Between 1972 and 1978, one of the world’s most notorious serial killers, John Wayne Gacy, murdered at least 33 young men and boys. He lured these vulnerable men off of the streets of Chicago and into his Norwood Park home, where they were never heard from again.
Since their discovery within Gacy’s property, many of his victims have been identified, but due to decay a few of the bodies have remained unknown for 40 years. This has left families without any semblance of closure.
On July 19th, Cook County police identified “Victim No. 24” as James Byron Haakenson, a 16-year-old from St. Paul, Minnesota in search of a life in the big city.
Haakenson called his mother on August 5, 1976 letting her know that he arrived in Chicago, making it the last time she would ever hear from him.
It’s not clear exactly how Haakenson came into contact with Gacy. The man known as the “killer clown” was known to prowl the streets of Chicago searching for young men who were gay, alone, or looking for job opportunities. Gacy would lure the men back to his home by promising rides, money, a job, or drugs and alcohol.
We all know how it turned out for these boys once Gacy got them inside.
When police searched Gacy’s home in 1978, Haakenson’s body was uncovered in the crawlspace. But, due to decomposition, was unidentifiable. Thanks to advancements in DNA, police were able to make a match when a nephew of Haakenson reached out to Cook County seeking answers.
The nephew came across a county-wide effort to identify the victims via DNA testing. He persuaded his father and aunt, Haakenson’s brother and sister, to take the test. It was an immediate hit.
When the bodies of his victims were first discovered in ’78, there were eight unidentified victims. Thanks to technology, that number has been reduced to six. These victims have been identified because people agreed to come forward with DNA for testing.
That’s why police are encouraging people who have had loved ones go missing in Chicago during that time to come forward and submit their DNA for testing, so that they may hopefully get the answers they need.