Top 10 Gruesome Facts About John Wayne Gacy

Top 10 Gruesome Facts About John Wayne Gacy

Are you scared of clowns?  Stephen King’s IT may have played to a popular fear of the scary killer clown but if you thought that they were a figment of popular imagination, think again.  Truth is always stranger than fiction and America was, for a time, home to a real life killer clown and indeed the life and crimes of John Wayne Gacy inspired King to write the character of Pennywise in IT.

Not funny in the slightest, the disturbed John Wayne Gacy was a complicated character.  He was at times a precinct captain and candidate for the Democrat party, a leading member of the Jaycees, a mortuary attendant, a KFC franchise manager and the owner of a construction company.  He was married twice but his real passion was for young boys whom he often lured into danger with promises of construction work with his firm.  He raped and killed his victims by night but hid his depravity behind a façade of a committed philanthropist, attending children’s parties and fundraising for worthy causes in his alter-ego, the personal of the genial ‘Pogo the Clown’.

John Wayne Gacy was one of America’s most prolific serial killers, responsible for the deaths of at least 33 young men and the rape and torture of many more.  Here are 10 facts you may not have known about the real life Pennywise, America’s very own killer clown.

10. Gacy Worked As A Mortuary Attendant As A Young Man and Had A Troubled Relationship With His Father

John Wayne Gacy worked at a mortuary
John Wayne Gacy worked at a mortuary

Gacy was very close to his mother but had a difficult relationship with his father who beat his son (and his wife) regularly and who had difficulty understanding or liking his overweight son.  Several incidents in his childhood may have contributed to his depravity in later life.

When he was only 9 years old he was sexually assaulted by a family friend, Gacy felt unable to tell his family for fear that his father, who was already labelling him a sissy who would become a ‘queer’ would place the blame on him.  When he was aged 11, he suffered yet more difficulties when he was hit in the head by a swing which left him with a blood clot which restricted blood flow to his brain and caused periodic black outs.  The clot was dissolved by medication when he was 16 but a year later he was diagnosed with heart problems which he claimed would continue to plague him throughout his life although no definitive diagnosis was ever made.

Gacy moved to Las Vegas in 1962 in order to get away from his father.  While he was there he found work as a mortuary attendant, as part of the job he was given a place to sleep close to the embalming room.  While there he discovered that he had a fascination with dead male bodies when he was alone one evening with the body of a young man.  He climbed into the coffin with the body where he lay down with it, caressing and cuddling it.

He came to his senses a short while later and called his mother to arrange to come home.  This attraction to dead men would become a recurring trait in his life, he frequently kept the bodies of his victims as close to him as possible for as long as the decomposition of the bodies would allow.

9. Gacy Was Married Twice

John Wayne Gacy was married twice
John Wayne Gacy was married twice

In 1964 Gacy met and married his first wide, Marlynn Myers.  Gacy seemed like a respectable proposition at the time as he had just been named the Springfield Jaycees Man of the Year.  His father in law owned some KFC restaurants in Iowa and gave Gacy the opportunity to work there.  Gacy threw himself in to this opportunity, working his way up through the business and in the meantime his wife gave birth to two children.

Marlynn started proceedings for divorce when Gacy was sentenced for sodomy (see 8 below) on the basis that he had broken his marriage vows.  Gacy was so outraged that he told his former wife that she and the children were, henceforth, dead to him.  He never saw any of them again.

In 1972, now living in Illinois, Gacy married a high school friend, Carole Hoff and became a stepfather to her two daughters.  Hoff knew all about Gacy’s past but thought that he had left his criminal nature behind.  The couple never had any children of their own and by 1975 Gacy had admitted to his wife that he no longer wanted to have sex with her and began bringing gay pornography home.  His wife even found wallets and personal items belonging to men but Gacy would never answer the questions she asked about them and she thought they were left behind by ‘assignations’ he brought home with him.  She divorced him in 1976.

