Famous for his volunteer work as “Pogo The Clown,” his rambling interviews (see CBS Chicago’s exclusive interview from 1992, above) and his lucrative painting hobby, John Wayne Gacy remains one of the most morbidly fascinating criminals in U.S. history.
And just this past year, he’s re-entered the limelight repeatedly. First with former Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann’s gaffe in which she confused John Wayne the serial killer with John Wayne the actor, then with the exhumation of his victims in the fall. Now, nearly 20 years after his execution, the “Killer Clown’s” infamous string of rape and murders takes yet another turn.
Prompted by requests for more closure from several victims’ families, two Chicago-based lawyers voluntarily spent the last six months re-examining the case’s loose ends. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, criminal defense attorneys Robert Stephenson and Steven Becker have developed a new theory.
“There is significant evidence out there that suggests that not only did John Wayne Gacy not operate alone, he may not have been involved in some of the murders, and the fact that he was largely a copycat murderer,” Stephenson told WGN-TV.
So far, the lawyers believe Gacy may have had accomplices in at least three of the notorious killings of 33 young men and boys, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. This supports an earlier claim from Jeffrey Rignall, a victim who survived, who said another man was in the room while Gacy raped him, WGN notes.
One of the murders raising questions is that of Robert Gilroy. Apparently, the convicted murderer had been in Pittsburgh when the 18-year-old disappeared on Sept 15, 1977. Allegheny Airlines tickets indicate Gacy had been out of town from Sept. 12 to 16, making it unlikely he could have snatched and killed Gilroy, the Sun-Times reports. This also echoes claims Gacy had made while in prison, saying he was not in Illinois during 16 of the disappearances.
Not only was Gacy allegedly out of town, but also Gilroy was murdered in a different way than the other victims. Gacy was infamous for handcuffing the young men, wrapping a rope around their necks and turning a wooden stick to tighten it, WGN reports. The victims would essentially strangle themselves while struggling. Autopsy reports, however, found that Gilroy did die from asphyxiation, but had been suffocated, not strangled. The autopsy also reported finding a “cloth-like material” in his throat.
Complications also arose with the case of Russell Nelson, the Minneapolis architecture student kidnapped while with a friend outside a bar in October of the same year. Stephenson told the Sun-Times he doesn’t believe Gacy could have seized the 21-year-old without the friend noticing. And like Gilroy, Nelson had been suffocated with a similar cloth stuffed in his throat. Thirteen victims died the same way, according to WGN.
(LIST: Crimes of the Century)
The friend who was with Nelson at the time of his disappearance is also allegedly suspect. According to WGN, the friend demanded money from Nelson’s mother in exchange for helping the family search for him. Nelson’s mother had also reported a striking coincidence. Following her son’s disappearance, Nelson’s brothers went to Chicago to look for him. They met with the friend, who offered the siblings contracting jobs with Gacy.
“I don’t know that [the friend] was involved,” Stephenson told the Sun-Times. “But I know that he wasn’t telling the truth here.”
Additionally, the lawyers say Gacy’s work records indicate it’s likely he wouldn’t have had time to commit a third murder, that of John Mowery. Mowery disappeared at 10 p.m. in Chicago on Sept. 25, 1977, but Gacy was in Michigan by 6 a.m. the next morning. Stephenson and Becker say the short time frame makes them skeptical.
The three young men were among the 29 victims found in the crawl space under Gacy’s home in Norwood Park, a suburb of Chicago, in 1978. (The four other victims had been dumped in a river.) Seven of the bodies still remain unidentified, but investigators discovered the eighth unidentified victim in December, 19-year-old William Bundy of Chicago.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart told the Sun-Times investigators will look into Stephenson and Becker’s theory, as well as leads on a few possible accomplices the pair provided. “Our goal is not to disprove this but go through their information to see whether it’s true,” Dart told the Sun-Times.
Dart said he thinks the theories are “well thought out” and “fruitful,” but Gacy’s defense lawyer, Sam Amirante, is doubtful. Amirante told WGN that it wouldn’t make sense for Gacy to have had accomplices, because Gacy confessed to everything and would have played that card in his desperate attempts to avoid lethal injection.
As the Cook County Police investigate the lawyers’ scenarios, some victims’ families hope it will bring closure. “I always thought someone else was involved,” Teresa Nelson, a sister-in-law of Nelson, told the Sun-Times. “If there was an accomplice, he should be brought to justice.”