John Wayne Gacy was one of the most prolific serial killers in the United States, having raped, tortured, and murdered more than 33 young male victims in a six-year spree. He entertained children’s parties dressed as a clown named “Pogo,” a side gig that led to his nickname “the Killer Clown.”
John Wayne Gacy’s Early Run-Ins with the Law
Born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, Gacy was part of a working-class family of factory workers. His father was allegedly an alcoholic who physically and verbally abused Gacy throughout his childhood. He attempted to pursue a “normal” life, Gacy married in 1964 and moved to Waterloo, Iowa, where he had two children. Gacy worked as a manager for his father-in-law’s Kentucky Fried Chicken chains and was a member of a national civic group. However, things would soon go wrong: His first run in with the law was in May 1968, when he was accused of forcing two teenagers to perform oral sex on him. His wife divorced him and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison; however, Gacy was released after just 18 months for good behavior.
How Gacy’s Murder Spree Began
Gacy’s father died while he was incarcerated, and he moved into his mother’s home in Chicago after his release from prison. While he was a model prisoner, Gacy resumed his old lifestyle of rape and assault once back in the outside world and eventually turned to even darker deeds — his first known murder was on January 3, 1972.Gacy picked up 15-year-old Timothy McCoy outside of a Greyhound Bus station and proceeded to stab the teenager to death before stuffing him under his house. McCoy would be the first of 26 male victims to be buried in Gacy’s now-infamous crawl space. Gacy claims to have killed another victim in 1974, although they have never been identified; the following summer, one of his employees went missing — he, too, would eventually be found in the crawlspace.
The Killer Clown Gets Caught
Throughout Gacy’s murder spree, “the killer clown” positioned himself as a devoted, upstanding citizen in Chicago. He remarried to a woman with two daughters, ran a successful contracting business, was the precinct captain in a local Democratic Party, and chillingly performed at children’s charity functions as “Patches” or “Pogo the Clown.” However, after his divorce from his second wife in 1976, Gacy took advantage of his empty home and went on to murder 30 more young male victims, including runaways, male prostitutes, and his own employees — all between the ages of 15 to 21 years old. Gacy’s last victim was 15-year-old Robert Piest on December 11, 1978. Gacy was spotted by plenty of witnesses talking to the young boy before his death, and police soon zeroed in on him.
He was arrested 10 days later after two search warrants were executed on his home. The second time, police found bodies in the crawl space.
On March 12, 1980, Gacy was found guilty on 33 counts of murder. While on death row, he produced morbid paintings of his Pogo the Clown alter ego and sold them to external collectors, giving the public a jarring take on what looked like a beloved children’s character. Fourteen years later, on May 10, 1994, Gacy was put to death by lethal injection in his home state of Illinois. Six of his dead victims have yet to be identified.