John Wayne Gacy grew from a broken home into a successful manager at three fast food restaurants. This makes us all bear the question of “where did he get the nerve to kill”? Although, the real answer of why Gacy took the lives of thirty three innocent boys will never be known, we can predict that the abuse he encountered from his father, the alienation he faced growing up and the struggles with his own sexuality ultimately led to his killing spree.
John Wayne Gacy was born on March 17, 1982 in Chicago, Illinois to an abusive home. His father beat him regularly with a razor strap while his mother tried protecting him best she could, but to no avail. Gacy’s father would beat him senseless and most of the time it was for no apparent reason. In Sexually Motivated Serial Killers and the Psychology of Aggression and “evil” Within a Contemporary Psychoanalytic Perspective by Zelda Knight she explains how serial killers often view aggression as a secondary reaction. “To understand serial killers, childhood abuse isn’t the only source we can use for understanding it. Many people are abused and don’t offend, however inadequate childhood experiences can contribute to psychopathology and contribute to these sexually motivated murders” (Knight 30). This means aggression is often portrayed as “provoked and not inevitable but avoidable” (Knight 30). Therefore, the abuse he faced from his father could have been instilled into Gacy and ultimately onto his victims.
On top of physical abuse, Gacy suffered from a severe heart condition that made it hard for him to perform any physical activity. Being deemed as “not normal”, he was alienated from all the other children his age because of his weight and heart condition. We can see how alienation can make people distant, however, in Gacy’s case, he followed a similar pattern, one in which followed his life. “Many serial killers often follow a similar pattern” (Knight 30). He isolated himself and his crimes from the world . Gacy stuck with what was familiar to him.
On top of all the struggles Gacy faced as a child, he realized again that at a young age he was not like everyone else and struggled with his sexuality. He found himself attracted to men rather than women. Facing this struggle at such a young age, Gacy grew up very confused with himself. We can see how this ultimately alienated him even more considering he could not open up to anyone about his feelings because of how “unnatural” this was considered.
Gacy targeted boys he felt were homosexual considering he believed they were easier to pick up. “Many serial killers begin their sexual crimes as sex offenders…” (Knight 22). In 1968, Gacy was arrested for sexual abuse on two teenage boys, however, he was released on parole in 1970. A year later, in 1971, Gacy again was arrested for sexual abuse on another teenage boy, however the charges were dropped. Police knew of Gacy and his attacks on younger boys, however never put the disappearances of the boys and Gacy together. Gacy was attracted to the power he had considering no one knew the heinous crimes he was committing. In Monster Culture (Seven Theses), by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, he explains in the second thesis, The Monster Always Escapes, how monsters are always changing to our perceptions of what they are and should be, therefore, are always changing and “escaping”. Gacy was a monster so unreal that police did not even put together a convicted sex offender as the man in charge of all the disappearances. “Better terms used currently to describe this type of serial killer are ‘‘lust killers’’ or ‘‘thrill killers’’ which characterize the sense of sexual enjoyment and fulfilment in inflicting pain on victims. This idea falls into line with Wilson’s (2003) notion that the essence of an evil person is the apparent enjoyment of their victim’s pain” (Knight 26). This ultimately led to the rapes and murders of thirty three young males for a span of ten years. In 1972, Gacy committed his first murder on Timothy McCoy after Gacy had lured him into his home. In 1978, Gacy was caught up. A young boy, Robert Priest went missing and his mother stated that Gacy was the last person seen with her son for a potential job. Police soon went to Gacy’s home considering he was a suspect for the murder and eventually stumbled upon the crime he had committed. After examining Gacy’s home, they stumbled upon a mass grave in his home under his crawl space. There had been 26 decomposing bodies stacked on top of one another. Gacy was found guilty of all murders, he was convicted to 12 death sentences and 21 life sentences. Although Gacy confessed to the murders, he believed he was innocent and even tried an insanity plea in court. Zelda Knight explains how many serial killers know right from wrong and choose to not resist these urges. “Some serial killers lead ostensibly normal lives as students, friends, married people with children, gainfully employed and active community members. The vast majority are not insane; they knew what they were doing at the time of the crime… evil, as destructive aggression, is premeditated” (Knight 28). This relates back to Gacy’s life perfectly. Gacy was an active member of his community with a family, however still committed such heinous crimes. Gacy’s insanity plea didn’t stand in court and Gacy was sentenced to death. He died of lethal injection in May of 1994.
