First, Rachel shares the horrific tale of John Wayne Gacy, the killer clown. Then, Emily takes on a lighter story and shares information about the Champawat Tiger, a tigress that killed 463 people in the early 1900s.
Trigger Warnings: Child Abuse, Sexual Assault, Sexual Assault of a Minor
Story 1 – John Wayne Gacy
Buckle up, Buttercup, because I’m about to tell you about the OG killer clown, John Wayne Gacy.
Although, let’s not get it twisted. In John Wayne Gacy’s mind, being the clown was just for funsies. He didn’t kill people dressed as the clown. But it’s still gross.
I did my due diligence for this one, which is one of the reasons it’s going to be so long. I watched a documentary on Peacock called “John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise” and I read parts of a book called “Boys Enter the House,” which has a lot more details about the victims, so I couldn’t resist. And of course, all of my sources will be linked in the episode notes.
John Wayne Gacy was born on March 17, 1942 in Chicago, IL, and yes, he was named after THAT John Wayne. Papa John wanted his boy to be a manly man, and John Wayne Gacy just wasn’t. He was more sensitive, closer to his mom than his dad, and overweight. And, this is one of those moments in which we have empathy for the kids but we don’t excuse the adult for his choices. John Sr. started verbally and physically abusing his son, calling him “Sissy,” as well as many other inappropriate and mean names.
Gacy’s sister would describe their father as a Dr. Jeckel and Mr. Hyde kind of character, being abusive primarily when he was drunk (which was often), and she said that John got the brunt of their father’s abuse, with Papa physically abusing John Wayne Gacy to toughen him up because he thought he was soft. John Wayne Gacy also had a heart condition, leading to special treatment at school – he couldn’t play with the other kids, which led him to feel alienated at school and at home.
Before I get more into his childhood, I feel compelled to share a couple of important tidbits about John Wayne Gacy. Number 1: He is off-putting. He looks like your neighbor; a little nerdy, and the mustache isn’t doing him any favors – but his voice was surprising to me when I watched the documentary. It’s a solid tenor with a midwestern accent. I believe it’s why the documentary is called “Devil in Disguise.”
Number 2: John Wayne Gacy is a liar. He has different stories for every person. So, any time he self-reported about his life or his victims, we have to take it with a grain of salt. He was boastful as well, which got really annoying after about 6 hours of watching him on my TV.
Back to his childhood – Gacy would say that he craved the approval of his father. He wanted his love and respect, and spoiler alert: it didn’t go well for him.
When John Wayne Gacy was around 8 years old, a contractor working in the neighborhood started getting close with the family. He groomed Gacy and Papa John, making sure to get parental consent to take little John Wayne Gacy to get some ice cream. The contractor would allegedly drive around with Gacy, and then ask the child to “bend down and put my head under his leg,” which would happen for multiple minutes. Gacy did not elaborate, however obviously this is horrible. This abuse happened multiple times, with the contractor sometimes showing Gacy wrestling moves and then getting him ice cream.
Eventually, John Wayne Gacy did tell his parents about the abuse, and his father allegedly threatened the man physically and also said he would call the police if he ever came near his son again. I wish he had gone to the police, but I’m sure there was some shame associated with any sort of homosexual behavior at the time, although through a modern-day lens we get to say that the issue wasn’t the homosexuality, it’s the pedophilia.
At age 14, John Wayne Gacy got hit in the head with a swing at a park, adding to what Last Podcast on the Left often calls the “serial killer stew.” We’ve got all the abuse, and now we’ve got a head injury. Also, during puberty, he started questioning his sexuality. I don’t know if this is a reflection on his relationship with his dad or just the shame that would have come at the time, but Gacy never refers to himself as “gay.” He identified as bisexual. I think he probably favored men to women, only because he never killed females – every single one of his victims were male, and his crimes were often sexually motivated.
At age 20, he ran away from home, stating later that he didn’t want to deal with the shame of being a disappointment to his father, but I’m guessing his budding psychopathy was a factor as well. Apparently, he was paying his dad $100 a month for his car, but he fell behind on the payments due to unemployment, and his dad threatened to take the car away.
In 1964, John Wayne Gacy met his first wife, Marlynn Myers. They got married after 6 months of dating, which I can say from personal experience is not a great call. They moved to Waterloo, IA, because Marlynn’s father owned a couple of KFCs, which he allowed John Wayne Gacy to manage.
Okay, does he not have the face of a manager of a KFC? I don’t know why, but he has that look about him.
In 1966 the couple welcomed a son and in 1967 they welcomed a daughter. John Wayne Gacy seemed to be living the suburban dream. He was pretty involved politically and worked hard to be connected to people in power – he was described by multiple people in the documentary as being a “braggart.” He made connections by being a member of the Jaycees.
I see an “Ignorant Bitch Amendment” coming soon to a podcast near you, because I still don’t fully understand what that Jaycees are. Apparently, it’s an organization devoted to helping people develop leadership skills so they can serve their communities. But John Wayne Gacy used it to play kiss-ass to politicians and others in power; and by the by, he recruited people to join the Jaycees by hosting stag parties. He was all, “hey boys, let’s all watch porn together!”
The ’60s were a weird time.
Anywho, John Wayne Gacy was named the Jaycees “Man of the Year” in 1968 and was even running for president of their local Waterloo IA chapter until it came out that he had sexually assaulted a 16-year-old named Donald Vorhees. Donald was the son of an IA state representative, and that representative did not mess around with getting Gacy charged. Of course, the big fat liar said that the sexual assault of this minor was consensual, and that Donald Vorhees was just trying to blackmail him, so John Wayne Gacy hired other youths to intimidate/beat up Vorhees. Regardless, he was sentenced to 10 years in jail in IA, the maximum sentence allowed at the time. The same day he was sentenced: December 3, 1968, Marlynn took the kids and left.
