RENEWED EFFORT AIMS TO IDENTIFY
GACY’S UNKNOWN VICTIMS
Wednesday, October 12, 2011 —More than 30 years after 33 young men were murdered by serial killer John Wayne Gacy, detectives are relying on advancements in DNA technology in a new effort to identify eight victims who have never been identified, Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart announced on Wednesday.
The eight unidentified victims of Gacy represent the single largest cold case investigation in Cook County Sheriff’s Office history.
In an outreach effort that could stretch across the nation, Sheriff Dart has established a telephone hotline and online link that will allow for the collection of information from those who suspect they may be related to one of those eight unknown victims. Information can be obtained at www.cookcountysheriff.com or by calling 800-942-1950.
In December 1978, Cook County Sheriff’s Police detectives, along with Des Plaines Police detectives, investigated a horrific crime scene under and around Gacy’s home in unincorporated Norwood Park. It was there – and in the Des Plaines River – that Gacy dumped 33 young men he lured into his home between 1972 and 1978, with promises of construction jobs, drugs and alcohol, by posing as a police officer or offering money for sex.
His identified victims disappeared between 1972 and 1978 and were white males between the ages of 14 and 21. They were from Chicago and other parts of the Midwest.
At that time, investigators only had the use of dental records, x-rays, missing persons reports and Gacy’s own confessions to identify victims. Though 25 victims have been identified, eight have continued to remain unidentified. Their race, gender, approximate height, approximate age and approximate time of disappearance are all that is known about them.
At the time, items investigators believed could be associated with unknown victims were displayed to the public. In addition, some basic facial approximation efforts were done, but were not considered to be reliable enough to help make an identification. No identifications resulted.
In early 2011, Sheriff Dart put a renewed focus on clearing dozens of the department’s cold case investigations, when discussions began about the department’s largest cold case. Pointing to improvements in investigative techniques since 1978 – including DNA technology – Dart approved exhumations of all eight unknown Gacy victims, in order to obtain enough DNA to provide a profile that could be used to make comparisons to others.
Because the Illinois State Police crime lab does not do investigative DNA work involving bones, detectives contacted the renowned University of North Texas Center for Human Identification for assistance in identifying the recovered remains of Gacy’s unknown victims.
Cook County Sheriff’s detectives learned that the mandible and maxilla of Gacy’s unknown victims had been removed from the bodies prior to their interments at area cemeteries and stored at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office. But when they tried retrieving those jaw bones to gather DNA, they learned that the Medical Examiner had buried the bones with other unknown and indigent people in Homewood Memorial Gardens in 2009.
On June 1, investigators attempted to locate those remains and after three digs with backhoes, they found the remains in a coffin, buried below another casket filled with infants, animal remains and other bagged medical tissue. The eight jaw bones were found to be bagged and in individual containers, remaining in good condition. A sheriff’s detective then personally delivered the bones to the Fort Worth laboratory.
In August, sheriff’s investigators were notified that nuclear DNA traits from a mother and father which allow for easier identification - had only been secured for four of the eight unidentified victims and that additional bone material would need to be obtained in order to make other matches. In September, exhumations of the other four unidentified victims were conducted at Resurrection, Maryhill, Queen of Heaven and Woodlawn Memorial cemeteries. Select bone material was removed and again personally delivered to UNT laboratory officials.
DNA profiles have now been secured from all eight victims. Now, investigators hope to begin taking buccal swabs from potential family members and matching it to DNA secured from the victims’ remains. Sheriff’s administrative staff will handle phone and email inquiries about submitting a DNA sample and arrangements will be made to safely secure swabs. Submitted results will be processed by UNT lab staff before they are returned in late 2011 or early 2012.
Sheriff Dart thanked Dr. Art Eisenberg and his staff at the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification, Dr. Anne Grauer, interim chairman of the Department of Anthropology at Loyola University of Chicago, and Dr. Edward Pavlik, a renowned forensic odontologist and orthodontist who helped identify Gacy’s victims in 1978, Woodlawn Cemetery and Catholic Cemeteries of Chicago for their assistance in this initiative. He also thanked retired Sheriff’s Police Detectives Frank Braun, Phil Bettiker and Greg Bedoe, along with Cook County Judge William Kunkle and sheriff’s compliance officer Robert Egan, who helped investigate and prosecute Gacy, respectively, and who have provided unparalleled insights and assistance to current sheriff’s police detectives as they have carried out this work.