Sherry Marino didn’t believe the police who told her that her 14-year-old son, Michael, was one of John Wayne Gacy’s 33 victims.
Yesterday she received the results of new DNA testing that prove he is still a missing person.
After news broke here in 2011 about private investigator Bill Dorsch’s interest in the case, Marino saw him on TV and contacted him asking for help.
Dorsch, one of my colleagues in the investigation chronicled on this site, has built an impressive resumé of wrongful convictions cases since retiring from the Chicago Police as a decorated homicide detective. He took Marino to see an attorney who might be able to help.
The attorney, Steve Becker, and his since-departed partner agreed to help Marino, a woman of few means still living in the same Uptown apartment her son disappeared from in 1976.
In 2012, with Becker’s help, after so many years of uncertainty, Marino was finally able to prove that her DNA did not match that taken from the remains buried in her son’s grave.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart is on record saying he wants to clear up mysteries still surrounding Chicago’s grisliest murder case. Even so, he refused to acknowledge Marino’s test results because the testing wasn’t under his control.
The dentist responsible for the original identification, Edward Pavlik, has refused to accept those findings as well.
My other colleague, Tracy Ullman, called Pavlik at the time and asked him how he might account for the mistake. Pavlik offered the suggestion that perhaps the boy wasn’t actually Marino’s biological son.
Leaving that outrageous proposal aside, it did seem reasonable to assume that Marino’s remains might have been accidentally switched with those of his best friend, Kenny Parker, who disappeared with Marino in 1976. The boys’ bodies were allegedly found together (warning: graphic photos) under Gacy’s house after the serial killer’s arrest in 1978.
The boys weren’t identified, however, until 1980, after Gacy’s conviction: another factor in Marino’s distrust.
Parker’s family, one of the dozens deeply traumatized by Gacy’s horrific massacre, has so far declined to participate in Marino’s quest for the truth. But in light of the DNA proof that her son had been misidentified, Marino was next able to obtain a court order giving her permission to exhume and test Parker’s remains.
Last summer, with the financial assistance of a media company producing a documentary on our team’s long-running investigation, Parker’s remains were exhumed. Under the supervision of the cemetery’s director, Becker’s technician collected DNA and sent a sample out for testing. A few weeks later Becker received notification that the sample wasn’t sufficient, and he arranged for a second sample to be sent out to the lab.
Becker got his results and presented them to Marino yesterday.
The new DNA test proved conclusively that neither grave contains Michael Marino’s remains.
Marino has been vindicated. Now what?
If tested, Parker family’s DNA could still match one grave, but at least one indisputably belongs to a new, unidentified victim.
Sheriff Tom Dart is on record saying he wants to identify Gacy victims who may have been overlooked or misidentified early on.
Here’s a reminder for him, first revealed on this site in 2013:
Our team discovered a list of names of boys from the original investigation. Called by investigators at the time “the hot list,” it has the names of missing boys considered potential matches for the remains eventually attributed to Parker. Various names are checked off as having been ruled out, but one of the boys was never excluded.
That might be a good place to start.
The mistakes revealed so far call the entire original investigation into question. Cook County sheriff Tom Dart owes it to the parents of missing persons and to the public to admit that the entire original investigation is now open to question.
If you’ve read earlier posts on this site you know that this is only one of many aspects of this case that deserve reexamination.