Chicago - Mar. 19, 2022
Music TV Politics Sports Books People Places & Things
Beachwood Books
Our monthly books archive.
Beachwood BookLinks
Book TV
NY Review of Books
London Review of Books
Arts & Letters Daily
American Reader Campaign
U of C Press Blog
Devil's Due
NYT Books
New Yorker Books
2nd Story
Chicago Zine Fest

The One Thing John Wayne Gacy Would Never Admit

John Wayne Gacy was executed by lethal injection in 1994 but he lives on as a caricature, a talking point, and subject still in the news, perhaps because his crimes were so unfathomable but also most certainly because his life as a clown entertaining sick children and a glad-handing political do-gooder made him such a contradiction.

On television last Saturday night, for example: A showing of the 2010 movie Dear Mr. Gacy, starring William Forsythe. "A teen communicates with imprisoned serial killer John Wayne Gacy."

As a discussion point last Friday, for example, on the Springfield State Journal-Register's food blog: "When serial murderer John Wayne Gacy (below) was put to death in Illinois in 1994, his requested last meal was Kentucky Fried Chicken, fried shrimp, french fries, strawberries and Diet Coke. But since January of 2000, there has been a moratorium on executions in Illinois, so the prison cooks are no longer putting together special meals for the condemned . . . should a dying person be granted a final meal of his choosing?"

And as unfinished business, for example, still torturing the parents of murdered children: "A mother who has for decades doubted her 14-year-old son was a victim of serial killer John Wayne Gacy may learn the truth after a judge Thursday granted her request that the body be exhumed for DNA testing."

All of which brings to mind a book published in August that certainly taught me a lot about the Gacy saga, John Wayne Gacy: Defending A Monster; subtitle: "The True Story Of The Lawyer Who Defended One Of The Most Evil Serial Killers In History."

For example, I had no idea Gacy was so well-known in the political community; I didn't grow up in Chicago and I've never had much interest in the details of crime cases like Gacy's.

Perhaps most important, though, is the conclusion that former Gacy lawyer (and now a former Cook County judge back in private practice) Sam Amirante comes to about what drove the demented man. Let's take a look.


Gacy on the line:

"'Sam, could you do me a favor?'

"A telephone call, seven short words, a simple-enough request. That's how it all began.

"I knew the guy on the other end of the line. Everyone on the Northwest Side did. He was a political wannabe, one of those guys that was always around, talking about all the big shots he knew, hoping that the importance of others would rub off on him, a nice-enough guy - maybe a little pushy, a bit of a blowhard, telling tall tales, but still, a nice-enough guy. He was a precinct captain for the Norwood Park Township Regular Democratic Organization, and so was I. He was actually one of the best precinct captains they ever had, better than me, some might tell you. He really brought in the votes for that tiny organization.

"I had met him at one function or another. He always bought a full table at all the fund-raisers, ten tickets, which translated into a sizable contribution to the party; and then he'd fill the ten seats with kids that looked like they really didn't wear business suits very often, unsophisticated . . . that would be a kind way to put it. They were usually his employees, young kids that worked for his contracting business.

"Plus, he was on the Norwood Park Township Street Lighting District as a trustee, the secretary-treasurer, and I did some volunteer work on the side for the district. I was their lawyer. So I knew him."


"He was truly a Man of the Year type of guy. He would speak to clerks and cashiers behind counters and at desks like they were old friends. He shook the hands of middle-level politicians with smiles and jokes all around. During his visit, a man who seemed to be a good friend approached Gacy, and handshakes and backslapping were exchanged. [Surveillance cops] Robinson and Schultz could not help but be impressed. The friend was Illinois attorney general Bill Scott.

"Gacy was clearly in his element among politicians and public servants. Frankly, that was because he was one of them. Gary was a 'pitch in and help out' kind of guy, and everybody knew that about him."


"From the highest reaches of Chicago politics, including the mayor and the governor, to his neighbors and business associates, it seemed that no one in the city had more than one degree of separation from this man. You could not throw a rock in all of Chicagoland - population nine million - without hitting someone that had his or her own personal Gacy story."


