The story of John Wayne Gacy is enough to cause even the most hardened serial killer fan to have a hard time sleeping. This prolific serial killer stacked his victims, in some cases quite literally, on a scale that is mostly unmatched amongst other American serial killers.
The details of his life would make a frighteningly rich novel. Unfortunately for his some 33 victims, John Wayne Gacy was a real life, living breathing monster. Let’s take a look at how John Wayne Gacy got started and how his killing career ended. Updated February 2022.
John Wayne Gacy - Early Life
Gacy was born March 17, 1942, in Chicago, Illinois to an alcoholic, often abusive World War I veteran and a homemaker. He was one of three children. Gacy with born with a heart defect that made it impossible for him to be active in sports, therefore he was an overweight child.
He was often the victim of his father’s scorn. He reported taking a beating from a razor strop on more than one occasion. As if the beatings weren’t enough, Gacy suffered verbal abuse from his father as well. His father told him he was dumb and stupid. Gacy felt he was never good enough for his father.
His mother did her best to protect her child from his violent father. This caused his father to call him a momma’s boy and a sissy. Gacy’s mother knew her son had a heart problem. She did her best to shield him from his angry father.
Gacy reports being hospitalized for much of his life from the ages of 14 to 18 due to a mysterious seizure causing illness and a ruptured appendix. In a John Wayne Gacy interview, he reports his father’s verbal abuse while sick in a hospital bed. According to Gacy, his father accused him of faking it.
Signs of trouble were present during Gacy’s childhood. When he was six, Gacy stole a truck from a store. His mother forced him to take it back and apologize. His father beat him for it.
When Gacy was 7, he and another boy were accused of molesting a young girl. This earned him a beating with the trusty razor strop. Also during his 7th year, Gacy was molested by a family friend. Instead of telling his parents, he suffered this in silence out of fear of being blamed for the act by his hateful father.
The most telling sign of something amiss with Gacy takes place around 1962 after he left his abusive home for Las Vegas. In the desert city, John Wayne Gacy took a job as a mortuary assistant. In a later interview, Gacy recalls sleeping behind the embalming room.
He tells of a night where he decided to climb inside the coffin of a teenage male and spent some time cuddled up with the body before disgust took over and forced him out.
An Upstanding Member of the Community
John Wayne Gacy was a man of many faces. Before giving into his murderous instincts, he played a role in multiple community organizations. He became an assistant precinct captain for his local democratic party candidate. Gacy once said he hoped this decision would gain some acceptance from his father. Instead, his father called him a patsy.
After his short stint as a mortuary assistant, Gacy returned home to Illinois to attended Northwest Business College and graduated in 1963. Not too much time passed before Gacy met his first wife, Marlynn Myers. After a brief courtship, the couple married and moved to Waterloo, Iowa.
Marlynn’s father purchased three Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants in the area and Gacy became the manager. It was in Waterloo where John Wayne Gacy first joined the Jaycees, an organization that teaches leadership and offers civic opportunities for their members. Gacy quickly became vice president.
At this point in his life, Gacy appeared to be an upstanding member of society. But things weren’t all they seemed. The Jaycees had a bit of a dark side. Some members took part in prostitution, wife swapping and rampant drug use. Gacy was involved in all of this. He went as far as to open a club in his basement where young people, especially boys could be plied with alcohol and drugs.
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In what appears to be a step towards the dark side Gacy will eventually inhabit, Gacy would make sexual advances aimed at the teenage boys who worked for him and came to his basement club. When the boys refused him, Gacy played it off like it was a joke. This activity is a clear foreshadowing of the darkness to come at the hands of John Wayne Gacy.
The First Offense
In 1967, John Wayne Gacy is enjoying a normal, successful life in Waterloo, Iowa. He managed three KFC restaurants. He is the vice president of the local Jaycees. His wife has given him two children. He has even gained some respect from his hardened and cold father. All this wasn’t enough to keep Gacy’s darkness at bay.
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John Wayne Gacy’s first victim was a 15-year-old son of a fellow Jaycee member named Daniel Voorhees. Gacy had plied him with alcohol and forced the boy to perform oral sex. Several other young boys were assaulted by Gacy around this time. Sometimes Gacy would tell the boys they were part of a science experiment, paying some of them fifty dollars.
Voorhees notified his father of the assault. Gacy was arrested for the assault of Voorhees as well as the attempted assault of another 16-year-old boy. Gacy denied any wrongdoing and even requested a polygraph test, which showed his nervousness when denying the assaults. Gacy went as far as to say the assault accusations were politically motivated by a power-hungry member of the Jaycees.
