When the police were called to search John Wayne Gacy's home in Des Plaines, Illinois on December 13, 1978, they were not aware that their investigation into the disappearance of fifteen-year-old Robert Piest would lead them to uncover some of the most grisly murders committed in the United States (Evans, 2007). Piest was last seen leaving a pharmacy where Gacy, then working as a contractor, had recently completed a remodeling job (Office of the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney, 2012). Three hours after his disappearance, his mother, Elizabeth Piest, notified the Des Plaines Police Department and Lt. Joseph Kozenczak was tasked with leading the investigation (Sullivan & Maiken, 1983, p. 7; Bell & Bardsley, n.d.). During his initial investigation, Lt. Kozenczak learned that Gacy had recently offered Piest a job and proceeded to go to Gacy's home, located at 8213 Summerdale Ave, to request that he accompany him to the police station for questioning (Bell & Bardsley, n.d.). At the time, Gacy told Lt. Kozenczak that he was presently unable to leave his house because he had to deal with a recent death in the family; however, Gacy did comply with Lt. Kozenczak's request and went to the police station later that day to give his statement.
On December 22, 1978, Gacy confessed to killing at least thirty boys and men and burying most of their remains beneath the crawl space of his house (Bell & Bardsley, n.d.). Police found two bodies on their first day of digging; one body, John Butkovich, was buried under the garage and another unidentified remain was found in the crawl space (Bell & Bardsley, n.d.). As the investigation progressed, the body count continued to rise. "Some of the victims were found with their underwear still lodged deep in their throats. Other victims were buried so close together that police believed they were probably killed or buried at the same time" (Bell & Bardsley, n.d.). Gacy later admitted that he would occasionally murder more than one person in the same day. Gacy also made a baffling reason as to why the bodies were buried so close together confessing that he "was running out of room and needed to conserve space" (Bell & Bardsley, n.d.). By December 28, 1978, police had removed 27 bodies from Gacy's house. By the end of February 1979, police had still not completed searching Gacy's house. Due to inclement weather, "it had taken investigators longer than expected to resume the search," however, they believed that there were still more bodies to be found. Soon thereafter, they found "the body of a man still in good condition preserved in the concrete" underneath the patio and the last body found on the premises was found beneath Gacy's recreation room (Bell & Bardsley, n.d.).
During the course of the investigation, police also recovered several bodies from local rivers. In December 1978, police found Frank Wayne "Dale" Landingin's corpse in the Des Plaines River (Gacy was tied to Landingin's disappearance through his driver's license, which was found in Gacy's possession during the first search for evidence) (Bell & Bardsley, n.d.). "Also, on December 28th, police removed from the Des Plaines River the body of James "Mojo" Mazzara, who still had his underwear lodged in his throat. The coroner said that the underwear stuffed down the victim's throat had caused Mazzara to suffocate" (Bell & Bardsley, n.d.). In early 1979, Gacy's 31st victim was found in the Illinois River. Investigators were able to identify Timothy O'Rourke through a tattoo on his arm that read "Tim Lee" (Bell & Bardsley, n.d.). Robert Piest, who prompted Lt. Kozenczak to look into Gacy's criminal background, was found in April 1979 in the Illinois River. Autopsy reports would later indicate that Piest suffocated from paper towels being lodged down his throat (Bell & Bardsley, n.d.).
