Infamous serial killer John Wayne Gacy was convicted of raping and killing at least 33 boys in his home during the 1970s. Even after his death, the mystery surrounding these heinous crimes still drives people to ask why he did it.
While many people know the story, some of the details surrounding the gruesome slayings of teenage boys are still relatively unknown. Here are 15 facts about the serial killer and disturbing John Wayne Gacy's paintings.
John Wayne Gacy Was Abused As A Child
Gacy's early life was not a happy one. The son of Danish and Polish parents, Gacy and his family were at the mercy of his alcoholic father.
Every night, young Gacy and his sisters would wait in abject terror as their father swilled half a bottle of brandy, then emerged from the basement with a leather belt in one hand.
Gacy's sister Karen described the beating as "horrific" and said that the children had to learn not to cry to avoid provoking their father further.
At school, Gacy was isolated from other children and was bullied heavily during elementary school. As a result, he became friends with the librarian and spent most of his time alone.
The Warning Signs Were There From The Start
John Wayne Gacy began exhibiting strange and potentially dangerous behaviors from a very young age. He used to steal his mother and sister's panties and hide them in a brown bag in his wardrobe. When his sister discovered the bag and told her mother, she was dismissed. "Oh, that's John; he's always had a thing for panties."
Things escalated quickly, and Gacy was suspected of stalking young children as they walked to and from school. This was never proven, though parents in the neighborhood would later describe a boy of Gacy's stature and gait sauntering behind their children in the early morning.
John Wayne Gacy Was Married - Twice
John Wayne Gacy met his first wife, Marlynn Myers, in 1963. After a whirlwind romance, the two were married in 1964, and Marlynn quickly fell pregnant. The night his wife went into labor, Gacy was out with colleagues drinking at a bar. He went home with one of the men, had sex, and then went straight to the hospital to meet his newborn son.
Gacy and Myers divorced in 1969 after his cheating became too much for her to handle. He moved towns and quickly became enamored with Carole Hoff, who would become his second wife. Carole had two children from a previous marriage, who Gacy treated as his own. They married in 1972, and friends described the marriage as a "match made in heaven." The pair would have another child, a daughter named Christine, before divorcing in 1976.
Gacy Was A Restaurant Manager
This might strike you as odd, but even serial killers start somewhere. Before becoming Pogo the Clown, Gacy was offered the reins of several Kentucky fried chicken restaurants by his then-father-in-law. He accepted and moved his young family to Illinois to take up the position.
Gacy was described as "jovial" by those who worked with him but had a hidden cruel streak that would often rear its head during disagreements. He also forced his employees to call him 'The Colonel,' which opened him to ridicule from those beneath him.
John Wayne Gacy Was A Model Community Member
In his formative years, Gacy worked hard to establish himself as a pillar of his community member. An avid church-goer and community-minded person, he was active in political organizations and civic groups. Gacy's successful construction business and volunteer position as Democratic Precinct Captain made him famous and well-liked by his peers. No one would ever suspect the darkness was swirling beneath the surface until it was far too late.
One unusual sign of things to come was Gacy's hiring practice for his company. He would only hire teenage boys. Gacy shrugged it off when pressed about it and said that "teenage boys were more reliable than grown men." This bizarre comment raised some suspicions about his motivations, but nothing was ever formally pressed.
John Wayne Gacy Was Arrested And Released
Things took a sinister turn when in 1968, Gacy was arrested for sodomizing two young boys. He was found guilty and given a sentence of 10 years. While inside, the prison psychiatrist strongly recommended that he never be released. The psychiatric analysis of Gacy's behavior and mindset found him to be deeply psychopathic, with no regard or empathy for the well-being of others.
Described as an "incurable sexual sadist," Gacy was nonetheless a model prisoner and was released on parole after serving just 18 months. With his father-in-law dead and his wife filing for divorce, Gacy decided to make a fresh start and moved to Chicago.
The Jolly Jokers And Pogo The Clown
One of Gacy's side organizations was the Jolly Jokers' Clown Club, eventually giving him the nickname The Killer Clown. Gacy would put on makeup and elaborate costumes and dress as his alter-ego, Pogo the Clown, for community events and children's birthday parties. It's believed that he met many of his future victims through his work dressed as this creepy persona.
His First Victim Was Only 16
In 1972, John Wayne Gacy visited a bus stop near his home during a night drive. He met teenager Timothy McCoy, a runaway waiting for a bus to get him out of town. Gacy offered to take McCoy back to his house to smoke a joint and drink; McCoy accepted, ultimately leading to his death.
Once inside, Gacy produced the promised drugs and alcohol and tried to force McCoy to have sex with him. When McCoy refused and tried to leave, Gacy grabbed a belt, strangled the teenager, and raped his unconscious body. When he was done, he strangled the teenager and stuffed his body into the crawlspace in his roof.
When Carole Hoff first moved in with Gacy, she commented on the strange smell coming from the vents. But, again, Gacy waved her off, saying that it was coming from the nearby sewage plant.