Ready for Exhibit A of his budding psychopathy? John Wayne Gacy was unphased to pleading guilty to sodomizing a child and subsequently losing his family. He was living his best life in jail. He was the prison cook and the president of the Prison Jaycees. It was all fun and games until his father died. John Wayne Gacy allegedly had a lot of guilt about this, thinking that his dad was finally proud of him until he went to jail. John Wayne Gacy thought the shame he had caused his father killed him.
Obviously, John Wayne Gacy’s mom was grieving with her husband dead and her son in jail. She was unable to take care of herself at this time, so Mama Gacy rallied and helped John get out of jail after only serving 18 months of his 10-year sentence.
So, John Wayne Gacy moved back to IL to take care of his mom, leaving his sodomy charge in IA because police didn’t feel the need to communicate with other officers across state lines, even though the Iowa State Psychiatric Hospital had diagnosed John Wayne Gacy as a “sexual psychopath” and stated that there was no cure for him – noting that he would offend again.
But alas, John Wayne Gacy got a job as a chef, taking care of his mom and doing side jobs: he painted and did work on houses and eventually started a contracting business. He was so busy that he never thought to contact Marlynn or his children, which was honestly probably better for them anyway. Eventually, John Wayne Gacy convinced his mom that they needed more space, so they bought the House of Horrors – 8213 West Summerville – with Mama Gacy’s money.
By the end of 1971, John was engaged AGAIN, this time to Carole Hoff, who was a friend of Gacy’s sister and a mother of 2 girls. But in January of 1972, the bungalow in the working-class neighborhood of Des Plains, IL was about to get a lot more crowded.
John was drunk driving around after a holiday party on January 2, looking for god-knows-what. He had the house to himself, as his mother had stayed the night with other family after the party. He came across 16-year-old Tim McCoy at a greyhound station. Tim had a tight-knit extended family, though his parents were recently divorced, and he was traveling from Lansing, MI where some of his family lived, to Omaha, where his dad lived, by way of Chicago. Tim was adventurous and independent, getting his good manners from his mom and his quick wit from his dad. He was a free spirt – he had dropped out of high school, he had a fake ID, and he even attended Woodstock when he was 14 years old.
He had been hitchhiking for years, so when John Wayne Gacy rolled up and asked Tim if he wanted a ride, the teenager probably thought nothing of it. They went back to John Wayne Gacy’s house, at which the sexual predator offered the child high-proof alcohol, getting them both schnockered. By all accounts, Tim was straight – one source I read said he may have even had a girlfriend in Florida, where his mom lived, but John Wayne Gacy claimed the pair had consensual sex and fell asleep, promising to take Tim back to the greyhound station tomorrow when they were sober.
Remember, John Wayne Gacy is a liar. Also, you can’t have consensual sex with a 16-year-old when you’re an adult.
The next morning, Tim woke up early, excited to get back home. He put 2 plates on the kitchen table and started cooking up some bacon and eggs. Tim came into John Wayne Gacy’s room, most likely to wake him and tell him about the breakfast. Tim was holding a knife, you know, as you do in a kitchen when you’re cooking breakfast. He had probably just forgotten to put it down, but Gacy’s psychopathic brain perceived this as a threat. Then he wrestled the knife from the 16-year-old, getting cut on the arm in the process. He stabbed Tim repeatedly, and when the teenager stopped breathing, John Wayne Gacy came in his pants.
John Wayne Gacy would say this was self-defense. But if he believed that, it is incredibly odd that he chose to bury Tim McCoy’s body in the crawl space underneath his house. His body would not be identified until 1988, via dental records.
When John and Carole got married, Mama moved out to give them some privacy, and by all accounts, John Wayne Gacy was a great stepdad. But their marriage had issues. John shared with Carole that he was bisexual, which she struggled with. Also, John was always hanging out with young boys. He said that he hired them because they were cheap labor, and he could get them green and teach them how to do contracting in the way he wanted them to. But he also opened his home to them, buying them weed and alcohol, and even allowing a couple of them to move in with him and Carole at different times. A couple of years into their marriage, he would start disappearing in the middle of the night, and eventually, John told Carole he didn’t want to have sex with her anymore. Carole filed for divorce in 1975.
And this brings us to John Wayne Gacy living at 8213 W. Summerdale, with no wife, however 2 of his 20-something-year-old employees, Mike Rossi and David Cram lived with him at different times. John Wayne Gacy enjoyed owning his contracting business with seemingly unlimited access to young boys, and engaging in his side hustle as Pogo the Clown.
I’m not going to go more into the clown shit than that. He wasn’t dressed as a clown when he murdered anyone as far as I know, and as scary as I find clowns, I find John Wayne Gacy overall scarier, so that’s enough spooky for one story.
On July 31, 1975, 18-year-old John Butkovich decided to confront John Wayne Gacy. He had been working as a contractor for Gacy’s company, but it had been 8 months since he quit, and John Wayne Gacy had yet to give the boy his final paycheck. The boy bravely went to John Wayne Gacy’s house, where John Wayne Gacy, using his midwestern charm to disarm John, invited him inside. There, he offered John some alcohol, then showed the teen his handcuff trick.
