The Chicago, IL neighborhood of Norwood Park is called home by some of Chicago’s finest. Teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other blue-collar workers flock to the community known for its immaculate lawns, lush trees, and churches. A typical middle class, Mid-Western neighborhood, that in 1974 would also be called home to another man. A local construction business owner, active in local Democratic political campaigns, a member of the River Grove Moose lodge, director of the local Polish Constitution Day parade, and who even volunteered his time hosting charity fundraisers with the Jolly Jokers – a clown troupe dedicated to entertaining children.
What the residents of the quaint community of Norwood Park didn’t know is that John Wayne Gacy, a neighbor and friend to many, who was appointed special clearance within the secret service by first lady Rosalynn Carter, and had delighted children as his self-made alter ego Pogo the Clown, was harboring a dark secret underneath all that caked on greasepaint.
The Waterloo Incidents
Before settling in Chicago, Gacy lived in Waterloo, IA, running several Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants owned by his father-in-law. It was through his management position within the fast food chain that he began befriending teenage boys and young men.
In December of 1967, Gacy invited a young co-worker, Donald Voorhees, over to his home to watch some pornographic movies. Voorhees, being a teenage boy, of course agreed to come over to his manager’s home in order to catch a glimpse of exposed female anatomy. It was during this meeting that Gacy began informing Voorhees about the Kinsey Report – a study on the sexual behaviors of Americans under the age of 35. He told Donald that, according to the study, most boys his age had their first sexual experience by performing oral sex on another man.
Gacy continued to groom the young man, giving him money and purchasing him gifts, in order to coerce Voorhees into having anal sex with him. Donald would eventually go to police with his allegations against Gacy. It was through the investigation into the Voorhees’ case that Gacy was also found to have engaged in sexual acts with other teenage boys, including a fry cook he employed named Edward Lynch.
Gacy not only raped the young man but when Lynch refused Gacy’s advances he shackled him to a bed, threatened him with a knife, then choked him to the point of urinating on the bed and losing consciousness. The other boys had been handcuffed and raped. Gacy would only admit to having sex with Voorhees but claimed that it was consensual and that he only partook out of curiosity. The judge didn’t buy it and on December 3, 1968, Gacy was found guilt of sodomy and sentenced to serve 10 years at the Iowa State Reformatory for Men.
Less than two years later Gacy would be back out on the streets again. As part of the terms of his parole, Gacy was forced to move in with his mother in Chicago. In 1971, while still on parole, a teenage boy Gacy picked up from the Greyhound bus station alleged that Gacy had attempted to force the boy into having sex with him. The charges were later dismissed due to the young man’s failure to appear in court. Although the offense would be in violation of Gacy’s parole, the Iowa parole board was never given notice of the allegations. In October of 1971, Gacy’s parole would come to an end and his Iowa records were sealed.
After his parole ended, with the help of his mother, Gacy was able to purchase his home in Norwood Park. Gacy’s first wife divorced him shortly after his arrest, and he began dating a divorcée and mother of two daughters named Carole Hoff while in Chicago, whom he would marry a year later.
Old habits died hard for Gacy, and on June 22, 1972, just a week before his marriage to Hoff, he was again arrested. A young man alleged that Gacy, posing as a police officer, confronted him and lured him into his car, where he was forced to perform oral sex. The case was later dismissed when it was discovered that the plaintiff was attempting to blackmail Gacy in order to have the charges dropped.
After Gacy’s marriage, he started his own construction company, PDM Construction. Gacy had recently purchased a piece of property in Florida and asked a teenage male employee to accompany him on the trip. While in the Florida hotel room, Gacy raped the boy. Upon returning to Chicago, the boy drove to Gacy’s home and beat him on his front lawn. Gacy’s excuse to his wife was that the boy was angry over Gacy refusing to pay him for poor quality work.
By May of 1975, Gacy and Hoff’s marriage began to suffer. Gacy had been spending more time away from home, often not returning until late into the evening. If Gacy was at home, he was entertaining teenage boys in his garage. Hoff had also found gay pornography lying around the house.
