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A North Carolina man believed to have disappeared of his own volition in the 1970s has been identified as a victim of notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
Francis "Wayne" Alexander was referred to as "Victim #5" out of six unidentified murder victims discovered in John Wayne Gacy’s crawl space on Dec. 28, 1978, according to a release from the Cook County Sheriff’s Office. Alexander would have been 21 or 22 at the time of his death.
Alexander’s family responded to news.
“It is hard, even 45 years later, to know the fate of our beloved Wayne. He was killed at the hands of a vile and evil man,” relatives responded in the release. “Our hearts are heavy, and our sympathies go out to the other victims’ families. Our only comfort is knowing this killer no longer breathes the same air as we do.”
In a press conference on Monday, Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart described Alexander as a North Carolina native who’d relocated to New York, where he married and divorced three months later. Alexander then moved to the Chicago area in February 1975, the same time frame when Gacy brutally murdered at least 33 teenage boys and young men between 1972 and 1978.
“His family thought he wanted to just be left alone,” said Dart. “There was no missing person filed, nothing.”
Authorities were able to approximate Alexander’s last known whereabouts, citing a traffic ticket dated Jan. 5, 1976, and financial records that revealed the victim’s income for that year.
Dart credited advances in genetic genealogy for Friday’s formal identification.
“These unidentified young men brutally murdered by this vicious serial killer deserve dignity, and that includes knowing their names,” he stated in the release. “As science evolves, it is important for us to continually apply these new tools to both new and old cases to help victims and their families.”
The Cook County Sheriff’s Office enlisted the help of the DNA Doe Project and created a DNA profile through genealogical research and compared it to samples submitted to a family lineage website.
“DNA from [Alexander’s] mother and a half-brother were collected to confirm the validity of the lead,” continued the sheriff’s office. “Their DNA samples and that of the victim’s had a strong genetic association.”
John Wayne Gacy was convicted of 33 counts of murder in 1980. The atrocity of his crimes became a subject of fascination, recently covered in the Peacock original docuseries, “John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise.” The six-part series explores “the chilling story of one of the world’s most notorious serial killers told through the words of Gacy himself, those who were forever changed by his unspeakable deeds, and those who believe that the full truth about the case remains concealed to this day.”
Gacy was executed in 1994 by lethal injection.
In 2011, Sheriff Dart renewed efforts to identify victims after collecting DNA profiles on the unidentified remains. William Bundy, 19, was identified in 2011 after relatives submitted their DNA to police, and James Haakenson, 16, was identified in 2017 thanks to DNA evidence. Both were determined to be victims of Gacy.
According to the sheriff’s office, the 2011 initiative helped authorities solve four cold case deaths unrelated to Gacy, locate five missing persons who were still living, and two missing persons who’d died without their family’s knowledge.
“In a way, we’re basically trying to prove someone’s worst nightmare, which is awful,” Dart told the New York Times in 2011. “But the statement we have heard the most from families is that they have been waiting for 30 years to know.”
Sheriff Dart thanked the DNA Doe Project, the Erwin Police Department in North Carolina, and the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification for their roles in the investigation leading to Francis Wayne Alexander’s identification.
“We can now lay to rest what happened and move forward by honoring Wayne,” Alexander’s family continued. They asked that the public respect their privacy as they process the tragic news.
Alexander’s family signed the statement as “A mother who now has closure, sisters who now have closure, brothers who now have closure.”
Five of Gacy’s victims remain unidentified.
Dart emphasized that efforts to identify these victims remain ongoing and urges anyone with a male relative who could have been a victim to contact the Cook County Sheriff’s Office at 708-865-6244.
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