The Killer Clown Dossier
A filmmaker gathers a comprehensive file on the man who murdered 33.
Posted Apr 10, 2020
Whenever I teach the case of John Wayne Gacy in my course on serial killers, I always add that I despise clowns. Gacy liked to dress up as Pogo to entertain kids. On top of that, he was particularly disgusting in his arrogant demeanor, his deviant desires, and his sadistic treatment of victims. He was arrested in 1978 and charged with the murders of 33 young men, most of whom he’d buried in the crawlspace beneath his Chicago-area home. A successful businessman, he’d convinced neighbors he was just a good guy with a septic problem.
Filmmaker John Borowski is exploring his case. He’s delved into the stories of several famous serial killers, from H. H. Holmes to Albert Fish to Ed Gein, gathering documents and photos into comprehensive collections so interested parties have easier access. He’s also covered people who revel in serial killer culture. Now, he’s tackled the Killer Clown in a new collection of documents, John Wayne Gacy: Hunting a Predator, while working on a Gacy documentary. In previous work, Borowski has shown that he can find seemingly inaccessible items. This project is no different. I expect that his film will also outshine those you might see on true-crime networks.
After investigators found his decomposing victims, Gacy confessed but then blamed an alter personality before retracting what he’d said. His attorney offered an insanity defense based on a compulsion to kill. A number of psychologists and psychiatrists put Gacy through a battery of assessments and offered a variety of diagnoses. The overriding claim during his trial was that he’d experienced an “irresistible impulse” when he killed each young man and, thanks to alcohol, had either blacked out or lost his inhibitions. In short, he’d been unable to control himself.
Prosecutor William Kunkle, Jr. was able to show that Gacy had planned several of the murders and one of the team’s psychologists stated that one couldn’t plan an irresistible impulse in advance. Gacy had also exhibited a sufficiently good memory for the crimes and where he’d placed victims' bodies such that his claim of blacking out seemed unlikely. The jury convicted him.
While investigators searched for bodies, Gacy’s house was torn apart. They looked from attic to basement, dug up the garage floor, and excavated the yard with a backhoe. It was a horror show for everyone involved. To this day, not all of the victims have been identified, although valiant efforts were made.
The Gacy case generated a lot of press, much of it highly sensational. Other sources exist as well, including a book by the attorney to whom Gacy first confessed (Sam Amirante) and Killer Clown, by Terry Sullivan, the Assistant State’s Attorney at the time. But Borowski isn’t offering a step-by-step true-crime narrative. He’s providing raw material from the investigation.
A Chicago resident, Borowski has a good instinct for finding items for cases in this city. “Researching for the making of a true-crime film or book is like detective work,” he says in his foreword. “Ultimately, both are the search for the truth. The definitive truth.” He knew he’d have quite a task wading through the news reports, and he discounts myths and offers real gems in police reports, Gacy’s confession, and items about the grim excavation. Borowski ranks the detective work for this investigation among the best ever done. There were plenty of hurdles, but the law enforcement and legal teams got it done. You can follow the trail, yourself, in these chilling documents. Reading them will take you back to the days before DNA analysis, cyber investigation and other sophisticated tools that we take for granted today.
When people think of famous serial killers, Gacy is usually in the top five. This collection of documents is a valuable addition to the libraries of those who study such cases.
Borowski, J. (2020). John Wayne Gacy: Hunting a predator. Waterfront Productions.