John Wayne Gacy was not a fit man – he had a heart condition and most of these boys were strong teenagers – they were working as contractors. So, to disarm his victims, he would get them drunk or high, then ask them if they wanted to see a magic trick. John Wayne Gacy would cuff his own hands behind his back and then quickly get out of them. Then, he’d put the handcuffs on the boy, and after watching the kid struggle for a minute with the handcuffs, he would ultimately ask John Wayne Gacy what the trick is. With a flat, cold demeanor, John Wayne Gacy would answer, “the trick is, you have to have the key.”
John Wayne Gacy tricked John Butkovich into putting on the handcuffs. He then raped the boy, sat on his chest, strangled him, and killed him, eventually burying his body under his garage. He left John’s car in a parking lot, with his keys and wallet sitting on the front seat.
John Butkovich’s parents knew that he set out to confront John Wayne Gacy about money, and they weren’t buying that their son had just run off. They called the police at least once a week for almost 2 years, asking them to investigate John Wayne Gacy in their son’s disappearance, but police didn’t care about a runaway teenager, and they never followed up.
This was the start of a spree, and listen, it’s going to get worse. Francis “Wayne” Alexander moved to the suburbs of Chicago in February of 1975. He got married and divorced quickly, and when Wayne’s family didn’t hear from him, they assumed he just didn’t want to talk with anyone. They never submit a missing person request, and his body was found under John Wayne Gacy’s crawl space with the others, however he wasn’t identified until October of 2021, through a DNA match with a potential relative on a genealogy site, Golden State Killer style.
On April 6, 1976, 19-year-old Darrel Samson’s mother filed a missing person’s report. She said Darrel would never be gone for more than 24 hours with no explanation, but of course, the police thought this was another teenager runaway. But actually, Darrel had run into John Wayne Gacy, who invited the teen to his home to go over details of a construction job. John Wayne Gacy brutally murdered Darrel, who was a hard-working kid planning to marry his girlfriend in the near future. Darrel’s mother searched for him endlessly, and he was eventually found underneath John Wayne Gacy’s dining room floor.
About 3 weeks later, on May 13, 1976, Samuel Stapleton vanished during his walk home from his sister’s house in Chicago. Samuel was a tough kid – his family was from a Chicago neighborhood called “Uptown,” and the day they moved in, Samuel tracked down the toughest kid around and challenged him to a fight. He beat the shit out of him, and then the kids became friends, which I find precious. That part of Chicago was filled with hard-working families, generally lower socioeconomic status, and they did not trust police. Later, when the body’s were discovered under John Wayne Gacy’s house, Sam’s bracelet was found on one of the bodies. It was confirmed to be Sam via x-ray on November 14, 1979. Sam was 14 years old.
The next day, 15-year-old Randy Reffett disappeared. He was Sam’s friend, and the boy he bested during that fight I just told you about. He had a tough home life – he watched his step-grandfather shoot and almost kill his mother and stepfather. When they moved to Uptown, Randy was often out roaming the streets with the other youths, but he was consistent about calling home to his mother, Myrtle, to let her know he was safe. But on May 14, 1976, Randy didn’t call. His body was found in the crawl space under John Wayne Gacy’s front door.
17-year-old Michael Bonnin went missing on June 3, 1976. I couldn’t find as much about Michael’s life, but a safe assumption is that he enjoyed fishing, as his fishing license was found inside John Wayne Gacy’s house after the fact. Michael was strangled, and his body was found in the crawl space.
June 13, 1976 was Billy Carroll’s brother’s birthday. He was a bit of a trouble-maker, but he promised his dad that he would be home in time to celebrate that evening. His dad watched Billy get into a dark-colored car with a few other youths, and Billy disappeared forever. Billy was friends with Randy and Sam, and the boys worked out at the YMCA together regularly. His body was discovered under John Wayne Gacy’s crawl space, and, like his friends, his identity would not be confirmed until 1979.
16-year-old Jimmy Haakenson was ready for a fresh start. In August of 1976, he had died his brown hair blonde, walked into his kitchen, and proudly announced to his mother that he was leaving their home in Minnesota and moving to Chicago. Ah, the 70s. He had disappeared for extended periods of time before, but he always came home. Jimmy called his mom on August 5 to let her know that he had made it safely, and that was the last she heard from him. His mother reported him missing about a month later, stating to the police that she worried he was “in the company of gays in Chicago.” It wasn’t until 2017 when one of Jimmy’s nephews decided to provide DNA to the Chicago police that Jimmy was identified as one of John Wayne Gacy’s victims – almost 40 years after the 16-year-old had disappeared.
I want to throw out there that I am going through these victims chronologically as they went missing, but also that I’m only going through the identified victims. There were others that have yet to be identified, and hopefully something like this happens, in which a relative provides DNA, so their families can finally find peace.
On August 6, a day after Jimmy Haakenson’s mother heard her son’s voice for the last time, 17-year-old Rick Johnston’s mother experienced the same fate. She dropped off her son at the Aragon Ballroom for a concert. Rick told his mom he would call her when the concert was over – he saw the band “Spirit” – but the call never came. Rick was a suburban kid who had recently shown an interest in religion, so for 2 years, his parents genuinely thought he had joined a cult. They even went to some gatherings of the Unification Church, trying to pick their son out of the crowd of worshippers. Like so many other families, they received closure in 1979, when Rick’s body was confirmed by dental records to have been in John Wayne Gacy’s crawl space.
