Victims’ families deserve the truth

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of people who still believe that someone they love was kidnapped and murdered by John Wayne Gacy: A young man went to see Gacy about construction work and never came back. A beloved boy playing outdoors disappeared without a trace. A teenager took the bus to Chicago and, after checking in with his mother, was never heard from again. Many of these people cling to the hope of one day finding out what happened.

If you have information about this case or a story about a missing person, please let us know in a comment. It won’t be visible to anyone else, and requests for privacy will be honored.

Since 2011, my investigative partner, Tracy Ullman, and I have been trying to determine why the official Gacy story contradicts so much available evidence. Gacy was accused of 33 murders, but we have reason to believe there are sites with additional victims and that the story behind the murders is more complicated than the official lone-wolf narrative. Our work has so far led to:

  • Proof that the forensic anthropologist on the case identified other likely victims
  • An official reinvestigation of a site that many suspect contains Gacy victims
  • Proof that that search was flawed and inconclusive
  • Proof that at least one Gacy victim was misidentified
  • The identification of additional likely sites of burials
  • The sheriff of Cook County says he’s committed to tying up loose ends in the case, including identifying any remaining victims, but his response to various evidence belies his claim.

Jeff Haakenson and his family members had always been certain that his long-lost uncle had been murdered by Gacy. When Jeff heard about the sheriff’s goal of identifying the remains of eight victims still in his possession, he went to the sheriff’s site and filled out a form describing his uncle and his disappearance. Superficially at least, Jimmy Haakenson seems to fit the profile. He came to Chicago by bus in 1976 at age 16 and, after checking in with his mother to tell her he was safe, was never heard from again.

The sheriff’s team apparently ruled out Jeff’s online submission, so Jeff called the sheriff’s office. He was only able to leave a voicemail message, and he never got a reply. Jeff was about ready to give up when he contacted me through this site, and we encouraged him to push harder. Finally he and his family got results. The sheriff ran DNA tests and in July they announced that Jeff’s uncle Jimmy was indeed a match for an unidentified victim. It wasn’t happy news, but his family finally knew the truth.

The sheriff has the remains of five Gacy victims that have yet to be identified. But they are very likely not the only Gacy victims whose stories have never been told.

 

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FAQ: the investigation so far

Who are you?

Tracy Ullman and I are journalists. We have been investigating this story since 2011. So far no one’s paying us, but the more we learn about this the more we feel the moral imperative to get to the bottom of it. Publishers and broadcasters, please feel free to give us money to find out more.

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. He was suspected in the disappearance of a suburban teenager in 1978 and arrested, whereupon the police found the remains of dozens of victims in the crawlspace under his house. Eventually 25 victims were identified and the remains of 8 others were interred without ID.

Why is he called the “Killer Clown”?

Because he dressed as a clown for parties and to visit sick kids. People often say that lured victims dressed as a clown, but this is false. He occasionally lured victims by offering them construction work, but he also kidnapped people off the street by claiming to be an undercover police officer.

What happened to him?

He was executed by lethal injection in 1994.

Were there witnesses to the crimes?

While they were trailing him, police followed him into a bar and overheard what seemed to be a discussion about disposing of bodies. Before and after the arrest, several young men of his acquaintance were questioned by police, while others may have taken off. When asked where Gacy might have put a body, one said to check out a certain address. That place was ignored, though, when another told them to look in the crawlspace. That one also admitted to having a sexual relationship with Gacy. One survivor said another person was involved when he was kidnapped and brutally attacked.

Some of these people testified at Gacy’s trial, but none of them, including his apparent accomplices, was given a plea deal or charged with a crime.

Why not? 

Good question.

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

In the mid 1970s Gacy had a contract to do maintenance there and for a time his mother occupied one of the five apartments. After his arrest, several neighbors of that building called police saying they might have witnessed Gacy burying victims there without realizing it.

 

Wasn’t that place investigated recently?

That depends on how you define “investigated.” In 1998, after a ground-scanning-radar company found anomalies in the yard, the Chicago police obtained a search warrant indicating a strong suspicion that they’d find human remains there. In the event, though, investigators kept their operations to a small tent that was set up in a different place in the yard.

In response to the same report and and to new witness interviews and evidence, Cook County sheriff Tom Dart made a new search of the property in the spring of 2013. Dart announced that he’d found nothing, but when pressed, Dart’s expert admitted that the search had not been thorough enough to lead to any solid conclusions.

Dart has not offered any response to that statement even though he has stated that he is committed to tying up the loose ends in the case.

How so?

Much has been made in the press of Dart’s intention to use modern technology try to name the victims who weren’t identified at the time of Gacy’s arrest.

Dart invited people to submit profiles of potential victims, and heard from more than 100. His office narrowed the field to 30 or so with profiles that fit those of Gacy’s victims. Their relatives were invited to submit DNA, and two victims were identified. Another, whose submission was ignored, continued asking for a response and in July 2017 his relative was identified as the third of eight.

 

What about all those other families whose victim profiles seemed likely?

Though there are other locations in Chicago that may well hold victims, including but not limited to the house on Miami, Dart does not appear to have any intention of excavating them.

Anything else going on?

Sherry Marino, whose son was identified in 1980, along with his best friend, as a Gacy victim, succeeded in obtaining a court order to have her son exhumed. Cook County fought her in court every step of the way, but tests proved that her DNA did not match that of the victim. Then she obtained another court order, fighting Cook County once again, to have her son’s friend exhumed. The thinking was that her son’s and his friend’s bodies might have been switched. Her DNA didn’t match that victim’s either.

The sheriff doesn’t accept her test results nor does he acknowledge that he now has one if not two additional victims to contend with.

 

 

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