An aside: Gacy meets Rosalynn Carter.


Back to Amirante:

"Suddenly, I knew that his entire medical history - with all its documented seizures, strokes, and maladies - was likely one long psychological manifestation of a man unlike any other man, a man miswired at the factory, so to speak, a good old-fashioned crazy person, a person that had a lifelong record of known, documented illnesses and hospital admissions.

"But in spite of the very impressive nature of the charts and notes regarding his health, in spite of the many diagnoses of his condition over his lifetime, I knew that many or most of those problems had originated in this man's head.

"It wasn't his body that was weak or broken, as the charts and the medical history might indicate; it was his brain that wasn't working right. His problem was in his mind. His brain was profoundly broken."


From a letter Gacy wrote to his lawyers and relatives that Amirante includes in his book:

"[T]here were other things in my life that I did that I am responsible for, and that I am the only one who can understand the feeling I got from them. Like the first time I was in charge of the largest Christmas parade in Springfield. Everyone was concerned with how big and how good it was. While in 6 degree weather I was happy when I seen the warm glowing faces of children waiting hours to see Snta Claus, and some for the first time. To know that you in a small way was in part responsible for that happening, that was my reward for over two month[s] of work. And then there was the time. I was a clown and went to the hospital to visit the children, and I went into a room by myself where a little boy was , and his mother started to cry, and after I visit with the boy I went out and asked the mother if I had did anything wrong. She said, No . . . it was just that her son who was hit by a car had been in there for six weeks and that was the first time she seen him smile. That feeling you can't put into words, and it something that no one can take from you. That's what my life has been all about. Making others happy and helping people. There are the simple things in my life which I can take with me forever.

"It's too bad that I didn't apply the same love, the same feeling to my own family. Maybe I would have never lost Carole. God knows I love her and the girls.

"My work was my life, working for others, doing things for others, weather [sic] I made money or not. I have never been able to figure out why? Why did I drive myself so hard it was almost like I was punishing me for not being better. Oh well I know that GOD understands and maybe with all the sickness I had that was his way of making me strong.

"And then there was the other side, the side that I really don't know where it fits, but it there. Why? How? What happen to make it happen in me. It doesn't fit. It doesn't belong, I hate it, yet it didn't go away, no matter how hard I worked or how many hours I stay up, to keep it from happening."


From Amirante's epilogue:

"Thirteen psychologists and psychiatrists testified during the trial of John Wayne Gacy. Each was a noted expert. Most were published authors and professors at this country's most prestigious institutions of higher learning. Yet, after hours of interviews, study and contemplation, none of these learned men and women diagnosed Mr. Gacy in exactly the same manner. Gacy was an enigma.

"After reading the Gacy story, it doesn't take a psychologist or a psychiatrist to see the tormented soul that haunted Gacy's sickly frame. Once he confessed his crimes on that eerie night in Sam's office, he began admitting his horrific deeds to almost anyone who asked. But there was one thing he would never admit. This one perceived transgression he took with him to his grave.

"He would admit to the most heinous string of brutal murders the world had ever seen, but he would never admit that which he considered his most horrendous and well-guarded secret . . . he was a homosexual.

"Gacy grew up with a father who berated him daily for not living up to preconceived notions of what a 'man' should be, school kids and neighbors who bullied and tormented him, and a society that struggled with acceptance of a lifestyle it did not understand. As a result, no one hated John Gacy more than John Gacy."


Comments welcome.


1. From De Anna:

Bet if you asked the grieving and tormented parents of those young men they would disagree. I bet they could hate him more then he could ever hate himself. Exhibited by his "self" motivated actions.


Posted on October 10, 2011

MUSIC - Chief Keef Changed The Industry.
TV - Vizio's Best Product Is You.
POLITICS - UIC: Soda Taxes Work.
SPORTS - More McCaskey Malpractice.

BOOKS - All About Poop.


Search The Beachwood Reporter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Follow BeachwoodReport on Twitter

Beachwood Radio!