19-year-old Bill Bundy was a bright kid from Uptown. He was an accomplished diver and gymnast, and he had been recently working construction. There are some rumors that he had worked for John Wayne Gacy, but I didn’t read that confirmed anywhere. In October of 1976, Bill told his family he was heading out for a party, but he left his wallet at home. 35 years later, his siblings provided DNA, and Bill’s body was finally identified as one of John Wayne Gacy’s victims. Unfortunately, his parents were not alive at the time of Bill’s identification.
Kenneth Parker had been in some trouble. At 16-years-old, he was already on parole for car theft. Like so many other victims, his family moved to Uptown from Kentucky to try to give their children more opportunities. On October 24, 1976, Kenneth was hanging out at a restaurant with his friend, 14-year-old Michael Marino. This particular restaurant was on the intersection of Clark and Diversey, a common hunting ground for John Wayne Gacy, and both boys disappeared that day.
They were found in a shared grave in the crawl space, though Michael Marino’s mother has adamantly denied that the remains are that of her son. She states that he was wearing different clothing, and his DNA didn’t match his sister’s, nor did it come back 100% Italian, which they are. Michael Marino was identified by dental records in 1980, but his mother still believes that the body buried with Kenneth Parker was not her son.
On December 11, 1976, 17-year-old Gregory Godzik left his house to go on a date with his girlfriend, Judy Patterson, but never made it to pick her up. Greg was a sweet kid and a hard worker. He played hockey, but was generally easy-going outside of the ice. He drove a ’66 Pontiac that he was trying to fix up – his pride and joy, and he let Judy pierce his ear with a silver star, which became part of his signature look.
And Greg worked for John Wayne Gacy. His car was found abandoned, which family and friends knew was completely out of character, and his family was so concerned they hired a PI. Judy went to John Wayne Gacy’s house to question him about where Greg was, and John Wayne Gacy said that Greg had come to him and said he was going to run away. Greg’s body was found in John Wayne Gacy’s crawl space and identified in January of ’79. During John Wayne Gacy’s trial, he chillingly stated that Gregory Godzik had dug his own grave.
Fuck that guy.
On January 20, 1977, John Szyc disappeared at 19-years-old. John, called Johnny by his family, was our type of kid. He was responsible, getting up early for a paper route every day when he was only 10. He loved animals, and would regularly bring stray cats home. As a teenager, he got a job at Animal Kingdom, a local pet store that sometimes-housed big cats, including Tina the Tiger. John sometimes got into the cage with a lion or tiger, which is mom absolutely hated. Friends remember his kind smile and a general innocence he had about him.
Toward the end of high school, he started to come into his sexuality, engaging in drag and encouraging young men he dated to try the same. He didn’t really drink or smoke, but he did attend some parties and it seems everyone just loved him. But friends started to feel concerned before he disappeared. He started telling some friends that he had met another man named John who had been making him promises, like that he was going to buy him a fur coat and take him to Florida. John liked that this older John had money and connections to find him work.
His friend Lynn didn’t want him to meet up with “Florida John,” as she called him, but we know that John Wayne Gacy was incredibly manipulative and would tell young men anything to get their guards down. In December of 1978, almost 2 years after John Szyc disappeared, his class ring was found in John Wayne Gacy’s home. John’s body was found in the crawl space and he was identified through dental records in January of 1979.
Jon Prestidge, a 20-year-old from Kalamazoo MI, seemed to be trying to figure out who he was. He had traveled to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, but decided in March of 1977 to stop in Chicago and stay with a friend for a while, with his goal of making it to Colorado to go skiing. While in Chicago, he found work with a contractor to make ends meet. On March 15, 1977, John left his friend Roger’s place to get a haircut and meet another friend for coffee at the Oak Tree Restaurant.
His friend dropped him off near Bughouse Square, as John said he needed to make some cash. At the time, Bughouse Square was a place in which men leaving gay bars would cruise for a hookup. It was also a place that John Wayne Gacy was known to offer young men money for sexual favors. When Jon Prestidge never returned to Roger’s, Roger called Jon’s family in MI to let them know. He also placed a photo of Jon in “Gay Life Magazine,” hoping that someone would recognize his friend and help him get home safely. Unfortunately, that never came, and Jon’s body was identified in January of ’79, one of many in the crawl space under John Wayne Gacy’s home.
By July of 1977, 18-year-old Matthew Bowman’s family had already experienced tragedy. His stepfather had been murdered in a carjacking 2 years prior. On July 5, 1977, Matthew’s mother dropped him off at the commuter train station – he had to go to court for a parking ticket. He went to his appointment, and called his mom at 11am to let her know he was going to visit his sister in the city. Around 7pm, he told his sister he’d head home, and he disappeared. His body was identified in January of 1979, buried in John Wayne Gacy’s crawl space.
Robert Gilroy’s family lived 4 blocks from John Wayne Gacy. 18-year-old Robert was the son of a police sergeant, and he was passionate about horseback riding. On September 15, 1977, he had a horseback riding lesson, and he was due for a horseback riding camp on September 27 in Maryland. He didn’t show up for either. His father searched himself, as well as filed a 40-page police report about his missing son. His body was identified on January 6, 1979.
A lot of the research I did talked about how John Wayne Gacy would target boys who were degenerates or that “less dead” population we’ve talked about before, but honestly it feels like these boys were loved so much and immediately missed.
In the same week that Robert Gilroy disappeared, 19-year-old John Mowery let his family know he was going out for the evening, only to disappear forever. John had just served 18 months with the marines. His family, like the Bowmans, had seen tragedy. When John was 14-years-old, he discovered his sister’s body. She had been stabbed to death, and he found her with 3 puppies cuddled against her, which is just about the worst thing I’ve ever heard.
