John Wayne Gacy – The Killer Clown

An American serial killer and sex offender who raped, tortured, and murdered at least 33 young men and boys in Northwood Park Township, Illinois.

Gacy committed all of the murders inside his ranch-style home in Norwood Park Township. Typically, he would lure a victim to his house and dupe them into putting on handcuffs on the pretext of demonstrating a magic trick. He would then rape and torture his captives before killing them either by strangulation by rope or wire or suffocation.

Tweenty-six victims were buried in the crawl space of his home, and three others were buried elsewhere on his property. Four others were discarded in the Des Plaines River.

The Clown

Through his membership in a local Moose Club, Gacy became aware of a “Jolly Joker” clown club, whose members regularly performed at fundraising events and parades in addition to voluntarily entertaining hospitalized children. In late 1975, Gacy joined the clown club and created his own clown characters “Pogo the Clown” and “Patches the Clown”, devising his own makeup and costumes. He described Pogo as a “happy clown”, whereas Patches was a “more serious” character.

Gacy seldom earned money for his performances and later said that acting as a clown allowed him to “regress into childhood”. He performed as both Pogo and Patches at numerous local parties, political functions, charitable events, and children’s hospitals. On occasion, Gacy would briefly drink at a local bar after performing as either of his clowning personas before returning home. Gacy’s voluntary public service as a clown throughout the years of his murders led to him being known as the “Killer Clown”.

The Murders

Gacy usually lured a lone victim to his house, although on more than one occasion, two victims killed in the same evening.

Inside Gacy’s home he would offer the youth with drink, drugs, or generally gain his trust. He would then produce a pair of handcuffs to “show a magic trick”, sometimes as part of a clowning routine. He typically cuffed his own hands behind his back, then surreptitiously released himself with the key which he hid between his fingers. He then offered to show his intended victim how to release himself from the handcuffs. With his victim manacled and unable to free himself, Gacy then made a statement to the effect that “The trick is, you have to have the key.” Gacy referred to this act of restraining his victim as the “handcuff trick”.

Having restrained his victim, Gacy proceeded to rape and torture his captive. He frequently began by sitting on or straddling himself above his victim’s chest before forcing the victim into oral sex. Gacy then inflicted acts of torture including burning with cigars, making his captive imitate a horse as he sat on their back and pulled upon makeshift reins around their necks, and violation with foreign objects such as dildos and prescription bottles after he had sodomized his captive.

He also verbally taunted many of his victims throughout their continued abuse, and was known to have dragged or forced several victims to crawl into his bathroom, where he partly drowned them in the bathtub before repeatedly reviving them, enabling him to continue his prolonged assault.

Occasionally, the victim had convulsed for an “hour or two” before dying, although several victims died by suffocation from cloth gags stuffed deep into their throat. Except for his two final victims, all were murdered between 3:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m.

Gacy’s first known murder occurred on January 3, 1972, a 16-year-old boy named Timothy McCoy. Gacy continued to murder for years to come before getting caught.


After the murder and disappearance of Robert Piest, his family filed a missing person report. Where Gacy was named as the last known person to have seen him. Robert told his parents he was talking to Gacy about a possible job.

A routine check of Gacy’s criminal background revealed that he had an outstanding battery charge against him in Chicago and had served a prison sentence in Iowa for the sodomy of a 15-year-old boy.

Armed with the signed search warrant, police and evidence technicians drove to Gacy’s home. On their arrival, officers found Gacy had unplugged his sump pump, flooding the crawl space with water; to clear it, they simply replaced the plug and waited for the water to drain. After it had done so, evidence technician Daniel Genty entered the 28-by-38-foot crawl space, crawled to the southwest area and began digging. Within minutes, he had uncovered putrefied flesh and a human arm bone. Genty immediately shouted to the investigators that they could charge Gacy with murder, adding, “I think this place is full of kids.” A police photographer then dug in the northeast corner of the crawl space, uncovering a kneecap. The two then began digging in the southeast corner, uncovering two lower leg bones.


In the early morning hours of December 22, and in the presence of his lawyers, Gacy provided a formal statement in which he confessed to murdering approximately 30 young males, all of whom he claimed had entered his house willingly. He claimed all were teenage male runaways or male prostitutes, the majority of whom he had buried in his crawl space.

When questioned specifically about Piest, Gacy confessed to luring him to his house and strangling him on the evening of December 11. He also admitted to having slept alongside Piest’s body that evening, before disposing of the corpse in the Des Plaines River in the early hours of December 13.

Twenty-six bodies were unearthed from Gacy’s crawl space over the next week; three more were also unearthed elsewhere on his property.


Gacy was brought to trial on February 6, 1980, charged with 33 murders.

He spent over 300 hours with doctors and underwent a variety of psychological test to determine whether he was mentally competent to stand trial. He attempted to convince doctors that he had multiple personalities. He claimed to have four personalities: the hard-working, civic-minded contractor, the clown, the active politician, and a policeman called Jack Hanley, whom he referred to as “Bad Jack”. When Gacy had confessed to police, he claimed to be relaying the crimes of Jack, who detested homosexuality and who viewed male prostitutes as “weak, stupid and degraded scum”.

The prosecutors presented the case that Gacy was sane and in full control of his actions. To support this contention, they produced several witnesses to testify to the premeditation of Gacy’s actions and the efforts he took to escape detection.

The jury deliberated for one hour and fifty minutes before announcing they had reached their verdicts: Gacy was found guilty of 33 charges of murder; he was also found guilty of sexual assault and taking indecent liberties with a child; both convictions in reference to Robert Piest. At the time, his conviction for 33 murders was the most for which any person in U.S. history had been convicted.

In the sentencing phase of the trial, the jury deliberated for more than two hours before sentencing Gacy to death for each murder committed after the Illinois statute on capital punishment came into effect in June 1977. His execution was set for June 2, 1980.

Death Row

On being sentenced, Gacy was transferred to the Menard Correctional Center, where he remained incarcerated on death row for 14 years.

After his incarceration, Gacy read numerous law books and filed voluminous motions and appeals, although he did not prevail in any of them.


On the morning of May 9, 1994, Gacy was transferred to Stateville Correctional Center in Crest Hill to be executed.

In the hours leading up to Gacy’s execution, a crowd estimated at over 1,000 gathered outside the correctional center; a vocal majority were in favor of the execution, although a few anti-death penalty protesters were also present. Some of those in favor of the execution wore T-shirts hearkening to Gacy’s previous community services as a clown and bearing satirical slogans such as “No tears for the clown”.

Gacy was confirmed dead at 12:58 a.m. on May 10, 1994. His brain was removed and his body cremated.

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