John Wayne Gacy was, according to medical experts, a psychopath. But this simple diagnosis doesn’t even come close to explaining why this son of a First World War veteran turned out to be one of the most notorious – and creepiest – serial killers in U.S. history.
And that’s saying something, for there has certainly been no shortage of notorious and creepy serial killers throughout the years. For instance, Ted Bundy, the Green River Killer and the Zodiac Killer have all have gone down in infamy. But few chill the bones quite like Gacy, “The Killer Clown.”
Perhaps that is because Gacy was as prolific as he was evil. In fact, between 1972 and 1978 he sexually assaulted and then murdered at least 33 teenage boys. This figure, though, tells only half the story, because the way in which his victims were dispatched was truly twisted.
But, first, a little backstory. Gacy – who was born in Chicago in 1942 – had a far-from-happy upbringing. His alcoholic father, who’d fought in the First World War, was particularly nasty to him; beatings were part of everyday life.
Perhaps this is why the future-killer’s fondness for crime started early. When he was just six, for instance, he was caught stealing a toy truck from a local store. And, just a year later, he molested a young girl. For both crimes, he was beaten mercilessly by his father.
Gacy was also bullied throughout high school and was regularly hospitalized because of undiagnosed blackouts. Afterward, though, Gacy became politically active, securing a job for a Democrat politician. But it was when he found work in a Chicago hospital that things started to get weird.
Employed as a mortuary assistant, Gacy, shockingly, chose to sleep in the same room as the bodies of the recently deceased. He even later admitted to climbing into the coffin of a teenage boy and stroking the corpse’s body.
Apparently shocked by his own actions, though, Gacy left, returned first to the family home and then to Springfield, Illinois. It was Springfield, then, that he met Marlynn Myers. And the pair soon married, despite the fact that Gacy was by then beginning to explore his homosexual desires.
To the outside world, though, it looked like the Gacys’ life was a perfect one. Indeed, he had a good job, a nice house and two children. However, by the late 1960s, Gacy had started on the track to becoming a killer. In fact, he was plying teenage boys with alcohol and sexually abusing them.
Fortunately, one of his victims was brave enough to report Gacy’s behavior. As a result, Gacy was convicted of sodomy in 1968 and sentenced to ten years in prison. His wife, unsurprisingly, left soon afterward.
Within 18 months, though, Gacy was a free man. In fact, he moved back with his mother and started abusing teens once more. On the surface, however, Gacy turned his life around. Indeed, he bought a home in Norwood Park, Chicago, he got married again, and he became the head of his own, thriving construction firm.
Gacy was also active in politics again; he was famously cleared by the security services to be pictured with First Lady Rosalynn Carter in 1978. Additionally, Gacy had started volunteering as a clown to liven up parties and entertain children at nearby hospitals. Through modern eyes, though, Gacy’s alter-ego Pogo the Clown couldn’t have been any creepier.
It’s possible, of course, that Gacy knew how terrifying his clown get-up was. After all, unknown to everyone, he had already been killing young people for years. Indeed, by his own admission, he stabbed a 16-year-old youth to death in 1972 after picking him up at a Chicago bus station.
What’s more, Gacy’s sexual habits led to his second divorce in 1976. This left him free and clear to invite young men round to his home. Sadly, many of them would never leave.
In fact, freed from his marriage and with his construction business largely staffed by young men, Gacy spent the mid-to-late 1970s on a killing spree. Between June and August of 1976, for instance, it’s thought that he killed four teenage boys. Gacy’s favored method for murder was strangulation – usually after getting his victim drunk and handcuffing them.
Shockingly, most of the victims’ bodies were hidden in the crawl space underneath Gacy’s home. Some even lay directly beneath the bedroom where the twisted killer slept. But before long, the crawl space wasn’t big enough to contain all of his victims., so Gacy took to dumping the corpses in the Des Plaines River.
Gacy’s wicked ways were finally uncovered in December 1978. It only came about, though, because a local shop boy, Robert Piest, had gone missing, and Gacy happened to be the last person to be seen with him. So, upon learning that Gacy had a conviction for sodomy, detectives got a warrant to search his home.
In all, 28 bodies were found either in the crawl space or lying in shallow graves in Gacy’s garden. After the trail, it would take a jury just two hours of deliberation to find Gacy guilty of 33 slayings. He was sentenced to death for his crimes.
To the end, though, Gacy showed no remorse. Indeed, he was reportedly in high spirits right up to the moment of his execution by lethal injection at Illinois’ Stateville Correctional Center. Infamously, Gacy’s final words were simply, “Kiss my @ss.”
But his chilling legacy, and the legend of Pogo the Clown, lives on. In fact, the terrifying circumstances of his crimes and the images of Gacy as Pogo will continue to haunt the U.S. psyche for some time to come.