Police Staked Out Gacy's Home More Than Once
After a 19-year-old sex worker went missing, people began to get suspicious of their jovial neighborhood clown. The complaints from parents and neighbors began to pile up, and in 1976 police set up camp outside Gacy's home for surveillance.
Despite the 10-day operation, police could not gain any helpful information from the many boys and men coming and going from Gacy's house. Some were there for work; others were sex workers who had willingly engaged in intercourse with Gacy for money.
Once The Murders Started, They Didn't Stop
John Wayne Gacy's thirst for young men continued to escalate after the murder of Timothy McCoy. In July 1975, a teenage boy who worked for Gacy's construction company disappeared after leaving for work. His parents suspected Gacy and relayed their concerns to the police. Nothing was done; Gacy was a model citizen and friends with much of the local police department.
Over six years, Gacy raped and murdered 33 young men. 29 of the bodies were found in his house - most of them stuffed roughly into the vents and crawlspace under the floors. Many other parents begged the police to look into him, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.
On 11 December 1978, 15-year-old Robert Piest (pictured) went missing after meeting Gacy for a job interview. Unlike many of his other victims, Piest was popular, well-liked, and an active community member of his high school and neighborhood. This report made by his mother was the tipping point, and police followed the trail of witnesses right to Gacy's door.
After stalling for two days, Gacy finally allows police to search his home. As they entered, they were hit by the overwhelming stench of death but could not find anything. Gacy was brought in for questioning regarding Piest but was vague and evasive in his answers, and police were eventually forced to release him.
He Confessed To His Lawyers
When brought in for questioning, a very intoxicated Gacy confessed to his lawyers that he had murdered at least 30 boys and raped hundreds more.
The horrifying admission led to only four words being spoken to police as his attorney left the station: "Don't let Gacy leave!"
Murder Didn't Bring Him In, Marijuana Did
With so much evidence piling up, you would think the police would have enough to charge him with murder. However, his downfall wasn't the missing boys - it was drugs.
On 21 December 1978, John Wayne Gacy was seen handing a large bag of marijuana to a gas station clerk. His arrest and subsequent questioning prompted another police search. This time, the police were determined to find the cause of the foul smell and entered his crawl space. There they found the human remains of at least seven of Gacy's victims; some were so decomposed, they would not be identified until years later.
This search turned up the remains of 29 men that had met their demise at the hands of Pogo the Clown. Four more bodies would later be found in the southeast of the river of Chicago.
John Wayne Gacy Tried To Plead Insanity
After being charged with the murders of seven men in January 1979, Gacy was brought up on a further 26 charges of first-degree murder - the largest number ever attributed to a single person.
The five-week-long trial featured horrifying testimonies from victims who got away. Jeff Rignall vomited on the stand while describing the mental and physical torture inflicted on him during his encounter with Gacy.
In a last-ditch attempt to save his own life, John Wayne Gacy's lawyers pleaded insanity, claiming that he was not in his right mind and could not be held responsible for his crimes. Testimonies from his mother and sister describing the abuse inflicted by his father tried to play on the jury's sympathies.
The evidence, however, was too damning: photographs of Gacy's victims in the crawlspace were dropped one by one in front of the grand jury, sealing his fate. After just one hour and 50 minutes of deliberation, the jury returned a unanimous verdict: guilty on all charges. The same jury took just under three hours the following day, delivering the death penalty to ravenous applause.
In a rare display, Judge Louis B. Garippo thanked the jury, saying emphatically, "the cost of the trial was a small price to pay...what we do for the John Wayne Gacy's of this world, we do for everyone."
John Wayne Gacy's Paintings
While awaiting his execution, Gacy took up painting as a form of therapy. His grotesque, haunting clown portraits created waves in the community, and many people wanted to purchase a piece of mind from one of America's worst serial killers.
Further to the annoyance of authorities, Gacy sets up a paid phone line for $1.99 per minute. Callers were treated to a recording of Gacy answering questions during his interrogation in 1978.
He Was Executed 15 Years After His Conviction
Gacy's first move after his trial was to immediately appeal the decision, claiming that the death penalty was a 'cruel and unusual punishment' under the constitution. While this appeal was rejected, it raised concerns the proper process had not been followed and opened the gates for a series of appeals lasting over a decade.
Gacy's final appeal was rejected in December 1993, and his execution date was set for May the following year.
With his final attempts at reprieve denied, Gacy was transferred to Illinois' Stateville Correctional Center. Witnesses described Gacy as being "chatty" while enjoying fried chicken, shrimp, fries, and strawberries for his final meal. His last statement of innocence falling on deaf ears, John Wayne Gacy was finally put to death just after midnight on 10 May 1994.
While Gacy is dead, his legacy of horror lives on. The victims' families struggled for closure for years, and even now, 45 years after his crimes, new information is coming to light. Unfortunately, we may never know the full extent of the crimes of the Killer Clown or Poggo the Clown, but one thing is sure - his reign of terror is over.