Gacy had turned to his sexually deviant behaviors for comfort and went to the home of a young man he had recently employed. The boy had injured his foot and Gacy claimed he was just stopping by to check on him. He fed the boy copious amounts of alcohol and attempted to trick the boy into putting on a pair of handcuffs. The boy wrestled the key out of Gacy’s pocket before he had a chance to fully shackle him, then jumped on Gacy and put the cuffs on him. Gacy agreed to leave if the boy set him free.
It was also during this time that Gacy began making his transition from serial rapist to serial murderer. Just a week after the handcuff incident, Gacy would claim the life of John Butkovich, later found to be his third victim.
The Initial Murders
Gacy had committed three murders prior to his 1976-1978 spree. His first victim, Timothy McCoy, a 15-year-old on his way home to visit family, was picked up by Gacy at the bus station on January 3, 1972. Gacy claimed that the murder was caused by self-defense. After Gacy took the boy home and had sex with him, he awoke the next day to find the boy standing in his room with a knife. When the boy lowered his arm, causing the knife to accidentally cut Gacy, he thought the boy was trying to kill him. He wrestled the boy to the ground, took the knife from his hand, and stabbed him repeatedly in the chest while straddled on top of him. After the boy was dead, he walked into the kitchen and saw that McCoy had just finished preparing a breakfast for two, complete with sliced ham. He buried the boy in his crawlspace and covered his grave with concrete. During a later interview on the incident, Gacy was quoted as saying:
That’s when I realized that death was the ultimate thrill.
In January of 1974, Gacy would relive that thrill with an unidentified teen, believed to have been between the ages of 14 and 18. Gacy strangled the boy and stored the body in his closet before burying him. He dragged the boy’s body into his back yard and stuffed him into a makeshift grave near his barbecue pit.
On July 29, 1975, Gacy’s employee, 17-year-old John Butkovich, had been reported missing. Prior to his disappearance, Butkovich and Gacy had gotten into a dispute over unpaid wages. Gacy lured Butkovich to his home under the pretense that the two were going to settle the matter, while his wife and step-daughters were visiting family in another state. Instead, Gacy tricked the boy into putting on handcuffs, then raped him, before he “sat on the kid’s chest for a while,” and strangled him to death. Gacy buried Butkovich’s body underneath his garage. He then took the teen’s car and left it in a parking lot, with Butkovich’s keys and wallet sitting out on the front seat.
Butkovich’s parents were convinced that Gacy was involved in the boy’s disappearance and called police at least once a week for nearly two years, urging them to investigate Gacy. Had the police followed the Butkoviches’ instructions, the lives of at least 30 other young men and teenage boys could have been spared.
1976-1978 Killing Spree
“Let me show you some of my tricks. Pogo does these all the time.” For the next several minutes the large man went through his ritual. Having unfastened the handcuffs which hung from his waist he proceeded to cuff his own wrists in front of himself and escape. Next, he cuffed his wrists back and, in a matter of seconds, escaped. He’ll fall for it! They all do. It’s their mentality—just like the police. -Excerpt from The Chicago Killer: The Hunt for Serial Killer John Wayne Gacy by Joseph R. Kozenczak & Karen M. Kozencz
It was after Butkovich’s murder that Gacy began killing more frequently. In 1976 alone, Gacy would claim the lives of at least 17 more young boys and bury them on his own residential property.
18-year old Darrell Sampson would be the next boy to fall prey to Gacy, last seen alive in Chicago on April 6, 1976. A few weeks later, a 15-year-old named Randall Reffett would be reported missing, after he failed to return home from school, along with another 14-year-old boy named Samuel Stapleton. All three bodies would be later exhumed from Gacy’s crawlspace.
In June of 1976, Gacy claimed two more victims. Michael Bonnin was last seen alive while on his way to meet his step-father’s brother at the train station. Ten days later Billy Carroll was reported missing.
Between August and October of 1976 Gacy killed eight more teenage boys and young men, five of which have never been identified. Rick Johnston, Kenneth Parker (who disappeared at the same time as friend Michael Marino), and William Bundy.