All of these stories are tragic, and of course I saw pictures of the victims. John Mowery’s picture struck me, because his smile is absolutely contagious. He just looks like a person you would want to be friends with. After John came home from the marines, he got a job working at a bank and was living with a friend named Mike. On September 25, 1977, John had dinner at his parents’ house, grabbed an umbrella, and headed out into the rain for a night on the town. His body was found in the crawl space and identified on January 27, 1979.
On October 14, 1977, 21-year-old Russell Nelson called his mom to wish her a happy birthday. That is the last time any of his family heard from him. Russell was from Minnesota, and was traveling via van with a friend named Robert. They had heard of a contractor in Chicago who could give them work, and as far as anyone knew, they would hang out there for a while. At some point in October – I couldn’t find exactly when, but after he called his mom, Russell and Robert went out on the town to drink and dance – it was disco, obviously.
Russell was an amazing dancer – he had even won some competitions back in Minnesota. Robert would later say that while the 2 were out together, they were distracted by a group of people passing by, and when he turned around back to his friend, Russell was gone. Robert immediately alerted Russell’s family, who filed a missing person’s report. An ad was also run for Russell in Gay Life Magazine, a plea for information about the missing youth. His body was found in John Wayne Gacy’s crawl space and identified on January 6, 1979.
In November of 1977, 16-year-old Robert Winch ran away from a foster home in Kalamazoo, MI, and ended up in Chicago, possibly ultimately trying to end up in California. Robert had had difficulties at home with his five siblings, as well as in the foster home. He was known to wear a “tiger’s eye” belt buckle, which was found in John Wayne Gacy’s home. His body was identified on September 12, 1979.
20-year-old Tommy Boling had been struggling with addiction. In November ’77, he had a warrant out for his arrest for burglary and he told his mom he’d been receiving threatening phone calls at his apartment. He menacingly told her that if she hadn’t heard from him in 24 hours, she should call the police. Tommy was married and had a 3-year-old son. He went to a bar on November 18, 1977 and never came home. Tommy’s wedding ring was found in John Wayne Gacy’s house, and his body was found in the crawl space, with his identify confirmed September 12, 1979.
David Talsma was a 20-year-old who was planning to go to a concert in Indiana December 9, 1977. He was planning to meet up with a lady after the concert, but he never made it, and it’s iffy whether he made it to the concert at all. David had previously volunteered with the Marines, and he was active-duty when he died. David’s body was recovered from John Wayne Gacy’s crawl space on November 16, 1979, which would have been his 21st birthday.
William “Billy” Kindred was well-kempt and hard-working, qualities he got from his mom. He was an ultimate mama’s boy, even tattooing her initials on his arm – L.W. for Lola Woods. Like so many other families in this story, losing a son or brother to John Wayne Gacy was not their only tragedy. Billy lost his 10-year-old brother, Michael, to drowning, something that surely stuck with him throughout his short life. When Billy was 16, he moved back to Chicago to live with friends, possibly trying to get away from the tragedy that occurred when he lived with family in Illinois.
He dropped out of school and worked to support himself, painting, fixing up houses. He and his best friend Danny got into some big-kid trouble for stealing a car, so they did what any 16/17 year-olds would do – boarded a bus to California! Danny ended up getting arrested in California, but Billy headed to Florida, where his mom was living at the time. Mom convinced him to head back to Chicago, and ultimately, because of white privilege and homophobia (they had robbed a man they claimed tried to lure them in for sex), they were only sentenced to 90 days in jail.
By age 19, Billy was dating a teenage girl Mary Jane, and the two were good for one another. He was kind to her, respectful of her family, and it seemed he was done getting in trouble. They wanted to get married, but Billy was looking for a way to support Mary Jane and their future kids. And wouldn’t you know it, he met a contractor who was willing to hire him. On February 16, 1978, Billy told Mary Jane he was going to go meet with the contractor, and he never came back. His body was found in the crawl space, and his identity was confirmed on May 21, 1979.
On March 20, 1978, John Wayne Gacy picked up Jeffrey Rignall, enticing him to get in the car by offering him a joint. Jeffrey was a young gay man, however he was in a committed relationship, and probably got into the car just for the weed, as would most young people in the ‘70s. In a weird turn of events, Jeffrey survived and told his story to everyone who would listen, so we may have a blueprint of what John Wayne Gacy did to his victims, and it’s extraordinarily graphic. You’ve been warned.
When Jeffrey got into the car, John Wayne Gacy put a rag over his face and Jeffrey passed out. When he work up, he was wrapped in chains, suspended from John Wayne Gacy’s ceiling. For days, he was beaten, drugged, and raped, only to be dropped back off around where he was picked up, wearing only pants. Jeffrey went to the police, but he had been drugged and didn’t know all the details of his attack. And because he was gay, police dismissed Jeffrey’s report, thinking it must have been consensual.
But this fucking hero didn’t give up. He and his partner went back to his abduction spot whenever they could. He rented a car, and finally, after weeks of waiting, he saw John Wayne Gacy and wrote down his plate number. You’re going to love this – John Wayne Gacy was out on Parole at the time for more sexual assault. But because Jeffrey was, and this is a quote from his boyfriend in the documentary, “just another butt-fucker,” his claims were never taken seriously.
So many lives would have been saved had police arrested John Wayne Gacy then.
