|“||The dead won't bother you, it's the living you have to worry about.||”|
Gacy was raised by an abusive, alcoholic father, who referred to him as "sissy", and a passive mother. He was close to his sisters and his mother, who called him "Johnny". After attending four different high schools, Gacy dropped out before completing his senior year and cut off all contact with his family, heading west. After running out of money in Las Vegas, Nevada, Gacy lied about his age and applied for a job as an ambulance driver at the Palm Mortuary Memorial Park, for which the minimum age was 21. When the staff learned the truth, they terminated Gacy's employment as a driver but offered him an alternative post as a mortuary assistant, in which he would move corpses and material from the hospital to the funeral home. Because Gacy could not afford lodgings with his new pay, he was also allowed to sleep at night in the premises, a fact that would cause considerable speculation of necrophilia when his crimes were discovered, years later. Gacy was shown how the bodies were cleaned, treated, and embalmed; at night, when everyone else left, he would pull out the drawers and examine the bodies, talk to them, and undress them, neatly folding their clothes next to the caskets. This lasted until the director became suspicious and called the police one day. Though Gacy was not identified as the culprit, he began to save money for the return trip to Chicago and quit three months later.
Without returning to high school, he enrolled in and eventually graduated from Northwestern Business College in 1963. A management trainee position with the Nunn-Bush Shoe Company followed shortly after graduation, and in 1964, Gacy was transferred to Springfield, Illinois. There he met coworker Marlynn Myers, and they married in September of that year. He became active in local Springfield organizations, joining the Jaycees and rising to vice-president of the Springfield chapter by 1965. Gacy would later become involved in political activism, construction, and several other fields, all the while racking up minor criminal charges. In 1975, Gacy created the character "Pogo the Clown", which he used to support himself. His habit of wearing the costume at charity events and parties later led to him being nicknamed the "Killer Clown". During this time, his involvement in politics eventually landed him clearance by the U.S. Secret Service. Shortly thereafter, he would begin his murders. He started with a young juvenile named Tim McCoy, whom he allegedly killed in self-defense. He soon murdered a co-worker name, John Butkovich. After many years of murdering, Gacy was eventually apprehended in Des Plaines following the disappearance of 15-year-old Robert Priest who was last seen with Gacy. The police obtained a search warrant for Gacy's home, where they discovered a powerful odor and numerous items belonging to other missing young men.
Authorities then suspected Gacy of murder and would soon obtain a second search warrant. The second search would target the crawlspace in which police ripped up the floorboards and began to dig into the earth of the crawlspace. During the search, police found human bones buried in the soil of the crawlspace and, at that point, they placed Gacy under arrest for murder. Gacy would admit to 25-30 murders in the 1970s. When police searched his home, the remains of at least 29 people were found buried in various places. The other remaining victims were found in the Des Plaines River. During his trial, and in order to lessen his sentence, Gacy began telling officials and prosecutors that he had an alter-ego personality named Jack, who was responsible for the murders. Psychiatric evaluation proved the claim to be false. Later in an interview on Death Row shortly before his execution, Gacy claimed himself to be the 34th victim as he was innocent and had no involvement with the murders and subsequent burials. Gacy claimed that his employees set him up. This proved to be false as he had already claimed responsibility for the murders of the young men years prior. It is reported that Gacy killed 33 young men between 1972 and 1978.
He is also known to have raped two males of the same age, one in 1968 and one in May 1978, both of whom were left alive. The nine unidentified victims were all buried in individual graves with headstones reading "We Are Remembered". Gacy was later found guilty of his crimes and sentenced to execution by lethal injection at Stateville Prison in Crest Hill, IL on May 10, 1994. When asked whether he had any last words during his execution, he reportedly snarled, "Kiss my ass." He was then executed, aged 51.
According to Gacy's confession to the police, he would pick up Caucasian male runaways or male prostitutes in their mid-teens to their early twenties from the Chicago Greyhound Bus station or off the streets. Afterwards, he would take them back to his house by either promising them money for sex, offering them a job with his construction company, simply grabbing them by force or forcing them into his car at gunpoint. Once they got back to his house, he would handcuff them or tie them up in another way after intoxicating them with alcohol or knocking them out with chloroform. He would torture them in various ways (such as using a fire poker on them, dripping hot melted candle wax on their bodies, repeatedly drowning them in his bathtub, or by placing them in a homemade "rack"). As a show of dominance, he would urinate on his victims. Gacy would rape his victims both before and after killing them, keeping the bodies around for a day or so.
