John Wayne Gacy: 9 Things to Know about the Serial Killer Clown

While serial killers existed before John Wayne Gacy was apprehended on December 21, 1978, Gacy is arguably the one who brought the term “serial killer” to the public’s consciousness. Here, we have nine things you might not know about the serial killer clown.

John Wayne Gacy Jr. was born on March 17, 1942, in Chicago, Illinois. He had two sisters, one older and one younger. Growing up, Gacy was close to his mother and sisters. His father was a different story.

A World War I vet, John Wayne Gacy Sr. was a stern man, and by many reports, an alcoholic who physically abused his wife and children, including his son.

John Wayne Gacy Jr.’s early years were marked by beatings from his father, as well a mysterious medical issue that caused him to black out periodically. While the illness was never diagnosed, Gacy’s father openly accused him of faking it.


1. Early Behavior

There are at least two instances of Gacy admitting to concerning behavior before he began killing. The first comes from his early years. When he was approximately eight years old, Gacy and another boy were caught sexually fondling a young girl. When his father was informed, Gacy was severely beaten.

When he was 18, Gacy ran away from home to Las Vegas. He eventually ended up working as a mortuary attendant, and often slept on a cot behind the embalming room. But during one shift, Gacy climbed into the coffin of a dead teenage boy. He lay with the body, embracing and caressing it until he finally snapped out of a daze.

2. Often Worked to Gain Recognition

While Gacy would ultimately be remembered as a man who sexually assaulted, tortured, and murdered at least 33 people, before his secret was discovered, he tried numerous ways to gain public stature and acceptance.

When he was 18, he volunteered with the local chapter of the Democratic Party, in which he was active member of his local chapter throughout his life. He eventually ended up as a Democrat precinct captain, where he met first lady Rosalind Carter during a stop in.

Gacy became a member of the United States Junior Chamber, or Jaycees, a civic and leadership organization.

His reputation as a “killer clown” comes the fact that Gacy would dress up as “Pogo the Clown” at fundraisers, children’s birthday parties, and parades.

3. John Wayne Gacy Had a Family

Beyond the family he was born into, many people may not realize that John Wayne Gacy was married, twice in fact. He was definitely killing during his second marriage.

Gacy’s first wife, Marlynn Myers, met him through his work with the Jaycees. The couple married in 1964, and had two children together; a son born in February 1966 named Michael, and a daughter in March 1967 named Christine.

Myers divorces Gacy after he was convicted of sexually assaulting Donald Voorhees (his first known victim). In the divorce, she took the car, house, children, and alimony. Gacy did not see his children again. For their part, they never attempted to cash in on his legacy of evil. While it is unconfirmed, it is said that the two children went by their mother’s maiden name and disassociated themselves from any trace of Gacy.

Gacy married again on July 1, 1972. His new wife, Carole Hoff, was a divorced mother of two whom Gacy briefly dated in high school, and remained friends with his younger sister. In 1975, Gacy told Hoff that he was bisexual. By 1976, the marriage was over.

Unbeknownst to Hoff, Gacy began murdering teenage boys the same year they married.

4. Number of Victims

In terms of John Wayne Gacy’s victims, there are a number of unknowns. The number of bodies that were found underneath Gacy’s home at 8213 West Summerdale Avenue is 24. Other murders were admitted to, and more bodies were found bringing the official tally to 33, possibly 34.

But these numbers do not include the number of boys that Gacy sexually assaulted and let go in the years before he began to murder. There is also the possibility that Gacy may have killed more, as he told police that the number of victims could be as high as 45.

5. The Search for Victims Continues

Despite the fact that John Wayne Gacy was captured in 1978 and has been dead since 1994, there is still a hunt for other possible victims.

It has long been speculated that some yet to be discovered victims may be located on the grounds of an apartment building found at the 6100 block of West Miami Avenue in Chicago. Gacy was a caretaker of the property for a number of years, and was spotted at odd times during the evening with a shovel.

As recently as 2013, the area was searched for other possible victims. The last search in the spring of 2013 used ground penetrating radar, as well as FBI sniffer dogs. No bodies were found, but there is still a lingering thought that the right spot may not have been found.

6. Science Helping with Identities

While a number of Gacy’s victims were identified through the use of dental records, there were a few who authorities were unable to get solid ID’s on. After the initial exhumation and examinations, there were eight unknown victims. Currently, there are six unidentified victims due to modern science. DNA testing is now providing the help that may lead to knowing who these young men were.

In 2011, Thomas Dart, the Cook County sheriff, announced that complete DNA profiles were obtained from the unidentified victims. While this hasn’t yielded much in the way of identifying the victims so far, it has ruled out many others.

In December 2011, the first of the unidentified victims finally got a name, William George Bundy. He was a suspected victim due to the time period and general location he disappeared from, but due to a lack of dental records, it took until 2011 and DNA testing to confirm that he was one of Gacy’s victim.

Years later, in July 2017, another victim was finally identified. James “Jimmie” Byron Haakenson was another teenage boy who went missing in the right place and time period to be one of Gacy’s victims. Haakenson’s mother even came forward in 1979 to find out if her son was one of the murdered, but a lack of dental records prevented identification.

James Byron Haakenson

Photo: Cook County Sheriff’s Office

Years later, Haakenson’s nephew heard about renewed efforts to try and identify the victims who were still nameless. He and his sisters submitted DNA material and there was an immediate match.

7. Serial Killer Memorabilia

John Wayne Gacy was one of the first serial killers to generate memorabilia and concern from victims groups.

While in prison, Gacy took up painting. Many of those paintings made it to the outside world, and became very popular among collectors of serial killer memorabilia. Some of his paintings now command thousands of dollars when sold.

His subject matter? Mainly himself… sort of. Gacy would often paint his clown alter ego, “Pogo the Clown.” He also would paint the dwarves from Walt Disney’s version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Occasionally, the two subject matters would be combined for a painting.

A group of concerned people bought a number of Gacy’s paintings to burn them in a bonfire. At least 25 of the paintings were brunt in 1994. Unfortunately, while the group’s intentions were noble, it made the remaining paintings more collectible and more expensive.

8. The House Is No Longer There

The infamous house at 8213 West Summerdale Avenue, where John Wayne Gacy buried all of those bodies, no longer stands.

The house itself was more or less torn apart by investigators by the end of their investigation, just to make sure that no other bodies were missing underneath. The lot then stood empty for nearly a decade.

During that time, rumors and the urban legend began to circulate that strange things could be heard from the lot, and that no plants would grow in the spot where the house stood.

In 1988, construction on a new home began and that house still stands today. If the current owners have issues with the supernatural, they are not talking.

9. Conspiracy Theory

For the record, John Wayne Gacy was the only one tried and convicted of sexually assaulting, torturing, and murdering his victims. But there has always been a persistent theory that Gacy may not have worked alone.

Gacy himself first brought this idea up when he was arrested, asking police if his “associates” were also caught. One of the victims who survived, Jeffrey Rignall, stated that when he woke up from being drugged while Gacy was in the midst of abusing him, another young man was watching. A second victim who lived mentioned that he was sure a light went on in another part of the house while Gacy continued to assault him.

While we may never know the truth, there is a lot of evidence pointing to the fact that John Wayne Gacy had at least one accomplice, maybe more.