John Wayne Gacy was a sex offender and serial killer who lived in the Chicago area and sexually assaulted and murdered at least 33 young boys and men. He was known in his community for dressing up in clown makeup for children’s charities and neighborhood parties. His victims willingly entered Gacy’s home and some even put on their own handcuffs or restraints when Gacy promised to perform a magic trick. Gacy would then rape, torture, and asphyxiate his victims. Most of his victims were buried in a crawl space in his home.
Gacy’s career as a predator started when he married his first wife and her father gave Gacy a lucrative job managing a KFC restaurant in Waterloo, Iowa. Gacy regularly invited his underage employees to socialize and drink in the basement of his house, which he referred to as a “club”. While enjoying a public reputation as a community leader who was “outstanding vice-president” of the Waterloo Jaycees, privately he was preying on his staff and the children of his friends. He told one 15-year-old boy that he would show him porn in his basement (this is before the internet, and the widespread availability of porn) and then gaslit him by informing the boy, “You have to have sex with a man before you start having sex with women.” He manipulated other boys into sex by saying things like he was “commissioned to conduct homosexual experiments in the interests of scientific research” and paying them $50 each. Once he raped someone, he’d use blackmail to make the boy stay quiet or assault him again (keep in mind that sexual assault victims today struggle to come forward, male victims of an attack by another man in the 60s and 70s would have faced a really significant additional pressure to remain silent).
When one boy got the courage to tell his father Gacy had assaulted him, Gacy was indicted on sodomy charges. He paid one of his employees $30 to mace the boy and beat him up. This plot unravelled as soon as the victim told police about the assault, Gacy’s employee turned on him, and the whole thing likely led to Gacy pleading guilty to the sodomy charge and serving 18 months in prison on a 10 year sentence. Upon release, he returned freshly divorced and single to his hometown of Chicago.
Gacy used this period of having to start over as an opportunity to build a life that was perfectly tailored to a predator.
For instance, he created a construction company, PDM Contractors, which employed mostly young men for Gacy to prey on. He lured men into his house with job offers or to discuss work matters (or with alcohol and porn) where he handcuffed them, raped them, and killed them. He had other PDM employees help him dig holes or modify his home so that he was able to hide almost all of his victim’s bodies in his home. He also tried his best to continue the veneer that he was a family man in the community by marrying a divorced women with two young daughters. However, after Gacy informed the woman they would no longer be having sex “because he was bisexual” and noticing his “affairs”, the woman divorced him.
The docuseries The Clown and the Candyman on Investigation Discovery explores the possibility that Gacy worked with accomplices, which may be why he was able to amass so many victims. One of those alleged accomplices was John David Norman, known for being a violent sex offender who ran a nationwide sex trafficking ring out of Chicago in the 1970s. Norman printed a booklet with pictures of boys and their physical descriptions he’d send to pedophiles for an annual membership fee of $15 (allegedly). Police found 30,000 index cards with names they believe to be the members of Norman’s trafficking ring, but this evidence was later “lost”. Norman is connected to Gacy through Phillip Paske, who was employed at times by both Norman and Gacy and was an accomplice in Norman’s sex trafficking ring. Gacy also explicitly said Paske and Norman were his accomplices, though his word doesn’t count for much. Norman is also suspected to have worked with Dean Corll when he lived in Texas. Corrll is another sadistic pedophile and serial killer who murdered at least 28 men and boys.
Another docuseries, John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise, also works to tie Gacy, Norman, and Paske together. They also delve into the theory that these men may have been trafficking snuff films. The show includes a jailhouse interview with Gacy in which he not only says Norman also sold snuff films through his sex trafficking ring, he says that if people review those films they will recognize some of Gacy’s victims. The executive producer of this docuseries, Tracy Ullman, says, “From years of research, we found that pedophiles – like Norman and Gacy – often had lines of communication that tied them together, whether through coded ads in Boy’s Life magazine or actual contact to trade pornography or traffic in humans.”
For decades since Gacy’s arrest, trial, and death people have been speculating that there is more to his crimes than we know. There probably is. This is a man who served less than two years in jail after being caught raping an underage boy because he could successfully wear the mask of model prisoner. He used society’s contempt for any kind of gay sex to his advantage. He was politically connected. He posed for photos with the first lady. He was friends with Chicago police. One of Gacy’s victims claims another person he never saw was in Gacy’s house with him while Gacy was holding him hostage. I believe that victim.
The lawyer Gacy had while on death row, Karen Conti, says “Gacy always said he didn’t kill all the boys and he alluded to the idea that there could’ve been a bigger picture, that there may have been a snuff film operation. And that some of these young men and boys were being killed and videotaped and the videos sold on the black market. He didn’t give me names, he didn’t say he was involved, he didn’t tell me who was involved, but he alluded to that.”
The deeper people dig into the person and persona of John Wayne Gacy, the more it seems like with him, anything is possible.