In 1980, an Illinois jury convicted John Wayne Gacy for killing 33 young boys and men. Sarcastically, after his conviction, the infamous killer, also known as “The Killer Clown” said “I should have never been convicted of anything more serious than running a cemetery without a license” (Berry-Dee, 2011). Obviously, something intrusively wrong resonated in Gacy for him to make such a statement that negated the intensity of his actions. Gacy buried the majority of his victims under the crawl space of his home and discarded other victims in the Des Plaines River (Amirante & Broderick, 2012).
People often question what would make someone do such vicious and tortuous acts on another person. Criminologists developed theories explaining the reasons people deviate from societal norms and commit immoral acts laws prohibit (Schmalleger, 2010). Particularly, in this case, John Wayne Gacy is a person suitable to study. Certainly, a few crime causation theories explain how his upbringing, life experiences, and other deep underlying issues led him to committing crimes to the extent he did.
Gacy was the only son of three children born to Marion and John Gacy.
He was the middle child. The Gacy’s lived on the north side of Chicago. As a young boy n middle school, Gacy kept busy by working part-time as a bag boy, delivering newspapers and participating in Boy Scouts. Even though he was not popular, his teachers liked him, and he had many friends (Lohr, n.d.). To people outside of Gacy’s home, it appeared he had an awesome childhood. However, many people did not know Gacy’s relationship with his father was far from normal. Gacy’s father physically abused his mother and verbally assaulted Gacy by calling him a “queer” and a “sissy”. Additionally, a family friend molested Gacy as well (Lohr, n.d.). Between the ages of 11 and 16, Gacy suffered blackouts resulting from an incident doctors learned occurred years earlier. At the age of 11, a swing struck Gacy on the head and caused a blood clot in his brain. Once doctors prescribed medication for the blood clot, the blackouts ceased (Lohr, n.d.).
However, almost a year later, doctors diagnosed Gacy with a heart ailment, which caused frequent hospitalization for him. After doctors stabilized Gacy, it became evident his relationship with his father diminished significantly because he father believed Gacy was faking to obtain attention. Therefore, Gacy’s relationship with his mother and sisters was solid because they pampered him (The Clown That Killed: The Horrifying Legacy of John Wayne Gacy, n.d.). As an adult, Gacy graduated from a business school and perfected his talent as a salesman. Almost immediately he secured a job and in a short time received a promotion as manager. Shortly afterwards, Gacy again experienced heart problems, suffered a spinal injury, and gained excessive weight. However, Gacy overcame his health issues, and just as he did as a child, he kept himself busy (Lohr, n.d.).
Gacy involved himself in many activities to serve the community. To name a few, Gacy had membership in Catholic Inter-Club Council, the Holy Name Society, and the Federal Civil Defense for Illinois. In those organizations, Gacy reached high statuses and in one he received the “Man of the Year” award. Friends and family believed Gacy devoted himself to community and everyone loved him dearly for it (The Clown That Killed: The Horrifying Legacy of John Wayne Gacy, n.d.). His successes led him to Marlynn Myers who became his wife. Myers’ parents owned a chain of Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) stores in Iowa. Because Gacy was such a good salesman who possessed high motivations, Myers’ father offered him a job in one of the franchises. Gacy accepted the job, and he and his wife relocated to Iowa. Even in Iowa, Gacy became involved in the community and even sought presidency for the Jaycees Organization.
However, people began to spread rumors concerning Gacy’s sexual preference. The rumors consisted of Gacy making sexual advances at young boys who worked in the KFC franchise (Amirante & Broderick, 2012). Although many of his friends and family rejected the rumors, in 1968, a grand jury indicted Gacy for sodomy of a teenage boy. After the indictment, Gacy paid an 18-year-old $310 to beat the victim up. Gacy was sentenced to 10 years, but only served 18 months after being paroled for good behavior. After his release, he moved back to Chicago (Lohr, n.d.). Shortly after moving back to Chicago, Gacy married his sister’s childhood friend, Carole Hoff and started his own business, PDM Incorporated and hired young boys. Unknown to his wife and others, Gacy used his business to seduce young boys. Gacy invented the character “Pogo the Clown”, which he used to entertain young children. According to Karen Kuzma, when she visited Gacy, she noticed a musty smell in his home, which he attributed to mole. Kuzma’s husband suggested that he use lie in his crawl space to eliminate the odor.
