Whatever Happened To John Wayne Gacy's Parents?

The horrors unearthed from the crawlspace of a suburban Chicago home in 1978 revealed the sadistic nature of one of the most notorious serial killers in the history of the United States. What began as a police inquiry about a missing teenage boy on December 11th culminated in a search for his body in the crawlspace of a house belonging to John Wayne Gacy (per Biography). Expecting to find the body of 15-year-old Robert Piest, investigators began to find multiple bodies in various states of decomposition. Altogether, Gacy is believed to have murdered at least 33 young men and boys between 1972 and 1978. 

What might be unsettling to some is that every monster is born into a family. Gacy was raised by both his mother and father in a working-class home in Chicago, Illinois. John Stanley Gacy and his wife Marion Elaine (Robinson) Gacy may have appeared on the surface to be the typical American family from the 1940s. They didn't know at the time, but the quiet and sickly child that they were raising was going to grow up to make national headlines as a prolific killer.

John Stanley Gacy was a WWI vet

John Wayne Gacy was born on March 17, 1942, the middle child sandwiched between two sisters (per Bustle and YouTube). His father named him John Wayne after the Hollywood actor who gained fame playing alpha male archetypes in numerous war and western films. If the elder Gacy had any hopes that his only son would be as masculine as his namesake, they were quickly dashed during the younger Gacy's childhood. A&E reports that the younger Gacy was not the athletic type and was often referred to by his father as a "sissy." 

Gacy's father was born in 1900, the third of five children born to Polish immigrants to Chicago (per Find a Grave). He served in the United States Army during World War I, and later became a machinist in the civilian world. He married Gacy's mother in 1939, the couple giving birth to their first child later the same year.

A&E tells us that the Gacy household was marred by the elder Gacy's violence toward his wife and son. As a child, Gacy would be berated and sometimes physically abused by his father in the basement of the home, sometimes because of his father's frustrations for Gacy's clumsiness and his perceived lack of masculinity. Gacy's father spent a lot of time in the basement drinking, sometimes emerging and inflicting violence on Gacy's mother. During one episode, he knocked out some of her teeth after striking her during one of his alcohol-fuelled rages.

There may have been some undiagnosed mental illness with the elder Gacy, paired with the violence and alcoholism. The New Yorker reports that his family would often hear him in the basement, speaking to himself in different voices.

During John Wayne Gacy's first prison sentence, his father died

John Wayne Gacy defended his father from the way that the media had portrayed him, in a 1994 interview with The New Yorker. Though the elder Gacy was, according to his son, an alcoholic, he was not the "monster" that the press had turned him into. He did admittingly state, however, that his father had a mean streak in him when he was drunk. In his own words, Gacy said of his father that "he was Jekyll and Hyde when he drank. If he came up from the basement and said the walls were pink, you said the walls were pink, but you learned to stay away from him and keep your mouth shut at the dinner table."

Gacy was arrested in 1968 in Waterloo, Iowa for sodomy. He was sentenced to prison. While he was incarcerated, his father passed away on Christmas Day, 1969 (via Find a Grave). Gacy was hoping to attend the funeral but he was not allowed to.

John Wayne Gacy's mother was his only source of nurturing

The Gacy family matriarch was born in Racine, Wisconsin on May 4, 1908 (per Find a Grave). Gacy's relationship with his mother, Marion, was much more functional. Though she once caught Gacy dressing in her underwear and threatened to publicly humiliate him if he did it again, she was otherwise supportive of her only son, as Bustle notes.

After Gacy was released from prison for a sodomy charge in 1970, he moved back to Chicago to live with his recently widowed mother (per The New Yorker). While working as a cook in a restaurant, Gacy began to develop a side hustle as a contractor. The two lived in an apartment building, and most of Gacy's original customers were residents of the building in which the two resided. 

Marion Gacy continued to be supportive of her newly paroled son, even helping him craft a name for his new business venture. According to Gacy, she was partially responsible for the anacronym P.D.M (Painting, Decorating, and Maintenace) that Gacy used to promote his business.

Gacy shared his murder house with his mother

Soon after, Gacy's business began to grow. He was running out of places to store all of his tools and supplies, as the apartment the two shared was beginning to get cramped. The mother and son decided to purchase a home together in Norwood Park, a suburb of Chicago. They moved into the home in August 1971 (per The New Yorker).

Gacy's first known murder victim occurred while he and Marion lived in this new home, only months after the pair moved into it. On January 3, 1972, Gacy lured 15-year-old, Timothy Jack McCoy, away from a local Greyhound station. He stabbed the boy twice in the chest and buried his body in the infamous crawlspace underneath the Gacy house (via The Chicago Tribune). At the time, Marion was away from the home, staying overnight with her sister.

Gacy and Marion lived together in the house for a year, before she moved into her own apartment. Gacy was preparing to get married and was laying down roots in the very home that would yield nearly three dozen bodies several years later. He married Carol Hoff, the newlyweds staying in the Gacy home with her two daughters from a previous marriage.

Marion Gacy died in 1989

In 1975, Marion Gacy moved to Arkansas to live with her daughter, as The New Yorker reports. At one point that year, she fell and broke her hip, prompting John Wayne's wife, now Carol Gacy, to travel to Marion's new home to help care for her during her recovery. While Carol was away, Gacy killed a young man that he employed through his contracting business and buried him in the crawlspace.

After Gacy's December 1978 arrest for multiple murders, he was sent to trial. Marion Gacy was called by the defense as a witness. While on the stand, she recalled the years of serious physical and emotional abuse that her son suffered at the hands of his alcoholic father. Her testimony didn't keep the jury from sentencing her son to death by lethal injection. And, she died in Arkansas on December 14, 1989, more than four years before Gacy's execution (per Find a Grave). 

Marion and John Stanley Gacy are both interred at the Maryhill Catholic Cemetery in Cook County, Illinois. Their son opted to not be buried near them, in what might be seen as a semblance of respect for his family. During his interview with The New Yorker, he stated that he was "not going to be buried with my mother and father like some people have written because I don't want no one desecrating their graves." Gacy was cremated, his ashes reportedly given to one of his sisters.