I once attended a "circus"-themed fancy dress party wearing clown wig and makeup, but with handcuffs and an orange jumpsuit with stencilled numbers and the name "Gacy" stencilled on the back. I was very disappointed to hear only one 21 year old, gorgeous, disaffected thing at that party say: "Hey, cool, Gacy" and move on, probably to score an "E" and dance the night away to some early 2001 trance (I actually can't remember the year or its musical trend, but let's say it was so I can get back on message). The point is, only one of these cool kids knew who the original serial killing clown was, and that's a dirty, crying shame. So today, I introduce you again (or perhaps for the first time) to the other John Wayne - John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
First up, I'm not going to paraphrase the Wikipedia entry on Gacy. While it's an interesting story, it's not interesting for me to rehash it. I want to talk about my recollection of and introduction to Gacy and why I find it an interesting story. Whoever wrote it on Wikipedia did a good job so you can read that first if you want the background.
When I was about 12, I found a book on serial killers on my grandma's bookshelf. In it was a chapter on Gacy that gave the impression that he was a cat who scouted for victims while he entertained local kids wearing a clown costume. At least that was the impression I retained, but it seems that in reality, Gacy's clown era might not have overlapped his KILLING KIDS ERA (not sure why I capitalised that, it just seemed important). At any rate, it seems the clown thing had an impact on Gacy as he painted a lot of clowns while he sat on Death Row.
One of Gacy's clown paintings
Then when I was in early high school, I traded a comic with a kid (probably a Phantom comic from my end, that was all I read in my sheltered and short comic-reading life) and got from him a whacked-out comic about a serial killer who drives an ice-cream van, while dressed as a clown (what a triple-threat). My only recollection of this literature was that it focussed on some sort of revenge/vigilante plot, whereby a parent or someone with a vested interest killed the ice-cream selling clown by stabbing him to death with ice-cream sticks (how's that for poetic justice, Greensleeves?). My mum may have found it and burned that sucker, or I was so traumatised as to throw it out myself, but at any rate, I don't have the comic anymore.
But the seeds of interest had been planted in young David and at about 14 I joined a video store a respectable distance from our house that would let me rent whatever rated movie I pleased (this is where I first rented The Quick and the Dead, then rated MA15+) and I rented the R18+ telemovie To Catch a Killer starring Brian Dennehy as Mr Gacy, the role which won him an Emmy (THE role? I don't know, he could have a truckload of Emmys, I can't check now, my NET is down). Anyway, this was a 95min long movie on video but apparently when it was on TV in the US, it was 360min long, so I guess they cut out 18 subplots and probably most of Mr Dennehy's AWARD WINNING ACTING, cause he didn't set my hair alight in it. Over all, a poor reconstruction of Mr Gacy's work.
What really galvanised my interest was a book I stumbled upon at the library when I was 17 - 'The Last Victim' by Jason Moss. Writing his honours thesis on American serial killers, Moss began writing letters to Charles Manson, Richard Ramirez, Jeffrey Dahmer and Mr. Gacy, all in prison at the time. He would basically tailor his letters to each killer, posing as whatever type, age, temperament each had liked to kill. His letter to Manson came back unopened and replies from Ramirez were nonsensical, but Gacy seemed to take a real interest in him. Moss had posed in his letters as a sexually-confused young man who had begun an incestuous relationship with his younger brother, and even wrote letters in which he pretended to be the abused brother. All this was geared towards piquing Gacy's interest in what could potentially be a new victim. So he continued this pen pal relationship for a long time, until Gacy asked him to come and visit him in prison, even offering to pay for the flights and accomodation. Moss took the offer up and met with Gacy on three instances, for two hours per visit, during which he tried to glean as much as he could about Gacy. Moss assumed the guards would be watching every moment of their visits, but when he arrived at the prison, discovered that Gacy was seen as a minor celebrity in the prison, by prisoners and guards alike. So on Gacy's say-so, Moss and Gacy were pretty much left alone...
I won't ruin what is an excellent read, but I will conclude by telling you a sad piece of trivia I discovered in researching this "article" - Jason Moss committed suicide in 2006, at age 33, a successful lawyer. I guess he really was the last victim.
I realise this essay started out sounding like it would be a light-hearted romp and was really a depressing collection of tidbits about a guy who killed boys and buried them in his basement, but I actually intended it to be a reflection on that period a lot of young men go through, being that time where you read a lot about serial killers. Gacy just seemed to be the one that captured my imagination, a fire that was fanned by Jason Moss' excellent book. And now the revelation of Moss' tragic death has got me thinking about it all over again.