1978 photo of serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
Nearly two decades after Chicago serial killer John Wayne Gacy was executed for torturing, raping and murdering 33 men and boys in the 1970s, two lawyers say they’ve unearthed evidence that indicates he didn’t act alone in some of the slayings.
Criminal defense attorneys Robert Stephenson and Steven Becker, who are partners in a Chicago law practice, said they re-examined the circumstances surrounding the disappearances of some of the victims. Their conclusion: the so-called “Killer Clown” had at least three accomplices.
“There is significant evidence out there that suggests that not only did John Wayne Gacy not operate alone, he may not have been involved in some of the murders, and the fact that he was largely a copycat killer,” Stephenson told WGN.
Stephenson and Becker on Friday presented their findings to Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart plus a lead investigator and a former prosecutor in the decades-old case.
Dart described the meeting as "very fruitful."
"They raised valid questions," Dart told msnbc.com in a telephone interview. "I definitely would not dismiss what they have said. It’s not out of left field. Its' well thought out."
The sheriff said investigators will follow up on the information and, if it proves solid, will try to locate the potential accomplices -- two of whom are believed to be still alive. The case has had so many twists and loose ends – seven Gacy victims remain unidentified, for example – that Dart is keeping an open mind.
"Have we ruled out that someone would have helped Gacy in one or more of the murders? No," the sheriff said.
Stephenson said he and Becker started looking into the Gacy case last year at the request of a mother who questioned the finding that her son, Michael Marino, was one of the bodies found on Gacy's property. A dentist who made the original body IDs re-examined X-rays and said he’s certain the victim was Marino, according to the Sun-Times.
The investigation into Marino's death led the lawyers to a flurry of leads and new information from other sources.
Stephenson estimates he and his law partner have voluntarily spent up to 30 percent of their work time over last six to eight months on the case -- without compensation.
“It’s one of those things, when you start meeting with family members and you start talking to them, knowing how important it is to them to have their questions resolved, you just feel compelled to do it,” Stephenson told msnbc.com on Friday.
"We've turned what we’ve had to the proper authorities. I’m sure they will take their time and look at it and do what is appropriate," he added.
Stephenson and Becker told the Sun-Times they found anomalies in the cases of victims Russell Nelson of Minneapolis and Robert Gilroy and John Mowery of Chicago. The three young men disappeared in 1977 and were among 29 victims found buried on Gacy’s property – most in the crawlspace of his home - in unincorporated Norwood Park Township outside Chicago in 1978. The remains of four other victims were dumped in a nearby river.
Gacy, a building contractor who performed as an amateur clown at fundraising events and children’s parties, was tried in Chicago in 1980 and convicted of 33 murders. He was executed in 1994.
Did Gacy have help?
Stephenson and Becker say a review of Gacy’s travel and work records and other court documents indicates he was out of town when Nelson and Gilroy disappeared.
New technology might answer who Gacy's remaining unidentified victims are. NBC's Stephanie Gosk Reports.
Gilroy vanished on Sept. 15, 1977, between 5 p.m., when he talked to his girlfriend by telephone, and 6 p.m., when he failed to show up at a bus stop for a trip to an equestrian-riding class, the lawyers told the Sun-Times and WGN. But a copy of a plane ticket shows Gacy flew to Pittsburgh on Sept. 12 and didn’t return to Chicago until the night of Sept. 16, the lawyers say.
Nelson went missing on Oct. 19, 1977. A friend told police Nelson vanished that evening while they were outside a disco bar in Chicago. But Nelson’s mother said the friend later gave her a different account and also repeatedly asked her for money to help find him.
Stephenson told the Sun-Times he doesn’t believe Gacy could have snatched the 21-year-old Nelson from the street without the friend seeing anything.
A few months before Nelson disappeared, Gacy did some work at a drug store just blocks from where Nelson’s friend lived, Becker and Stephenson said. And Nelson’s mother said the friend offered Nelson’s two brothers a job with Gacy.
