John Wayne Gacy victims unearthed in bid to identify them
Serial killer John Wayne Gacy was responsible for sexually assaulting and killing a string of boys and young men in the 1970s -- in between dressing up as a clown and performing at children's parties and charity events.
But many of his victims were never identified, something that has always troubled law enforcement officers as well as families who have long wondered whether their missing loved one fell prey to Gacy.
Now, in a bid to provide answers for all involved, the remains of several of Gacy's unidentified victims are being exhumed and subjected to cutting-edge DNA technology. Such tests weren't available back in the 1970s when Gacy was roaming the streets in and around Chicago looking for his next victim.
Relatives of young men who disappeared in the 1970s -- up until Gacy's 1978 arrest -- are urged to come forward and undergo a saliva test to help determine any DNA link to the skeletal remains found buried on Gacy's property or stowed in a crawl space in his Chicago-area home.
Authorities say it could help bring some finality to one of the worst serial killer cases on record. Gacy's case is responsible for helping to make the word "crawl space" a creepy term, and turning clowns into the stuff of nightmares.
Gacy was ultimately convicted of 33 murders. He was executed in 1994.
"Thank God for DNA. Now we can know with some real certainty," Clyde Snow, a forensic anthropologist who worked as a consultant to the Cook County medical examiner's office on the Gacy case, told the Chicago Tribune.
Detectives told the Associated Press that the passage of time might actually work in their favor: Some families who never reported the victims missing and never searched for them could be willing to do so now, a generation after Gacy's homosexuality and pattern of preying on vulnerable teens were splashed across newspapers all over the world.
"I'm hoping the stigma has lessened, that people can put family disagreements and biases against sexual orientation [and] drug use behind them to give these victims a name," Det. Jason Moran told the wire service.
In particular, there are eight unidentified bodies that authorities hope to give name to. But there's someone else looking for answers too: Sherry Marino. Her son Michael was labeled "body No. 14" among the skeletal remains found at Gacy's home. But a few things have always nagged at her, she told the Tribune. For one, the body was dressed in unfamiliar clothing. And it took examiners 18 months to identify him using dental records, a time lapse that Marino has always found odd.
Now, she is working with law enforcement officials to get some answers and is in the process of exhuming the body identified as her son, who had dreamed of becoming a musician when he grew up. He was 14 when he vanished.
"Mrs. Marino has been waiting some 35 years to finally determine whether this is in fact her son," her attorney Steven Becker told the Tribune.
And she's holding out for any shred of hope, Becker said, that authorities were mistaken and that her son might still be alive.
Photo: A 1978 file photo of serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Credit: Associated Press