On June 30, 1978, 20-year-old Timothy O’Rourke disappeared after spending the evening at gay bars with some friends. Tim had the name “Tim Lee” tattooed on his arm, apparently because he was a HUGE Bruce Lee fan. On that June evening, his girlfriend, Donita, remembers that he went to get cigarettes but didn’t come back. Unfortunately, I don’t know that much more about Tim’s life – I know that John Wayne Gacy’s sleezy lawyer used the rampant homophobia of the ‘70s to blame Tim for being at gay bars in the first place – you know, because being gay means you are engaging in dangerous behaviors. Sam Amirante, the lawyer, also came after Donita, because she was trans. Tim’s body was pulled out of the Des Plains River.
Dale Landingin, whose real name was Frank, was another prankster and ladies’ man. He too came from a low-income family and was known for stirring up trouble. He had a traumatic childhood, suffering abuse at the hands of his father, and he had many brushes with death – including almost drowning and being saved by his grandmother, but seemed to have the ability to avoid it… until November 4, 1978. Dale was 19, and had been working with a youth corps, mostly cleaning up parks and working as an usher at the movie theatre, trying to figure life out.
He and some friends tried to find all sorts of ways to get money – and similarly to Billy Kindred and his friend Danny, Dale tried to ingratiate himself with an older gay man so the other friend could steal from his apartment. Or vice versa – but this was a thing, apparently. Unfortunately, Dale also struggled with relationships. After being physically and possibly sexually abused by his father, he repeated these patterns with girls he was interested in. Just a quick plug from your friendly neighborhood therapist – go to therapy to change generational patterns! Dale continued partying with friends and making money under the table from older gentleman, getting into their cars and getting paid for sexual favors before the men went home to their heteronormative lives.
It’s likely that Dale got into John Wayne Gacy’s car, hoping to make a quick buck, because he disappeared on November 4, 1978, and his naked body was found in the Des Plains River on November 12, and police would some of Dale’s things in John Wayne Gacy’s home. This is horrible so trigger warning – Dale’s cause of death was asphyxia. John Wayne Gacy stuffed a pair of underwear in Dale’s throat.
On November 23, 1978, 20-year-old James “Mojo” Mazzara disappeared after spending Thanksgiving with his family. Before he disappeared, he told his sister that he was working in the construction industry. His body was found in the Des Plains River, and he had been strangled.
John Wayne Gacy’s last victim was 15-year-old Robert Piest. Robert was a middle-class kid, an honors student who worked at a pharmacy. On December 11, 1978, Robert’s mom came to pick him up, and he asked her to wait inside while he chatted with a man about a construction job. Spoiler alert: It was John Wayne Gacy. He convinced the teenager to get in the car with him, stating that the paperwork for the construction job was at his house. Robert got into the car, letting Gacy know he could fill it out quickly, but he’d have to get home soon, as it was his mother’s birthday. Robert was very close to his family, and would have never missed the celebration, but he was optimistic about this job, because he was saving up for a car.
Murdering Robert Piest was John Wayne Gacy’s downfall. He was immediately missed, and his family knew that he was in the company of a contractor, and police tracked down Gacy quickly. Fucking finally. They got a warrant to search John Wayne Gacy’s house, but the warrant was to find Robert Piest alive, which of course they didn’t. However, they did find a roll of film (remember film?!?!) with a phone number on it. They also found John Szyc’s class ring, 2 drivers’ licenses that were not John Wayne Gacy’s, a bunch of porn, and a couple of sinisterly named books: “The Gay Love Letters,” and “Pretty Boys Must Die.” Obviously, this is all suspicious, but they didn’t have any bodies, so they had to let Gacy back into his home.
And in case you’re wondering, Gacy dumped Robert’s body into the Des Plaines River, and his body was recovered and identified on April 9, 1979.
At this point, police decide they are going to start tailing John Wayne Gacy, because they were still trying to find Rob Piest. Gacy immediately realizes he’s being tailed and he pulls an Ed Kemper and decides to be besties with the cops. He sends them beer at a bar, invites them into his home for meals, and is all-around cocky.
This is a good point to remember that Gacy was a pillar in the community. He was part of the Democratic Precinct and had multiple political connections. And, he was a clown, back before people were scared of clowns. Plus, he threw huge parties at his house, and he was a local business owner.
Oh, what’s that? His jail time for sexually assaulting a minor? Well, my sweet chinchillas, no one knew about that particular felony because it happened in Iowa, and Gacy was living in IL. But finally, the cops were able to get ahold of those records. It wasn’t stellar police work until a middle-class white kid went missing, but I will give them this – all of the records, in-state and out of state, were handwritten.
Police surveilled Gacy for 10 days. They talked with a couple of youths who worked for him and lived with him on and off, Michael Rossi and David Cram, and they let it slip casually that some of the work they did for Gacy was at his home. Digging trenches under his house. You know, to make holes for drain pipes.
Police also find the owner of the phone number on the receipt they found during the search of Gacy’s house. It’s a girl named Kim Byers. She had written her phone number on a receipt and slipped it into Rob Piest’s pocket, because she liked him and wanted him to call her. An-almost smoking gun – Rob Piest had been in Gacy’s home.
And the final nail on the coffin? Gacy invited police officers in to warm up and pee on one of their last days of surveillance. It was a cold day in December, and when the heat kicked on, one of the officers caught a whiff of the unmistakable scent of death. A chill must have run down the officer’s spine as he remembered John Wayne Gacy’s off-the-cuff remark earlier in surveillance; “Clowns can get away with murder.”
At this point, Gacy was starting to panic; he was giving away his possessions to youths – mostly porn and weed, and Michael Rossi told police that Gacy confessed he killed 33 people and was going to attempt suicide. Police arrested Gacy on December 12, 1978 – not on murder yet, but they had him on a pot charge, so it would do for now.
