John Wayne Gacy Biography - House, Clown & Victims

John Wayne Gacy, sometimes known as the “Killer Clown,” was a serial murderer who murdered at least 33 adolescent boys and young men.

What Was the Life of John Wayne Gacy Like?

John Wayne Gacy was a serial murderer and rapist who killed at least 33 adolescent boys and young men in Cook County, Illinois and buried the majority of them beneath his house. Gacy had a violent upbringing and struggled with his homosexuality, earning him the moniker “Killer Clown” for his propensity of dressing in a clown costume and makeup.

Gacy carried out all of the killings at his Norwood Park house, enticing his victims in with the pretense of construction labor or some other ploy, then sexually abusing and torturing them before strangling them. Gacy was captured in 1979 and convicted of 33 murders the following year. In 1994, Gacy was executed.


Fast Facts

FULL NAME: John Wayne Gacy
BORN: March 17, 1942
DIED: May 10, 1994
BIRTHPLACE: Chicago, Illinois
SPOUSES: Marlynn Myers (1964-1969) and Carole Hoff (1972-1976)
CHILDREN: Michael and Christine


John Wayne Gacy was born in Chicago on March 17, 1942, to John Stanley Gacy and Marion Elaine Robison. His father, an auto repair machinist, and World War I veteran, suffered from alcoholism and used a razor strap to beat John and his two sisters if they were judged to have misbehaved. According to Barry E. Boschelli’s Johnny and Me: The True Story of John Wayne Gacy, John’s father constantly disparaged him, calling him dumb and comparing him to his sisters.

According to Killer Clown: The John Wayne Gacy Murders by Terry Sullivan, Gacy’s psychosexual history began between the ages of 6 and 10 when a teenage daughter of one of his mother’s acquaintances undressed and played with him. According to Sullivan, Gacy was abused at an early age by a family friend and contractor, and between the ages of 10 and 12, Gacy and a buddy were accused of sexually fondling a young girl.

According to John Wayne Gacy: Defending a Monster by Sam L. Amirante and Danny Broderick, as a sickly, overweight, uncoordinated youngster, Gacy was unable to perform in sports or bond with children his own age. He was isolated at school since he was unable to play with other children owing to a congenital heart problem that his father saw as another shortcoming. As an adolescent, he had frequent seizures and blackouts and was frequently sent to hospitals, while his father accused him of fabricating the symptoms for attention. Gacy subsequently realized he was drawn to guys and struggled with his sexuality.

Work and Family Life

Despite not having completed high school, Gacy enrolled and graduated from Northwestern Business College in Chicago before working as a salesperson and manager at a shoe firm. He met and married Marlynn Myers, whose father owned three KFC locations in Waterloo, Iowa, in 1964. According to Tim Cahill and Rusty Ewing’s book Buried Dreams: Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer, Gacy moved there to run the restaurants, and he and Myers had two children together.

In the 1970s, Gacy established himself as a self-made construction contractor and Democratic precinct commander in the Chicago suburbs. He subsequently thought that his political activity was an attempt to antagonize his father, who derided his political interest. “And maybe it was a way of getting acceptance,” Gacy told Buried Dreams. “I was always looking for acceptance because my father always made me feel like I wasn’t good enough.”

Gacy was well-liked in his neighborhood and was involved in political organizations as well as the Jaycees civic society. Gacy subsequently described this as the happiest time of his life, and he even received much-coveted praise from his father, who admitted he was “wrong” about Gacy. “Back then, I was thinking of running for alderman,” Gacy told Buried Dreams. “After that, I planned to run for mayor, and if that failed, I planned to run for state Senate.” “I didn’t see any boundaries.”

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Gacy was a member of the Chicago-area ‘Jolly Joker’ clown club, and he routinely appeared in clown costumes and makeup at children’s parties, charity fundraisers, and other events as ‘Pogo the Clown’ or ‘Patches the Clown’. Years later, while under surveillance, Gacy discussed his employment as a clown with police, noting, “Clowns can get away with murder.”

First Arrests and Sexual Assaults

Gacy was charged with sexually abusing a juvenile boy and attempted to abuse another in 1968. He adamantly refuted the claims, and several members of the community believed him over the victim. According to Killer Clown, he urged one of his subordinates to assault the victim in a failed attempt to prevent him from testifying. Gacy was convicted and sentenced to ten years in jail, following which his wife divorced him and gained full custody of their children.

