John Wayne Gacy Junior was born into a middle-class, Irish Catholic family, on 17 March 1942, the second child of Marion and John Gacy Snr. He enjoyed an unremarkable childhood, apart from a playground accident aged 11, when a head blow caused him to have intermittent blackouts until he was 16. He hero-worshipped his father, despite the fact that he was an abusive alcoholic with a violent temper, who was virulently homophobic, and who would often accuse the young Gacy of being sickly and effeminate.
Having dropped out of high school, he found work difficult to come by, and he enrolled in business school where his flair for sales was soon recognised, and he excelled in his first post-graduate job as a management trainee at a footwear company in Springfield, Illinois. He also became a tireless supporter of several organisations that served the community, often dressing as a clown to entertain sick children in hospitals.
In September 1964, Gacy met and married co-worker Marlynn Myers, and his new father-in-law persuaded the newlyweds to move to Iowa, where Gacy was offered a position within a chain of fast food that he owned. Here again he developed his profile in the community, by doing volunteer work within the community organisation, the Jaycees.
In due course Marlynn gave birth to two children, a boy and a girl, and Gacy appeared to be living the American dream, with ambitions to become Jaycee president. Cracks began to appear in the idyll, however, when rumours began to spread that Gacy was making sexual advances to young employees within his father-in-law’s franchise restaurants. In May 1968 he was indicted for allegedly sodomising a teenage employee, Mark Miller. Gacy maintained his innocence, claiming that the sex had been consensual, and that there were factions within his Jaycee group that were fabricating evidence to spoil his chances of becoming president.
However, four months later Gacy was charged with hiring a young man, Dwight Andersson, to beat up Mark Miller, but Miller was able to escape his attacker and had Andersson arrested, who confessed to having been hired by Gacy. Gacy was charged, and forced to undergo psychiatric evaluation. He was deemed fit for trial, but unlikely to benefit from any medical intervention. Gacy decided to plead guilty to the sodomy charge, and he was sentenced to ten years in prison. His wife divorced him, and he never saw her or their children again. His adored father also died whilst he was incarcerated.
While in prison Gacy was a model inmate and, amazingly, after only 18 months in the Iowa State Correctional Facility, he was released on parole on 18 June 1970, when he returned to Chicago, where he spent four months at home with his mother.
His mother was impressed with how well her son had adjusted to life after prison, and bought Gacy a ranch-style house just outside Chicago, in which she maintained a 50% interest.
He developed good relationships with his neighbours, sharing festive occasions, and they were oblivious to his criminal conviction. Gacy had another close brush with the law, when he was charged with forcing a young boy to commit sexual acts, but the charges were dropped when the boy failed to appear at the court proceedings.
On 1 June 1972 Gacy married again, a divorcee with two daughters, named Carole Hofgren, who was beguiled by his charm and generosity. She was aware of his prison sentence, but believed him to be a reformed character. He maintained his work in the community, and still enjoyed dressing up as a clown to entertain sick children, and appearing at children’s parties. He also enhanced his façade as the neighbourhood good guy, throwing hugely popular parties and barbecues, but increasingly people began to notice the curious smells that emanated from the floor, which Gacy blamed on moisture build-up in the crawl space under the house.
In 1974, Gacy started his own decorating business, PDM Contractors, which provided a steady supply of unsuspecting teenage employees to satisfy his impulses. He and his wife were estranged by 1975, as a result of Gacy’s violent mood swings, absence from the house most evenings, and an increasing interest in gay pornography that he no longer even bothered to hide from his wife. They were divorced in March 1976.
Throughout this time Gacy’s interest in politics increased, and he became involved in the Democratic Party’s election campaign, with dreams of running for public office. He impressed party officials and was promoted to a local commission, but rumours about his sexual advances towards young men, undoubtedly true, again thwarted his ambitions.