Finally, they were able to get another warrant, and this time, they brought shovels. They found so. Many. Bones. It started with 3 left femurs. It wasn’t only Rob Piest down there.
Overall, there were 29 bodies found under John Wayne Gacy’s house, and another 4 were pulled out of the Des Plaines River. Of course, Morbid Curious and news crews were there as the crawl space was dug up – they brought lunches, which I stan as a hypoglycemic bitch.
Gacy drew investigators a map of what he disgustingly called his “burial ground,” and all the pieces were coming together. John Syzc’s car, his pride and joy, was in Mike Rossi’s possession, as Gacy said that the teenager sold it to him, when in reality he gave a boy, he favored the car of a boy he killed.
Many families of victims came forward, noting that they reported their sons missing, just to be dismissed by police and told their children had run away.
Even after confessing, Gacy tried to plead insanity, saying that he didn’t commit the murders; Jack did. It probably didn’t help this idiot that police had found a book in his attack about the criminal justice system and the chapter about the insanity defense had been bookmarked.
At the trial, 22 of the 33 victims had been identified. Now, there are 4 remaining, although John Wayne Gacy told one of the officers that the number could have been as many as 45. I firmly believe that he killed people in Iowa, but we may never know.
The jury deliberated for 2 hours, and John Wayne Gacy was found guilty on 33 counts of murder and sentenced to death by electric chair. Of course, his stories continued to change, he filed multiple appeals, and as most morbid curious know, he started a little painting business from prison.
On May 10, 1994, John Wayne Gacy was executed by lethal injection, which was new in Illinois and did not go well. At this point, it was a series of 3 shots, not just one, and it took 18 minutes from the first
Story 2 – Champawat Tigress
Now before I dive into the meat of my story – I want to give you a little information about tigers. Yes, tigers. Bear with me.
Here are some fun facts. Tigers are native to Asia, and most tiger subspecies are now endangered thanks to unrestrained hunting, poaching, and habitat disruption. As of 2021, there are only between 3062 and 3948 tigers left in the wild. And three of the 10 subspecies are already extinct.
Tigers are 70% muscle mass and weigh anywhere from 300-600 pounds. They have three-inch claws and seven-inch teeth. They’re extremely smart and naturally predatory. They can run 40 mph for sprints! They’re twenty times stronger than the average human and have a bite force of 1050 psi. For reference, the average human bite force is between 120-160 PSI… a rottweiler has a bite strength of like 300-400 PSI. So, this ferocious beast is quite the predator.
What do they eat? Well, in the wild, they eat a variety of prey ranging in size from termites to elephant calves. A lot of time they are hunting things like moose, deer species, pigs, cows, horses, buffalos and goats. In zoos they eat beef, chicken, pork.
And although they are normally terrified of humans, every once in a while, they discover the vulnerability of people, lose that fear and realize these big, tailless monkeys are so easy to catch. And then they eat people.
Not every tiger is a man-eater – not even close. No exact numbers for this behavior exist, but estimates are that only 10 to 15 of the animals become persistent predators of humans each year.
Those tigers claim around 50 lives per year – mostly in South Asia, and they take more lives than any other cat in the world. Which is such a relief since I currently live with three cats. Interestingly, there used to be many more deaths each year when it came to people killed by tigers – around about 2,000 each year which is a 97.5% decrease. Sadly, the numbers have sharply decreased in recent years because of the declining populations of tigers in the world.
But back in the day… in the late 19th century and early 20th century, there was a female Bengal tiger that did a LOT of damage. She came to be known as the Champawat Tiger and she killed an astronomical number of people over the course of just 4 short years.
Today, I’m going to tell you this story.
It started in the late 1800s – this was a time when big game hunting, hunting for trophies, was allll the rage. Men went out into the jungles with the purpose and goal of killing a tiger. Oh they were just hard as rocks thinking about killing a damn tiger. They loved it.
But not every tiger shot at was killed; some survived with injuries.
It is believed that the Champawat maneater was shot on its face, leaving it with broken upper and lower canine teeth on the right side, which meant that she was not able to hunt her usual prey. So, she turned to hunting easier prey. Instead of her usual wily, quick prey, she noticed that delicious, fat-rumped HUMANS were much slower, less aware of their surroundings and just in general ill-equipped to fight a fucking tiger.
In 1903, that small village in western Nepal was just minding their own business, leading their peaceful lives, when a villager was ruthlessly mauled and killed by a tiger. This was of course extremely tragic and frightening for the locals, but this was something that occasionally happened, so they mourned the loss and then tried to get back to their normal life.
Unfortunately, things were far from normal. Suddenly another villager disappeared, then another, and another. It was horrible to see these people disappearing – and the times when they did see one of the disappearances, they found that the tiger that was attacking was doing it broad ass daylight and with seemingly zero fear of people.
She gave NO FUCKS.
So, they finally figured out that it was a Bengal tigress that was attacking the townspeople. And soon they were in the double digits when it came to the number of deaths. And, since you can’t just accept that a tiger is going to snatch the women and children of your town whenever they get close to the forest, hunters from around the region attempted to track the tigress down.
They had no luck. Even though she was boldly strutting out of the forest and snacking kids left and right, she seemed to vanish when hunters were on her tail. She evaded all attempts to hunt her.
As these hunts were going on, she pretty much laughed in the face of danger – ha ha ha ha – and continued her killing spree. In fact, she honestly started to enjoy herself and get a real TASTE for murder, because she stopped eating all of her kills and started just snatching people and killing them and then leaving their corpses laying around. Rude.
