What happened to John Wayne Gacy? What Conversations with a Killer on Netflix misses out
Netflix's latest true-crime documentary looks at one of America's most prolific serial killers.
Note: This article contains discussion that some readers may find upsetting.
Arriving on Netflix today is Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes – the latest true crime docuseries from filmmaker Joe Berlinger.
Looking into the unsettling crimes of contractor, local politician and party clown John Wayne Gacy, the three-parter delves into 60 hours of unearthed audio between the prolific serial killer and his defence team as the show takes a "fresh perspective on the narcissistic mindset of the murderer".
Responsible for murdering 33 young men and boys between 1972 and 1976, John Wayne Gacy is one of America's most notorious murderers, with Gacy's criminal attorney even admitting during the documentary that he "aged many, many years" on the night Gacy confessed to his murders.
"Both as a lawyer and as a person, it was one of the scariest nights of my life," he says.
Here's everything you need to know about the true story behind John Wayne Gacy's crimes and what happened to him.
Who is John Wayne Gacy?
John Wayne Gacy was one of the most prolific serial killers in US history who was convicted of assaulting and murdering at least 33 young men and boys.
Known as the Killer Clown due to his career as a party clown, Gacy was a contractor and local politician based in Chicago who was sentenced to death for his crimes in 1980.
Born in 1942, Gacy grew up in Chicago and went on to marry his first wife Marlynn Myers in 1964, with the couple living in the Iowa town of Waterloo, where Gacy managed several Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants. Gacy joined the local chapter of the US Junior Chamber (Jaycee), but in 1968, was found guilty on one count of sodomy after being accused of sexually assaulting the teenage son of a fellow Jaycee member.
He was sentenced to 10 years in Anamosa State Penitentiary, leading to his first wife Marlynn asking for a divorce and moving away with their two children.
Gacy served 18 months of his sentence and was granted parole with 12 months' probation in 1970 on the condition that he moved back to Chicago and lived with his mother. While he was there, Gacy was arrested twice, however neither the charge of sexual assault nor the charge of aggravated sexual battery and sexual conduct led to a conviction.
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According to Tim Cahill's Buried Dreams: Inside the Mind of John Wayne Gacy, the parole board did not learn of these charges and so in October 1971, Gacy's parole was ended and his previous criminal convictions were sealed.
In 1972, Gacy went on to marry his second wife Carole Hoff, who moved into his home with her two daughters from a previous marriage – although, as noted in Clifford Linedecker's The Man Who Killed Boys: A True Story of Mass Murder in a Chicago Suburb, Hoff noticed that Gacy would bring teenage boys into his garage in the early hours of the morning and would find men's wallets and gay pornography in the house.
While in Chicago, Gacy launched his own construction business, and according to Cahill, Gacy would often proposition his employees for sexual favours.
He would also perform as Pogo the Clown and Patches the Clown at fundraising events at a local Moose Club. He also became involved in the local Democratic Party and was given the title of precinct captain.
What did John Wayne Gacy do?
Gacy was investigated by police after the disappearance of 15-year-old pharmacy worker Robert Piest in December 1978. As his co-worker Kim Byers-Lund says in the documentary, Piest had gone outside during his shift to talk to a contractor who had just been in the shop about getting a job but didn't return.
When Gacy was named as the contractor who had been in the pharmacy, Des Plaines officers visited Gacy at his home – however, he claimed that he had not offered Piest a job. The police then obtained a search warrant to search his property, where they found police badges, a starter pistol, books on homosexuality and pederasty, bottles of valium and atropine and underwear that was too small to fit Gacy.
After being surveilled by police officers and interviewed a second time, Gacy confessed to killing approximately 30 people to his criminal attorney and lawyer, saying that he had been "the judge, jury and executioner of many, many people" and revealing that Robert Piest was dead. He also told them that he had buried many of his victims – who he referred to as "male prostitutes" and "liars" – in his crawl space and disposed of five in the Des Plaines River.
Police obtained another search warrant and searched Gacy's home, finding human remains of four victims in his crawl space and arresting Gacy for murder. Robert Piest's body was eventually found in the Des Plaines River, with Gacy confessing to luring him to his house and strangling him, as reported in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in 1980.
Gacy was convicted of murdering at least 33 young men and boys, with 26 bodies being found in his crawl space. Five of Gacy's victims, murdered between 1975 and 1977, remain unidentified, with four being buried in the crawl space of his house and another found near his barbecue pit.
However, 28 of Gacy's victims were identified, with all of them being between the ages of 14 and 21. According to Terry Sullivan and Peter T Maiken's Killer Clown: The John Wayne Gacy Murders, Gacy would lure many of his victims off the streets, from the Greyhound Bus station or Bughouse Square, with the offer of a job at his contracting company, or drink, drugs or money for sex, while with others, he would fraudulently claim he was a police officer. When at his home, he would offer to show his victims a magic trick that he learned as a clown, before handcuffing them.
"Gacy's easy smile melted away, revealing a cold, growling predator who sexually assaulted his victims before strangling many of them with a knotted rope," the Chicago Tribune wrote in 2018.
Gacy was tried for 33 murders on 6th February 1980, with the jury deliberating for less than two hours before finding him guilty on all murder counts as well as charges of sexual assault and taking indecent liberties with a child which related to Robert Piest. His conviction broke the record for the most murders any person in US history had been convicted for, and was sentenced to death.
Where is John Wayne Gacy now?
John Wayne Gacy was sentenced to death row in February 6th 1980, with his execution date set for 2nd June 1980.
However, he remained in prison on death row at the Menard Correctional Center for 14 years and spoke to several journalists during that time, including WLS-TV's Russ Ewing and author Tim Cahill.
While he appealed his sentence numerous times, his conviction was upheld, with the US Supreme Court denying his last appeal in October 1993.
He was executed on 9th May 1994 by lethal injection, after which his body was cremated. However, Chicago psychiatrist Helen Morrison – a witness for the defence in his trial – kept a portion of his brain.
“It is dead, but it is an organism, a part of that individual,” she previously told The Times. “And I keep it because at some point there may be a tool we can use that enables us to look at it more closely.”
Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes is available to stream on Netflix.