Growing Up with John Wayne Gacy
Gacy was a model prisoner and, despite his decade-long sentence, was released on good behavior after only 18 months. He returned to his hometown of Chicago, where he started a contracting business, remarried and volunteered. But after his second marriage failed, things took a turn for the worse. Gacy began abducting boys and young men, raping and murdering them.
Police didn't suspect Gacy until 1978, when witnesses reported that Gacy was the last person to be seen with a missing 15-year-old boy. Investigators questioned Gacy, who admitted to throwing five bodies into a nearby river and drew a map detailing where more than 25 bodies were buried in a crawl space under his home.
Gacy was found guilty of 33 murders. He received the death penalty and was executed by lethal injection in 1994.
When Gacy was arrested the first time, Karen says he insisted he was innocent, and she believed him. "I stop and think sometimes that maybe if he hadn't been so believable, maybe the rest of his life wouldn't have turned out like it did."
Gacy and his second wife divorced about a year before he was arrested the second time. "Something in their marriage just started to break," Karen says. "He always had a way of pushing people away, and I think that that's what he did. Maybe it was a protection mode for her and the children."
Karen says she was in shock when she got the phone call telling her that her brother had been arrested again. "I just sat there and didn't know what to do. I had to talk to my mother," she says. "We cried and we hugged, and neither of us could believe it because it wasn't the person we knew. He was always good and kind and always taking care of us."
Karen spent Gacy's last day with him, and she says it seemed he was at peace with it. "He said, 'If I have to live in prison for the rest of my life, I'd rather be dead.' He was very calm about what he had said. It's like he was resigned with the fact because he didn't want to live anymore in a constricted area," she says.
Though she loved the brother she knew, Karen says she hates the part of him that committed the crimes. "I had always said to my husband and my family that if any appeal ever worked, I'd see to it that he never walked the face of the earth again," she says. "That's said because I did love him as a brother, but I didn't like anything about what he did. "
Karen's daughter Sheri got married about seven months ago to her husband, Jeff, who says he was let in on the family secret over time. "She was afraid I was going to bolt," he says. "I did a little bit more research and, to me, that shows what kind of strength and character this family has," he says.
Karen says she has no contact with her brother's children. "I tried sending gifts to the children. Everything was returned," she says. "I often wonder about them, but if [his first wife] wants a private life. I think she's owed that. I think the children are owed that."