Chicago Tribune

John Wayne Gacy was arrested 40 years ago in a killing spree that claimed 33 victims, shocked the country

CHICAGO - In the shadow of O'Hare International Airport, the winding, looping streets and small-town character of unincorporated Norwood Park Township look much the way they did in December 1978.

But gone are the lines of gawking bystanders, desperate families of missing young men and carloads of curiosity-seekers who choked the streets in the days before that long-ago Christmas, trying to catch a glimpse of the murder house.

John Wayne Gacy's confession to the rape and murder of more than 30 people didn't just awaken America to a nightmare hidden in its own backyard. The discovery 40 years ago of the dank, muddy mass grave underneath Gacy's yellow brick ranch house at 8213 W. Summerdale Ave. forever shattered the image of the safe suburban community.

A police search for missing Maine West sophomore Robert Piest led investigators to 36-year-old Gacy, a "stocky, bull necked contractor," described by neighbors and business associates as a pillar of the community: a likable, boastful divorced businessman and Democratic precinct captain who hosted themed neighborhood parties and entertained children as a clown named Pogo.

"(The public) would feel much more comfortable if Gacy was this type of creepy, sequestered ghoul that was unkempt and heinous," Detective Sgt. Jason Moran of the Cook County sheriff's office, who is a point man on the Gacy case, said recently. "But instead, he dressed as a clown and bounced kids on his knee. He would knock at your door and say vote for my candidate."

Gacy's nice-guy persona masked something far more sinister. Once they were safely restrained - usually in a pair of handcuffs as he demonstrated a "trick" he learned as a clown - Gacy's easy smile melted away, revealing a cold, growling predator who sexually assaulted his victims before strangling many of them with a knotted rope. He buried 29 of his 33 victims in trenches underneath and around his home and dumped four others from bridges once his property could hold no more bodies.

The horror in the tiny community and images of Gacy in his clown outfit were splashed across newspapers around the world, again associating Chicago with a killing spree 12 years after Richard Speck's massacre of eight student

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from Chicago Tribune

Chicago Tribune3 min read
Balancing Act: Letter Calling Penn State Football Player's Hair 'Disgusting' Is An Ugly Conversation We Need To Have
Penn State alum Dave Petersen's nasty letter to football player Jonathan Sutherland has been met with class and grace - from Sutherland himself, from Penn State coach James Franklin, and from Sandy Barbour, Penn State's vice president for intercolleg
Chicago Tribune2 min read
Mitch Trubisky Practices With The Bears — But He Isn't Cleared Yet To Play Sunday Vs. The Saints
The Bears have opened the door a crack for the possibility of Mitch Trubisky returning to action Sunday against the Saints. The third-year quarterback was back practicing Monday at Halas Hall and, according to coach Matt Nagy, formally resumed throwi
Chicago Tribune1 min readSociety
Chicago Cop Jason Van Dyke, Convicted Of Killing Laquan McDonald, Resigns
CHICAGO - Imprisoned Chicago cop Jason Van Dyke formally resigned from the Police Department last week, a police spokesman confirmed Tuesday. Van Dyke, who is currently serving a nearly 7-year prison sentence for the slaying of 17-year-old Laquan McD