An indictment was handed down in the case brought about by Voorhees against Gacy in 1968. In an attempt to get out of the charges against him, Gacy paid an employee to attack Voorhees and convince him not to testify.
For three hundred dollars, Russell Schroeder attacked Voorhees, sprayed him in the face with mace, and beat him, all while yelling at Voorhees not to testify against Gacy.
Voorhees escaped and went on to testify. Gacy was convicted of sodomy and sentenced to 10 years. Gacy’s wife filed for divorce, won, and Gacy never saw her or their children again.
Not surprisingly, Gacy thrived in prison. He was said to have been a model prisoner. He became the head cook and eventually joined the prison’s Jaycees chapter. He undertook projects to enhance the lives of prisoners, going as far as to get a pay increase for the inmates. After serving 18 months of his 10-year sentence, Gacy was released on parole.
A New Lease on Life
After his stint in prison, Gacy purchased a house at 8213 West Summerdale Avenue in Cook County Iowa. This is the house where most of his murders took place. He reunited with Carole Hoff, a woman he had dated in high school. They eventually married and Hoff and her two children moved into the Summerdale house with John Wayne Gacy.
Gacy started his own construction company named PDM. Like other parts of Gacy’s life, the construction business agreed with him. He found some moderate success. And once again, this success wasn’t enough to keep John Wayne Gacy from straying into the darkness.
In 1973, during a business trip to look into the purchase of property in Florida, Gacy attacked a young employee in their hotel room.
After the rape, the employee spent the night on the beach, refusing to share the room after Gacy’s actions. After returning home, the boy waited for and beat him. Gacy’s mother in law stepped in. Gacy told his wife the young boy was upset because he refused to pay the boy for bad work.
Gacy was once again active in his community. He worked for the Democratic Party. He was appointed the director of the Polish Constitution Day Parade in Chicago. He served in this office for 3 years. It was during this time that he had his picture taken with First Lady Rosalynn Carter.
He joined the Moose Club. He even joined the Jolly Joker clown club. This is where he came up with his characters “Pogo” and “Patches” the clown.
He performed at Democratic parties, community events, and even children’s hospitals. It has been noted that by keeping the sharp corners used in the drawing of the mouth of his clown face, Gacy went against the traditional soft lines that were thought to not be so scary to children. Even Gacy’s clown was scary.
The Murders Begin
His first murder could have been a misunderstanding. In 1972, Gacy picked up 16-year-old Timothy Jack McCoy from the local Greyhound terminal. He took him sightseeing around the city and offered to let him spend the night with promises to take him to the bus terminal in the morning. Gacy woke up to find McCoy standing with a knife raised above his head. Gacy tackled McCoy, eventually killing him.
Gacy buried McCoy in his crawl space, under a layer of concrete. After killing the boy, Gacy said he walked into the kitchen to find breakfast laid out and an uncut slab of bacon. Chances are, the boy was merely coming to wake Gacy for breakfast while accidentally holding the knife in what Gacy perceived to be a threatening manner.
In an interview after his arrest, Gacy is quoted as saying he enjoyed a mind-numbing orgasm during the killing. The experience opened the door for more killings, Gacy always seeking that initial thrill.
Another Divorce, More Freedom
Gacy honed his murderous skills while working long hours to expand his construction company. In 1975, John Wayne Gacy was working 12 to 16 hours days and then spent what little free time available “cruising” for men. That's the phrase he used to describe his driving around and picking up young boys to torture and murder.
John Wayne Gacy developed techniques to make subduing and killing easier for him, and really, the scale Gacy was killing required a skilled technique. The “Handcuff Trick” involved getting his intended victim to willingly place the handcuffs on themselves.
The handcuff trick involved plying a young boy with drugs or alcohol and then employing his clown tricks to get the victim handcuffed and unable to fight back. The “Rope Trip” came next. This simply involved Gacy using a rope as a makeshift tourniquet to strangle his victims.
Perhaps it was Gacy’s constant absence that led to Carole asking for a divorce. Maybe it was an argument. Either way, the couple agreed to a divorce in 1976. The reason listed for the divorce was Gacy’s infidelities with other women. Gacy had been actively killing young boys in the house he shared with Carole and her daughters since 1972.
The Cruising Years
With the divorce and Carole moving out, Gacy was left to his own devices. It is reported that John Wayne Gacy tried to stay active in the community, but neighbors talked about changes in his activities and personality.
Neighbors reported Gacy leaving at odd hours of the night, lights turning on and off, and one neighbor reported hearing screams and sounds of suffering coming from the Gacy home in the night.
