John Wayne Gacy (March 17, 1942 – May 10, 1994) was an American serial killer and sex offender known as the Killer Clown who assaulted and murdered at least 33 young men and boys. Gacy regularly performed at children's hospitals and charitable events as "Pogo the Clown" or "Patches the Clown", personas he had devised.
According to Gacy, he committed all of his murders inside his ranch house near Norridge, a village in Norwood Park Township, metropolitan Chicago, Illinois. Typically, he would lure a victim to his home, dupe him into donning handcuffs on the pretext of demonstrating a magic trick, then rape and torture his captive before killing him by either asphyxiation or strangulation with a garrote. Twenty-six victims were buried in the crawl space of his home, and three others were buried elsewhere on his property. Four were discarded in the Des Plaines River.
Gacy was convicted of the sodomy of a teenage boy in Waterloo, Iowa, in 1968 and was sentenced to ten years' imprisonment, but served eighteen months. He murdered his first victim in 1972, had murdered twice more by the end of 1975, and murdered at least thirty subsequent victims after his divorce from his second wife in 1976. The investigation into the disappearance of Des Plaines teenager Robert Piest led to Gacy's arrest on December 21, 1978.
His conviction for thirty-three murders (by one individual) then covered the most homicides in United States legal history. Gacy was sentenced to death on March 13, 1980. On death row at Menard Correctional Center, he spent much of his time painting. He was executed by lethal injection at Stateville Correctional Center on May 10, 1994.
Only 28 of Gacy's victims were conclusively identified. Of these, the youngest were Samuel Stapleton and Michael Marino, both 14; the eldest were Francis Alexander and Russell Nelson, both 21. Five victims have never been identified.
The first victims to be identified were John Butkovich (Body 2), John Szyc (Body 3), and Gregory Godzik (Body 4). Dental records confirmed their identities on December 29, 1978. The thirty-third victim linked to Gacy, James Mazzara, was identified the following day. The twenty-third victim exhumed from Gacy's property was identified as Rick Johnston on January 1, 1979.
Four further victims were identified on January 6, 1979. Body 18 was identified as Michael Bonnin and Body 25 as Robert Gilroy. The first victim exhumed from the crawl space was identified as Jon Prestidge, and the victim labelled Body 16 as Russell Nelson. A fishing license issued to Bonnin had been found previously in Gacy's home. Three days later, the victim recovered from the Des Plaines River on June 30, 1978, was identified as Timothy O'Rourke. On January 27, dental charts were used to identify Body 20 as John Mowery. Two days later, Body 8 was identified as Matthew Bowman.
Two months later, on March 17, 1979, the twenty-second victim recovered from Gacy's property was identified using dental records as William Carroll. The following month, the identity of the seventh victim was confirmed using X-ray records as Randall Reffett, and on May 21, dental records confirmed that Body 27 was William Kindred.
On September 11, 1979, Bodies 11 and 12 were identified as Robert Winch and Tommy Boling, respectively. Winch was identified via X-ray records of a distinctive healed bone fracture. A distinctive brown "tiger's eye" metal buckle with black striping belonging to Winch was also found alongside his body.
Using dental records, the sixth victim exhumed from Gacy's property was identified on November 14, 1979, as Samuel Stapleton. On November 16, Body 17 was identified as David Talsma using radiology images of a healed fracture of the left scapula. Two days later, the final victim recovered from Gacy's property, Body 29, was identified as Darrell Samson.
In March 1980, Bodies 14 and 15 were identified using dental records and radiology images as those of Michael Marino and Kenneth Parker. Their identities were confirmed too late to include among the victims identified before Gacy's trial.
In May 1986, the ninth victim exhumed from Gacy's property was identified as Timothy Jack McCoy, Gacy's first victim. Dental records and a distinctive belt buckle assisted with his identification.
In October 2011, Cook County sheriff Thomas Dart announced that investigators, having obtained full DNA profiles from each of the unidentified victims, were to renew their efforts to identify them. At a press conference held to announce this, Sheriff Dart stated investigators are actively seeking DNA samples from individuals across the United States related to any male missing between 1970 and 1979.
Results of tests conducted thus far have confirmed the identification of three victims, ruled out the possibility of numerous other missing youths as being victims of Gacy, and solved four unrelated cold cases dating between 1972 and 1979.
In November 2011, the victim previously known as Body 19 was identified through DNA testing as William Bundy. Shortly after Gacy's arrest, Bundy's family had contacted his dentist in the hope of submitting his dental records for comparison with the unidentified bodies, but the records had been destroyed after his dentist had retired. In July 2017, 16-year-old James Haakenson, previously known as Body 24, was also identified as a victim using DNA testing. The most recent victim to be identified is 21-year-old Francis Wayne Alexander, previously known as Body 5. Alexander was identified via forensic genealogy in October 2021. He had not been reported missing by his family, who believed he had relocated from Chicago to California shortly after his final contact with his mother in November 1976.