CHICAGO | More than 30 years after a collection of skeletal remains was found beneath John Wayne Gacy's house, detectives secretly have exhumed the bones of eight young men who were never identified in hopes of answering a final question: Who were they?
The Cook County Sheriff's Department says DNA testing could solve the last mystery associated with one of the nation's worst serial killers, and authorities Wednesday asked for the public's help in determining the victims' names.
Investigators are urging relatives of anyone who disappeared between 1970 and Gacy's 1978 arrest -- and who is still unaccounted for -- to undergo saliva tests to compare their DNA with that of the skeletal remains.
Detectives believe the passage of time actually might work in their favor. Some families who never reported the victims missing and never searched for them could be willing to do so now, a generation after Gacy's homosexuality and pattern of preying on vulnerable teens were splashed across newspapers all over the world.
"I'm hoping the stigma has lessened, that people can put family disagreements and biases against sexual orientation (and) drug use behind them to give these victims a name," Detective Jason Moran said.
Added Sheriff Tom Dart: "There are a million different reasons why someone hasn't come forward. Maybe they thought their son ran off to work in an oil field in Canada, who knows?"
Authorities also hope to hear from people who came forward back in the 1970s, convinced that their loved ones were buried under Gacy's house but without any dental records or other evidence to confirm it.
In other cases, some potential Gacy victims who had been reported missing were later mistakenly recorded as being found after police received tips that they supposedly were sighted.
So "people may have been told the person they were looking for was located, when in fact they weren't," the sheriff said.
The department is prepared to hear from thousands of people from across the country.
Gacy, who is remembered as one of history's most bizarre killers largely because of his work as an amateur clown, was convicted of murdering 33 young men, sometimes luring them to his Chicago-area home for sex by impersonating a police officer or promising them construction work. He stabbed one and strangled the others between 1972 and 1978. Most were buried in a crawl space under his home. Four others were dumped in a river.
He was executed in 1994, but the anguish caused by his crimes still resounds today.
Just days ago, a judge granted a request to exhume one victim whose mother doubted the medical examiner's conclusion that her son was found under Gacy's house. Dart said other families have the same need for certainty.
Asked about the price of the effort, Dart said the lab is doing the analysis for free, and the costs will not be exorbitant. To not take advantage of the DNA technology would be "somewhat immoral," he said.
For more information, the Sheriff's Department is asking people to go to www.cookcountysheriff.com or call (800) 942-1950.