FAQ: What we’ve learned so far

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 Several young men were questioned by police. 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.

No one else was ever charged or given plea deals. One was the grandson of a powerful local politician. He continues to live in the Chicago area. Another 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 that place already investigated?

That depends on how you define “investigated.” The Chicago Police conducted a brief operation there in 1998 using evidence supplied by Dorsch, including a report by a ground-scanning-radar company that indicated anomalies underground in the yard. Despite the police’s stated confidence that they’d find bodies, investigators examined only one spot in the yard under a tent. The spot was nowhere near the anomalies the radar expert had seen, nor the place the witnesses had seen Gacy dig trenches. 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 Anita Alvarez, Dart finally visited the property in the spring of 2013. No one in the press or public was notified of the search, and his extremely unpersuasive report was: 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 is using DNA technology not available in the late 70s try to name the eight victims who weren’t identified at the time of Gacy’s arrest.

After he put out a national call to try to locate potential victims’ relatives, more than 100 came forward. The sheriff’s office narrowed the field of likely matches to 30 or so, whom they said fit the profile of Gacy’s victims. Those relatives were invited to submit DNA, and one victim was matched.

Meanwhile, Sherry Marino, the mother of one previously identified victim, who’d always been suspicious of the identification of her son and his friend as two of Gacy’s victims, partly because the identifications were made so long after the others, and years after she’d supplied her son’s dental records. Using her own funds and the services of an attorney working pro bono, she had the remains in her son’s grave exhumed and proved that he had been identified in error.

Sheriff 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 as well, in case the bodies had been switched. She received a court order allowing that as well.

What about the other missing persons who Dart concedes fit the profile of Gacy’s victims? 

The DNA Dart obtained was entered into a national database and has led to the identification of other people, living and dead, not associated with the Gacy case. This feel-good story has generated lots of press attention. The other families’ DNA is still on file, and though there are locations in Chicago that may well hold victims, including but not exclusively the house on Miami, and witnesses who can testify as to why, Dart hasn’t indicated that he has any intention of looking at them.

Why? And now what?

Stay tuned.

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