8. Gacy Was Imprisoned For Sodomy

John Wayne Gacy was arrested for sodomy
John Wayne Gacy was arrested for sodomy

Not long after his move to Iowa rumors began to spread that Gacy was engaging in relations with men who worked for him in the restaurants.  He was a known participant in the unpleasant side of the Waterloo Jaycees club which included prostitution, drugs and pornography, Gacy claimed that his first homosexual experience was with another Jaycees member.

He ran a club in his basement where he socialized mostly with adolescent boys and young men.  Gacy was not satisfied by his home life and found sexual relations with his wife to be unsatisfactory, even picking up a man in a bar the night his son was born.  In 1968 a young man accused Gacy of luring him to his home where he was tricked into being tied up and was subsequently raped, a series of actions which were to become his modus operandi in later attacks.  While waiting for trial Gacy arranged for another young man to beat up his accuser in order to intimidate him into refusing to give evidence.  The attempt did not work; the young man went straight to the police.  His assailant, when caught, immediately informed the police of Gacy’s involvement in the attack.

Gacy was sent to prison for 10 years but served less than 2 years of his sentence following which he was paroled for good behavior.  The decision of the parole board appears even more bizarre when the psychiatric evaluation that was made at the time of the original trial is taken into account – it said that Gacy was antisocial and would not be able to benefit from any known medical treatment.  The board must, therefore, have realized that he was at danger of re-offending on release.  Once out of prison Gacy left Iowa and returned to live with his mother in Illinois.

7. Gacy Was Photographed With the First Lady

John Wayne Gacy met the first lady
John Wayne Gacy met the first lady

ChameleonsEye /

Despite the problems in his marriage and his past conviction, Gacy was interested in making a name for himself in politics.  His interest in social position had been evident from the early days of his adult life and his heavy involvement with the Jaycees both in Illinois and in Iowa.

He came to the attention of the Norwood Democrat Party when he volunteered the services of his company to repair and clean the Democrat Party Headquarters.  As a result of his volunteer work he was nominated to the street lighting commission and by 1975 he was secretary/treasurer.   Gacy became a precinct captain and, as such was even photographed with the then First Lady, Rosalynn Carter in 1978 (the same year he was arrested) having been cleared as safe by the Secret Service.

6. Gacy Had A Number of Victims Who Escaped

Some of John Wayne Gacy's victims escape
Some of John Wayne Gacy’s victims escape

A large number of Gacy’s victims or prospective victims managed to escape his clutches, particularly in the early days before his thirst for murder became unquenchable.

In 1973 he raped a young employee while on a work trip to Florida.  On their return to Chicago the young man bravely drove to Gacy’s home to confront him, the confrontation ended up as a fight which Gacy explained to his wife, was as a result of a disagreement over unpaid salary.

While he was working at the Democrat Headquarters Gacy made a pass at a young boy Tony Antonucci. He rebuffed the advances but, a month later at Gacy’s home he tricked Antonucci into putting on handcuffs and started to undress him.  Antonucci, a wrestler, had ensured the cuffs were loose and so was able to wrestle Gacy to the ground , cuffing him in turn and only releasing Gacy when he promised to leave him alone.

David Cram, one of Gacy’s employees, lived with him for a short while and was asked by Gacy to dig ‘trenches’ under his crawlspace (Gacy used these trenches to bury his victims).  One night Gacy approached Cram while he was wearing his clown costume.  He tricked Cram into putting on some handcuffs and threatened to rape him.  Cram managed to escape but continued to maintain sporadic contact with Gacy.  There were rumors that he was one of Gacy’s accomplices to later murders.

Two other victims, Robert Donnelly and Jeff Ringall were abducted by Gacy at separate times.  Both were drugged, restrained, raped and tortured before being let go, Donnelly reported to have been in so much pain during the experience that he even begged for death and Gacy admitted to him that he was getting round to it’.  Nobody has been able to explain why these two were allowed to live when other victims were killed.

