yard, with the assistance of his young workers.

Note in this clip  how Troester describes the randomness of the locations for the holes–and the evergeen on the corner that prevented him from digging there. That’s the same spot Nelson told them in 1998 not to bother to dig–and yet in 1998 it’s the only place the police did dig.

Once Dart submits his search warrant application, the decision lies with state’s attorney Anita Alvarez. And as a commenter on a story Eric Zorn published in the Chicago Tribune noted, “The State’s Attorney doesn’t get to decide the cops’ enforcement priorities. Only whether the warrant application states probable cause.”

The power of publicity

Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-10044 / CC-BY-SA [CC-BY-SA-3.0-de], via Wikimedia Commons

Bill Dorsch saw some of his work pay off this weekend.

The former police homicide detective has been trying for 15 years now to tell his story about the possibility of Gacy victims buried at Miami and Elston.

There was enough evidence to prompt an investigation in 1998, but for complex reasons we’ll talk about later, that job was less than thorough. Dorsch was so disgusted by what he saw he began working the case on his own.

Even as he built a second successful career as a private detective, working primarily on cases of potential wrongful conviction, Dorsch has been quietly digging–gathering details about Gacy’s known crimes, locating witnesses who realized they’d probably seen Gacy committing others, and collecting public records and witness affidavits.

A few of us have listened to his story, but no one who could authorize any action has wanted to hear it–till now.

As I mentioned here earlier, Sheriff Tom Dart has agreed that the evidence merits investigation.

On Saturday Dorsch watched while investigators from the sheriff’s office interviewed people who lived at Miami and Elston when Gacy was arrested in 1978, all of whom Dorsch has interviewed, among others. There are videos of a couple of them here and here. They walked with investigators around the small apartment building where Gacy worked as a caretaker, and pointed to places in the yard where they’d seen large trenches and other areas of interest.

It’s taken Dorsch a long time to get through. The first person with a public platform to hear and respond to Dorsch’s story was a student named Chris Maloney, who wrote a long piece on the question of additional victims in 2010, when he was in grad school for journalism at Roosevelt University.

He submitted the story to various editors (I was one of them, as I was working at the Chicago Reader at the time), and all declined to use it, so Maloney published the story on a website he created for that purpose. He’d planted a seed. I couldn’t forget what I’d read, so I tracked him down a year later and after speaking with him I pulled in filmmaker Tracy Ullman and we began working with Bill ourselves.

In the meantime, Larry Potash at WGN news was one of the few reporters in the mainstream media who took note, and his occasional but steady attention has no doubt helped persuade Dart that this situation isn’t going to just go away.

Of course, Alvarez still has the option to decide against a search, and Dorsch is optimistic but only cautiously so.

I started this blog to help put the evidence in the public eye, and I actively shared information with members of the mainstream media. Eric Zorn’s article in the Chicago Tribune this past Sunday, along with Potash’s reports and those of a few others, will make it difficult for Alvarez to argue that there isn’t enough evidence. And don’t discount the influence of the non-mainstream media. There are some particularly interesting comments following a post about us on the police blog Second City Cop.

I suppose Alvarez could claim that the evidence doesn’t merit the cost of a dig while there’s so much other, more current, work to be done, but the cost of the effort would be minimal, at first involving only core samples and dogs. The NYPD didn’t seem to think it would be too expensive to turn a Greenwich Village house upside down after they received word that the remains of six-year-old Etan Patz, who disappeared in 1979 might be buried there. That search was inconclusive, but I don’t think anyone would argue that it wasn’t worth it to take a look.

In response to the idea that Alvarez might consider the excavation too costly, Bill Dorsch says: “Murder is the ultimate crime against society. How can society or government put a price on searching for other missing persons who are possibly among Gacy’s victims? If they had excavated the site on Miami correctly in 1998 we would not be having this discussion today.”

We’ll cross our fingers and hope that “GJO’L” was correct when he commented on Zorn’s Tribune site, “If there is probable cause to believe they’ll find bodies, or at least evidence of a crime, there is no reason for the State’s Attorney to reject the warrant. The State’s Attorney doesn’t get to decide the cops’ enforcement priorities. Only whether the warrant application states probable cause.”

