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.


Digging in Detroit but No Shovels in Chicago

Screen Shot 2013-06-18 at 2.27.05 PMForty years after Teamsters Union boss Jimmy Hoffa disappeared, the Detroit Free Press revealed that the FBI is searching a field for his remains.

Now an ex-con named Tony Zerilli suggests Hoffa may have been buried there by the Detroit mob.

The parallels with Chicago’s case at Miami and Elston are striking of course, but there’s one major difference.

According to CNN, the FBI in Detroit “spent months looking into Zerilli’s claims before seeking court authorization to excavate the field and look for evidence of a shallow grave.”

Similarly, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart spent months examining testimony suggesting that John Wayne Gacy might have buried victims at 6114 W. Miami before seeking court authorization to investigate the property for evidence of graves.

But whereas the FBI working in Detroit opted to excavate the property in question, Dart instead opted to use “infrared cameras to look for the telltale heat signature of decomposing human remains.” Knowing that the the property was looked at briefly in 1998 in a very controversial and now discredited investigation, Dart nevertheless decided to make his inspection in secret, which doesn’t inspire confidence in the work. Nor does his having decided to close the case at Miami-Elston after using dogs to sniff core samples in below-freezing weather.

Renowned forensic pathologist Michael Baden told producer Tracy Ullman that “digging is the best way to determine if remains are present,” and Dart’s own infrared technician told reporter Matt Stroud that “no infrared scan is going to be conclusive without a shred of doubt. ‘No technology is 100 percent.'”

Hoffa’s body may never be found, but his family and the authorities in Detroit seem to care enough to keep looking when they get a good tip. What do the Chicago Police, the Cook County sheriff, and the FBI need to get to the point where they’ll agree this property is worth a thorough investigation?

Maybe they need names. Oh wait: they have some.

Coming up: names of missing persons who may have been Gacy victims.

Second City Cop post about Marzullo has some interesting comments

cpdThe unofficial police blog Second City Cop has a post about the familial link  revealed here between one of John Wayne Gacy’s close associates and the renowned Chicago politician Vito Marzullo. The post is the one dated 12:02 AM today, Monday, March 5.

As usual, the comments here provide a fascinating glimpse inside Chicago’s police culture. Here’s one about Bill Dorsch, the retired homicide detective who’s devoted countless hours to the troubling loose ends in the Gacy case and whose findings local officials have been surprisingly quick to dismiss:

“Billy was one of the best Gang Crimes Specialist in the city in the real police-old gang crimes unit.”

A new Gacy investigation or just more talk about investigating?

Evan-Amos/Creative Commons

Evan-Amos/Creative Commons

The news that Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez finally responded to Sheriff Tom Dart’s request for a search warrant for 6114 W. Miami with a long-overdue thumbs up was welcome indeed. That’s not to say that we’re popping corks around here.

There’s ample reason to believe that Gacy got up to no good at 6114 W. Miami. But the authorities have known about that evidence since Gacy was arrested in 1978.

In fact Bill Dorsch’s original hunch, which he reported upon Gacy’s arrest, led to a brief investigation in 1998, years after Gacy had been executed for his crimes. The investigation raised more questions than it answered, and turned up nothing of substance. Among the questions are whether anyone involved really wanted to find anything or whether it was easier to let Gacy and his hellish legacy rest.

But the relatives of people who might be buried there likely would prefer to be reunited with the remains. For that reason Dorsch has continued to press for results. He’s met resistance and ridicule every step of the way.

Now it appears the pressure Dorsch created–partly by finding eyewitnesses, recording their testimony, and handing it over to various members of law enforcement–has made it impossible for Dart, and finally Alvarez, to ignore the facts. They say they plan to bring in ground-scanning technology to locate any areas where the ground may have been disturbed.

Doubtless the anomalies that were revealed by ground-scanning technology in 1998 will show up again. If they do, investigators will dig out some core samples and have them examined by corpse-sniffing dogs. That sounds promising, though as Dorsch is fond of saying when we talk about how a new investigation might go, “Whose dogs?”

Sources close to the 1998 search say they examined the two most likely spots and found nothing so they quit. Were they likely spots? That’s a matter of dispute, actually, but we can hope that the same methods won’t be employed here.

If the results from two tiny core samples are inconclusive, will the investigation end there?

It’s on.

Alvarez: Go for it.

Alvarez: “Yeah, OK I guess.”

Bill Dorsch deserves a good night’s sleep tonight. If Michael Sneed’s report, just posted online, is correct, the sheriff’s finally been given the go-ahead by the state’s attorney to perform a search for additional victims of the serial killer John Wayne Gacy at the apartment building where Gacy worked as a caretaker in the mid-70s.

The capitulation comes on a Friday night, a time carefully chosen, no doubt, to attract the least possible attention. Local politicos typically use Friday to announce stories they want to get buried in the news cycle by whatever happens over the weekend. Good luck with that.

