William Kunkle made the case against John Wayne Gacy. Here’s what he left out.

This is a brief expansion of the thread I posted on Twitter recently, for anyone who wants a little more information.

William J. Kunkle died in November 2022 after a long career embedded in in the Cook County political system. His exit reduces by a big one the number of people who could fill in the significant gaps in the story of the Chicago serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

Though Kunkle was an assistant state’s attorney, judge, and private defense attorney, he’s primarily remembered for his central role in the prosecution of Gacy for the murders of his 33 known victims. As lead prosecutor, Kunkle got his conviction, and in 1994 Gacy was executed. But the recent obits ignore another important part Kunkle played in the case: helping to produce a false narrative about Gacy that persists to this day.

Kunkle in Devil in Disguise

More than ten years ago, troubled by inconsistencies in the case files, film producer Tracy Ullman and I began trying to figure out what might explain them. We found a lot of problems. I blogged about what we discovered as we were learning, and much of that has made its way rather casually into coverage of recent developments in the case–but not into the story officials keep telling.

Eventually our investigation served as the basis for the NBC Universal documentary series John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise, which began airing on the Peacock streaming channel in March 2021. 

We found that police had been alerted to Gacy’s likely role in the disappearances of some of his victims years before he was finally arrested. Investigators knew that Gacy worked with accomplices. And after the arrest they knew Gacy was likely to have buried additional victims and where but they never searched for them.

Around the same time we started investigating, Cook County sheriff Tom Dart announced a new mission. He said he had learned recently that eight of Gacy’s known victims had never been identified (another ball the original investigators inexplicably dropped). And he wanted to help the families of those last Gacy victims”get closure.” Families came out of the woodwork to share their DNA in hopes of identifying a lost loved one. So far he has only succeeded in identifying three. What if those families are related to boys buried in those other places?

There are so many questions. Why was Gacy allowed to remain free for so long? Why wasn’t anyone else prosecuted or forced to divulge information about other victims? And why don’t the authorities care about the families of those other victims?

Though Dart and Kunkle both sat for interviews for our series, neither explained why Gacy hadn’t been arrested sooner, nor why no one else had been charged in the murders. But one piece of evidence we can’t get our hands on may hold a key.

Gacy’s “Blackmail Book”

Among the effects the police collected from Gacy’s house were pornography, photography equipment, and meticulous work records revealing a connection to John David Norman, a convicted human trafficker and purveyor of child sex abuse materials. Only the year before, Norman had testified in Chicago about his occupation to a congressional subcommittee investigating child abuse. Norman had been arrested with a massive card catalog containing the names of clients— tens of thousands of them. (We also uncovered a connection between Norman and a lesser-known Texas serial killer, Dean Corll.)

Like the convicted sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, who allegedly killed himself in 2019 while awaiting trial at Rikers Island, John Wayne Gacy had information and an address book that could get other people in trouble. He called it his “blackmail book.” Confiscated with the rest of his belongings, it has since disappeared–or at least it’s not accessible to us. Might its contents have anything to do with the woefully incomplete story about Gacy retailed by Cook County officials since 1978?

What Was Kunkle Hiding About Gacy and Why?

Kunkle was a young assistant state’s attorney when he was assigned the job of prosecuting Gacy. Clearly he needed to win, but as the remains of dozens of murdered teenage boys were found in the crawlspace beneath Gacy’s house, he had a pretty good case.

But the process may have been rigged to ensure a conviction. Kunkle made the amazing asmission in our interview that one of his prosecutors met regularly with Gacy’s defense attorney Sam Amirante to strategize.

Now, you can hardly blame these lawyers for wanting to make sure Gacy would never walk free. But nevertheless, some of Kunkle’s other judgment calls demand scrutiny as well. For instance, he refused to let one of the few known survivors of a Gacy attack (there were probably many others) testify against him. Jeffrey Rignall, whom Gacy kidnapped, raped, and tortured in March 1978, may have been the person most responsible for Gacy’s eventual arrest.

Jeffrey Rignall

Rignall, whose abduction happened long after the police should have arrested Gacy, had seen another person in Gacy’s house during the attack. A roommate? An accomplice? A participant? Rignall reported the kidnapping, but he and his partner, Ron, ended up tracking down and identifying Gacy on their own. They took the information to the police, who wouldn’t arrest Gacy for months, when they brought him in on a moving violation. In the meantime, Rignall and Ron began work on their wrenching book about the ordeal.

Later, Rignall wanted to tell the jury about the hideous assault he’d suffered before Gacy let him go, mental and physcial trauma that would haunt him for the rest of his life. But Kunkle said no, claiming Rignall’s book made the integrity of his testiony too risky. Kunkle took him off the witness list.

Rignall approached Amirante and gave his testimony for the other side. In our many hours of conversation, Ron told me how difficult it had been for Rignall to testify for the defense, but he was committed to telling his story in court.

Who else knew about Gacy’s crimes

Gacy’s implicated associates testified at the trial without being given immunity, and they were never charged, not even as accessories. Another member of the prosecution team has admitted that they told one they’d “go easy” on him on the stand. And they did.

