When Sherry Marino visited the grave marked with her son’s name, she would ask, “Is this you, Michael?”
Each time, she felt nothing, a feeling she brought to authorities, questioning whether the body in the grave belonged to her son, Michael Marino, a 14-year-old who went missing in 1976 who had long been labeled a victim of serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
On Wednesday, she was redeemed. She was on her way to the cemetery, marking the 36th year since the day her son disappeared, when her lawyers called her: The boy in the grave was not her son.
For years, Marino fought to have the grave exhumed. When she approached Steven Becker and Robert Stephenson of Becker Stephenson, they agreed to work on her behalf, pro bono.
After fighting bureaucracy, they said they succeeded in having the body unearthed.
“When we opened up the casket, we were immediately suspect, because there was neither a lower or an upper jaw bone connected to the skull and of course this was the major form of identification was through the dental records,” Becker said.
Added his partner, Stephenson: “We did find a small piece of the jaw bone and another piece of the jaw connected to the upper part of the skull. One of those was tested, that’s where we got the DNA from.”
Previously, a forensic dentist said, based on dental records, that the body was Michael Marino’s.
But modern DNA, pulling from the same source, found Sherry Marino was not the parent of the exhumed body.
“She was relieved that now the rest of the world knew she was right,” Stephenson said.
Officials thought the body belonged to Michael Marino in part, Becker said, because the body was found in a grave site that included his friend, Kenny Parker, 16. Both boys hung out at an arcade in an area where Gacy prowled.
Officials “have always asserted that Kenny Parker and Michael were in the same grave,” Becker said. “Today we have proof that that was in fact not Michael. And if it was not Michael, was it Kenny Parker if he was identified in the same means?”
Now the lawyers, who have argued that Gacy had accomplices, say the Gacy case must be reexamined.
Bill Dorsch, a former Chicago police officer, urges officials to look at a building at the corner of Miami and North avenues in Chicago where Gacy was a caretaker.
Dorsch knew Gacy and had even been in his home with his wife and son in 1974.
“One night coming home from my work as a police officer in Chicago, that’s when I encountered him walking from the building with a long-handled shovel in his hands,” Dorsch said.
Dorsch, who lived nearby, asked what Gacy was doing at that early hour. Dorsch said that Gacy replied, “You know me, Bill, there’s not enough hours in the day.”
Seven years later, as Cook County law enforcement dug up bodies of boys and young men at Gacy’s home, Dorsch recalled their encounter. Since then, he’s been urging the Cook County Sheriff’s department to dig up the site near where they bumped into each other.
Witnesses also told Dorsch that Gacy dug trenches there at night.
Dorsch, Becker and Stephenson have also pursued the angle that Gacy had accomplices.
“The only way to bring closure to the victims’ families is to investigate it,” Dorsch said. “And every victim’s family that we talk to says the same thing: ‘I just want to know.’”
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