John Wayne Gacy raped and murdered over 30 young boys in the 1970s. He was convicted and sentenced to death. But even after Gacy’s execution in 1994, six of his victims remained unidentified. ID’s newest show, Deadly Legacy, revisits John Wayne Gacy’s murders. The show traces Detective Sgt. Jason Moran’s attempts to identify the remaining victims and give their families closure, as he did for Jimmy Haakenson’s family in 2017. Haakenson was the latest John Wayne Gacy victim to be identified. Here’s everything to know about this teen’s harrowing case.
Who Is Jimmy Haakenson?
James Byron Haakenson, also known as “Jimmy,” was 16 years old when he went missing in 1976. He was one of four children, including a sister, Lorie, and a brother, Donald. He resided in St. Paul, Minnesota with his mother, June Haakenson, and siblings.
His father was a plumber. He was an alcoholic and wasn’t around much.
It wasn’t uncommon in their town for young boys to venture away from home without contact for a day or two. But in the summer of 1976, Jimmy told his family he was heading to Chicago, where his father worked, and never returned.
The last known contact with Haakenson was on August 5, 1976. He called his mother to say he was fine and would be home soon. But his family never saw him again. Sister Lorie Sisterman, their mother, and a family friend even traveled to Chicago to search for Jimmy. Haakenson’s mother died in 2008 before ever finding out the truth about Jimmy.
In 2011, Sheriff Thomas J. Dart and Det. Jason Moran of Illinois’s Cook County Sheriff’s Department reopened the cold case of the “Killer Clown” aka John Wayne Gacy. Jimmy’s nephew, brother Donald Haakenson’s son, Jeff, approached Moran in 2016 after finding new information about the case on the department web site. He wanted Moran to look into the possibility of Haakenson being a victim of Gacy.
He Was Killed By John Wayne Gacy
Shortly after contacting his family in August 1976, investigators say Haakenson encountered John Wayne Gacy. Gacy is one of the most notorious serial killers in American history. From 1972 to 1978, he sexually assaulted, tortured, and murdered at least 33 young boys in Cook County.
He buried all but six of his victims beneath his house. Police dug up his house to excavate 27 bodies. Four others were found in the Des Plaines River in northern Illinois.
Haakenson was body no. 24 when crime scene technicians excavated his body from the crawl space of Gacy’s home in December 1978. There were two other victims buried with him. One of them was identified as Rick Johnston, who went missing on August 6, 1976.
In those days, Gacy regularly entertained kids at parties dressed as “Pogo the Clown.” That led him to being dubbed Killer Clown by the media.
He was executed for the murders in 1994, but identifying all his victims has been a decades-long process. As forensic technology and DNA testing advanced, so did the possibility of solving these cold cases.
He Was Identified in 2017
Most of Gacy’s victims were identified with dental records. Haakenson’s mother didn’t have Jimmy’s dental records at the time, so his case went cold.
There was some optimism when Det. Moran identified William Bundy as Gacy’s 19th victim with DNA analysis. But there were no other developments until Sisterman’s nephew Jeff contacted him.
Lorie and Donald provided DNA samples to Cook County authorities, and in July 2017, the results revealed that one of the unidentified victims excavated from Gacy’s home was in fact Jimmy Haakenson.
Investigators believe that Haakenson and Johnston were killed around the same time, given their relative positions in the graves and the timing they went missing. The third body in the same grave, labeled as no. 26, is among the six remaining victims still unidentified.
Gacy’s unidentified victims were buried in an Illinois cemetery with the words “We Remembered” engraved in the tombstones. After he was identified, Haakenson’s family revisited his grave to hold a memorial service and unveil a new headstone with his name and dates of birth and death.
For the Deadly Legacy episode, which airs on December 23, 2018 on the ID channel, Sisterman recalls the ordeal from when her brother went missing to when they found out he was killed. She visits their old family home in Minnesota and gives a deeper picture of Jimmy beyond being a Gacy victim.