Twenty-five years ago this month, Illinois closed one of the state’s darkest stories, with the execution of serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Gacy was convicted of the murder of 33 young men and boys, most of them buried in the crawl space or elsewhere on the property of his home near O’Hare airport.
The subject of countless books, television movies, and cable documentaries, just about every angle of Gacy’s life has been explored.
But this week, a new chapter opened in the unlikeliest of places.
“This is really crazy that John Gacy has been in the closet of my classroom,” says Prospect High School teacher Kim Murray. “And no one knew it.”
Murray was doing some spring cleaning in her guided study classroom, which formerly had been the room for the school’s sewing class. In a mirrored closet packed with old papers, she found a document which jumped out, because of its shocking letterhead: “John Wayne Gacy---Execute Justice, not People!”
“Everyone has a story,” she notes. “You know, someone they knew that worked on the case, or knew a kid that got stopped by him, or knew someone who got away.”
Gacy sent the letter in 1990 to a Prospect student who had written to him as part of a school project. In his response, the killer suggested he was innocent, the victim of an inadequate defense and a news media out for blood.
“80 percent of what is written about me is fantasy, theories, and media hype,” the killer said. He warned his young inquisitor that she had been “brainwashed with the media infamous monster image,” and said “the truth and the facts of this case never came out.”
For the young staff of the school newspaper, The Prospector, it was the scoop of a lifetime, right in their own building.
“When she showed it to me, I was in awe,” said junior Ryan Barich, who broke the story this week. “I immediately thought this was a breaking news story.”
He was right. He was writing about a newly discovered Gacy letter, within days of the anniversary of the killer’s execution.
“So I’m talking about, what am I going to do for my first angle---and that’s going to be the lead,” he said. “What he wrote about, and what her reaction is, and finally, how the school reacted to it.”
Journalism advisor Jason Block said his students immediately realized they had a big story.
“Their sixth sense of what is news, it kicked in big time,” he said. “This is high interest, it’s local, it’s everything you want news to be.”
In the letter, Gacy complained about the defense he had received at trial, declaring he should have gone “with my gut feeling and got a defense attorney who would have investigated the case, and not sold me out for the money and the glory.”
He did not explain the bodies found in his crawl space and surrounding property, focusing instead on what he said was a miscarriage of justice.
“The truth and the facts of this case never came out,” the killer declared. “If I am guilty of anything, it’s for being gullible and trusting.”
Ending his letter, the man who was known for preying on high-school aged kids, offered a valedictory of sorts to his student questioner.
“Keep an open mind, stay in school, as education is security for the future,” he said. “Keep your faith in God, and be true to yourself.”