Why bring this up now? Because though Kunkle dined out on his success against Gacy for the rest of his life, he never admitted the truth about the broader story. And even with new documentation and evidence, even having asserted the importance of tying up the case’s “loose ends,” the authorities are stonewalling, and their distortions continue to be repeated in mass media like Joe Berglinger’s recent Netflix smash hit Conversations With a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes.

Gacy may be dead, and now Kunkle is, too, but it’s not too late to hold others accountable.

And more important, in my opinion, it’s not too late to learn why so much energy has been dedicated to keeping the real story secret. We — and the victims’ families — deserve to know who is being protected and why.

One last tweet thread?

Hey followers–

Just fyi, on the occasion of the death of the lead prosecutor in Gacy, William J. Kunkle, I posted a thread on Twitter outlining some of the problems with the case. It may be my one last blast there before Twitter goes down for good. Thanks for reading and sharing. You never know what might prompt an important lead.


FAQ: the investigation so far

What is this site and where are the posts I’ve read here before?

This is the home of an investigation by Alison True and Tracy Ullman begun in October 2011. Posts have been taken down while we work on bringing attention to the case through other platforms. We began to tell this story in the NBC Universal documentary Devil in Disguise, which began streaming in March 2021. But there’s more.

Who’s John Wayne Gacy?

He was a Chicagoan with a small construction company and one of the world’s most prolific serial killers. He was suspected in the disappearance of a suburban teenager in 1978 and arrested, whereupon the police found the remains of dozens of victims in the crawlspace under his house. By the time Gacy was executed in 1994, 25 victims had been identified and the remains of 8 others were interred without ID.

Why is he called the “Killer Clown”?

People often say that Gacy lured victims dressed as a clown, but this is false. He occasionally dressed as a clown for parties, but he kidnapped victims other ways: by offering them construction work or by offering them money for sex or simply inviting them to party with him. He also posed as law enforcement as a way of forcing kids into his car and then overpowered them by covering their mouths with chloroform-soaked rags.

Were there witnesses to the crimes?

While they were trailing him, investigators followed him into a bar and overheard him and friends apparently discussing how to dispose of bodies. Before and after Gacy’s arrest, several young men of his acquaintance were questioned by police, while others appear to have disappeared. One survivor said at least one other person was involved when he was kidnapped and brutally attacked.

No one else given immunity through a plea deal, but no one else was ever charged.

So what’s up with that place at Miami and Elston?

In the mid 1970s Gacy had a maintence contract there, and for a time his mother occupied one of the five apartments. After his arrest, several neighbors of that building called police saying they might have witnessed Gacy burying victims without realizing it.

Wasn’t that place investigated recently?

That depends on how you define “investigated.” In 1998, after a ground-scanning-radar company found anomalies in the yard, the Chicago police obtained a search warrant and expressed a strong conviction that they’d find human remains there. In the event, though, investigators ignored what eyewitnesses said about where to dig and kept their operations restricted to a small tent set up in a different place in the yard.

In response to our inquiries, along with our witness interviews and new evidence, Cook County sheriff Tom Dart made a new search of the property in the spring of 2013. Dart later announced that the site was clean, but when pressed, his technician admitted that the search wasn’t thorough enough to produce any solid conclusions.

Though Dart has stated that he is committed to tying up the loose ends in the case, Dart has not explained why he doesn’t want to excavate the site. His refusal raises questions about why he insists on preserving the dubious narrative portrayed at trial: that Gacy worked alone and that all of his victims were recovered.

How so?

Much has been made of Dart’s announced intention to use modern technology to try to bring closure to the families of the victims who weren’t identified at the time of Gacy’s arrest.

Dart invited people to submit profiles of potential victims, and said he heard from more than 100. He said his office narrowed the field to 30 or so based on their similarity to the profiles of Gacy’s known victims, and their relatives were invited to submit DNA. Since then only three of the eight additional victims have been identified.

What about all those other families whose victim profiles seemed likely?

At the time of Gacy’s arrest witnesses reported suspicions about multiple other locations in Chicago, including but not limited to the house on Miami, The sheriff has not shown any interest in investigating them. He does, however, readily admit that Gacy traveled frequently for work and may well have murdered boys elsewhere.

Proof that there are more victims?

Sherry Marino’s son, Michael, was identified in 1980, along with his friend Kenny Parker, as a Gacy victim, but she was supsicious of the news. After we began publicizing problems with the case, criminal defense attorney Stephen Becker petitioned the court on her behalf for permission to exhume the purported remains of her son. Over the county’s objections, she prevailed, and subsequent tests proved that her DNA did not match that of the victim. There was speculation that Michael’s and Kenny Parker’s remains had mingled and their identities had gotten switched. So she obtained permission, going to court once again, to exhume Parker’s remains. There was no match between her DNA and that of the second victim either. So neither victim is her son, and it’s possible, considering the circumstances, that the friend was misidentified as well.

The sheriff doesn’t accept her legitimate test results, nor does he acknowledge that he now has at least one, maybe two, and possibly even more additional victims to contend with.


Sheriff Dart’s insistence that the case remains “open” means that he has grounds to refuse to permit public examination of the case files. At least two of Gacy’s young employees were linked to known child sex traffickers, and like the famous child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, Gacy had an address book packed with the names of powerbrokers, politicians, and businesspeople. His sister told us he called it his “blackmail book.”