Gacy’s final two murders in 1976 included an unidentified boy and Gregory Godzik, an employee of Gacy’s. Before Godzik’s disappearance, he had told family that Gacy had contracted him to dig trenches within his crawlspace. Gacy was questioned by Godzik’s family about Gregory’s whereabouts. He suggested that perhaps Gregory had run away since he had confided in Gacy that he had been thinking about doing so.
1977 would add 11 fresh young bodies for Gacy’s mounting collection at 8213 West Summerdale Avenue. Among them were PDM Construction employee John Szyc, former marine John Mowery, Minneapolis architecture student Russell Nelson, Jon Prestidge and Robert Winch from Michigan, Matthew Bowman from Crystal Lake, IL, 18-year-old Robert Gilroy, 20-year-old Tommy Boling, and 19-year-old David Talsma, along with two other unidentified victims.
Another employee of PDM Construction was found to be driving Szyc’s car after his mysterious disappearance. Gacy claimed that Szyc had sold the car to the employee when questioned by police and no further follow-up was conducted on the matter.
After the murder of William Kindred, Gacy’s crawlspace became so full of bodies that he began transporting them to the Des Plaines River. Timothy O’Rourke, Frank Landingin, James Mazzara, and Robert Piest were among the victims recovered from the river.
Robert Piest would be the last young man reeled in by Gacy. Piest had been working at a local pharmacy when he overheard Gacy talking about a big project his contracting company was taking on. Piest told his mother that he was going to talk to Gacy about getting a job. That was the last time Mrs. Piest would hear from her son. She filed a missing persons report with police and asked the pharmacist if she knew of the contractor Robert may have gone to talk to. The pharmacist told her that he may have gone to see John Wayne Gacy.
Police went to Gacy’s home to question him about the incident, but he claimed that he had never spoken with Robert and agreed to come down to the station for further questioning. Gacy showed up to the Des Plaines police station at 3:20 am the next morning covered in mud. He also alleged that he had gotten into an automobile accident on the way. He was informed that the detective had gone home for the evening and told to come back later that day.
Gacy remained adamant throughout the initial investigations that he had never met with Robert Piest or offered the boy a job. In spite of his claims, lead investigator James Pickell was convinced that Gacy was was responsible for Piest’s disappearance. Pickell was able to uncover Gacy’s sealed record from Iowa and was granted a search warrant by a Chicago area judge.
Recovered from Gacy’s home were a collection of drivers licenses, a 1975 class ring (later determined to belong to Szyc), male clothing much too small to have fit Gacy, a board with holes drilled into it, reading material involving pederasty, a pistol, and a receipt from the pharmacy Piest had been employed at.
On December 5, 1977, police were able to get in touch with Jeffrey Rignall, who was currently pursuing a battery charge against Gacy. Rignall claimed that as he was walking home from a bar that evening, Gacy pulled over and offered the man a ride. Rignall got into the car where Gacy held a rag soaked in chloroform to his nose and mouth, causing Rignall to lose consciousness. Gacy then took Rignall to his home and offered him a drink before, again, holding the chloroform soaked rag to his face. Rignall awoke to find himself shackled to a board suspended from the ceiling with holes for his arms and head drilled through. Gacy was standing in front of him masturbating, then forced his penis into Rignall’s mouth. Rignall again lost consciousness and awoke to an object being inserted into his rectum as Gacy barked “you love it” to him repeatedly. Rignall lost consciousness for a third time and awoke to find himself battered and bleeding in the middle of Lincoln Park.
Gacy was under heavy police surveillance throughout this time. He was even brazen enough to invite the officers out to dinner with him or to the bar for a drink, all the while maintaining that he had nothing to do with Piest’s disappearance. He claimed that the accusations had to do with his political ties and often taunted officers by purposely breaking traffic laws in front of them.
Police K9s were trained to pick up any indication of Piest’s presence and were set loose on Gacy’s fleet of vehicles, which included his work vans. The dogs all climbed inside of Gacy’s Oldsmobile and laid on the seat, indicating that Piest’s body had been within the vehicle.
