Patches has made some holes of his own


Katie Gary

John Wayne Gacy was a serial killer and rapist who took the lives of at least 33 young males in Cook County, Illinois, burying most under his house. Sometimes known as the “Killer Clown” for his habit of dressing in a clown costume and makeup, Gacy had an abusive childhood and struggled with his homosexuality. After being convicted of sexual assault in 1968, Gacy’s murders were discovered. 

Gacy was born on March 17, 1942, in Chicago, Illinois. The son of Danish and Polish parents, Gacy and his siblings grew up with an alcoholic father who would beat the children with a razor strap if it was perceived to have misbehaved. His father physically assaulted Gacy’s mother as well. 

Gacy suffered further alienation at school, unable to play with other children due to a congenital heart condition. Gacy later realized he was attracted to men and experienced great turmoil over his sexuality.

Gacy worked as a fast-food chain manager during the 1960s and became a self-made building contractor. Well-liked in his community, Gacy organized cultural gatherings and was active in political organizations. He was married and divorced twice and had two biological children in addition to two stepdaughters. 

Gacy was a member of a Chicago-area “Jolly Joker” clown club and frequently performed in clown attire and makeup at children’s parties, charity fundraisers, and other events. When he killed, he sometimes dressed as his alter ego “Patches the Clown.” The “ Killer Clown” sometimes lured his victims with the promise of construction work or some other ruse, then captured, sexually assaulted, tortured, and eventually strangled most of them with his hands or with rope. Years later, during a conversation with detectives, Gacy discussed his work as a clown, remarking, “ Clowns can get away with murder.”

In 1968, Gacy was convicted of sexually assaulting two teen boys and given a 10-year prison sentence. He was released on parole in the summer of 1970 but was arrested again the following year after another teen accused Gacy of sexual assault. The charges were eventually dropped when the boy did not appear during trial. 

By the middle of the 1970s, two more young males accused Gacy of rape, and he would be questioned by police about the disappearances of others. Gacy referred to this period of his life as his “cruising years,” when he committed most of his murders. 

On December 11, 1978, 15-year old Robert Piest went missing. Police reported that the boy was last seen by his mother at a drugstore where he worked before he headed out to meet Gacy to discuss a potential construction job. Ten days later, police searched Gacy’s house in Norwood Park, Illinois, and uncovered evidence of his involvement in numerous crimes, including murder. It was later discovered that Gacy had committed his first known killing in 1972, taking the life of 16-year-old Timothy McCoy after luring the youth to his home. 

After a lengthy period of police surveillance, investigation and the discovery of several trenches filled with human remains in the crawl space beneath his house– Gacy eventually confessed to killing about 30 people. 

Over the years, there have been lingering concerns that Gacy may have been responsible for the deaths of other people whose bodies have yet to be found. And when police uncovered human remains in Gacy’s house in 1978, eight bodies could not be identified. 

More recently, Cook County authorities used DNA evidence to identify Gacy’s unidentified victims. In 2017, one of those men, “Victim No.24,” was identified as 16-year-old “Jimmie” Byron Haakenson. In 1976, Haakenson left his home in St. Paul, Minnesota, and traveled to Chicago to begin life in the city. On August 5, he called his mother to let her know he had arrived; however, police believe Gacy killed him shortly thereafter. 

In 1979, Haakenson’s mother had contacted authorities to find out if her son was one of Gacy’s victims, but she didn’t have dental records, and the department lacked sufficient resources to identify him as a victim. Haakenson’s mother died in the early 2000s, but other family members provided DNA samples in 2017, and authorities made an immediate match to “ Victim No.24.” People are still trying to find more of Patches unnamed victims and with our new technology, that can be achieved.