Let’s All Drink To The Death Of A Clown

Twenty years ago today, serial killer John Gacy was executed. No one should lose any sleep over that.


Gacy as his clown alter ego, Pogo. Raise a glass and cheer the anniversary of his execution.

Those who argue either for or against capital punishment often do so with their stomachs rather than with their heads. On the one had you have the eye for an eye brigade, while on the other hand you have those who place undue emphasis on the possible execution of an innocent person.

The existence of the death penalty is undoubtedly a deterrent in some cases, but in others it is the only truly fitting punishment. These are those cases in which the accused has been convicted after a fair trial on absolutely overwhelming evidence, and where the crimes are truly heinous.

Murder is a crime that is committed by ordinary people, but serial murder is something very different. John Gacy was convicted of murdering no fewer than 33 men and teenage boys, most of whom were buried under his house. That much is certain. We know too that some of Gacy’s victims were tortured to death horribly. What mitigation or excuse can there be for carnage on that scale? So who was Gacy? A lot is known about him.

John Wayne Gacy Junior was born on March 17, 1942; his father was said to have been abusive towards him both physically and emotionally. It is always difficult to know how much to attribute to such claims, but like all of us, Gacy was made by his genes, his upbringing and blind luck. He was also a conscious, intelligent individual who made his own choices.

Gacy married his first wife in 1964, and luck appeared to be smiling on him. His father-in-law purchased 3 Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants, and in 1966, Gacy was installed as manager. One would have expected him to have lived the American dream, sired 3 or 4 kids, put them through college, and retired to somewhere like Florida to live out his golden years with his wife. Alas, Gacy had inner demons; outwardly heterosexual, he joined the United States Junior Chamber – the so-called Jaycees – which at that time mentored young men exclusively, although later it was expanded to mentor young women as well.

It would be tempting to suggest that Gacy joined this organisation solely because it gave him access to young men and boys. That was probably not the case though, as is attested by his later political activism. Nevertheless, Gacy now both married and a father, did indeed begin preying on teenage boys, and in December 1968, he was sentenced to ten years in prison for sodomy. Although he was paroled in less than two years, his life was in ruins, his wife having divorced him. Nevertheless, with the help of his widowed mother, he was able to rebuild his life; moving back to his native Chicago, he would shortly remarry, acquiring not only a wife but two step-daughters, and starting his own construction business.

Gacy seemed to have boundless energy, not only working long hours but becoming active in local politics as a Democrat, and even becoming a children’s entertainer, visiting hospitals as Pogo the Clown. In spite of his track record, there is no evidence that Gacy was motivated by base desires; although technically a paedophile he does not appear to have been sexually attracted to children, and certainly not to girls. Whatever normal sexual urges he may have once had, they deserted him, and his second marriage did not last. He was always adamant though that he was not homosexual, but bisexual, a strange thing for a serial killer to become indignant about.

Gacy’s crimes came to light after he abducted teenager Rob Piest. The detective assigned to the case had a classic policeman’s hunch, but neither Joe Kozenczak nor any of his team could have dreamed in their wildest imaginings where this hunch would lead. Gacy was arrested shortly before Christmas 1978, by which time he had lost count of the number of his victims. It took a little over a year to bring him to trial, which considering the complexity of the case was remarkable. There was never any doubt over his committing the crimes, but there was the issue of his state of mind, though it remains to be seen why insanity should be permitted to excuse or mitigate crimes of this nature. He was convicted and sentenced to death; the date for his execution was set for June 2, 1980, but that was unduly optimistic. It was not until May 10, 1994 he was executed by lethal injection.

Anti-death penalty activists held a candelight vigil, but there was a much bigger turnout of people who wanted to see him die. He was pronounced dead at 12.58am.

Gacy was a talented artist, and during his years on death row he produced many paintings; six weeks after his execution, two men arranged a bizarre ceremony involving them. Joseph Roth and Walter Knoebel attended an auction shortly after the killer’s death where they spent thousands of dollars on paintings and figurines produced by Gacy. These were then burned on a public bonfire.

Twenty years on from his execution, John Wayne Gacy is undoubtedly burning in a much hotter fire for all Eternity, but no one need lose any sleep on that account. Instead, let’s all drink to the death of a clown.

[The above article was published originally May 10, 2014].

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