WHY THE 1978 JOHN WAYNE GACY SERIAL MURDER CASE IS RELEVANT TODAY - Part 1 of 3
Updated: Mar 18, 2021
We are in the process, as a society, of finding out a lot of public narratives served the causes of the people in power creating them. Myself and three others who spent 9 years investigating the 1978 serial murder case of John Wayne Gacy discovered things that shot so many holes in the current narrative, it needs to be revised.
By circumstance and fate, I had the pleasure of being introduced to three people who really cared, not about the spooky bedtime story of Gacy, but about the victims and their families. One was a retired Chicago Police Homicide Detective, Bill Dorsch, another, a lawyer he was working with, Steve Becker. I was pulled in by the former Chicago Reader Editor, Alison True. When we really got to talking, we believed it was important to understand who created the existing narrative and deconstruct it so fact was separated from fiction.
More than 40 years after Gacy’s arrest, this is the standing narrative: Gacy was a lone wolf contractor who stalked young men, sexually abused them and killed them, hiding their remains underneath his house in a crawl space no one, but Gacy, knew about. He purportedly had 33 victims, 27 of whose remains were identified and 6 who remain unidentified to this day. Twenty-nine victims were found under and around his house on Summerdale Avenue in unincorporated Cook County, Illinois and 4 were found floating in the Des Plaines River an hour’s drive south.
Gacy’s victims were mostly “drug users” and “homosexual hustlers” who Gacy picked up off the streets. Some he offered jobs to and they worked for him, others he killed immediately. He had several living victims, all of whom effectively agreed to rough, but consensual sex. The case was investigated by the Cook County Sheriff and prosecuted by the Cook County State’s Attorney. Gacy was sentenced to death and that sentence was carried out after Gacy had exhausted his appeals in 1994. End of story.
Why is it important to not accept this narrative, even more than 40 years after Gacy’s arrest? Because there is proof there wasn’t enough government transparency or investigative reporting that revealed a clear picture of exactly who or what was involved. Let me explain.
Working backwards in time, the first stop to understanding Gacy’s final arrest and prosecution for murder should be Operation Greylord. While Gacy was prosecuted in 1980, in 1984, Greylord uncovered massive corruption at every level in Cook County after an 8-year investigation. In the end, 92 officials were indicted, including 17 judges, 48 lawyers, eight policemen, 10 deputy sheriffs, eight court officials, and one state legislator.
Although indictments did not touch people directly connected with the arrest and prosecution of Gacy, it’s hard to believe corruption in law enforcement and Cook County’s judicial process wasn’t more wide-spread, as reported in journalist Mike Royko’s seminal book “Boss” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boss_(book)). Add to that, Gacy was directly involved with Daley-aligned politicians who only grew more powerful after Gacy was arrested and convicted.
In Royko’s 1971 book, he outlines in detail how the Chicago Democratic Machine dictated local, as well as national politics. Even after Mayor Richard J. Daley’s death, in May 1978, Rosalynn Carter visited Chicago for the Polish Constitution Day Parade as a “peace offering” from President Jimmy Carter to then Mayor Michael Bilandic for some perceived slight. And who was the organizer of the parade there to greet her? John Wayne Gacy.
Gacy had been appointed head of the parade several years before that by the director of Special Events – Mayor Daley’s friend, Colonel Jack Reilly. Months after the infamous photo of Gacy and Carter was taken, the Secret Service was put under a microscope for having allowed a convicted felon to socialize with the First Lady: Gacy had been jailed in Waterloo, Iowa for sodomy and had accrued several arrests in Chicago for sexual violence - one arrest had been just months before.
Later on, it was determined Gacy was the one who organized security for the event, as he had done for several years before without too much thought. Did someone from Mayor Richard J. Daley’s administration vouch for Gacy when it came time to screen him for security? Daley was politically powerful enough in the 1960s to help get John F. Kennedy elected. Who might have known about Gacy’s criminal record before he arranged to meet with the President’s wife?
This was all happening as Gacy himself navigated the Chicago Democratic Machine in the position of precinct captain to Norwood Park Township Democratic Committeeman, Robert Martwick, Senior. The lengthy title may sound inconsequential, but Robert Martwick, Sr. has been a power broker within Chicago politics since he became a Committeeman in 1969 and finally retired in 2017 – almost 50 years.
Starting in 1970, Martwick was among a cohort who pushed Cook County to raise tax bills on commercial and industrial properties. This happened simultaneously to his law firm, Finkel, Martwick and Colson PC, transitioning to a focus on property tax appeals – a surcharge unique to Cook County, since property owners are charged the tax unless they know how to appeal it.
The appeals business made Martwick a rich man and a behind-the-scenes political kingmaker. His law firm made changes along with that of former House Speaker and fellow property tax appeal attorney, Michael Madigan - another politician Gacy rubbed shoulders with according to Gacy’s ex-wife, Carole Lofgren. As Chicago’s infrastructure grew exponentially during the 1970s, so did these men’s wallets and their ability to leverage power.
All that money was swirling around in an environment also occupied by the Chicago Outfit (or Mob) – who trafficked in drugs, guns and humans (this is a convenient snapshot: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_organized_crime_in_Chicago). A reflection in that cesspool makes Gacy start looking like a pretty average player. And what might Gacy’s role have been?
Based on years of research, we know Gacy put it out to his cohort that he was “sexually liberal” during a time when homosexuality was closeted and pederasty stopped being socially acceptable. Instead of simply a politically connected businessman, Gacy comes off in documentation as a potential pimp, pornographer and confidante for those participating in a nationwide sex trafficking ring of teen boys centered in Chicago that is well-documented in a 1977 Congressional Report (https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/Digitization/51083NCJRS.pdf).
What we know now, after 9 years of FOIAs, interviews and archive collection, is Gacy was not a lone wolf or someone who was insane and worked in the shadows: a theory that’s been exploited in countless news articles and documentaries made to enthrall. And although Gacy’s victims were sometimes tarred with the label of “drug user” and “homosexual hustler” – the truth is far more nuanced. Many were simply teen boys looking for work. Many victims walked away to tell their stories, some of which were never made public.
These are just the first brush strokes coloring a whole new portrait of the John Wayne Gacy case that people today might find disturbing, especially since that portrait could only have been created with the complicity of others.