5. Police Failed To Connect Him To The Murders.  Despite Many Clues, He Was Arrested Only Because A Victim Tailed His Car

John Wayne Gacy was almost initial caught because he assaulted a young boy
John Wayne Gacy was almost initial caught because he assaulted a young boy

Gacy was brought to the attention of the police on a number of occasions but managed to avoid being investigated every time.  As early as 1971 he was arrested for the assault of a young boy, lured into his car at the Chicago bus terminal and then subjected to an attempted rape.  The case fell down because the young boy failed to appear in court.  While he was, theoretically, still on parole in Iowa the parole board there never became aware of the suspicions leveled against him.  A few months later his parole period came to an end and his record was sealed.  In 1972 he was arrested once again for luring a boy into his car under the pretense of being a police officer and forcing him to give oral sex.  The charges were dropped before they came to trial.

The parents of a number of Gacy’s murder victims, young men who had worked for him including John Butkovich and Gregory Godzik, urged police to investigate Gacy but they did not follow up on the request.  Prior to his disappearance Godzik had told his parents that Gacy had him working on digging trenches in the crawlspace under his house.  It later transpired he had dug his own grave.  In 1977 one of Gacy’s employees, Michale Rossi, was found to be driving a car belonging to another one of the disappeared boys, John Szyc.  Gacy had given the car to Rossi and claimed Szyc had sold him the car as he was short of cash.  The police took the statement at face value and did not investigate further.

Later in 1977 Jeffrey Ringall was enticed into Gacy’s car where he was drugged with chloroform, taken to Gacy’s home and viciously raped and tortured.  Ringall came too from time to time during the ordeal and remembered flashes including the type of car driven by his attacker and the exit on the expressway they had taken to get to the house.  He also remembered being shown dildos with which he was to be violated.  After the attack he was left, clothed, in Lincoln Park, he spent six days recovering in hospital during which time he made a full report to the police.

Gacy had assaulted Robert Donnelly at around the same time as his assault on Ringall.  Like Ringall, Donnelly reported the assault to the police but when investigated Gacy told them that while the encounter had taken place it was ‘consensual slave sex’.  The police accepted his story.

Frustrated by the police failure to follow up on the leads Ringall staked out the express way himself until he saw Gacy’s car once more.  This time armed with the number plate and address the police had to act Gacy was arrested in July 1978 just two months after he had been photographed with the First Lady.  He was subsequently bailed prior to trial.

During his period on bail Gacy continued his killing spree.  It stopped only when Des Plains police investigating the disappearance of Robert Piest in December 1978 interviewed Gacy and noticed a number of suspicious items including clothing belonging to young men and an offensive odor in the house.  Unlike the Chicago police they checked his record and put two and two together, a search warrant allowed them to discover the charnel house in Gacy’s crawl space.

4. Gacy Became A Prolific Artist In Prison

John Wayne Gacy painted creepy portraits
John Wayne Gacy painted creepy portraits

Gacy spent 14 years on death row prior to his execution.  During that time he took up the hobby of oil painting Many of his paintings were of clowns (which looked very similar to his alter ego, Pogo).  One of his paintings, ‘Baseball Hall of Fame’ was signed by a number of prominent baseball players and President Nixon.  None of them knew, at the time, that the work had been done by Gacy.

Many of his paintings were bought by the relatives of his victims and, in June 1994 300 people gathered for a mass burning of 25 paintings.

3. Gacy Killed At Least 33 Young Men

John Wayne Gacy had a very horrible garden
John Wayne Gacy had a very horrible garden

Gacy’s first murder of Timothy McCoy took place in 1972 about 6 months before his second wedding.  The murder appears to have happened, according to testimony, at least partially in self-defense when McCoy attacked him following a sexual encounter.  Gacy said he realized, following the murder, that death was the ultimate thrill.