Eventually, the death toll reached 200 people and the village had no choice but to seek the help of the government. The Nepalese Army arrived in the region, and even they were unable to capture or kill the cat. Their next idea was to scare the cat away. They would gather a TON of people and arm all of them with drums, firing rifles, and other loud things and then they’d walk through the tigress’s territory and make as much noise as possible.
Basically, they wanted to drive her away and shockingly enough this crazy idea worked. The tiger’s attacks stopped… but, it was not because she died. She simply left her homeland and crossed the border to continue her bloodlust.
Now, she had grown a bit in her skill by now – she learned. Which is slightly terrifying.
She moved into the Kumaon area of India and immediately began her ruthless killing spree again, killing indiscriminately but with cruel cunning. She was exceptionally good at avoiding hunters and traps and would employ an array of tactics to cover her tracks. For instance, she would move around from place to place in order to stagger her attacks and remain unpredictable, never attacking in the same place twice and often traveling 20 miles in a single night in order to hit another village and move on.
The attacks were so unpredictable and covered such a wide range of far-flung villages that no one ever knew when she would strike next… so basically, every lurking shadow potentially held death.
And, people were freaking TERRIFIED. And what often stems out of fear? … RUMORS start circulating.
There were some who said the tigress had the ability to vanish without a trace, others claimed that she was bulletproof, and soon she was being whispered about as not a regular tiger, but rather a menacing supernatural creature. Like one of those Twilight werewolves…
One article I read said, “The [people] had become veritable refugees in their own homes, stalked by a specter that seemed able to kill them at will. The entire countryside was paralyzed, as no one knew where or when the tiger might strike.”
Large bounties were offered for the tiger, and some of the best big game hunters in the British Empire were sent to the region to come away empty-handed. For years the death toll mounted and the Champawat Tiger pretty much seemed like it would never be vanquished. And eventually she was responsible for an estimated 436 deaths including men, women, and children.
People were just cowering and hiding behind locked doors and hoping the vicious beast did not come for them.
In 1907, four years after the mauling began, the people of this region were getting desperate. So, a man named Charles Henry Berthoud, the deputy commissioner of Nainital, approached an Irish colonist by the name of Jim Corbett . Jim had lived in the hills of Kumaon his whole life and was well known as an expert on the jungle and master hunter of big cats. Apparently, he killed his first leopard at the tender age of 10. The Tiger Woods of Tiger killing if you will.
So, Corbett agreed to take up the challenge under some conditions. First, he wanted the bounties stopped, and second, he insisted that all other hunts for the tiger be called off while he worked, due to the fact that he felt that being classed as a hunter for bounties was below him, and furthermore did not want other hunters interfering in his hunt. The government agreed to these conditions and Corbett went about preparations to venture out into the wilderness to slay the demon tiger.
It did not take long for Corbett to come across signs of the tiger’s wrath. He came across a village and at first, he thought it was a ghost town, but then he realized that everyone was just hiding inside. There had been a recent attack and they were all so afraid.
Corbett looked around but instead of finding a tiger, he found the half-eaten leg of a woman. Yuck. And although he stayed in the general vicinity, the tiger was like “yeah, no” and refused to make an appearance.
So, Corbett decided to head for the nearby village of Champawat (eh, eh, did you hear that name? the tiger was named after this village because it was kind of the epicenter of the tiger’s territory). When Jim arrived in Champawat he had the “luck” (question mark) to have arrived pretty much immediately following an attack. A 16-year-old girl had just been dragged into the forest and that left a trail of blood into the trees that were still fresh. With a gun in hand and several locals as hunting companions, he stalked off into the wilderness following that trail of blood.
The trail of blood got more gruesome as it meandered through the dim forest, turning up splinters of bones, pieces of torn clothing and flesh, but they could not locate the beast.
Frustrated, Corbett decided to try a different tactic, gathering together a group of around 300 villagers, who formed a line and began working their way through the area beating on drums, pots and pans, shouting and screaming as loud as they could, headed for a gorge ahead. So they were trying to push it into a “corner” so to speak.
And in the corner – or, actually, at the mouth of the gorge, Corbett had set up a blind, and he lay in wait with his rifle trained at the tree line ready to fire at whatever came through. He did not have long to wait, as soon he saw (as he said) “a striped apparition, too fleet to be real, erupting from the shadows.”
The big cat was running right toward him and Corbett fired a shot. Missed. Second and third shots? Hit! But, the tiger didn’t really slow down! Maybe it really was bulletproof!? Then the fourth shot was an empty cartridge and he was in quite a tricky predicament so he literally had to run over to a friend and grab his gun and just as the tiger got to be about 20 feet away from Corbett he fired the friend’s gun and bang. Direct hit. The giant beast came crashing to the ground.
The unstoppable demon tiger was finally vanquished.
When word got out that the tiger had finally been killed there was cause for celebration all throughout the region, and Corbett was hailed as a savior. He even went on to hunt down more than 30 other dangerous leopards and tigers including the infamous leopard known as the Thak Man-Eater.
After a while, though he actually started disliking the idea of killing these magnificent cats, and eventually became heavily involved in tiger conservation. He spent the last two decades of his life lobbying for their protection, which is quite sweet. He would die in 1955 at the age of 79 and have a tiger refuge named after him.
And although he worked hard at tiger conservation and was a best-selling writer in his later years, Corbett is still mostly known as the one who brought down the Champawat Tiger, which still has a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the highest number of confirmed human kills for her species.