Previous posts here detail the testimony of various eyewitnesses who saw what seems in retrospect to be evidence that Gacy was boldly burying bodies at the corner of Miami and Elston, on Chicago’s northwest side.

Have a look at our exclusive videos and see if you’re as mystified as we’ve been about why it took so long for Sheriff Tom Dart and SA Anita Alvarez to agree that the property deserved a look.

One person and one person alone is responsible for any new discoveries. Former Chicago police detective William Dorsch had a hunch and he wouldn’t let it go. Hang on to your wig hats, there’s a lot more to come.

Tom Dart’s baby steps do not satisfy

You’ve probably heard the news about the Peoria teen who went missing in 1978. His parents had long labored under the assumption that he’d been a victim of John Wayne Gacy, but when their DNA was put into a national database, it matched the remains of a person found by hikers in Utah in 2010.

If you can imagine their relief, knowing their child hadn’t been tortured and murdered by one of the sickest killers this country has known, try to imagine the ongoing pain of the more than a hundred families still wondering if their loved ones were among his victims.

As I reported here earlier, Sheriff Tom Dart agrees that the evidence shown here and here is compelling and warrants a search. So why isn’t he searching? Is he not yet prepared for the shitstorm that’s sure to ensue if remains are found at 6114 W. Miami? Surely the longer he sits on this information the larger the shitstorm grows. Ask the possible victims’ families.

A FOIA request for the names of the families who suspect their relatives may have been Gacy victims has been denied by the Cook County sheriff’s office.

The power of publicity

Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-10044 / CC-BY-SA [CC-BY-SA-3.0-de], via Wikimedia Commons

Bill Dorsch saw some of his work pay off this weekend.

The former police homicide detective has been trying for 15 years now to tell his story about the possibility of Gacy victims buried at Miami and Elston.

There was enough evidence to prompt an investigation in 1998, but for complex reasons we’ll talk about later, that job was less than thorough. Dorsch was so disgusted by what he saw he began working the case on his own.

Even as he built a second successful career as a private detective, working primarily on cases of potential wrongful conviction, Dorsch has been quietly digging–gathering details about Gacy’s known crimes, locating witnesses who realized they’d probably seen Gacy committing others, and collecting public records and witness affidavits.

A few of us have listened to his story, but no one who could authorize any action has wanted to hear it–till now.

As I mentioned here earlier, Sheriff Tom Dart has agreed that the evidence merits investigation.

On Saturday Dorsch watched while investigators from the sheriff’s office interviewed people who lived at Miami and Elston when Gacy was arrested in 1978, all of whom Dorsch has interviewed, among others. There are videos of a couple of them here and here. They walked with investigators around the small apartment building where Gacy worked as a caretaker, and pointed to places in the yard where they’d seen large trenches and other areas of interest.

It’s taken Dorsch a long time to get through. The first person with a public platform to hear and respond to Dorsch’s story was a student named Chris Maloney, who wrote a long piece on the question of additional victims in 2010, when he was in grad school for journalism at Roosevelt University.

He submitted the story to various editors (I was one of them, as I was working at the Chicago Reader at the time), and all declined to use it, so Maloney published the story on a website he created for that purpose. He’d planted a seed. I couldn’t forget what I’d read, so I tracked him down a year later and after speaking with him I pulled in filmmaker Tracy Ullman and we began working with Bill ourselves.

In the meantime, Larry Potash at WGN news was one of the few reporters in the mainstream media who took note, and his occasional but steady attention has no doubt helped persuade Dart that this situation isn’t going to just go away.

Of course, Alvarez still has the option to decide against a search, and Dorsch is optimistic but only cautiously so.

I started this blog to help put the evidence in the public eye, and I actively shared information with members of the mainstream media. Eric Zorn’s article in the Chicago Tribune this past Sunday, along with Potash’s reports and those of a few others, will make it difficult for Alvarez to argue that there isn’t enough evidence. And don’t discount the influence of the non-mainstream media. There are some particularly interesting comments following a post about us on the police blog Second City Cop.

I suppose Alvarez could claim that the evidence doesn’t merit the cost of a dig while there’s so much other, more current, work to be done, but the cost of the effort would be minimal, at first involving only core samples and dogs. The NYPD didn’t seem to think it would be too expensive to turn a Greenwich Village house upside down after they received word that the remains of six-year-old Etan Patz, who disappeared in 1979 might be buried there. That search was inconclusive, but I don’t think anyone would argue that it wasn’t worth it to take a look.

In response to the idea that Alvarez might consider the excavation too costly, Bill Dorsch says: “Murder is the ultimate crime against society. How can society or government put a price on searching for other missing persons who are possibly among Gacy’s victims? If they had excavated the site on Miami correctly in 1998 we would not be having this discussion today.”

