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.

Young traveled to Chicago in October 1977 with Russell Nelson, an architecture student from Minnesota, on a ramble that was at least partly engineered as a visit to see the city’s landmark buildings. They also stayed with friends of Young’s and visited gay bars on Halsted Street.

Ten days after they left, Young called Nelson’s family back in Minnesota to say that Nelson was missing. They’d been bar hopping and made a date to meet but Nelson hadn’t shown up.

Young had filed a missing persons report with the Chicago Police, and said he’d continue looking for the boy but he was short on funds and asked if the family would send him some money to use to stay in town. The Nelsons declined to send him money, but his two brothers did come to Chicago to see if they could learn anything more.

They went back to Minnesota empty-handed.

A year later, Gacy was arrested and Nelson was identified through dental records as one of the victims buried in the hideous cemetery Gacy had made of his home on Summerdale, on Chicago’s northwest side. Nelson’s mother testified at Gacy’s trial about Russell’s disappearance and the family’s meeting with Young, but Young, who was with Nelson just before he disappeared, wasn’t called.

In January 1979 newspapers reported that the police were trying to locate Young, and e interviewed. He told friends that the police couldn’t have been looking too hard–all they had to do was ask and he’d have come.

We’ve also discovered that after Gacy’s arrest Young mailed a letter to the Chicago Police. It was addressed to Jerry Lawrence, who, even though most of Gacy’s victims were abducted in Chicago, was the single member of the Chicago Police Department assigned to work the Gacy case with the Cook County sheriff’s office.

The return address on the envelope was in Florida, an address that correlates to a home owned at the time by the onetime mayor of a south Chicago suburb. Young died in 1987. The mayor died in 1999.

Why he wasn’t asked to testify about Nelson’s disappearance remains a mystery.

Photo of Russell Nelson’s parents and brother courtesy “The Pine Knot,” Cloquet, Minnesota


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