Kuzma also said she noticed Gacy acting strange and abusive toward his wife, which lead to his divorce (Booth, L. (Executive Producer). (2012, October 24.) [Interview with Karen Kuzma, John Wayne Gacy’s sister] House of Horrors. Investigation Discovery). Between 1972 and 1978, Gacy lured more than 30 young boys and men to his home. Sometimes Gacy would often invite his victims to his home for drinks or a game of pool but most of the time he relied on trolling the streets of Chicago for hustlers and runaways. He would sometimes flash a badge and a gun “arresting” his intended victim. Once back at his home, Gacy would show his victims “tricks” with “magic handcuffs”. When he was finished, he would do the “rope trick”-strangulation-and his victim would be buried in a crawl space underneath the house. In later years, he ran out of space downstairs and started dumping bodies in a nearby river, the Des Plaines River (Newton, 2000).
Gacy was invested by police when one of his victims went missing after telling his mother that he was going to meet with a local contractor. After a lengthy police investigation, detectives executed a search warrant and found human bones in the crawl space of Gacy’s home. Gacy admitted to the killings. Gacy was charged with 33 murders and sentenced to death after being found guilty on all counts (Booth, L. (Executive Producer). (2012, October 24.) [Interview with Karen Kuzma, John Wayne Gacy’s sister] House of Horrors. Investigation Discovery). Gacy was on death row for 14 years. Gacy did not show any remorse and told his defense attorney “killing him would not compensate for the loss of others, and this was the state was murdering him”. Gacy’s last words before execution were “kiss my ass” (Berry-Dee, 2011). What caused Gacy to commit these crimes? What was the explanation for his behavior? His personal victimization of child molestation, his estranged relationship with his father, his childhood injury, and desire for attention may have contributed to the reason he tortured, raped and killed. Moreover, other underlying reasons may explain why he targeted only young boys and men (Lohr, n.d.).
Travis Hirschi presented the social control theory in 1969. Hirschi theorized every person has the potential to commit crime, and those who commit crime do so out of fear of what others think about him or her. One cause Hirschi listed as a factor contributing to crime is the negative attachment to family. In Gacy’s case, he was close to his mother and sisters, but his relationship with his father was severed during his adolescent years (Hall, 2010). Although Gacy’s father mistreated him and abused his mother, Gacy loved his father deeply, respected him, and desired acceptance. This brings forth the labeling theory created by Howard Becker in the 1960’s. This theory suggests a person labeled repeatedly as a “deviant” (gay in Gacy’s case) will live up to his or her label and clash with social norms. It appears that the verbal abuse Gacy endured from his father contributed to his homosexuality because his father viewed him as homosexual (Cramster, n.d.).
Because psychologist diagnosed Gacy with antisocial personality disorder, the psychopathology theory applies to Gacy’s behavior. “The central defining characteristic of a psychopath is poverty of affect, or the inability to accurately imagine how others think and feel. Hence, it becomes possible for a psychopath to inflict pain and engage in cruelty without appreciation for the victim’s suffering” (Schmalleger, 2010). Gacy only appreciated the pleasure he obtained from his behavior rather the acknowledging the suffering of his many victims. The last theory related to Gacy’s behavior is the classical theory created by Beccari. The theory suggests a person commits crimes when the benefits or self-interest outweigh the cost (McCaughy, Capron, Jamieson, & Carey, 2008).
John Wayne Gacy had significant, deep-rooted issues that contributed to his obsession of torturing, rapping, and murdering boys. It appears Gacy reached a high-level of satisfaction and pleasure from torturing defenseless male victims. In my opinion, I believe the primary issue that contributed the most to Gacy’s obsession was his distant and verbally abusive relationship with his father and him being a victim himself. Although the theories may not fully apply to Gacy, they provide an explanation that helps people understand the events that lead to Gacy being called the “Killer Clown”.
Amirante, S. L., & Broderick, D. (2012). John Wayne Gacy: Defending a Monster. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing. Berry-Dee, C. (2011). The Voices of Serial Killers:The World’s Most Maniacal Murders in Their Own Words. Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press. Cramster. (n.d.). Labeling Theory. Retrieved from http://www.cramster.com/definitions/labeling-theory/828 Hall, E. (2010, March 9). Theory and behavior trait theory related to John Gacy. Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/ElizabethHall198/hall-elizabeth-unit-9-social-contr
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