Gacy, a model inmate, was granted parole in the summer of 1970 after serving 18 months of his sentence. According to John Wayne Gacy: Defending a Monster, Gacy was arrested again the following year when another youngster said he lured him into his car and took him to his residence, where Gacy tried to force him into sex. When the youngster failed to attend the trial, the charges were withdrawn. According to Buried Dreams, Gacy purchased a property on 8213 West Summerdale Avenue in Norwood Park, Illinois, with financial support from his mother, where all of his future killings would take place.

Gacy founded PDM Contractors, a fast-growing and financially successful construction company, in 1971. Gacy married Carole Hoff, whom he had briefly dated in high school, the same year. In 1972, the couple married. Most of his PDM Contractors employees were high school students and young men to whom he would propose sex, sometimes under the fear of violence. Despite this, Gacy maintained a public persona as a community leader, organizing popular and well-attended summer parties, according to Buried Dreams.

Victims of John Wayne Gacy

Gacy’s first known murder occurred in January 1972, after enticing 16-year-old Timothy McCoy to his residence for sex. Gacy observed McCoy standing at the bedroom doorway with a knife the next morning and ran to assault him, wrestling the knife away and stabbing McCoy to death. Gacy then realized that McCoy wasn’t assaulting or threatening him, but was holding the knife since he had just prepared them breakfast. Nonetheless, Gacy discovered that murdering McCoy provided him with sexual fulfillment, and subsequently stated, “That’s when I realized that death was the ultimate thrill,” according to Buried Dreams.

Another of Gacy’s victims was John Butkovich, an 18-year-old PDM employee whom Gacy enticed to his home with the pretense of discussing past-due money. According to Clifford L. Linedecker’s The Man Who Killed Boys: The John Wayne Gacy Jr. Story, Gacy gave him booze, deceived him into putting handcuffs on, and then strangled him. Handcuffs were a common strategy for Gacy, who would sometimes inform his victims he was performing a “magic trick.” According to Linedecker, Butkovich’s parents were suspicious of Gacy and phoned the police more than 100 times, pleading with them to look into him more.

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By the mid-1970s, two more young men had accused Gacy of rape, and he was being questioned by police regarding other people’s disappearances. Gacy refers to this time in his life as his “cruising years,” during which he committed the majority of his killings. The majority of his victims were buried on the property, with some of them interred in a shared grave beneath his crawl space. According to John Wayne Gacy: Defending a Monster, one of his victims, a 17-year-old PDM employee named Gregory Godzik, informed his family that Gacy had previously forced him to dig trenches in his crawl space at his home; Gacy later told authorities that he planned this labor to create space for burials. After Godzik went missing, his family called Gacy, who informed them that Godzik had told Gacy that he intended to flee the country.

During this time, Gacy murdered numerous more people. Robert Donnelly, a 19-year-old college student taken from a Chicago bus stop, was one of those he left alive. Gacy raped and tormented Donnelly after bringing him to his residence, repeatedly submerging his head in a bathtub until he blacked out and staging pretend executions with a revolver loaded with banks. Donnelly was in such anguish that he asked Gacy to kill him, but Gacy let him leave with the warning not to tell anybody. Donnelly, on the other hand, reported him to the police. According to Buried Dreams, when investigators investigated, Gacy claimed it was a voluntary “sex slavery” meeting, and the cops believed him. One month later, Gacy murdered another victim.

Arrest and investigation

According to Killer Clown, by 1978, Gacy’s crawl area had run out of room for remains, and he began to dispose of his victims in the Des Plaines River from a bridge along Interstate 55.

Robert Piest, 15, went missing on December 11, 1978, after informing his mother he was going to meet Gacy to negotiate a possible construction job. Piest’s family filed a missing person complaint with the police, prompting a search of Gacy’s Norwood Park home. Authorities discovered many odd items there, including police credentials, a revolver, hypodermic needles, pornographic videos, and items subsequently determined to be the property of several of Gacy’s victims.