In his statement, Gacy told police officers that he did not know anything about Piest's disappearance and "left the station after further questioning" (Bell & Bardsley, n.d.). Lt. Kozenczak proceeded to perform a background search on Gacy and discovered that he had previously been convicted of sodomy (Crime and Investigation Network, 2005). A search warrant was subsequently issued and was executed on December 13, 1978. "Inspector Kautz was in charge of taking inventory of any recovered evidence that might be found at the house" (Bell & Bardsley, n.d.). Among the items recovered during this initial search were: a "jewelry box containing two driver's licenses and several rings including one which had engraved on it the name Maine West High School class of 1975 and the initials J.A.S.; a box containing marijuana and rolling papers; seven erotic films made in Sweden; pills including amyl nitrite and Valium; a switchblade knife; a stained section of rug; colored photographs of pharmacies and drug stores; an address book; a scale; books such as Tight Teenagers, The Rights of Gay People, Bike Boy, Pederasty: Sex Between Men and Boys, Twenty-One Abnormal Sex Cases, The American Bi-Centennial Gay Guide, Heads & Tails, and The Great Swallow; a pair of handcuffs and keys; three-foot-long two-by-four wooden plank with two holes drilled in each end; a 6mm Italian pistol; police badges; an 18-inch rubber dildo -- found in the attic beneath insulation; a hypodermic syringe and needle and a small brown bottle; clothing too small for Gacy; a receipt for a roll of film with a serial number on it from Nisson Pharmacy; and nylon rope (Bell & Bardsley, n.d.). Also seized with three automobiles including a 1978 Chevrolet pickup truck with snowplow attached, a 1979 Oldsmobile Delta 88 and a van all with "PDM Contractors" written on their side (Bell & Bardsley, n.d.). Hair recovered in the Oldsmobile's trunk would later be found to be a match to Robert Piest. During this initial investigation, police also noted a strange odor, "which they attributed to a broken drain" (Crime and Investigation Network, 2005). Gacy was subsequently placed under 24-hour surveillance and his neighbors were subsequently questioned. Upon further analysis of the evidence collected during this initial search, police were able to link "one of the rings found during the search to the missing boy, John Szyc" (Crime and Investigation Network, 2005); nineteen-year-old Szyc was last seen on January 20, 1977 (Bell & Bardsley, n.d.). The forensic analysis of the evidence recovered during this initial investigation revealed that three men reported missing had previously worked for Gacy and that the receipt for the roll of film that was found in his home "had belonged to a co-worker of Robert Piest who had given it to Robert the day of his disappearance" (Bell & Bardsley, n.d.).
With evidence finally tying Gacy to Piest, police returned to Gacy's home to conduct another investigation. Gacy confessed to killing someone in self-defense and claimed that he had buried the body underneath the garage. Although Gacy told police where they could find the body and police marked the gravesite in the garage, but they did not immediately begin digging. They first wanted to search the crawl space under Gacy's house" (Bell & Bardsley, n.d.). It was not long before police found the remains of a body. Soon thereafter, Cook County Medical Examiner Dr. Robert Stein was called in to help with the investigation. Dr. Stein proceeded "to organize the search for more bodies by marking off the areas of earth in sections, as if it were an archaeological site" (Bell & Bardsley, n.d.). Gacy later admitted that twenty-seven bodies were "either buried beneath his house or in the garage (there were actually twenty-eight -- he had forgotten one) (Evans, 2007). A total of 29 bodies were recovered on the property and 4 more were discovered in a nearby river (Office of Clark County Prosecuting Attorney, n.d.)
Result of Analytical Tests
Identifying the victims recovered from Gacy's house would prove to be a great undertaking due to the similarity of the victims. Most of the bodies recovered from Gacy's home were males between the ages of fourteen and the mid-twenties (The Bones Under Gacy's House, n.d.). Additionally, many parents, unwilling to accept that their sons might have drifted into a lifestyle that they found repugnant, were reluctant to extend any assistance" (Evans, 2007). Because of these obstacles, police were left to rely on dental charts, x-rays, and fingerprint records to help identify the remains of the victims. One of the victims identified through his dental records was Michael Marino who disappeared on October 24, 1976 (Slife & Mills, 2011). By the end of January 1979, only ten [victims] had been identified (Evans, 2007). Frustrated with the progress of the investigation, investigators reached out to forensic anthropologist Clyde Snow.
Due to Gacy's careless burial technique in which bodies were piled upon one another, Snow first had to "ensure that bones from different skeletons had not been confused by the excavation crew" (Evans, 2007). Snow then proceeded to compile a thirty-five-point reference chart for each skull that would be used for comparison against missing…