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.

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