Gacy raped and murdered 33 young men within a span of ten years. He lured the boys to his home with hopes of jobs and sometimes even drugs and alcohol. While the boys were intoxicated, or drugged with chloroform, Gacy would perform a “magic trick” and trick the boys into being handcuffed to a chair. Gacy then grabbed a rope and proceeded to strangle the boys. Gacy used the knots he learned in the boy scouts, usually a tourniquet, to strangle his victims. After the victims were dead, or unconscious, he then would sexually assault and violate them. If his victims had been unconscious through the assault, Gacy would then murder his victims by strangulation with a tourniquet, or by slitting their throats. He disposed of the bodies under his home in a crawl space or the river close to his home. This is essentially how Gacy was caught. After searching his home they found the bodies he had been collecting.
We see how the murders that Gacy committed will follow him for eternity and how influential the murders committed were on our society. Almost 10 years after Gacy was convicted of thirty three rapes and murders, Stephen King released a book called, “IT” featuring the monstrous killer clown Pennywise. In Monster Theory by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, his first thesis, The Monster’s Body is a Cultural Body, we see how “the monster just happens to be an embodiment of of a certain cultural moment- of a time, a feeling, and a place” (4). Pennywise just so happens to be the embodiment of John Wayne Gacy. Everything Gacy did to his victims somehow was what Pennywise did to torture his victims, but in a more fictional way. “IT” is a book about an evil entity that shows up every 27 to 30 years to wreak havoc on children. Pennywise has the power to shift into a child’s worst fear and also has the ability to allude parents. He lives off the fear and death of children in Derry, Maine. Pennywise just so happens to be a “killer clown”, the nickname that Gacy happened to be given.
In one of the most famous scenes, Pennywise is found in a sewer talking to a little boy after handing him his paper boat that had fallen down the sewer. He is found in a private and confined space just like Gacy’s victims had been found in his crawl space. Pennywise tries to persuade these young boys to come to him in hopes of murdering them just like Gacy. Pennywise is a symbol of Gacy in more current times.
Gacy’s crimes will be around forever being known for his heinousness and disregard towards human life. Inspiring a book and multiple movies, we can ultimately say the abuse, his alienation and his sexuality are what pushed Gacy into the world’s most famous serial killer.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. “Monster Culture (Seven Theses)(Extract).” Speaking of Monsters, doi:10.1057/9781137101495.0007.
This source is an explanation of monster theory that can all be related to our society as a whole. I used Monster Theory to try and tie traits Gacy carried from his era to ours to try and classify the behavior. The behaviors exhibited in serial killers can be related to society all through Cohen’s theses. I found this source scholarly because it is peer reviewed off of ebsco.
Jenkins , John. “John Wayne Gacy .” Biography Reference Center , 2012, web.a.ebscohost.com/brc/detail?vid=4&sid=88a5352e-d9bb-4887-9075-b55103d4bb0a%40sessionmgr4007&bdata=JnNpdGU9YnJjLWxpdmU%3d#AN=32410558&db=b6h.
This source gives a description of the life of John Wayne Gacy throughout his life. It explains his life before and after the murders of his 33 victims. I used this source to explain his early and adult life as background for my essay. I found this source reliable because I got it from the Crafton library database.
Knight, Zelda G. “Sexually Motivated Serial Killers and the Psychology of Aggression and “Evil” within a Contemporary Psychoanalytical Perspective.” Journal of Sexual Aggression, vol. 13, no. 1, Mar. 2007, pp. 21-35. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1080/13552600701365597.
This source gives background and goes into description of the psychological factors that serial killers may encounter and tries to reason through their psyche. I used this to strengthen my argument on serial killers and give more reason as to why Gacy was so sexually motivated. I found this source reliable because I found it off of Ebsco.
Mayo, Mike. “Gacy, John Wayne.” [“American Murder”]. American Murder, Feb. 2008, pp. 121-122. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=khh&AN=39774613&site=hrc-live.
The source gives reliable background information on more of the “after parts” of the murders Gacy partook in. It tells how and what he did during the murders. I used this source as more background information for myself. I found it reliable because I got it off the Crafton library database.