Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
John Wayne Gacy
John Wayne Gacy (March 17, 1942 - May 10, 1994) was an American serial killer. He was convicted and later executed for the rape and murder of thirty-three men between 1972 and his arrest in 1978. He became notorious as the "Killer Clown" because of the many block parties he attended, entertaining children in a clown suit and makeup.
Gacy was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. He worked briefly in Las Vegas, Nevada, before returning to Illinois. He attended a business college and began a moderately successful career as a shoe salesman in Springfield, Illinois. In 1964 he married and moved to Waterloo, Iowa, where he managed a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant belonging to his wife's family.
But soon his demons surfaced. The night his son was born on February 24, 1966, Gacy had sex with a man he met at a bar; he recalled feeling exhilarated and ashamed by their encounter. Yet he went to the hospital the next morning to see his wife and son as though nothing had happened. In May 1968 he was convicted of sodomy of a teenager and sentenced to 10 years. His wife divorced him. Throughout his life, Gacy would vehemently deny that he was gay, but insisted that he was instead bisexual.
He was paroled in 1971 and returned to Chicago where he worked for a construction contractor. In 1975, he bought a house in the Chicago neighborhood of Norwood Park, where he lived with his now-widowed mother, and established his own home improvement business, PDM Contracting. He married a woman he had known since high school, and she and her two daughters moved in with him and his mother moved out. He became a prominent, local businessman, a member of the Jaycees and a Democratic precinct captain. It was also during this time he claimed his first known victim, a teenage boy he picked up at a bus depot. His marriage fell apart and his wife divorced him in mid-1976. Free of family obligations, Gacy began his double life: respected member of the community by day, sexual predator and murderer by night.
No suspicion fell on him until late 1978, when he was investigated following the disappearance of a teenage boy, Robert Piest, who was last seen with Gacy. A search of his house, by Des Plaines detective Joseph Kozenczak, revealed a number of incriminating items related to other disappearances. In December 1978 Gacy went to the police and confessed. He claimed he had first killed in January 1972. He confessed to 33 murders, indicating where the bodies were in 28 of the cases—buried under his house. The other five he said were thrown into the Des Plaines River . Most of the victims were young male prostitutes. Some victims were also teenage boys who Gacy had hired through his contracting firm. Bodies were uncovered from December 1978 to April 1979, when the last known victim was found downstream in the Illinois River.
On February 6, 1980, Gacy's trial began in Chicago. During the trial, Gacy's plea of not guilty by reason of insanity was rejected, and he was found guilty on March 13 and sentenced to death. On May 10, 1994, he was executed in Stateville Penitentiary near Joliet, Illinois, by lethal injection. His execution was a minor media sensation, and large crowds of people gathered on the grounds of the penitentiary. In a display of what has been called "shocking bad taste," vendors sold T-shirts and Gacy merchandise, and the people cheered at the moment when Gacy was pronounced dead.
According to reports, Gacy did not express remorse. His last words were to the effect that killing him wouldn't bring anyone back.
His execution reportedly went badly—the chemicals used in the lethal injection were mixed in a way that caused them to solidify, and as a result, he took a while to die (afterwards, Illinois adopted a different method of lethal injection). However, since Gacy was so universally hated, this was not investigated. It has even been speculated that officials purposely botched his execution in an attempt to prolong his pain.
Some have pointed to his poor relationship with his abusive, alcoholic father, his head trauma and subsequent blackouts in his teenage years as some basis for his acts. However, an examination of Gacy's brain after his execution by the forensic psychiatrist hired by his lawyers revealed no abnormalities. She has said Gacy didn't fit into any psychological profile associated with serial killers, and the reasons for his rampage will probably never be known.
After his execution, Gacy's brain was removed. It is currently in possession of Dr. Helen Morrison, who interviewed Gacy and other serial killers in an attempt to isolate common personality traits held by such people.
During his time on Death Row, Gacy took up oil painting, and his favorite subject was painting portraits of clowns. He claimed to have used his clown act as an alter ego, once sardonically saying that "A clown can get away with murder." After his execution, his paintings were sold at auction. Reportedly, the main buyer destroyed the paintings after winning the bids.
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