Child Sex Trafficking in Chicago: The Missing Link in the Gacy Mystery


It just doesn’t add up.

Obviously, John Wayne Gacy was a psychopathic killer. The victim of severe physical and emotional abuse as a child, Gacy kidnapped, tortured, and murdered boys and young men in the 1970s. Prosecutors said he hid most of their bodies under his northwest-side house, where they were discovered in 1978. He was arrested, speedily convicted, and executed in 1994.

Cook County prosecuted Gacy and only Gacy, depicting him as a creepy homosexual predator who managed to commit his crimes, alone, over most of a decade without anyone else catching on. This is what the general public knows about the case.

This is a lie.

Followers of this blog know that there are some big holes in this story. For instance, parents and friends of missing boys connected Gacy to their disappearances, but police ignored their tips for years. After the arrest, residents of quiet neighborhoods and proprietors of small businesses called police to report their suspicions that there might be additional remains in other locations, but the tips were never investigated. And police reports indicate others were present during the murders and may have participated in them or even committed murders on their own while Gacy was out of town.

Readers also know that a small number of Chicago investigators are dedicated to understanding how the lie became the conventional wisdom and the truth got buried.

And we want to know why.

After spending years of examining the case we have a few theories. And while we have different explanations for different aspects of the case, one of our most compelling recent discoveries involves a serial child-sex trafficker named John David Norman.


In May 1977, prompted by the revelations in a Chicago Tribune series on child sex trafficking, a subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives came to Chicago to begin hearings on child exploitation

The series, by Michael Sneed and the late George Bliss, described purveyors who communicated with vast networks of pedophiles through the mail, supplying them with child pornography and even setting up rendezvous with children for sex. Some members maintained camps or apartment buildings where victims were housed for sexual encounters.

In 2007, Sneed, now a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Timestold Jake Tapper, then of the weekly Washington City Paper, she “went undercover with the Chicago Police Department for a long time, and it practically destroyed me. I never thought I’d see the things I saw. I sometimes wish I’d never done it. . . . It’s enough to destroy your attitude towards men. And it was terrifying.”

If you think this sounds like a made-up horror show, you’re not alone. But it’s all part of the public record, as are other busts of similar sex rings around the country, apparently flourishing in the 1970s.

And consider this: pedophiles don’t need to set up assignations through the postal service anymore. They continue to operate but in much safer spaces online.

One child purveyor named John David Norman had previously set up operations in Dallas (The Odyssey Foundation) and San Diego (The Conquest Agency) before winding up in the Chicago suburb of Homewood, where he was fulfilling customers’ requests with the help of a young Chicagoan named Philip Paske.

According to the transcripts of the congressional hearings, by the time Norman was arrested in Homewood, he had amassed mailing list for tens of thousands of customers. Are you picturing sleazy lowlifes haunting shady bookstores and picking up homeless kids for tricks? Not so fast. Keeping in mind the recent trial of former House speaker Denny Hastert, not to mention other prominent pedophiles like Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky and uncountable pedophile priests, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that the lists contained the names of people from all walks of life, including members of the State Department.

Shortly after fleeing Texas for Illinois and setting up shop in Homewood, Norman was arrested for sodomy. Even while awaiting trial in Cook County Jail, however, and later from Pontiac State Prison, Norman was able to continue fulfilling orders.

Phil Paske was his man on the outside.


For the last few years Chicago attorney Steve Becker has been working with Uptown resident Sherry Marino, who looked for her missing teenaged son for years before he was finally identified as a Gacy victim. Marino never got over the sense that there was something fishy about the way she was told her son was dead. Now, thanks to William Dorsch, the detective she approached for help, and Becker, whom Dorsch introduced her to, Marino finally knows at least part of the truth. The DNA of the remains she buried do not match her own.

Marino and Becker made this discovery against powerful odds. They received no help from Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez, who fought Marino’s efforts to exhume her own son and the grave of his best friend, who disappeared at the same time. Nor did she receive assistance from Cook County sheriff Tom Dart, who along with county police Lieutenant Jason Moran purports to be interested in solving remaining mysteries in the case.

Nor were they assisted by authorities involved in the original identifications. To the contrary, Edward Pavlik, the dentist who originally helped identify Gacy’s victims, refuses to consider the possibility that he made any mistakes.

Reached at home by my reporting partner Tracy Ullman, Pavlik insisted his ID of Marino was correct and offered this outrageous explanation for the discrepancy: “Maybe Sherry Marino isn’t his biological mother!”

Naturally Marino still wants to find out what happened to her son, and Steve Becker is helping her pro bono.

Becker’s research led him to the congressional hearings on child porn, and then to John Norman, and then to Norman’s Chicago assistant Philip Paske. And that’s when an alarm bell rang.

Becker has pay stubs showing that Gacy paid Paske with construction company checks at least three times in 1978.

What does this prove?

Nothing yet. But over the years, Gacy complained regularly that his attorney Sam Amirante had failed to give him an adequate defense. It’s fair to take everything Gacy says with a grain of salt, but in a wide-ranging 1991 interview with FBI profiler Robert Ressler, he insisted that other people had murdered victims in his house while he was out of town. Were his employees supplying Norman with snuff films made at Gacy’s house?

And did Norman’s clients, some conceivably people with social status and clout, have an interest in keeping any mention of his child-sex trafficking network out of the Gacy trial? Paske, an employee of Gacy who also worked for Norman, was never even called to testify.

Paske’s dead now, and many others who can shed light on the mysteries in the case are dying off, taking their secrets to the grave.

Who benefitted from these secrets being kept? And how?

Did you or anyone you know ever have contact with Norman or Gacy? Might their experiences shed light on this connection? Please contact me through a comment if you’d like to share a tip. Your comment won’t be visible without moderation, and I’ll respect any requests for privacy.

In the meantime, we’ll keep you posted.


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