According to John Wayne Gacy: Defending a Monster, after a protracted period of police monitoring and investigation, authorities uncovered a receipt in Gacy’s residence that had belonged to Piest, contradicting Gacy’s assertion that he had no contact with Piest the day he went missing. This prompted more searches of Gacy’s home, which resulted in the discovery of multiple ditches filled with human remains in the crawl area beneath his home. Gacy finally admitted to murdering around 30 individuals.

Months after Gacy’s arrest, his home at 8213 West Summerdale Avenue in Norwood Park, Illinois, was demolished in an attempt to locate further evidence. The home and all structures on the land were demolished the next year, and a new house was subsequently erected on the property. According to one worker participating in the destruction of Gacy’s home, “If the devil’s alive, he lived here.”

Conviction and Trial

The trial of John Wayne Gacy began on February 6, 1980. After Gacy confessed to the atrocities, the debate was on whether he could be deemed crazy and so sent to a state mental hospital. According to Buried Dreams, Gacy spent hundreds of hours with physicians at the Menard Correctional Centre in Chester, Illinois, and underwent a battery of psychological exams.

Gacy said he suffered from multiple personality disorder and that his mind was divided between the identities of a contractor, clown, politician, and police officer known as “Bad Jack.” According to Buried Dreams, Gacy said “Bad Jack” despised homosexuality and saw male prostitutes and some of Gacy’s victims as “scum, weak, stupid, [and] degraded.”

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Gacy pled not guilty by reason of insanity and faced 33 murder counts. The prosecution contended that Gacy was sane and in control of his conduct, citing the extensive efforts Gacy took to plan and hide his killings. “These were certainly the acts of a man capable of premeditation, acting in his own best interest under duress, and recollecting the details of his criminal activities,” Killer Clown reports. Both sides called mental health doctors to testify regarding Gacy’s mental condition.

Gacy was convicted guilty of 33 murders on March 12, 1980, following a brief jury deliberation, and he became renowned as one of the most vicious serial murderers in American history.

Gacy spent 14 years in the Menard Correctional Centre in Chester, appealing his conviction and making contradicting explanations about the killings in interviews. Despite having previously confessed, Gacy then disputed wrongdoing and set up a 900 phone line with a 12-minute taped statement asserting his innocence.

Gacy studied the visual arts, particularly painting, while at Menard. His paintings were displayed to the public in a gallery in Chicago. In several of his works, Gacy is shown as “Pogo the Clown.” Mullock’s Auctions in Shropshire, England, auctioned off some of Gacy’s artworks, as well as crime scene photographs from Gacy’s trial, in 2017.

Last Words and Death

Following the rejection of Gacy’s final appeal by the United States Supreme Court in October 1993, an execution date was scheduled for May 10, 1994, at the Stateville Correctional Centre in Crest Hill, Illinois. Before his execution, Gacy stated that his death would bring no solace to the victims’ families and blamed the state for killing him. His last words were allegedly “Kiss my a–,” although the prosecutor who handled the case and was there at his execution testified Gacy did not speak in his dying minutes. Gacy was put to death via lethal injection.

There have been persistent fears in the years after Gacy’s arrest that he may have been responsible for the killings of additional persons whose corpses have yet to be discovered. In 1978, when authorities discovered human remains in Gacy’s home, eight corpses could not be identified. Cook County prosecutors utilized DNA evidence in July 2017 to identify one of these unnamed fatalities as 16-year-old James “Jimmie” Byron Haakenson, who had been missing since 1976. DNA testing in October 2021 revealed another of Gacy’s victims as 21-year-old Francis Wayne Alexander, who had vanished in 1976.

John Wayne Gacy biopic

To Catch a Killer, a 1992 television movie, addressed the efforts to determine what happened to the missing young males who were eventually confirmed to be among Gacy’s victims. Brian Dennehy, Michael Riley, and Margot Kidder appeared in the film, and Dennehy, who played Gacy, was nominated for an Emmy. Dennehy claims that Gacy wrote him a letter from prison denouncing his portrayal in the film and declaring his innocence.

On April 20, 2022, Netflix published Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes. It is the second installment in Netflix’s Conversations with a Murderer documentary series, after the first, which focused on serial murderer Ted Bundy and featured interviews with those involved in the case as well as archive audio footage from Gacy’s incarceration.