I’m still haunted by my year with “killer clown” John Wayne Gacy
THEY were once innocent, brightly colored fun characters jesters performing in front of laughing children – but now the clown is ready, once again, to terrify audiences around the world.
Nearly two decades after he was put to death by lethal injection, newly discovered tapes of “Killer Clown” John Wayne Gacy are the subject of a new three-part documentary series on Netflix.
Directed by Joe Berlinger, Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes tells the story of serial killer Gacy, who entertained children’s parties by dressing up as his face-painted alter ego “Pogo.”
His haunting crimes are said to have even inspired Stephen King’s 1986 horror novel IT which features an infamous clown, Pennywise, who preys on children.
Nicknamed “The Killer Clown,” Gacy killed 33 young men between January 1972 and late 1978 at his home in Norwood Park, Illinois, and often even carried out the murders while disguised as Pogo.
Once he had lured young men into his home, the killer would trick them into handcuffing them, leaving them defenseless against his torture and sexual assault.
When she was just a child, Karen Conti had already remembered the horror of seeing more and more bodies coming out of Gacy’s house, which was a stone’s throw from her childhood home. .
Coincidentally, two decades later, she found herself staring the depraved killer in the eye, despite being his last lawyer before his death by lethal injection in 1994.
Gacy rooted for Hollywood killers
Speaking to The Sun, Gacy’s former lawyer Karen described him as “the kind of guy who could rape and kill a person and then eat a ham sandwich with the body”.
Conti explained: “He told me one evening that he had watched The Silence of the Lambs. I said ‘John, how did you feel about this? Wasn’t that terrifying?
“He said, ‘Oh no, you don’t understand, when you’re John Gacy, you’re supporting the killer.
“And then I had to rethink this whole movie, thinking here that he’s supporting Hannibal Lecter.”
“He created horrible paintings in prison”
Gacy’s six-year reign of terror was marked by unimaginable cruelty and relentless abuse.
All of his victims were strangled or strangled – except for the first, whom he stabbed – before their bodies were grouped together in the crawl space of his home, buried on his property or dumped in the local Des Plaines River .
But all the while, Gacy was leading a double life, posing as a prominent member of the local community and doing charity work as the “Pogo” clown.
In prison, he reveled in this character who had grown to define him, and even earned money from his cell.
“He would paint these horrible paintings,” said Conti, who spent more than 50 hours with the killer.
“He was a terrible artist but he made money selling them and his favorite was the killer clown.
“It was him dressed up as Pogo, dressed up at kid’s parties, and he was selling them for a few hundred apiece.”
killer behind the mask
Born March 17, 1942, in Chicago, Illinois, Gacy suffered severe childhood abuse at the hands of his alcoholic father.
He then found success as a businessman, managing three KFC restaurants before starting his own construction company.
Gacy’s first marriage, to Marlynn Myers, saw him father a son and a daughter, but she divorced him after he was convicted of sexually abusing a 16-year-old in 1968.
It was after his parole in 1970 that he started his own business and threw himself into his community, marrying divorcee Carole Hoff in 1972.
In his spare time, Gacy donned his clown costume, which reportedly helped the killer “fall back into childhood.”
A passionate Democrat, he served on a local organizing committee, even meeting First Lady Rosalynn Carter as part of her community service on May 6, 1978.
But no one had the slightest idea that the sick man in the clown mask was a sadistic killer responsible for a wave of disappearances in the region.
The killer kept a despicable “body book”
Conti said, “When you look real evil in the face, it doesn’t look bad.”
But although she never saw his violent side, she experienced his “insensitivity”.
“There was one occasion where he pulled out this big notebook and it had all these different tabs,” she said.
“I opened it and it was body number one, tab one. And it was pictures of one of his victims.
“He had paid someone to fetch the picture from their school yearbook, pictures of their house, their parents, newspaper articles about the child.
“He said, ‘I call it my body book. I thought I would pay an investigator to find the victims in my house so I could find out who really killed them.”
“It was ridiculous, of course. But he spoke of these innocent young men as bodies.
“It was almost like he had to dehumanize them and blame them for their own deaths.”
Decoy in boys
Gacy tricked many of his victims into telling them he needed their help with “scientific research”, for which he would pay them up to $50 each.
After luring the boys to his home, either through lies or at gunpoint, Gacy would then inundate them with alcohol and trick them into putting on handcuffs, sometimes as part of his clowning routine.
Then, once they were helpless, Gacy tormented his teenage victims, before raping them and ending with what he called “the rope trick”: strangling the boys with a length of rope.
His second marriage fell apart after his wife Carole started finding gay pornography in the house and saw her bisexual husband bringing teenagers into his garage.
The couple divorced in March 1976, beginning what Gacy called his “cruise years.”
With the house to himself and more questions to answer from his wife, he began to kill more frequently, committing the most murders between 1976 and 1978.
He was only surprised in December 1978, after a pharmacy owner overheard him offering 15-year-old employee Robert Jerome Piest a lucrative job working with him.
Piest had told his mother about the offer before disappearing, ending up in the Des Plaines River after being suffocated by Gacy.
The pharmacy owner led the police to Gacy, launching an investigation that eventually saw the killer clown break down and confess to his despicable crimes, leading to his arrest on December 22, 1978.
However, not all of his victims have been identified, with some of them still unnamed, decades after they were murdered.
The remains of Francis Wayne Alexander were among those first found in the crawl space of Gacy’s Chicago-area home in 1978 – but he was not identified until last year.
How he faked such a “normal” face for years still haunts Conti to this day.
She said: “When you deal with someone who is a sociopath, you realize that is a facade. It’s not a real person, it’s a shell of a person.
“I was only 29 when I first met him in 1993 and that will always stay with me.
“Although he says things and is polite, he’s a person who doesn’t really have feelings.
“John Gacy buried at least 33 boys and men – and buried most of them in his house.
“How he got away with it was that he was acting very normal. He looked like your average neighbor, your favorite uncle.
“He was jolly, charming, friendly, smart and he didn’t look mean. If he looked mean and acted wrong, he never would have gotten away with what he did.
Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes are now available on Netflix.