Some have speculated the friend, who according to the lawyers is still alive and living in another state, may have been involved in Nelson’s disappearance.
“I don’t know that [the friend] was involved,” Stephenson told the Sun-Times. “But I know that he wasn’t telling the truth here.”
“I think it tells us that John Wayne Gacy was using other individuals to procure young boys over state lines,” Becker told WGN.
Mowery, 19, was last seen alive at 10 p.m. on Sept. 25, 1977, leaving his mother’s house after dinner. He was scheduled to work the next morning, Stephenson told the Sun-Times.
Contractor records show Gacy was at a job in Michigan at 6 a.m. on Sept. 26, 1977, and was in Michigan until Sept. 30, 1977, Stephenson said.
Stephenson told the newspaper he doubts Gacy would have the time to abduct, torture and kill Mowery in the narrow time frame between Mowery’s disappearance and Gacy heading to work in Michigan.
Stephenson said other evidence suggests Gacy had accomplices, too.
Gacy was known for using a rope and board to strangle his victims, but autopsies on Gilroy and Nelson showed they died from asphyxiation due to suffocation rather than strangulation, WGN reported.
And, according to the Sun-Times:
After he was arrested in 1978, Gacy told officers: “Who else do you have in the station? There are others involved.” He was asked, “Directly or indirectly?” and responded, “Directly. They participated.” He was asked, “Who are they?” and responded, “My associates.”
Also, Gacy told police he got the idea of putting his victims on a “torture board” from Elmer Wayne Henley, a Texas serial killer. Henley was an accomplice of Dean Corll, who killed at least 28 boys and young men. Henley killed Corll and is now serving a life sentence.
“Gacy was a copycat,” Stephenson told the newspaper. “And he was copycatting a killer who used accomplices.”
Stephenson told msnbc.com: "I think I can say, from our information to this point, we believe there are at least three accomplices."
One of them was the "friend" of Nelson; Stephenson wouldn't say who the other two were.
Sheriff Dart, who also declined to release the names, said one of the possible accomplices is believed to be dead. He said investigators will interview the other two if follow-up work indicates they could have been involved in some of the Gacy killings.
"There have been countless leads that have come in -- some of them obviously not valid from the get-go, others ones much more so. So here we have leads that are valid to be run out. This would be in a much higher category of leads," he said of the lawyers' information.
Terry Sullivan, who was on the Gacy prosecution team as a state’s attorney and who wrote a book, “Killer Clown: The John Wayne Gacy Murders,” about the case, says he wouldn’t be surprised if it turns out Gacy had help in committing his crimes.
“I felt from the beginning that there may be loose ends. It was such a huge case, especially at the time,” Sullivan told WGN.
But Gacy’s defense lawyer, Sam Amirante, doesn’t buy the accomplice theory.
“Nothing as far as killing or recruiting … we thought about it, but we just never saw any evidence,” he told WGN.
Amirante said Gacy confessed to everything early on, and only after years in prison did he begin to change his story.
That's a point a former prosecutor on the case also raised, Dart said: "Gacy was trying everything he could to avoid being executed. If there was an accomplice or accomplices …he would have brought it out at that point to save his own skin.”
Stephenson contends Gacy did claim to have accomplices shortly after his arrest.
All parties agree the Gacy case has been anything from ordinary.
Dart estimates it'll take a month or two to fully investigate the new information.
As for victims' families, the reaction has been mixed.
"We've been in contact with many, many victims' family members over the past six months. None of them were really surprised by what was announced last night," Stephenson told msnbc.com. "Some of them don’t want to talk about it and revisit old wounds. Others do, and those that do have provided really valuable information."
Meanwhile, seven victims of Gacy remain unnamed. In December, the Cook County sheriff’s office announced that it had identified, through DNA testing, an eighth previously unidentified victim: 19-year-old William Bundy, a Chicago resident who disappeared in 1976. The sheriff also told four families that DNA tests ruled out their missing relatives as among Gacy's victims.
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