What Was John Wayne Gacy's Childhood Really Like?

John Wayne Gacy was a man with a double life. To the general public, he was a respected member of the community, a successful Chicago-area businessman with a wife and two children. He was active locally with the Democratic Party, and most notably, he entertained children as a party clown. However, what many people did not know at the time was that Gacy was apparently sexually abusing and killing a growing number of victims, most of them teenage boys.

All in all, Gacy was convicted in 1980 of murdering 33 boys and young men between 1972 and 1978, with authorities discovering most of the victims' bodies buried underneath his house. Fourteen years and multiple unsuccessful appeals later, he was put to death by lethal injection on May 11, 1994, his passing celebrated by a crowd of people that assembled outside the Illinois prison where he spent the final years of his life. 

Just like many serial killers who came before and after him, Gacy had a rough childhood. He grew up with an alcoholic father who physically and verbally abused him even into young adulthood, but as he admitted before his execution, he never stopped loving his father despite his violent behavior. Here's a closer look at the trials and tribulations John Wayne Gacy dealt with during his childhood years.

Gacy was abused by his father for being a 'sissy'

John Wayne Gacy was born on March 17, 1942, in Chicago and was named by his father after the famous actor John Wayne, whose name still evokes thoughts of old-school machismo to this day. As documented by A&E TV, the boy's father, John Stanley Gacy, quickly realized that his son wasn't anywhere near the tough guy his namesake was in the movies, reacting by calling him names such as "sissy" and physically abusing him on occasion. It didn't help that the younger Gacy was a pudgy, unathletic boy who was much closer to his mother.

In an interview with CBS, Gacy seemed to blame his later actions on his difficult childhood at home. However, he also admitted that he always maintained his love and respect for his father and never fought back when he was being abused.

"My dad was domineering. He had a different set of values, but also a very stern individual. My dad drank a lot, and when he drank a lot, he was abusive to my mother and to me," he explained. "But I never swung at my dad, because I loved him for what he stood for."

Multiple childhood sexual abuse incidents

In addition to what he regularly dealt with at home, Gacy also claimed to have been sexually assaulted during his childhood years. Speaking to The New Yorker in an interview published one month before his execution, he alleged that when he was five years old, he was fondled and tickled by a developmentally-disabled 15-year-old girl. He explained that when the girl's mother caught her in the act of molesting him, she hit her daughter "several times" as punishment for her actions.

About three years later, Gacy was purportedly abused by another much older individual. He told The New Yorker that in the spring of 1950, when he was around 8 years old, a contractor who was working on a new house next door became friendly with him, inviting him to get some ice cream. After Gacy's mother allowed him to take a ride with the contractor, the man allegedly told him to "bend down and put my head under his leg," which he did for "several minutes."

This routine, where the contractor would sexually abuse Gacy under the guise of showing him some wrestling holds and reward him later on with ice cream, would be repeated two more times before Gacy "ran and hid from him" and told his parents about what happened.

For all his alleged red flags as a father, John Stanley Gacy supposedly threatened to call the police if the contractor ever tried approaching his son again. 

Teenage years and leaving home at 20

During his teenage years, John Wayne Gacy's situation at home was not much different, as his contentious relationship with his father continued. This was also when he first began to question his sexuality, as The New Yorker documented how the young man was "not particularly attracted to girls" and would sometimes have "thoughts of embracing his friends." Gacy had even considered entering the priesthood at that point in his life.

As he related in a written account he provided to the publication, Gacy had just turned 20 when he ran away from home. He recalled feeling defeated at not being able to do anything right in his father's eyes, noting that the last straw came when the older Gacy threatened to take his then-unemployed son's car away.

"I had to pay him $100 a month as part of the money he put up so that I could get a car and by March I had fallen one payment behind," Gacy wrote. "By April, he was threatening to take away the car, so on the sixth or ninth of April, I decided to run away."

NBC News reports that the six-part documentary series John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise premieres March 25 on Peacock.