Maybe public opinion like this will help the authorities continue to make good decisions about whether or not there’s probable cause.

Sheriff Tom Dart agrees to pursue a search: now it’s up to Alvarez

It’s on you now, Madame Alvarez

As you know from previous posts, we’ve been urging Cook County sheriff Tom Dart to reexamine the property at Miami and Elston because of the strong possibility it holds remains of victims of John Wayne Gacy. We’ve spoken to a recent tenant of the basement apartment there who described a soft spot under the carpet where the end of a board would pop up if you stepped on the hole. But never mind about that right now . . .

In response to evidence presented to Dart by our subject, former homicide detective, now PI Bill Dorsch, Dart is coming around.

Dart did submit an application for a search warrant to Cook County state’s attorney Anita Alvarez in March, but she rejected it, claiming there wasn’t enough evidence.

Take a look at the video interviews with witnesses posted here on this site and see if you’d agree.

Dorsch gave the sheriff more evidence. His personal investigation has been going on for almost 15 years now, so he’s got lots.

Dart’s investigators seemed affected. They called it “compelling” and told us that they’re going to act on it. It’s taken a while, but we’re not going to dwell on that either.

Dart’s office tells us they’re preparing an updated search warrant for submission to Alvarez sometime in the next couple of weeks.

As you can imagine, we’re encouraged by the news, but based on events surrounding the property in 1998, we can’t be sure there won’t be further delays. Dart is very likely under considerable political pressure as he’s doing something the Chicago Police Department and the city of Chicago have so far refused to do.

But as many of the individuals involved in the 1978 investigation and the unsuccessful followup in 1998 are dead and retired, perhaps he’ll be able to withstand the pressure and just do the right thing. At least there’s a new sheriff in town since then.

Dart said in an earlier interview with us that he’s committed to seeing it through.

Police officers weigh in on the possibility of additional victims of John Wayne Gacy

The unofficial police blog Second City Cop made a post about this site and the comments are flying. Readers seem to be split down the middle on whether or not there are more Gacy victims at Miami and Elston, but what’s interesting is how many of them already seem to know about the controversy.

These guys don’t hold back. Some of their favorite targets include police superintendent Garry McCarthy (“G-Mac), Rahm Emanuel, and state’s attorney Anita Alvarez.

One type of response to the Miami-Elston question–“Oh, just get over it”–doesn’t take into account the families of the missing persons. How are they supposed to move on? Would you?

Another type attacks the credibility of our subject, retired homicide detective Bill Dorsch, who while working as a private detective for such prestigious organizations as the Innocence Project and the Center on Wrongful Convictions, has collected extremely compelling evidence arguing for the likelihood that Gacy buried victims at the building at Miami and Elston where he had a maintenance contract and a workroom in the basement. Leaving aside the substance of their (unsubstantiated) criticism of him, and adding that in fact his reputation is sterling, it raises this question: Is Dorsch’s personal credibility even relevant?

The testimony we’ve presented so far–and there’s so much more–easily justifies an investigation. And Sheriff Tom Dart appears to agree. Now the issue is whether or not Alvarez will–and what if she doesn’t? Would it be the end of the road for the families of missing persons who believe their loved ones may lie at 6114 W. Miami?

DNA samples of John Wayne Gacy victims fail to match families’

State’s attorney Anita Alvarez: Will she or won’t she?

Local media outlets are reporting that another round of test results has failed to match the DNA of known victims of John Wayne Gacy with DNA recently submitted by families of young men who disappeared in the 1970s.

When Sheriff Tom Dart began moving forward on new attempts to identify the eight known victims who were never ID’d, more than 100 families submitted their DNA. From those submissions, sheriff’s investigator Jason Moran selected 30 to 40 missing persons who seemed particularly promising because of the traits they shared with Gacy’s known victims. Nevertheless, they failed to match.