Between the years of 1976 and 1978, Gacy confessed to murdering 23 teenage boys and then burying them in the crawl space beneath his house. He had young male employees of his construction company dig trenches in the crawl space. Some reported spreading lime. Lime is known to help with decomposition.
In 1978, Gacy ran into a problem. His crawl space was full. Although he dug trenches and stacked bodies, sometimes three deep, there was no room left for any more victims. At this point in his spree, Gacy began dumping bodies along the Des Plains River. One victim was left for dead and actually survived. Although Jeffery Rignall survived, he couldn’t place Gacy as his attacker.
The End of a Spree
John Wayne Gacy couldn’t keep this killing pace up forever. Eventually, he was going to make a mistake, some careless move and that would lead to his end. At a visit to a local pharmacy, Gacy offered 15-year-old Robert Piest a job that paid better than his current job at the pharmacy.
Piest informed his mother of the job offer and headed off to meet Gacy. When Piest failed to return home, his mother filed a missing person report. Gacy denied meeting with Piest, however, he was seen at the pharmacy offering Piest a job by more than one witness.
The Piest investigation led to Rignall’s tale of Gacy’s violence as well as other witnesses to Gacy’s actions. He was placed under constant surveillance. He grew so comfortable with the surveillance teams that he turned it into a game. He even offered them breakfast at one point.
He went as far as to tell the detectives over breakfast, “You know… clowns can get away with murder.” The constant surveillance began to really wear on Gacy. He had his lawyer prepare a civil suit against the Des Plains police to get them to stop their ceaseless monitoring.
Eventually, the detectives came knocking on Gacy’s door. During the first search, nothing of note was found. During the second search, a detective noticed a smell coming from air ducts that could have been the smell of rotting corpses.
The only thing that could explain this discrepancy was that the air was cooler during the first visit. Once the air had time to warm up, the smell was very much present.
A Killer Tells His Tale
On the morning of December 22, 1978, Gacy, tired of the constant surveillance and beginning to come apart at the ends, sat down with detectives to tell his tale. Gacy told of cruising for young boys, boys he referred to as prostitutes, liars, and hustlers. He would often pick them up at bus stations.
Gacy would take them home to his 8213 West Summerdale home where he would bound them with handcuffs and strangle them. With some victims, Gacy would partially drown them in the bathtub before reviving them to begin the torture all over again.
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He admitted to stacking bodies in his crawl space. Gacy went as far as to provide a hand-drawn sketch of the placement of the 23 bodies buried beneath his house. Detectives were already aware of this fact thanks to a search warrant.
When detectives went to search Gacy’s home, they found a flooded crawl space and a broken sump pump. After replacing the broken part, detectives simply waited for the water to drain. They were then met with soaking wet, purified flesh.
Trial, Conviction, and Sentence
The trial against John Wayne Gacy began on February 6, 1980. He was charged with the murder of 33 young men. Gacy’s defense predictably entered a not guilty by reasons of insanity plea. He spent countless hours being interviewed and screened by psychiatrists.
Psychiatrists working for the defense found Gacy to be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. The prosecution claimed the premeditation of Gacy’s crimes prove he was in his right mind at the time he committed his crimes.
Both the defense and prosecution presented their cases for and against Gacy. On March 12, 1980, with the jury spending less than two hours in deliberation, they found Gacy guilty of 33 murders, sexual assault and indecent liberties with a child. The jury spent a little more than two hours deciding the fate of John Wayne Gacy. The jury came back with twelve death sentences to be carried out June 2, 1980.
John Wayne Gacy Interview
Durning Gacy’s 15-year incarceration on death row at Menard Correctional Center in Chester, Illinois, he kept busy by filing appeals and giving interviews. John Wayne Gacy filed appeals arguing that he did not agree with his lawyer entering a plea of insanity during the trial.
He claimed he was merely an accomplice and the police did not do enough to find the real killers. He appealed all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States to no avail. The death penalty stood.
Durning a 5 part interview with Walter Jacobson with Channel 2 News, Gacy vehemently denies the killings. The video of this interview displays a man who is prone to rambling. He comes across as cagey. He very much wants the public to know his story, although this is a completely new story than the one he told detectives 13 years before during his confession.
Gacy begins the interview with some classic examples of victim blaming. During his original confession, he referred to his victims as male prostitutes, hustlers, and liars. He builds on this during the Channel 2 interview 13 years later. Gacy said the media portrays the dead boys as “altar boys, picked up from the street and I swatted them like flies.”
