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.

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