Everything you need to know about John Wayne Gacy and his horrific crimes
He claimed twice as many lives as Jeffrey Dahmer
Trigger warning: Sexual assault and brief mentions of homophobia.
In the final episodes of Netflix’s Monster – The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, it’s impossible to ignore how much serial killer John Wayne Gacy figures alongside Dahmer himself. It seems that the two are being compared because the nature of their crimes could be similar – except Gacy was executed, and Dahmer was killed by inmate Christopher Scarver.
One of the series’ failures is that the comparison seems to come from left field. We haven’t heard anything about Gacy’s crimes throughout Dahmer’s reign of terror, and it all seems like it’s been chucked in last-minute.
The truth is, there aren’t a whole lot of similarities between the cases at all. So, just who was John Wayne Gacy, and what were his horrendous crimes?
Gacy’s life was almost a typical ‘rags to riches’ story
John Wayne Gacy was born in Chicago to a homemaker mum and a WWI veteran dad. He wasn’t well-off, and his dad (who suffered with trauma and alcoholism) used to beat him with a belt. On top of this, one of his dad’s friends – a contractor who would work on their house – used to routinely sexually assault Gacy as a child.
He suffered from a lot of health conditions, some caused, in part, by the physical abuse he endured at the hands of his dad.
Gacy decided during his school years that he wanted to become a politician when he grew up. He joined the Democrats – the USA’s most left-wing mainstream party – which drove his homophobic, abusive dad to hate him even more. In order to finally get away from his dad, Gacy ran away to Las Vegas, living in the morgue he worked at, because he knew his only other option would be to live on the streets.
After feeling like he was becoming too emotionally attached to the dead bodies surrounding him at work and “home”, Gacy panicked and decided to move back in with his parents. Here, he enrolled for Business College and met his future wife, Marlynn Myers.
Myers’ dad ran a chain of KFC outlets, which meant Gacy inherited the restaurants by marriage. He’d gone from literal homelessness to big-time businessman in a matter of mere months. But it was during this time – when he was at the height of privilege and influence – that he started committing the most heinous crimes.
He opened a ‘club’ in his basement – which led to a long series of sexual assaults
Throughout his life, Gacy had struggled with his sexuality. While he was married to Marlynn, he was questioning whether he could be bisexual, given his attraction to men as well as women. At the time, being LGBTQ+ was still hugely taboo, so at first, Gacy explored his feelings in a number of consensual one-night stands.
His attentions, however, soon turned to his underage employees at KFC. He’d invite them back to a makeshift “club” in his basement, filled with music and games, ply them with alcohol and make unwanted advances towards them. Initially, he’d back off whenever he was told to. But the power soon got to his head, and he committed his first sexual assault in 1967.
Donald Vorhees, the 15-year-old son of one of Gacy’s friends, was lured back to his basement under the pretence of watching straight porn. Gacy got him drunk before assaulting him – and after he let Donald go, he decided this wasn’t enough. The businessman lured numerous other underage boys back to his home, where he’d blackmail and assault them.
Several police failings led to Gacy’s freedom to commit even worse crimes
A year after his assault, Donald asked his dad to report Gacy to the police. Gacy tried everything in his arsenal to get Donald to drop the charges, including witness intimidation, but he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the rape of Donald, and Marlynn filed for divorce shortly afterwards.
During the next 18 months, Gacy was on his best behaviour. He was even described as a “model prisoner” by other inmates; cooking for everyone, campaigning for more “work duty” pay, and getting his idea for a mini-golf course in the prison yard approved.
Having initially been sentenced to 10 years in 1968, Gacy was let out in 1970 on good behaviour. When he left prison, he continued to sexually assault young boys; most of whom actually worked for him, and still had to face him every day after their attacks. In 1972, he committed his first murder.
John Wayne Gacy murdered 33 young men and underaged boys
Between 1972 and 1978, Gacy killed dozens of men and boys for his own sexual gratification; although he maintained his first victim, Timothy McCoy, was killed in self-defence. He’d often use his side-hustle as a children’s party clown to lure his victims, claiming he wanted to show them a “magic trick” in private.
Almost all of the boys were murdered by strangulation, and *26* of them were buried in a crawlspace under Gacy’s house. When the police finally searched the serial killer’s home, they realised the basement was wall-to-wall with bodies.
Gacy was finally caught when the family of his last victim, 15-year-old Robert Piest, filed a missing person’s report after he failed to come home after work. Robert worked in the local pharmacy, and, unfortunately for Gacy, people saw the pair talking before the child went missing. The police investigated Gacy, putting him on 24-hour surveillance. He started drinking heavily as a coping mechanism, while trying to get his lawyers to sue the police force for invasion of privacy.
Eventually, in a massively drunken state, Gacy confessed to his lawyers about the killing of Robert Piest. It wasn’t until the police finally obtained a warrant that the 26 other bodies were found in his crawlspace, as well as a number of them in the local river.
Gacy stood trial in 1980
The jury only took two hours to deliberate the charges, and found Gacy guilty of all 33 killings, as well as a sexual assault on Robert. This, officially, made John Wayne Gacy the worst serial killer in US history (although in 2005, this was surpassed by Samuel Little, who murdered at least 60 people).
He was sentenced to death, and his execution date was set for 2nd June 1980.
But, it wasn’t as simple as that
John Wayne Gacy was constantly appealing his death sentence, and every appeal would push the execution date back a little bit. He outlived his initial sentence by 14 years, with his last appeal being October 1993. The Illinois Supreme Court rejected this, and ordered his death by lethal injection for the following year.
On 9th May 1994, Gacy was taken for his last meal. He chose KFC chicken, fried shrimp, a bucket of strawberries and a Diet Coke. The last thing he ever did before being taken down was say a Catholic prayer with a priest.
In the early hours of 10th May 1994, John Wayne Gacy was killed by lethal injection. His final words to the public who were waiting in the wings were, “kiss my ass”.
Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story is available now on Netflix. For all the latest Netflix news, drops, quizzes and memes like The Holy Church of Netflix on Facebook.
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- This is exactly what Jeffrey Dahmer’s life was like when he was in prison
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- Jeffrey Dahmer on Netflix: Who were Konerak Sinthasomphone and his brother Somack?
Featured image via Netflix before edits.