Having killed 33 people, John Wayne Gacy, also known as “Pogo the Clown,” is remembered as one of America’s most terrifying serial killers.
On January 2, 1972 Timothy McCoy had gotten up early to make his host breakfast. The man, John Wayne Gacy, was letting him stay at his home for the night while on his way to Michigan. He got out eggs and bacon and set the table for two. Then, he walked up the stairs to wake Gacy, not realizing he hadn’t put down the knife he’d been using.
What happened next would set the scene for the rest of Gacy’s life.
Not realizing the boy had intended no harm, Gacy attacked him, stabbing and killing him. He then buried his body in the crawlspace beneath his Chicago home and covered the grave with concrete. The murder had been a mistake, but it had instilled in Gacy “the ultimate thrill,” which he would crave for the rest of his life.
Over the next six years, 28 more bodies would join Timothy McCoy’s, all victims of Gacy’s thirst for murder and penchant for teenage boys.
Those who knew John Wayne Gacy would never have expected him to turn out as he had. Almost everyone who met him described him as a mild-mannered and likable man. For most of his life, he worked in customer service, first managing three of his father-in-law’s KFC franchises, then starting his own construction business.
His customers remembered him as kind, generous, and willing to help people out. He employed local teenagers in need of jobs and contributed heavily to his local Junior Chamber of Commerce. He even took time out of his weekends to dress up as a clown for kids birthday parties.
However, as authorities would learn, something seriously disturbing had been inside him all along.
His father had been abusive to him from a young age, berating him and whipping him with a belt. As soon as he could, Gacy escaped the torture by moving to Las Vegas, but the damage was already done.
While working as a mortuary assistant in Vegas, Gacy slept on a cot behind the embalming room. One night, after observing the morticians embalming dead bodies, he crawled into a coffin with one. He laid in the coffin for a time, embracing and caressing the body, a teenage boy.
The event shocked him so much he returned home and enrolled in business school. He never told anyone about his night with the body in the morgue.
After graduating from Northwestern Business College, despite never graduating high school, Gacy met Marlynn Myers, whom he worked with at a local shoe company. After nine months, the couple married, and Gacy took over the management of Marlynn’s father’s KFC franchises. The couple would have two children, and what was seemingly a perfect life.
But under the surface, Gacy’s monster still lurked. Though his marriage was a happy one, Gacy joined a group of men involved in wife swapping, prostitution, pornography and drug abuse.
Gacy even opened a “club” in his own basement where he allowed his employees to drink and play pool. At his club, though he employed both male and female teenagers, his attentions were focused on the young men.
This would be his first downfall.
In 1968, Gacy was convicted of sexually assaulting a number of young boys, who claimed he had lured them to his home under false pretenses, and proceeded to assault them. Gacy pleaded guilty to one count of sodomy and not guilty to the other charges against him. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and served divorce papers from his wife, whom he would never see again.
Just 18 months after his sentencing, Gacy was granted parole for being a model prisoner. During the short time he was incarcerated, he managed to secure a raise for prison mess hall workers, increased membership of the prison Jaycees by 600, worked to improve conditions for prisoners and oversaw the installation of a miniature golf course in the recreation yard.
He was given 12 months probation, under the conditions that he move back to Chicago to live with his mother. He agreed, and maintained that he would reestablish himself and “never go back to jail.”
It was during his parole that he became involved in the community of Norwood Park that he met his second wife, Carol Hoff. It was also where all of his gruesome murders would be committed, and where he would gain local fame as “Pogo the Clown.”
While in prison, Gacy had become something of an artist and repeatedly sketched the image of Pogo the Clown. After joining the “Jolly Joker” club, which would perform at local fundraising events, he taught himself how to apply clown makeup, and turned himself into his drawings. He performed as Pogo at numerous local parties, including Democratic party functions, charitable events, and children’s hospitals.
Residents of Norwood Park also remember him showing up to his favorite bar, the “Good Luck Lounge,” dressed as Pogo.
However, his infatuation with dressing up like a clown and his history with teenage boys led his wife to question his sexuality, after which Gacy admitted to being bisexual. His wife divorced him and left him alone in their house.
Though she denied knowledge of what was to come, Hoff later admitted to authorities that she had seen him bringing teenage boys into their garage.
After his divorce, John Wayne Gacy went on to murder over 30 young men. Some were unidentified teenagers, drifters from out of town, and some were local boys who worked for Gacy. Gacy even participated in the searches for some of the boys, as he was friendly with their parents and considered a helpful member of the community.
His arrest came after a local 15-year-old-boy went missing. He had been seen going to Gacy’s home to inquire about a job but hadn’t been seen after. Police investigated and searched Gacy’s home. There, they found a class ring and child-sized clothing.
Upon further investigation, they found the 29 bodies he’d been hiding under his home.
In 1977, John Wayne Gacy was arrested. Three years later he used an insanity plea during his trial, hoping for a not guilty verdict.
The jury didn’t buy it. Gacy was sentenced to death and dropped the friendly facade he had maintained for all those years. He would spend 14 years in prison awaiting his execution, the night before which he returned to his roots, and ordered a bucket of KFC as his last meal.
According to reports, his last words were “kiss my ass.”
Though Gacy is long gone, his legacy lives on. Most of the victims retrieved from his crawlspace were identified and released to the families for burial. However, 23 years after his death, authorities are still trying to identify the rest. In July, one of the bodies was finally identified, though his family was long gone.
Six of Gacy’s victims remain unidentified.