Tracy Ullman appeals to parents of missing in Huffington Post

What’s the point of trying to uncover new evidence in the long cold case of John Wayne Gacy? Tracy Ullman explains on Huffington Post. It’s the parents.

Tracy Ullman

Tracy Ullman

How Sherry Marino finally got the news about her son

Michael Marino

Reporters are finally paying attention to Sherry Marino.

What they’re reporting is this. Her long-held suspicions about the remains identified as those of her son were correct. They belong to someone else.

In May 2011, Sherry Marino approached investigator and retired Chicago Police homicide detective Bill Dorsch after hearing on the news about his pro bono investigation into the Gacy story. She’d been frantic when her son disappeared in 1976. Then, after Gacy’s crimes were discovered, she was given a set of remains and told he was among the victims. But she’d always suspected that the remains weren’t his, and she’s clung to the hope ever since that he might still be alive.

At a meeting with us last winter at her favorite Chinese restaurant, on Irving Park Road near Damen, she described what she’s been through.

When he didn’t return home that night in 1976 as expected, she went directly to the police. They sent her home to wait. And days and then weeks went by. She and her two daughters posted flyers all over their neighborhood of Uptown, reaching into Lakeview and other surrounding areas.

A few days after Gacy was arrested, in December 1978, she submitted her son’s dental records to the police. It wasn’t until  three years later that a knock on the door brought an answer: Her son was dead, one of the victims of Gacy. Distrustful after all those years of waiting, she pressed them for evidence, visiting the morgue and asking for an autopsy report. She says she was admonished instead: “Just be thankful that you have a body, they told her.”

In May 2011, her hopes revived when she heard Dorsch was pursuing loose ends in the case, Marino approached Dorsch for help, and he assured her she had every right to the documents related to her son’s case.

In June he met Marino at the medical examiner’s office and helped her fill out a request for the autopsy report and any other evidence on Michael. Dorsch says the medical examiner, Nancy Jones, told them it would take three or four weeks to find and review the file and that he’d get a call when it was ready.

On June 8 he called in for an update and spoke to Jones. “She had already located and reviewed the file and was positive that the body she received was Michael Marino,” he says. “Nancy Jones told me that she had already sent Mrs. Marino a letter telling her that they had positively identified her son and she need not return. I told Nancy Jones that we did not want a letter–we wanted to see the file. I informed her that we would take additional steps to guarantee Mrs. Marino’s rights.”

Dorsch had been in touch during his investigation with a couple of lawyers he knew through his work with the Center on Wrongful Convictions, Bob Stephenson and Steve Becker. Now he realized that to get any satisfaction, Marino would have to go to court to request an exhumation and DNA testing, so he asked them to assist. They agreed to help her, and within days they had filed the necessary court papers.

It took months, but on October 6, 2011, Marino won the right to have the remains exhumed.

About a week later, on October 12, 2011, Sheriff Tom Dart announced his intentions to exhume the remains of the eight Gacy victims who had never been identified.

The results of that investigation so far have been reported: the identity of one victim was established, and it was determined that another person thought to have been killed by Gacy wasn’t.

But if Sheriff Dart is sincere about wanting to get to the bottom of some of the mysteries swirling around Gacy, his probing won’t end with the remains of these nine bodies.

As for Marino, Dart refuses to acknowledge that the remains of her son were misidentified because the DNA testing wasn’t under his control.

DNA samples of John Wayne Gacy victims fail to match families’

State’s attorney Anita Alvarez: Will she or won’t she?

Local media outlets are reporting that another round of test results has failed to match the DNA of known victims of John Wayne Gacy with DNA recently submitted by families of young men who disappeared in the 1970s.

When Sheriff Tom Dart began moving forward on new attempts to identify the eight known victims who were never ID’d, more than 100 families submitted their DNA. From those submissions, sheriff’s investigator Jason Moran selected 30 to 40 missing persons who seemed particularly promising because of the traits they shared with Gacy’s known victims. Nevertheless, they failed to match.

Though their DNA will go into a national database of missing persons, we wonder any of their remains could be located–at 6114 W. Miami.

There is ample evidence to suggest that Gacy might have hidden bodies there, and that grieving families deserve a chance to end part of their endless suffering.

In March Sheriff Dart submitted an application for a search warrant for the property to state’s attorney Anita Alvarez, but Alvarez denied his request. He has indicated to us that he may update his application in light of Detective Bill Dorsch’s findings.

Missing children, “The Wire,” and reasons to persist

Etan Patz, who disappeared in Manhattan in 1979

Today is National Missing Children’s Day, which leads to thoughts of the parents and loved ones mourning the victims of John Wayne Gacy–the ones who frantically searched for months, sometimes years, before their boys were found in 1978 in the crawlspace under Gacy’s house or in the Des Plaines River, and the ones whose children may still be buried elsewhere, perhaps even at 6114 W. Miami, on Chicago’s northwest side.

New leads in the high-profile 1979 disappearance of six-year-old Etan Patz have produced striking results: The Manhattan district attorney reopened the case in 2010, and after further investigation, last month the FBI excavated a basement near the boy’s home. They came up empty-handed, but yesterday a man who worked in a nearby bodega at the time came forward and confessed to having abducted and murdered the child.

According to the New York Times story linked above, “The mobilization in the city to find Etan began a new era in the country, marked by children’s faces on milk cartons and made-for-television dramas about kidnapped children.”

It also led to the establishment of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. According to the center: “In 1984, the U.S. Congress passed the Missing Children’s Assistance Act which established a National Resource Center and Clearinghouse on Missing and Exploited Children. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children was designated to fulfill this role.”

That legislation and the horrors of Gacy’s crimes led to the passage in 1984 of Illinois’ own Missing Child Recovery Act, which extensively beefed up the tools community and law enforcement can use to look for missing kids.

Michael K. Williams as Omar on “The Wire”

If a person disappears, when is the right time to stop searching? This article, written in 2008 for In These Times, about David Simon’s HBO series The Wire, suggests an answer.

The series weaves its stories around the participants in Baltimore’s drug trade, including the police, politicians, and citizens who, intentionally or not, allow it to flourish. Some critics found the story “bleak,” and Brian Cook reflects on charges that the series presents “a nihilistic, unrelentingly grim vision” (Ezra Klein at the American Prospect) and “an elaborate, moving brief for despair and (ultimately) indifference” (Reihan Salam at the American Scene).

Cook argues that it offers the opposite: hope.

He writes:

Its heroes and anti-heroes might be victims, but they are not passive. Rather, they are actively driven by a dissatisfaction with the status quo. What marks the show’s few villains are their complacency and acceptance of ‘the way things are.’ What defines the show’s heroes is that they will fight–their clueless bosses, their politicians, their rivals, their lovers, their addictions, themselves.

Regardless of whether or not the recent events in the case of Etan Patz lead to any kind of resolution, they remind us that evidence doesn’t disappear even if a case falls off the radar, and the families of missing persons never stop wanting answers.

*Update 11/14/12: In New York Pedro Hernandez has been charged with the murder of Etan Patz.

*Update 02/02/15: The trial for Patz’s murder began last month, but Hernandez has recanted and a mistrial was  declared after a witness for the prosecution turned hostile.