Though their DNA will go into a national database of missing persons, we wonder any of their remains could be located–at 6114 W. Miami.

There is ample evidence to suggest that Gacy might have hidden bodies there, and that grieving families deserve a chance to end part of their endless suffering.

In March Sheriff Dart submitted an application for a search warrant for the property to state’s attorney Anita Alvarez, but Alvarez denied his request. He has indicated to us that he may update his application in light of Detective Bill Dorsch’s findings.

Video: Sheriff Tom Dart agrees to search for additional Gacy victims

Cook County sheriff Tom Dart responds to evidence that there may be additional victims of John Wayne Gacy at Miami and Elston.

In the spring of 2011, former Chicago Police detective Bill Dorsch told Sheriff Tom Dart that he has long suspected there might be additional victims of John Wayne Gacy buried at a building at Miami and Elston. But there were other loose ends in the case as well. Eight of Gacy’s known victims had never been identified, for example, and Dart turned his attention there. Now DNA could tie them to relatives and produce results for those still-grieving families.

So the sheriff began the process of exhuming those remains from several local cemeteries.

The project to identify the eight was announced, and more than a hundred families across the country submitted DNA in hopes of finding young men who had disappeared in the 1970s.

The University of North Texas was enlisted to help with the DNA, and as forensic pathologist Dr. Arthur Eisenberg told ABC News, “It’s not so much that it was a high-profile serial killer, but the fact is these families have gone this long without knowing.”

Eisenberg says the pool was narrowed to around three dozen families whose DNA would be analyzed and compared to the unidentified remains. And in November 2011, one of the victims was positively identified as William Bundy, whose Chicago-area family had long suspected he had died at Gacy’s hands.

Some of the same families who submitted DNA also contacted Bill Dorsch, as stories had been showing up  in local and national news media about his work. That same news coverage is what finally prompted Dart to apply this spring for a search warrant that would allow an excavation at the private property at 6114 W. Miami.

His application had to be approved by Cook County state’s attorney Anita Alvarez, and she turned him down, citing a lack of evidence to justify a search.

We wanted to know how Dart planned to respond, considering how much evidence Dorsch has made available to him.

As you can see in this video, Dart agrees that a dig is clearly the way to go: that people still looking for their missing loved ones deserve to know once and for all who is or isn’t buried at Miami and Elston. These people have been waiting for information for more than three tortuous decades.

Video: “We don’t want no more bodies”

When John Wayne Gacy was arrested in 1978 and the excavations began that would reveal the remains of dozens of victims buried in and around his home, something clicked for Bruno Muczynski.

Muczynski lived for a time at 6114 W. Miami, in the small apartment building where Gacy worked as caretaker. Though he and his wife, Lynn, had already moved away when the news about Gacy’s hideous killing spree took over the headlines, they vividly remembered his strange activities in the basement, and they knew they needed to make a call.

Muczynski, a Chicago police officer at the time, knew that Cook County was conducting the investigation on Gacy, but he called the police–his own people–to report what he’d seen. In this video he describes what happened.

Video: A neighbor’s chilling “aha” moment

Police officer Bruno Muczynski lived in the garden apartment of the five-flat at Miami and Elston for part of the time John Wayne Gacy worked there as a caretaker.

Though Muczynski and his wife, Lynn, had moved away by the time Gacy was arrested in 1978, the ensuing uproar prompted a troubling realization.

They had lived in the garden apartment; the other half of the basement was taken up by a workroom, which Gacy made his base of operations as the building’s maintenance man. When the horror of Gacy’s serial murders was revealed, the Muczynskis recalled that they’d often heard Gacy knocking around in the basement at strange hours. Things got so noisy sometimes that they’d poke their heads out their front door to see what was making such a racket.

In this video Muczynski, now retired and still living on Chicago’s northwest side, recalls how odd it seemed for a maintenance man to be working in the middle of the night.