Gacy invited detectives out for breakfast one morning. He entertained the officers with stories of his life as a contractor and how he had also worked with a clown troupe for various fundraisers. He arrogantly remarked to one of the officers
“You know… clowns get away with murder.”
Gacy may have found the cat and mouse game he was playing to be amusing, but little did he know that investigators were able to track down the cashier listed on the pharmacy receipt found in Gacy’s possession. The clerk claimed that she had worn Piest’s coat and that she had placed the receipt in the pocket before returning the coat to Piest, prior to him leaving the store that day. Proving that Piest had been in Gacy’s home, contrary to his denial that he had never met with the boy.
An employee of Gacy’s was called in for questioning. He admitted to officers that Gacy had the young man spread ten pounds of lime around his crawlspace. After the initial questioning of Gacy’s employee, Gacy had invited officers into his home. While using his restroom, one of the officers noticed the distinctive odor of human decomposition emanating from Gacy’s heating ducts. Police called the employee back for more questioning and he speculated that Gacy may have put bodies in his crawlspace.
It would seem that the walls were closing in on Gacy, and the real monster hiding underneath that clown makeup was beginning to show.
The stress of the intense police surveillance was beginning to get to Gacy. On December 20, 1977, Gacy stumbled into his lawyer, Sam Amirante’s, office drunk as a skunk and made a full confession. Gacy was arrested the following day on a minor drug charge and police were able to obtain a search warrant to investigate the crawlspace. 29 bodies were found to be buried underneath Gacy’s home. Four more were found buried along the Des Plaines River. While in police custody Gacy confessed to the murders and even drew out a map to where some of the other bodies were located but refused to sign anything.
Murder Victim Timeline
- Timothy McCoy – 15 years old. Picked up by Gacy at the Greyhound bus station and stabbed to death on January 3, 1972, when he believed the boy was attempting to murder him. Gacy hid the body in his crawlspace and entombed the corpse in concrete.
- John Doe #1 – A boy with medium brown curly hair believed to be between 14 and 18 years old. Strangled to death by Gacy in January of 1974. His body was housed in Gacy’s closet and later buried in Gacy’s backyard near his barbecue pit.
- John Butkovich – A 17-year-old former employee of Gacy’s. On July 29, 1975 the boy was handcuffed and raped before Gacy strangled him to death. He was buried under Gacy’s garage. In spite of the boy’s parents’ insistence that police follow up on Gacy, the police considered the boy a runaway at the time.
- Darrell Sampson – An 18-year-old who was last seen alive in Chicago, IL on April 5, 1976. His body was exhumed from Gacy’s crawlspace and is believed to have been murdered on April 6, 1976.
- Randall Reffett – A 15-year-old who was reported missing after he failed to come home after school. His body was one of the many exhumed from Gacy’s crawlspace and was believed to have been asphyxiated on May 14, 1976.
- Samuel Stapleton – A 14-year-old boy who was murdered by Gacy on May 14, 1976. His body was buried in Gacy’s crawlspace.
- Michael Bonnin – The 17-year-old was last seen alive heading towards the train station to meet with his step-father’s brother on June 3, 1976. His body was later exhumed from Gacy’s crawlspace.
- William Carroll – A 16-year-old who mysteriously went missing. He was believed to have been killed on June 13, 1976. His body was among those stored within Gacy’s crawlspace.
- John Doe #2 – A man between the ages of 22–30. Believed to have been murdered between June 13 and August 6, 1976. The man’s remains were among those exhumed from Gacy’s crawlspace.
- John Doe #3 – A teen between the ages of 15 and 19. Believed to have been murdered between June 13 and August 6, 1976. The teen’s remains were among those exhumed from Gacy’s crawlspace.
- Rick Johnston – A 17-year-old Bensenville boy who Gacy picked up on the street. He was believed to have been murdered on August 6, 1976. His body was exhumed from Gacy’s crawlspace.
- John Doe #4 – A male between the ages of 17 and 21. Believed to have been murdered between August 6 and October 5, 1976. The body was among those exhumed from Gacy’s crawlspace.
- John Doe #5 – A man between the ages of 21 and 27. Believed to have been murdered between August 6 and October 24, 1976. The body was among those exhumed from Gacy’s crawlspace.
