Husband. Father. Business owner. Entertainer. Serial killer. By all accounts John Wayne Gacy was a likeable guy to those who knew him, but he harbored a dark secret and even darker desires. Why are we still fascinated by the killer clown?
John Wayne Gacy was born on March 17, 1942, in Chicago, Illinois. He grew up with an alcoholic, abusive father. His mother Marion, as well as his siblings, were the recipients of the elder Gacy’s physical and emotional abuse. As a young man, Gacy began to have feelings for the same sex, and tried in vain to suppress them. In no way would his father approve of his namesake’s homosexuality, as he always found fault with his son.
Gacy married young and relocated to Iowa, attempting to conceal his attraction to young men and boys. Behind the facade of a normal family life, which included first wife Marlynn and their two children, Gacy had another life, one which involved intimacy with males. His dalliances weren’t all consensual, and the upstanding citizen was slapped with sodomy charges and later convicted. It should come as no surprise that Gacy found himself single after he was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Released after serving less than a two-year stint in prison, the felon moved back to Chicago, and married naïve Carole Hoff, who would later claim she didn’t know why her marital home with Gacy smelled so horrific. He started his own construction company, PDM Contractors (Painting, Decorating, and Maintenance), trying to keep up appearances as a normal family man. However, again he would be unable to resist the temptation of young boys. In fact, he turned into a killing machine.
He would victimize employees, acquaintances, and strangers he seduced off the street. Once the young men were trapped in Gacy’s home, they were at his mercy. Not all of them were killed; at least two survived their encounter. After he had his way with them, Gacy finished them off in what was known as the “rope trick.” Their ordeal ended once the rope was tightened by a ligature around their necks. Gacy killed 33 young men and boys, stashing multiple bodies in the crawlspace and in other locations of his ranch home, located in the Chicago suburb of Des Plaines. When the crawlspace reached its capacity, Gacy tossed more victims into a nearby river.
Gacy’s crime spree continued until the disappearance of 15-year-old Robert Piest. His mother knew he was going to see about a summer job with a local contracting company. When he failed to return, the police were contacted. A check of Gacy’s prior criminal history revealed his conviction on sodomy charges involving another 15 year old, and he was arrested. A subsequent search of his home found human remains and other incriminating evidence.
Gacy attempted an insanity defense, but no one with any power to help his cause believed his split personality ruse. He also suggested that he knew something about some of the victims found at his home, but claimed the majority were killed by people with keys to his home while he was away on business. That explanation didn’t sit well either, and after 14 years on death row, the killer was executed by lethal injection on May 10, 1994 in Crest Hill, Illinois, at the Stateville Correctional Center. Arrogant and unapologetic throughout it all, it’s believed that when asked for his final words, he responded “Kiss my ass.”
Why was John Wayne Gacy nicknamed the Killer Clown? When he wasn’t committing his horrible crimes, he performed for sick children and charities as Pogo the Clown, and sometimes as Patches, another clown character. How could he commit such atrocities when he was able to bring so much joy to children? Everything about him was a contradiction.
Gacy is featured in Jason Moss’s incredible book The Last Victim. This is one of my favorite true crime books, one of few I couldn’t put down. The author writes to incarcerated serial killers in the hopes of understanding how they tick. Moss wants to join the FBI, and he hopes that his project will help land him a job in the bureau. He corresponds with several killers, but he strikes up an odd relationship with John Wayne Gacy. Letters lead to phone calls, then to a prison visit, with Gacy footing the bill for Moss to fly to Menard Correctional Center. You’ll have to read it to find out what happens during their meeting.
You can also check out John Wayne Gacy: Defending a Monster by Sam Amirante, his defense attorney. There is a companion book to this title, Terry Sullivan’s Killer Clown: The John Wayne Gacy Murders. Sullivan was the prosecutor in the case.
If reading isn’t your thing, there is a 2010 movie based on the book with William Forsythe as Gacy. Like most movies created from books, Dear Mr. Gacy isn’t nearly as detailed, but it’s worth a watch. I enjoyed it.
There is a lot of murderabilia associated with Gacy. Murderabilia describes items related to murderers that are popular with collectors. While on death row, Gacy had a lot of time on his hands, and he turned to painting. His art has commanded five-figure price tags. The monster often painted himself in his Pogo the Clown persona.
John Wayne Gacy led two lives. On one hand he was a model citizen, active in politics and his community, and an entertainer of children. He was well regarded by his peers, and had his own children as well as stepchildren. He lived in an unassuming home in the suburbs. His sinister, deviant side got the best of him and led to the deaths of innocent people who crossed his path. It seems the State of Illinois and the victims’ loved ones had the last laugh on the Killer Clown.