Report: Dart’s own expert admits quickie search was insufficient

Ground-penetrating radar equipment

Ground-penetrating radar equipment

In an article on the search that Sheriff Tom Dart says he conducted at Miami and Elston on March 20, 2013, the Verge reveals that the radar expert Dart hired to help admitted that the tests made that day were not conclusive. The technician said he does not agree with Dart’s decision to discontinue the investigation.

If you’ve been following the story, you know that Dart got a search warrant for the property because he agreed the evidence demanded it. He says he visited the site with Rich Graf, a ground-scanning-radar technician, on March 20, and equipment similar to what’s shown above. If Gacy buried any victims there, the ground might still bear signs of digging and equipment such as this is capable fo detecting them.

Dart opted to keep his search a secret, only revealing it after the fact. He then announced that the case at the property was closed. He said he’d continue to try to match Gacy’s DNA with unknown murder victims in other states, but that the tests had demonstrated there was nothing to see at Miami-Elston.

Now, at the Verge, Matt Stroud points out some of the holes in that claim.

Graf himself says his tests can’t be considered conclusive. He offers the opinion that there are no bodies at the Miami property, but when pressed he admits to Stroud that the only way to know is to excavate.

Stroud also spoke to Ron LaBarca, the radar technician who took the readings that led to a discredited search of the same property in 1998. LaBarca, who was incensed about the way that initial investigation was conducted, also tells Stroud: “If you really want to know what’s underground, you gotta dig.”

Proof the police believed

This page from US Radar’s report shows the results of just one “anomaly” under the blacktop indicating a need for further investigation. 

In the summer of 1998, Bill Dorsch had retired from the Chicago Police Department and was working as a private detective for IFPC, an investigative services company run by Jim Fruin, the commander of detectives whom Dorsch had worked under at Chicago’s Area Five. The Better Government Association was looking into the horrifying robbery/murder in suburban Palatine that became known as the Brown’s Chicken Massacre and asked Dorsch to come in for a conversation about how the Palatine police had conducted the investigation. During a break, Dorsch was asked casually what kinds of cases really stayed with him, and on his list he included Gacy and some of the haunting stories concerning the property at Miami-Elston where Gacy had worked as a caretaker. He said he’d phoned in his suspicions upon Gacy’s arrest, but that he didn’t think there’d been any follow-up.

The BGA was intrigued and before long, they and IFPC had brought US Radar, based in Matawan, New Jersey, to Chicago to take a look at the property.

The building, which contains five apartments and a utility area across from the unit in the basement, sits on the northwest corner of West Miami and North Elston, a diagonal artery. It’s very close to the building to the north, with only a sidewalk separating the two and giving access to the apartments’ back doors. The property’s open space is the triangular yard in front of the structure and a small parking lot to the west of it.

On October 7, 1998, US Radar, with company president Ron LaBarca in the driver’s seat, surveyed portions of the front yard and the parking lot. They hadn’t spoken to the building’s owner, but the scan, done with noninvasive ground-penetrating radar, which is used to detect the presence of everything from geologic features to plastic landmines, was performed in broad daylight and no one asked them to stop.

Their report to the BGA showed numerous instances of “non-naturally occurring changes in the soil structure” and characterized their findings as “extremely compelling.” They indicated several as “prime areas for further investigation.”

The report was duly submitted to the Chicago police and after LaBarca interpreted his findings for them, they seemed to agree that “further excavation” was in order. A Chicago Tribune story on November 11 and follow-ups in other local media may have sealed the deal.

But the CPD’s search warrant application, prepared in case they ran into any resistance from the owner, reveals without a doubt that the police were well persuaded by the evidence. Written by Sergeant Frank Cappitelli to be signed by Detective Edwin Dickinson (though it never was), the document reads:

“Based on the facts of my investigation . . . [Gacy] is the most prolific known serial killer in the State of Illinois . . . and there is credible scientific evidence to believe that the possibility exists that human remains are buried in the yard and black top contiguous to 6100-6114 W. Miami. .  . . I believe that there are buried remains located [there].”

6114 W. Miami

On November 23 the police mustered at the site and prepared to dig.

There were indications that the search wouldn’t come to much.

Dorsch says his old friend and police colleague Rocky Rinaldi began to deliver messages indicating he’d be persona non grata at the site that day.

The police brought Ron LaBarca back to Chicago to rescan the property for them, but when he arrived on site the morning of the dig, he was informed that the excavation would encompass only a small area of the front lawn. He urged the police to include the basement and the parking lot, but they refused to revise their approach.

Caution tape formed a wide perimeter, which kept the gathering media and other observers a good 50 feet from the action.

And before the dig got under way, LaBarca was informed that he was leaving. He was taken back to O’Hare, where he watched the proceedings on an airport television.

Another person watching the dig on TV was Mike Nelson, who’d been a teenager living across the street from the building in the 1970s. He’d been asked by the police for information–to point out the locations of some very strange events he’d observed–and he was curious to see how they’d act on it. What he saw was completely confounding.

Did Gacy bury other victims here?

In the 1970s John Wayne Gacy, an independent contractor in Chicago, had a sideline as a caretaker at a small apartment building at the intersection of Miami and Elston Avenues, on the city’s far northwest side. After Gacy was arrested in 1978, and it was revealed that he’d made his home into a makeshift cemetery, people living in and near this building began to put two and two together.

Many of them independently came to the same conclusion: that Gacy must have been up to no good at Miami and Elston.

Gacy kept late hours in the basement and neighbors had heard strange sounds coming from it.

Some had seen Gacy dig mysterious trenches in the yard, leaving them open for days or sometimes weeks and then suddenly filling them with dirt and topping them off with a random-seeming plant or shrub.

Another neighbor remembered getting up frequently with a chronically ill child and gazing out the kitchen window into the darkness. Across the street, the neighbor says, he saw Gacy dragging something across the yard–what looked like large, heavy garbage bags.