- Kenneth Parker – A 16-year-old who was last seen with friend Michael Marino near a restaurant near Clark St. He is believed to have been killed on October 14, 1976. His remains were among those exhumed from Gacy’s crawlspace.
- John Doe #6 – A male approximately 14-years-old. Believed to have been murdered on October 24, 1976. His body was among those exhumed from Gacy’s crawlspace.
- William Bundy – A 19-year-old who left his home never to be seen again. He is believed to have been murdered on October 26, 1976. He was among the bodies exhumed from Gacy’s crawlspace.
- Gregory Godzik – A 17-year-old employee with Gacy’s construction company. He is believed to have been murdered on December 12, 1976. His body was among those exhumed from Gacy’s crawlspace.
- John Doe #7 – A man between the ages of 22 and 32. Believed to have been murdered between December 1976 and March 15, 1977. His body was among those exhumed from Gacy’s crawlspace.
- John Szyc – A 19-year-old employee of Gacy’s who was murdered on January 20, 1977. His body was later exhumed with the others in Gacy’s crawlspace.
- Jon Prestidge – A 20-year-old Michigan man visiting with friends in Chicago. He was believed to have been murdered on March 15, 1977. His remains were among those exhumed from Gacy’s crawlspace.
- John Doe #8 – A male between the ages of 17 and 21. Believed to have been murdered between March 15 and July 5, 1977. His remains were among those exhumed from Gacy’s crawlspace.
- Matthew Bowman – A 19-year-old Crystal Lake, IL resident who was believed to have been murdered on July 5, 1977. His body was among those exhumed from Gacy’s Crawlspace.
- Robert Gilroy – An 18-year-old who was presumed to have been murdered on September 15, 1977. The boy had been asphyxiated by a piece of cloth shoved down his throat. His remains were among those exhumed from Gacy’s crawlspace.
- John Mowery – A 19-year-old former Marine. He went missing three days after an associate of Gacy’s moved into his apartment. He is believed to have been murdered on September 25, 1977. His remains were among those removed from Gacy’s crawlspace.
- Russell Nelson – A 21-year-old architecture student from Minneapolis went missing from outside a Chicago bar. The man had died of asphyxiation by a piece of cloth lodged within his throat on October 17, 1977. His body was among those found in Gacy’s crawlspace.
- Robert Winch – A 16-year-old boy from Kalamazoo, MI. Believed to have been murdered on November 10, 1977. His remains were among those found in Gacy’s crawlspace.
- Tommy Boling – A 20-year-old Chicago man believed to have been killed by Gacy on November 18, 1977. His body was among those exhumed from Gacy’s crawlspace.
- David Talsma – 19-year-old who disappeared on his way to a rock concert. He is believed to have been murdered on December 9, 1977. His body was among the 26 exhumed from Gacy’s crawlspace.
- William Kindred – 19-year-old last seen alive heading to a local bar. He was believed to have been murdered on February 16, 1978. His was the last body to be buried within Gacy’s crawlspace.
- Timothy O’Rourke – 20-year-old last heard to mention that he had recently been offered a job by a local contractor. He was believed to have been murdered between June 16 and 23, 1978. His body was recovered from the Des Plaines River.
- Frank Landingin – A 19-year-old found naked in the Des Plaines River. Believed to have been murdered by Gacy on November 4, 1978.
- James Mazzara – 21-year-old found floating in the Des Plaines River. Believed to have been murdered by Gacy on November 24, 1978.
- Robert Piest – A 15-year-old last seen heading towards Gacy’s to talk to him about a job with PDM Construction. Believed to have been murdered on December 11, 1978. His body was later recovered from the Des Plaines River.
Gacy was charged with 33 counts of murder, the most ever attributed to one person within the country at the time. A number of acquaintances and family members testified against Gacy, including a former roommate, Michel Ried, who lived with Gacy in the midst of his killing spree.
