Available on Crime + Investigation Play, Very Scary People (S1,E3) investigates the crimes of 'the killer clown' John Wayne Gacy.
‘Clowns can get away with murder.’
So said John Wayne Gacy, a man who was a member of the Jolly Joker Clown Club for years and dressed up as either ‘Pogo’ or ‘Patch the Clown’ to perform at events, fundraisers, and children’s parties.
Behind the makeup, lay one of America’s worst serial killers, who, between the years 1972 and 1978, brutally tortured, raped, and murdered 33 young men and boys.
In 1980, he was sentenced to death and was killed by lethal injection 14 years later. In the end, the clown couldn’t escape the consequences of his violent actions. These are some of the most chilling facts about his life.
1. He was abused as a child
Like many other notorious serial killers, Gacy’s childhood was filled with abuse. In an interview with Oprah, Gacy’s sister, Karen, described their father as a ‘mean drunk’ who would beat Gacy for being too effeminate.
Gacy himself described to the New Yorker being molested at the age of five by a 15-year-old girl from his neighbourhood. When they were found, the girl’s mother beat her, which scared Gacy. He was molested again aged eight, by a contractor who was working on a building next to his house.
2. His crimes started early
Gacy was 29 the first time he committed murder in 1972. His victim was 16-year-old Timothy Jack McCoy, who was in the area while on a bus trip layover. However, Gacy’s crimes started much earlier. David Bolton was only 10-years-old when he met Gacy, who was a teenager at the time. The pair were on a hike when Gacy sexually assaulted Bolton, threatening to murder him if he didn’t comply. He went on to assault others, before moving on to murder.
3. He had an interest in the dead
When he was in his early 20s, Gacy spent a few months working for a mortuary. He lived there, too, with his bedroom next to the embalming room. He later admitted that one night, he got into the coffin of a dead teenage boy and fondled the corpse.
4. Many of his victims were children
All of Gacy’s known victims were young males, under the age of 30, but some were still children, the youngest of whom were only 14-years-old. Samuel Stapleton was walking home from his sister’s house when he disappeared and Michael Marino went missing with his friend, 16-year-old Kenneth Parker. Randall Reffett and Robert Piest were both only 15 and many of his other victims were under 18.
5. He had an alter-ego
Gacy was able to hide within the community, keeping up a façade as a family man and member of local politics. More chilling is the fact he also frequently donned clown makeup and clothes, a costume that allowed him to attend children’s parties and hospitals, where he was able to play the role of an entertainer.
Gacy designed his own clown makeup, including a large painted mouth with sharp corners, which he knew would frighten children. Occasionally, he would let his true persona filter through to the clown, ‘punishing’ children he didn’t like by hurting them, before going back to the pretence.
6. He tricked his victims
Gacy used different manipulative tricks to ensnare his victims, even posing as a police officer. In the 1970s, he started a construction company, something that enabled him to create ties with local authorities and community figures, as well as providing him with a front when he looked for victims, as he could offer them work.
The worst of his manipulations came via a ‘magic trick’ that led to his victims manacling themselves. Gacy would handcuff his wrists together and then somehow, manage to escape them. He’d then give the cuffs to his victims to try. The secret of the trick was that he was holding the key and was able to unlock the cuffs without his victims noticing—which he revealed as soon as their hands were cuffed.
7. His attitude towards his victims
Gacy admitted to his lawyers that to him, his victims were ‘not human beings’. He also referred to ‘innocent virile ones’.
8. His victims’ bodies were stored in his marital home
Gacy stashed many of the bodies of his victims in the crawl space under his house. He eventually ran out of space and had to use his garage for storage as well. This was the house he lived in with his second wife, Carol Hoff.
At one point, Hoff noticed a strange smell coming from the crawl space, as well as clouds of flies. Gacy blamed a broken sewer pipe. Hoff wasn’t the only one to notice it, either. Gacy would hold parties and barbecues for the community and neighbours would comment on the strange odours that came from inside. Gacy told them it was damp.
9. He was unrepentant
Gacy’s final words were ‘Kiss my ass’.
10. Some victims have never been identified
There are still five victims of Gacy’s who have never been identified. Their bodies were found buried in his crawl space and are thought to be between the ages of 14 and 30. Their families still do not know what happened to them.
11. There may be more victims than we know
Some argue that Gacy likely killed more than his 33 known victims, some estimating it was closer to 45.