One of his most infamous ways of binding his victims was convincing them to allow him to handcuff them under the pretense that it was part of a magic trick. Gacy would often stick paper towels or clothing (such as a sock or even their own underwear) in their mouths to muffle their screams, causing them to fatally asphyxiate. He would also kill his victims by strangling them with a rope or a board as he sexually assaulted them with sex toys, then bury the bodies in his crawlspace. Periodically, Gacy would pour lime in the crawlspace to hasten the decomposition of the bodies. Three victims were disposed of the property by being dropped into the Des Plaines River. When he killed his first victim, Timothy McCoy, he stabbed him in the chest with a kitchen knife instead of asphyxiating him.
On Criminal Minds
- Intro: Gacy is among the many criminals whose mugshot is shown during the show's intro.
- Season One
- "Natural Born Killer" - In Gacy's first reference, Morgan states the current unsub has more than triple Gacy's confirmed body count.
- "Riding the Lightning" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, Gacy appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's main unsub, Jacob Dawes - Both were prolific and ephebophilic serial killers who were abused by a parent (Dawes' mother and Gacy's father respectively), targeted teenagers of a certain gender (females in Dawes' case, males and also young men in Gacy's), lured them to their houses using a ruse, tortured them, and both disposed of the bodies by burying them under the floor in their houses, and were sentenced to death and executed. Also, Sarah Jean Mason painting while in prison could be a slight nod to Gacy, who also made paintings while on death row.
- Season Three
- "Damaged" - Gacy was indirectly referenced during the final scene of the episode. When the team pursues the episode's unsub, Joe (who was also overweight and had a job as a clown), in the carnival, a billboard behind Prentiss's head that reads "LEGACY" has only a small section is shown, and the only letters visible are "GACY".
- Season Four
- "The Angel Maker" - Gacy's prison paintings are brought up by Garcia, who is combing through websites known for selling serial killer memorabilia and becomes disturbed by clown paintings Gacy made on death row.
- "Conflicted" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, Gacy appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Adam Jackson - Both were serial killers and serial rapists who were abused by father figures (Gacy's biological father and Jackson's stepfather), had almost identical victimologies and M.O.s (teenage boys and young men who were lured, raped, and then asphyxiated), and Gacy even claimed to have DID, in which a murderous alter-ego was responsible for his crimes (though this was false, and seems to have been the basis of Jackson's DID and murderous alter-ego).
- Season Five
- Season Seven
- "Closing Time" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, Gacy appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Michael Janeczco - Both were serial killers whose wives left them prior to their killings, targeted men and incapacitated them by getting them drunk before killing them. Also while Janeczco wasn't homosexual, the BAU initially assumed he was, which may be a reference to Gacy's own sexuality.
- "Profiling 101" - Gacy's mugshot is among many mugshots featured in a montage shown by the BAU during a special guest-lecture to a Criminology class.
- "Foundation" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, Gacy appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, J.B. Allen - Both were serial killers and serial rapists who targeted young males and owned construction companies, which they used to lure in their victims and buried them afterwards. And both also have a daughter.
- Season Eleven
- Season Twelve
- "A Good Husband" - Gacy was mentioned in the episode by Lewis, who describes the episode's unsub, Mark Tolson, as a mixture of him and Dahmer. He is also similar to Gacy - Both were psychopathic and homosexual killers who were raised by alcoholic fathers with spouses who left them, incapacitated their victims with drugs in their drinks, and killed their first victims by stabbing them.
- Season Thirteen
On Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders
- Season Two
- "The Ripper of Riga" - While Gacy was never directly mentioned or referenced on Beyond Borders, he appears to have an inspiration for Ivan Kozar - Both were killers who had stressors involving their fathers (Gacy's was abusive, while Kozar's died), admired a serial killer, abducted and bound at least one victim, and wore similar costumes while committing their crimes. Also, while the Harlequinade is a real ballet, the appearance of the titular Harlequin (and by extension, Kozar's disguise) seems to have been slightly altered to resemble Gacy's "Pogo the Clown" costume.
- In 2012, one of Gacy's victims, Michael Marino, who was originally identified by dental records, turned out to have been misidentified when a DNA test was run. As such, another one of Gacy's victims is unidentified.
- Gacy reportedly admired previous serial killer Dean Corll and got the idea of using a homemade rack from reading about him.
- At one point, Gacy was considered as a suspect in the Oakland County child killings. According to a witness in the abduction of Timothy King, one of the men who was with King at the time of his abduction bared a strong resemblance to Gacy. It was also allegedly believed that Gacy himself had been in Michigan around the time the killings happened. However after a series of DNA tests in 2013, it was disproven that Gacy had any involvement in those killings.
- Culture Crossfire's article on Gacy
- Serial Killer Podcast's article about Gacy
- Born Killers: Childhood secrets of the world's deadliest serial killers (2009)