Witness: Giant holes in the ground

Mike Nelson can point to exactly where the holes were. Running along two sides of the triangular front yard of the building at Miami and Elston, they were dug by John Wayne Gacy as he performed his duties as caretaker of the building in the mid 1970s.  Nelson says they ran along the sidewalks, a couple of feet wide, 3 or 4 feet deep, and several yards long.

Nelson had a good view of the yard: he lived across the street on Miami.

6114 W. Miami, in Chicago, where John Wayne Gacy worked as a caretaker in the mid-70s.

But Nelson got even closer than that to the holes. Gacy had hired Nelson, a young teenager at the time, to help him out with the maintenance he was contracted to perform. Gacy had him collect the tenants’ trash, mow the lawn, do other odd jobs. When those holes, or “trenches,” as Nelson calls them, appeared in the yard, Nelson says he would leap over them every day, cutting across the yard on his way to the bus stop on Elston. He also had to maneuver the lawn mower around them. And he and his friends even jumped into them to “play army.”

Something else he remembers about the holes: how they disappeared. He says he woke up to find that they’d been filled in overnight. A few shrubs were stuck in the new dirt.

Nelson says now that the holes struck him as strange, but that he never thought much about it. He says he didn’t question the behavior of adults–they all seemed strange to kids.

But in 1998, a few years after he’d moved out to the suburbs, Nelson got a call from an old neighbor. Bill Dorsch was looking for other former neighbors to see what they might recollect about Gacy’s activities in the neighborhood.

Eventually, for reasons described in this earlier post, official investigators paid Nelson a visit. He drew them a map and pointed out the spots in the yard parallel to Elston and Miami where he remembered seeing the trenches.

And on November 23, he recalls in the filmed interview posted here, he watched in astonishment as the police erected a tent at the front corner of the triangular yard, “the one spot I told them not to dig.”

Missing children, “The Wire,” and reasons to persist

Etan Patz, who disappeared in Manhattan in 1979

Today is National Missing Children’s Day, which leads to thoughts of the parents and loved ones mourning the victims of John Wayne Gacy–the ones who frantically searched for months, sometimes years, before their boys were found in 1978 in the crawlspace under Gacy’s house or in the Des Plaines River, and the ones whose children may still be buried elsewhere, perhaps even at 6114 W. Miami, on Chicago’s northwest side.

New leads in the high-profile 1979 disappearance of six-year-old Etan Patz have produced striking results: The Manhattan district attorney reopened the case in 2010, and after further investigation, last month the FBI excavated a basement near the boy’s home. They came up empty-handed, but yesterday a man who worked in a nearby bodega at the time came forward and confessed to having abducted and murdered the child.

According to the New York Times story linked above, “The mobilization in the city to find Etan began a new era in the country, marked by children’s faces on milk cartons and made-for-television dramas about kidnapped children.”

It also led to the establishment of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. According to the center: “In 1984, the U.S. Congress passed the Missing Children’s Assistance Act which established a National Resource Center and Clearinghouse on Missing and Exploited Children. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children was designated to fulfill this role.”

That legislation and the horrors of Gacy’s crimes led to the passage in 1984 of Illinois’ own Missing Child Recovery Act, which extensively beefed up the tools community and law enforcement can use to look for missing kids.

Michael K. Williams as Omar on “The Wire”

If a person disappears, when is the right time to stop searching? This article, written in 2008 for In These Times, about David Simon’s HBO series The Wire, suggests an answer.

The series weaves its stories around the participants in Baltimore’s drug trade, including the police, politicians, and citizens who, intentionally or not, allow it to flourish. Some critics found the story “bleak,” and Brian Cook reflects on charges that the series presents “a nihilistic, unrelentingly grim vision” (Ezra Klein at the American Prospect) and “an elaborate, moving brief for despair and (ultimately) indifference” (Reihan Salam at the American Scene).

Cook argues that it offers the opposite: hope.

He writes:

Its heroes and anti-heroes might be victims, but they are not passive. Rather, they are actively driven by a dissatisfaction with the status quo. What marks the show’s few villains are their complacency and acceptance of ‘the way things are.’ What defines the show’s heroes is that they will fight–their clueless bosses, their politicians, their rivals, their lovers, their addictions, themselves.