Despite this Gacy did not murder again until 1974 when an unnamed boy fell into his snare, probably at a time when his wife was out of town.  Gacy learned a lot from this encounter including that bodies (which he liked to keep close to him for as long as possible before burying them) would leak from the mouth.  He later stuffed his victims’ mouths with their underwear to prevent a recurrence.  Following this murder there was a short hiatus until John Butkovitch was killed in 1975.

From 1976 onwards, following his separation from his wife, his killing spree began in earnest with 9 identified victims each in 1976 and 77 and 5 in 1978.  A further 8 bodies were found but have not been identified.  28 of the bodies were buried under Gacy’s house or in his garden.  When he ran out of space there he threw his final 5 victims in a local river.  Many visitors to Gacy’s house had noticed a funny smell from time to time but he claimed to have bad drainage problems.

2. Gacy May Not Have Worked Alone

John Wayne Gacy's proteges did his dirty work
John Wayne Gacy’s proteges did his dirty work

From the time of his initial arrest for the murder of Robert Piest Gacy asserted that he had a number of associates who were directly involved in the murders.  Jeffrey Ringall claims to have seen a young man with Gacy at the time of his attack at Gacy’s house.

An analysis of Gacy’s travel records shows that he was out of Chicago at the time of at least three of his victims disappeared.  At least two of his employees David Cram and Michael Rossi lived with Gacy for a time and both were involved in digging the trenches under the house (though they claim that they were directed where to dig and told not to deviate).  Rossi also drove the car that had belonged to John Szyc.

Both Cram and Rossi have continued to fall under popular suspicion from time to time but Gacy’s lawyer believes that they were under Gacy’s spell and although they realized that something was up were not accomplices in the true sense, he thinks that they thought Gacy was a mob hitman.  It is, however, notable that, when asked about the locations of various bodies under the house during a polygraph test, that Rossi’s blood pressure was seen to go up significantly.  Following that question Rossi refused to continue with the test though he did talk about the instructions he was given by Gacy with regard to digging the trenches.

1. Gacy’s Execution Was Botched; His Brain Was Later Removed

John Wayne Gacy was executed by lethal Injection
John Wayne Gacy was executed by lethal Injection

John Wayne Gacy was convicted of 33 murders and received the death sentence for the 12 of them which had taken place since the death penalty had been reinstated onto the Illinois statute books.  He was scheduled for execution in May 1994.  In the hours leading up to his death he was allowed to spend time with his family and enjoyed a meal of KFC and strawberries.

Gacy spent some time with his Lawyer prior to his execution, telling him that the process was futile as it ‘would not bring anyone back’. On the way to the execution chamber he allegedly told one of the prison officers to ‘kiss my ass’.  Illinois executions take place by lethal injection, due to problems with the IV tube the drug mixture solidified and the tube had to be replaced meaning that the execution took 18 minutes.  This incident led to a change in execution procedures in Illinois but the trial prosecutors were unrepentant with one saying ‘He still got a much easier death than any of his victims’.

Following his death his brain was removed for study by psychiatrists who are searching for common traits or abnormalities that may lead people to become sociopaths.  To date nothing has been found.


A truly horrendous man, Gacy was one of America’s most prolific serial killers.  At his trial attempts were made to claim that he was not guilty by reason of insanity or that the deaths were as a result of erotic asphyxiation gone wrong.  The fact that some victims such as Donnelly and Ringall survived might, of course, give weight to this.  The claim can, however, be fairly easily dismissed by the fact not all victims were murdered in the same way.  Gacy’s initial confessions also pointed to murder as opposed to accidental and concealed death.

The intensity and frequency of Gacy’s attacks increased up until his arrest for the murder of Robert Piest.  Whether he became careless and felt he was beyond the law or whether he subconsciously wanted to be caught we can only be grateful that he was stopped before any more innocent boys were murdered.