This was Gacy’s way of blaming the victims, saying if they weren’t runaways, they wouldn’t have been out there to be killed. Later in the interview, Gacy says there are more single parents now because of a break down in the church. This breakdown of the church and the single parents caused these boys to run away looking for love.
Gacy denies committing the murders multiple times and multiple ways throughout the interview. He talks about being on “the maximum amount of truth serum for five and a half hours” so surely he would have remembered killing all those young men.
There is in fact, zero evidence of Gacy being administered any sort of truth serum. Gacy does admit to having knowledge of the murders, saying he was forced to bury them for someone else. He said if the police did their job right, there would be four indictments in this case instead of just the one. He makes it clear that he believes the police set him up.
The irony of Gacy words during this recorded interview is nothing short of rich. At one point, he calls himself a loving father, unable to ever hit his children, a caring father who was the complete opposite of his own father. The fact that he harmed these 33 young boys is not lost on the viewer. In an especially chilling point of the interview, Gacy displays how his rope trick worked.
He claims the tourniquet knot is the only knot he remembers learning from Boy Scouts. Nearly every body found in his basement was killed via strangulation using the exact tourniquet knot he shows Walter Jacobson. But, obviously, Gacy still denies having any part in the killings.
John Wayne Gacy's Art
During his stay on death row, Gacy became a bit of an artist. He shows some of his work during his interview with Channel 2’s Walter Jacobson. Much of John Wayne Gacy's artwork involved his clown personas.
Gacy named one of these pieces “33 Flavors Clown” in a nod to the ice cream chain he said he once worked with both in his construction business as well as performing as a clown. Remember, Gacy killed 33 young boys. The irony cannot be missed.
His artwork ranges from dark and twisted to more childlike and even peaceful. His most peaceful work was named “Lou Jacobs”. It appears to be nothing more than a nice painting of a clown. Gacy explores his dark side with paintings such as “Sex Skull”.
This features a skull made up of phallic symbols and naked bodies of both men and women. The teeth in this painting are nothing short of haunting. In a series of paintings featuring the Seven Dwarfs made famous by Walt Disney, Gacy appears to explore what was lost in his childhood due to his overbearing father.
Gacy was commissioned by rock bands to make paintings as dark as they perhaps aspired to be. After he was put to death, many of his paintings were purchased, some by victims families, only to be burned in a bonfire. His paintings still fetch a good price when they go up for sale today.
John Wayne Gacy Quotes
During his trial and subsequent interviews, Gacy had a lot to say. Much like his artwork, Gacy’s quotes cover a range of topics, from his proclaimed innocence to darker, almost confessions. Here are a few, especially rememberable John Wayne Gacy Quotes.
- “The dead won't bother you, it's the living you have to worry about.”
- “I don't remember killing anyone, I could have done it without knowing it. I am not sure if I did it.”
- “The only thing they can get me for is running a funeral parlor without a license.”
- “There was no smell. Over the years time other than when it rained, the musty odor was present. People were in and out of that house daily for years. And other than when it rained, there was no odor and certainly not like what some of the books said. That's all fantasy. If that odor was there somebody would have noticed it sooner.”
- “I would definitely not be homosexual. I have nothing against what they do and I don't deny that I've engaged in sex with males but that I'm bisexual.”
- “The idea that I'm a homosexual thrill killer, that I stroll down the streets and stalk young boys and slaughter them... Hell, if you could see my schedule, my work schedule, you knew damn well that I was never out there.”
How Did John Wayne Gacy Die?
Gacy, having run out of appeals, was put to death via lethal injection on May 9, 1994. His last meal was made up of a bucket of KFC chicken, fried shrimp, strawberries, french fries, and a Diet Coke to wash it all down.
John Wayne Gacys Last Words
Some serial killers express emotion or regret at the end. Some leave last words that are cryptic and make us wonder. John Wayne Gacy did none of these things. He simply said, “Kiss my ass.”
John Wayne Gacy Movies
The story of John Wayne Gacy is long and filled with information. After reading all of this, perhaps you’d like a movie to sum it all up. There have been numerous films made about his spree. Here are a few good ones.
Be sure to check out one or all of these movies, if you don’t mind losing a little sleep, and listening for those bumps in the night.
John Wayne Gacy’s crimes made him one of the most prolific serial killers of our time. In his younger days, he seemed to try to fight his demons and be a family man, an upstanding member of society.
As much as he tried, his darkness still took over. He is responsible for taking the lives of 33 young men. 6 victims remain unidentified today. Gacy’s reign of terror made an impression on pop culture that remains to this day.
Images taken from the John Wayne Gacy Wikimedia Commons Page.
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