Regardless of whether or not the recent events in the case of Etan Patz lead to any kind of resolution, they remind us that evidence doesn’t disappear even if a case falls off the radar, and the families of missing persons never stop wanting answers.

*Update 11/14/12: In New York Pedro Hernandez has been charged with the murder of Etan Patz.

*Update 02/02/15: The trial for Patz’s murder began last month, but Hernandez has recanted and a mistrial was  declared after a witness for the prosecution turned hostile.


Proof the police believed

This page from US Radar’s report shows the results of just one “anomaly” under the blacktop indicating a need for further investigation. 

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].”

6114 W. Miami

On November 23 the police mustered at the site and prepared to dig.

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 television.

Another person watching the dig on TV was Mike Nelson, who’d been a teenager living across the street from the building in the 1970s. He’d been asked by the police for information–to point out the locations of some very strange events he’d observed–and he was curious to see how they’d act on it. What he saw was completely confounding.

An eerie late-night encounter with John Wayne Gacy

In the mid-70s John Wayne Gacy worked as caretaker at this apartment house at Miami and Elston in Chicago

In the mid-1970s, Bill Dorsch lived just around the corner from a small apartment building at 6114 W. Miami where John Wayne Gacy was under contract to do low-level construction and maintenance. Dorsch had grown up close by and had stayed in the neighborhood, as had his brother and sister, who lived in different houses at the same intersection, as well as a friend Lynn, who was now married to another police officer, Bruno Muczynski, and lived in the garden apartment of 6114.

Dorsch saw Gacy around. His wife, who ran a local insurance office, had hired Gacy for some remodeling, and Gacy had even had the Dorsches to dinner once, nearby in unincorporated Norwood Park.

The area was full of civil servants and their families, living in unassuming single- and multi-family homes. Elston is one of the city’s few diagonal routes, cutting across the strict north-south, east-west grid, but back then, Dorsch says, the corner of Miami and Elston would get so quiet at night you could lie down in the middle of the street. Working homicide, Dorsch often returned home in the wee hours. One such morning in 1975, Dorsch was driving into the alley behind his house when he was surprised to see Gacy walking across the yard of the corner building–carrying a shovel.

When Dorsch asked him what he was doing out so late, Gacy replied, “You know me, Bill, never enough hours in the day.”

Three years later, in 1978, Gacy was arrested and then the horrifying contents of the crawlspace under his home came to light: the remains of dozens of young men and boys. Remembering that strange encounter, Dorsch, who’d moved away, did what he says anyone would: he called the Cook County sheriff’s office, which, for reasons that remain somewhat murky, was handling the investigation. “I told the desk man what I’d seen and suggested they might want to take a look at that building,” Dorsch says.

As far as he knew, his lead was forwarded properly, and when nothing seemed to come of it he figured it had led to a dead end.

As Dorsch had left the neighborhood, he didn’t know that other residents had had similar realizations about Gacy.

He didn’t know that the investigators had been given plenty of reasons to be interested in the building at Miami and Elston. Or that none of them had been acted upon.

Did Gacy bury other victims here?

In the 1970s John Wayne Gacy, an independent contractor in Chicago, had a sideline as a caretaker at a small apartment building at the intersection of Miami and Elston Avenues, on the city’s far northwest side. After Gacy was arrested in 1978, and it was revealed that he’d made his home into a makeshift cemetery, people living in and near this building began to put two and two together.

Many of them independently came to the same conclusion: that Gacy must have been up to no good at Miami and Elston.

Gacy kept late hours in the basement and neighbors had heard strange sounds coming from it.

Some had seen Gacy dig mysterious trenches in the yard, leaving them open for days or sometimes weeks and then suddenly filling them with dirt and topping them off with a random-seeming plant or shrub.

Another neighbor remembered getting up frequently with a chronically ill child and gazing out the kitchen window into the darkness. Across the street, the neighbor says, he saw Gacy dragging something across the yard–what looked like large, heavy garbage bags.