Most books and movies about serial killers rehash the crimes and trials of the accused. The books tend to be thorough and detailed, but the movies tend to range from decent to boring. The Last Victim and Dear Mr. Gacy tell a unique story. What happens when a college student begins writing John Wayne Gacy for a school project?
Neither the book nor the film go into much detail on Gacy’s crimes, but a brief overview is given regarding his background. A once upstanding citizen and business owner, Gacy was known in his Illinois community for his work with charities and politics. He often entertained children dressed as Pogo the Clown, which would later earn him the nickname of the Killer Clown following his arrest.
Gacy preyed on boys and young men in the Chicago area from 1972-1978. He was convicted of the torture, rape and murder of 33 males, the victims’ bodies found on his property or in the Des Plaines River. He was condemned to death for his crimes and was executed by lethal injection on May 10, 1994 at the Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill, Illinois.
The prologue of the book is written by Jeffrey Kottler, Ph.D., a professor of author Jason Moss. In it he describes Jason as “smart, inquisitive, ambitious, and outspoken,” as well as appearing “older than his stated age.” Jason stood out from his peers through his style of dress. While most students his age dressed in typical college attire of jeans and a tee shirt, Jason gave the impression that he was going to a job interview, complete with a tie.
Invited to hear Jason’s honors thesis presentation, Dr. Kottler agreed to attend. What he heard intrigued him enough to collaborate with Jason on The Last Victim.
Jason Moss was born to working class parents, whose relationship with them is described as volatile. His home life helped fuel his interest in writing serial killers with his mother a true crime fan. The book is written in the tone of a confident, albeit a bit arrogant, young man with something to prove. Jason longed to be a prosecutor or FBI agent, and he hoped his project would help him with that endeavor.
Jason thought he could garner information from the killers in a way investigators could not. If he portrayed a person who appealed to each particular murderer to lure them into corresponding, he thought he could get into their heads from the point of view of an admirer or potential victim.
He wrote Richard Ramirez, the Night Stalker, pretending to be a leader of a satanic cult. Jason spent a lot of time researching Satanism to play his role. Ramirez was intrigued, and so began their odd relationship.
Knowing Jeffrey Dahmer’s fear of being alone and wanting to keep his victims with him always, Jason wrote as a lonely, scared, confused boy. The correspondence between the two didn’t last long before Dahmer was killed in prison.
Charles Manson proved to be an interesting pen pal, if you were able to understand his rambling. To garner the cult leader’s attention, Jason wrote as a prospective Manson follower willing to do his bidding. The killer responded with a list of reading material that Jason should learn to become part of the family.
Jason Moss juggled these ‘relationships’ for quite a while, his youthful bravado blinding him to the dangerous game he was playing. The student thought he could get into the killers’ heads by manipulating them, playing the role of someone each would find appealing to get them to correspond with him. He failed to realize that these monsters had mastered the art of manipulation.
No inmate affected Jason more than John Wayne Gacy. What began as benign letter writing escalated to enclosing photos with the correspondence to some of the inmates. Soon Gacy was calling Jason’s home, the two sharing brief conversations. At one point Jason introduced his younger brother Jarrod into the strange relationship, which would culminate into a later blackmail attempt by Gacy.
Jason realizes he is in too deep with his project. The madmen have consumed his every thought, and keeping his prison pen pals and his characters straight is overwhelming. He fears the real Jason will be lost among the various characters he is playing to ingratiate himself to his sadistic prison friends. Not only is he losing his sanity, his relationships with his family, friends, and girlfriend suffer. He withdraws from his normal life, immersed in the world of the condemned.
When Gacy suggests Jason fly to the prison to meet him on his dime, weeks before his scheduled execution, his parents agree. Mrs. Moss speaks to Gacy herself via telephone to assure her son’s safety. She insists on also speaking with the warden to further calm her fears. She is satisfied with their conversation, but who did Gacy really put on the line? Is it really the killer’s lawyer, who bears a resemblance to Gacy, who picks him up from the airport? What happens when the promise of separate hotel rooms turns into one room for virtual strangers?
The story becomes even more riveting when Jason meets his pen pal in person. The interaction between the young man and serial killer is nothing short of chilling. Jason figuratively becomes Gacy’s last victim. I found myself engrossed and disgusted by what was allowed to transpire in the prison, and couldn’t put the book down. The visit was to last three days, but Jason went home after two.
Embarrassed to admit what happened, he told his parents the truth about his horrifying trip. The family watched coverage of Gacy’s execution on television, celebrating his last breath. Finally free of Gacy’s grasp, Jason Moss went on to have internships with the Secret Service and ATF before realizing his dream of becoming an attorney. Sadly, the author took his life on June 6, 2006 (6/6/06). Spoiler alert: below is a video from the author’s appearance on the television show Hard Copy, where he mentions a bit about his meeting with Gacy.
The book is a must read for true crime fans. Dear Mr. Gacy, starring William Forsythe as the killer, is a film based on The Last Victim, which is not nearly as thorough as the book. Despite that the story progresses faster and omits much detail, it’s one of the better serial killer movies. If you have an interest in the subject, serial killers in particular, I recommend both The Last Victim and Dear Mr. Gacy.