Publish date:
Updated on
Year
1978

John Wayne Gacy confesses

On this day in 1978, John Wayne Gacy confesses to police to killing over two dozen boys and young men and burying their bodies under his suburban Chicago home. In March 1980, Gacy was convicted of 33 sex-related murders, committed between 1972 and 1978, and given the death penalty. At the time, he was the worst serial killer in modern American history. George Ridgway, known as the Green River Killer, overtook Gacy in November 2003, when he admitted to murdering 48 women in the Pacific Northwest.

Gacy was born in Chicago on March 17, 1942. Outwardly, he appeared to have a relatively normal middle-class upbringing; however, by some accounts, Gacy had an abusive alcoholic father and also experienced health issues in his youth. In 1964, Gacy married and moved with his wife to Iowa, where he managed his father-in-law’s Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants. The couple had two children. However, Gacy’s wife divorced him after he was charged with sexually assaulting one of his male employees in 1968. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but was released due to good behavior after serving only a fraction of his sentence.

Gacy moved back to Chicago, where he started a contracting company and remarried. However, the seemingly respectable businessman, who became involved in local politics and once had his photograph taken with then-first lady Rosalynn Carter, was leading a double life as a sexual predator. He committed his first murder in 1972. Gacy’s victims included male prostitutes as well as teenagers who worked for his company. Typically, he lured his victims back to his home and tricked them into being handcuffed or having a rope tied around their necks. Afterward, he’d knock them out with chloroform and then rape, torture and murder them. As he was a well-known community figure–who sometimes dressed up as a clown to entertain sick children–Gacy’s crimes initially went undetected.

The heavy-set serial killer came under suspicion in December 1978 when authorities investigating the disappearance of Robert Piest discovered that the teen was last seen with Gacy. After learning of Gacy’s sex-crime conviction in Iowa, police searched his Norwood Park home. They noticed a strong stench coming from a crawl space but at first thought it was from a damaged sewage pipe. Several items, including a store receipt, were later found at Gacy’s home that linked him to Piest and other young men who’d been reported missing. After Gacy confessed, investigators recovered 29 corpses buried on his property, as well as four more that he’d dumped in nearby rivers when he ran out of room at home.

After his conviction, Gacy spent 14 years on Death Row, during which time he made paintings of clowns and other figures that sold for thousands of dollars. On May 10, 1994, having exhausted all his appeals, the 52-year-old Gacy, who the media dubbed the Killer Clown, was put to death by legal injection at the Stateville Penitentiary in Joliet, Illinois.

Tags
terms:
Crime

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Dreyfus affair begins in France

French officer Alfred Dreyfus is convicted of treason by a military court-martial and sentenced to life in prison for his alleged crime of passing military secrets to the Germans. The Jewish artillery captain, convicted on flimsy evidence in a highly irregular trial, began his ...read more

The Bernhard Goetz subway shooting

On the New York City subway, Bernhard Goetz, a 45-year-old white male, shoots four young black men after they surround him and ask for $5. After wounding three of the unarmed men, Goetz pointed his gun at 18-year-old Darrell Cabey, who was not wounded but cowering terrified in ...read more

Romanian government falls

The Romanian army defects to the cause of anti-communist demonstrators, and the government of Nicolae Ceausescu is overthrown. The end of 42 years of communist rule came three days after Ceausescu’s security forces opened fire on demonstrators in Timisoara. After the army’s ...read more

First gorilla born in captivity

On this day in 1956, a baby gorilla named Colo enters the world at the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, becoming the first-ever gorilla born in captivity. Weighing in at approximately 4 pounds, Colo, a western lowland gorilla whose name was a combination of Columbus and Ohio, was the ...read more

John Chisum dies in Arkansas

A central player in the violent Lincoln County War of 1878-81, the cattleman John Chisum dies at Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Born in Tennessee in 1824, Chisum moved with his family to Paris, Texas, when he was eleven years old. For several years he worked as construction ...read more