We’ll cross our fingers and hope that “GJO’L” was correct when he commented on Zorn’s Tribune site, “If there is probable cause to believe they’ll find bodies, or at least evidence of a crime, there is no reason for the State’s Attorney to reject the warrant. The State’s Attorney doesn’t get to decide the cops’ enforcement priorities. Only whether the warrant application states probable cause.”

Maybe public opinion like this will help the authorities continue to make good decisions about whether or not there’s probable cause.

Sheriff Tom Dart agrees to pursue a search: now it’s up to Alvarez

It’s on you now, Madame Alvarez

As you know from previous posts, we’ve been urging Cook County sheriff Tom Dart to reexamine the property at Miami and Elston because of the strong possibility it holds remains of victims of John Wayne Gacy. We’ve spoken to a recent tenant of the basement apartment there who described a soft spot under the carpet where the end of a board would pop up if you stepped on the hole. But never mind about that right now . . .

In response to evidence presented to Dart by our subject, former homicide detective, now PI Bill Dorsch, Dart is coming around.

Dart did submit an application for a search warrant to Cook County state’s attorney Anita Alvarez in March, but she rejected it, claiming there wasn’t enough evidence.

Take a look at the video interviews with witnesses posted here on this site and see if you’d agree.

Dorsch gave the sheriff more evidence. His personal investigation has been going on for almost 15 years now, so he’s got lots.

Dart’s investigators seemed affected. They called it “compelling” and told us that they’re going to act on it. It’s taken a while, but we’re not going to dwell on that either.

Dart’s office tells us they’re preparing an updated search warrant for submission to Alvarez sometime in the next couple of weeks.

As you can imagine, we’re encouraged by the news, but based on events surrounding the property in 1998, we can’t be sure there won’t be further delays. Dart is very likely under considerable political pressure as he’s doing something the Chicago Police Department and the city of Chicago have so far refused to do.

But as many of the individuals involved in the 1978 investigation and the unsuccessful followup in 1998 are dead and retired, perhaps he’ll be able to withstand the pressure and just do the right thing. At least there’s a new sheriff in town since then.

Dart said in an earlier interview with us that he’s committed to seeing it through.

Police officers weigh in on the possibility of additional victims of John Wayne Gacy

The unofficial police blog Second City Cop made a post about this site and the comments are flying. Readers seem to be split down the middle on whether or not there are more Gacy victims at Miami and Elston, but what’s interesting is how many of them already seem to know about the controversy.

These guys don’t hold back. Some of their favorite targets include police superintendent Garry McCarthy (“G-Mac), Rahm Emanuel, and state’s attorney Anita Alvarez.

One type of response to the Miami-Elston question–“Oh, just get over it”–doesn’t take into account the families of the missing persons. How are they supposed to move on? Would you?

Another type attacks the credibility of our subject, retired homicide detective Bill Dorsch, who while working as a private detective for such prestigious organizations as the Innocence Project and the Center on Wrongful Convictions, has collected extremely compelling evidence arguing for the likelihood that Gacy buried victims at the building at Miami and Elston where he had a maintenance contract and a workroom in the basement. Leaving aside the substance of their (unsubstantiated) criticism of him, and adding that in fact his reputation is sterling, it raises this question: Is Dorsch’s personal credibility even relevant?

The testimony we’ve presented so far–and there’s so much more–easily justifies an investigation. And Sheriff Tom Dart appears to agree. Now the issue is whether or not Alvarez will–and what if she doesn’t? Would it be the end of the road for the families of missing persons who believe their loved ones may lie at 6114 W. Miami?

Why Are We Here?

Bill Dorsch, PI

Bill Dorsch, PI

Are there others? Bill Dorsch believes there are and he’s pretty sure he knows exactly where they’re buried.

This site documents the efforts of Dorsch, a career Chicago homicide detective, to find and share new evidence in the case of the notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

Gacy, who ran a small contracting company in Chicago, was arrested in 1978 and eventually confessed to having killed 33 young men and boys. He buried some of their bodies at his home just outside the city’s northwest city limits, and others he dumped in a nearby river. Eight of those victims were buried before being identified, but their remains have recently been exhumed so that more recent technologies can be used to match them with missing persons of the time.

Gacy was convicted of those murders and executed in 1994. But he made contradictory statements about the number of people he’d killed, and before he died he taunted prosecutors, inviting them to “find the others.”

Over the last 15 years, Dorsch has not only learned that Gacy may have worked with accomplices, but has discovered that a property on the city’s northwest side almost certainly contains the remains of additional victims.

Tracy Ullman and I began working alongside Dorsch and have turned up new evidence pointing to multiple errors and possible misinformation in the case. Our collective hope is that the authorities will agree that if Gacy had additional victims their families deserve attention and that at least one Chicago property deserves further investigation.

© 2011-2016 Alison True