Gacy had met Ried at a bar and engaged in sex with him. He paid Ried for sexual favors and gave him a job with his construction company. A short time after their meeting, Ried moved in with Gacy. Ried alleged that while working in Gacy’s garage one evening, Gacy had struck him with a hammer, knocking him unconscious. When he came to he saw Gacy standing over him with the hammer still in his hand and his arm raised like he was going to hit him again. Gacy apologized and said he didn’t know what came over him. A similar incident had also occurred when Gacy and Ried attempted to burglarize a home.
Gacy’s second wife, Carol, also testified. She claimed to have noticed a strange smell coming from the crawlspace after she hadn’t been home for several days. She left again and when she returned to the house a week later she had noticed the smell was gone. Gacy had poured concrete into the crawlspace.
Gacy attempted to plead not guilty by reason of insanity, but the jury thought differently. On March 12, 1977, after less than two hours of deliberation, Gacy was found guilty on all 33 counts of murder and ordered to serve 12 death sentences, in addition to 21 consecutive life sentences.
At least three of Gacy’s victims did not die under the circumstances of his typical M.O. and this has led some to believe that Gacy may have had accomplices. Gacy has also claimed during televised interviews that he did not act alone in the murder and rape of the 33 boys.
Just three days before John Mowery, a former Marine, had gone missing, an associate of Gacy’s had moved into Mowery’s apartment. Two girls who were friends of Mowery’s went to his apartment and spoke with the roommate after Mowery’s disappearance. The girls alleged that his roommate said he knew of a place where dozens of bodies were buried that no one, not even the police, knew about. He reassured the girls that Mowery probably just went on vacation and offered them Mowery’s dog. They found the conversation unusual and questioned why the roommate was trying to give them the dog if he believed Mowery was just out of town.
Jeffrey Rignall, the victim who survived a sexual assault by Gacy, also claims that there was a second man present when he was kidnapped and raped. This man is alleged to have fit the description of Mowery’s roommate. This man has not been officially named since he was never implicated in the crime but has been arrested for several violent crimes.
Robert Gilroy is another victim believed to have not been killed by Gacy alone. Gacy was known to strangle his victims via a tourniquet, however, evidence shows that Gilroy had asphyxiated on a piece of cloth lodged within his throat. Gacy was also able to prove that he was not in town during Gilroy’s disappearance, though Gilroy’s body was among the victims identified in the crawlspace underneath Gacy’s home.
The murder of 21-year-old architecture student Russell Nelson has also come into question. He was with a friend outside of a Chicago bar when he went missing. Many have raised questions on how Nelson was able to disappear without his friend noticing. Like Gilroy, Nelson was also found with cloth lodged within his esophagus.
Gacy attempted to appeal his death sentence several times with no luck. The killer clown, John Wayne Gacy, was put to death by lethal injection on May 10, 1994. Even today there are still questions about the murders that occurred in Gacy’s Norwood Park home and if there could be more bodies, including bodies in other states. Gacy’s final words were “Kiss my ass.”
Michael Marino was believed to have been identified among those exhumed from Gacy’s crawlspace, however, Marino’s mother always had doubts that the corpse was her son. Through DNA evidence, Marino was able to confirm her suspicions. The grave she had lovingly tended to throughout the years did not contain the body of her son.
Michael was last seen with his friend Kenneth Parker, who had been positively identified as one of Gacy’s victims, walking down Clark St. in Chicago. The fact that Marino was not identified through DNA testing on the victims found within Gacy’s crawlspace nor those uncovered near the Des Plaines River may prove that Gacy had hidden bodies in other locations aside from those he admitted to investigators in the case.
Gacy is known to have visited a number of other states, including Michigan, during his killing sprees and some believe that he may have left a trail of bodies around the country.
Victims Found Alive
Oddly enough, some believed victims of Gacy have been found alive and well in recent years. One such case is Robert Hutton. After a woman submitted Hutton’s name to investigators in their attempts to identify the eight John Does found buried underneath Gacy’s home, they followed a lead tracking the man to Montana. Hutton’s discovery makes him the fifth potential victim later found alive since investigators began conducting DNA testing on the bodies. Although it’s been almost forty years since Gacy’s serial rape and murders, the victims found alive show some families that there is still some hope in reuniting with their missing loved ones.