An Examination Of A Killers Mind English Literature Essay




John Wayne Gacy: An Examination of a Killer’s Mind


It is worrisome how a man considered as an upstanding and law-abiding citizen could turn to a beast and murder thirty-three young boys. Gacy was a man highly capable of functioning in the society and maintained a career for himself as he acted as his family’s breadwinner. However, behind this socially accepted man lay a beast that sheltered a chilling secret. The question is what led him to commit all these atrocities. Perhaps he may have been genetically predisposed to be a killer or his environment could have made him become such a horrendous person. However, all these factors determine why he became a killer. The exploration of Gacy’s personal life (background) will shed light to the reasons for the crimes he committed and understanding of the theories that have been advanced regarding his character.


Family background

John Wayne Gacy was born of John Stanley Gacy and Marion Elaine Robinson on 17 March 1942 in Norridge, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. He grew with two sisters in the same house. Until the age off 11, Gacy attended a Catholic School but later joined a public school. Albeit being viewed as an obedient student, Gacy never completed high school. Gacy’s life at his early ages was difficult. The saying "Like father, like son" may hold true for Gacy. On a literal view, this could be one of the reasons for Gacy’s downward spiral towards murder. Stanley was strict and abusive and though of himself as a perfectionist. Furthermore, he was an introversive alcoholic who kept to himself, albeit being quick tempered. He believed that sparing the rod was spoiling his child. Gacy, on the other hand, despite being belittled by his father, he always wanted to please him. Stanley always kept telling Gacy what a disappointment he was and always referred to him as a stupid mama’s boy (Linedecker 12-16).

Gacy’s mother was a hardworking pharmacist with whom Gacy liked spending much of his time. However, his father taunted him and told him he would end up being queer in life. To protect his son, Marion covered up and withheld secrets from Gacy’s father so that he could not harm his son (Canadian Press 1). At nine, one of his father’s friends started visiting their home and took Gacy with him in his truck. His father’s friend was victimizing him, but he was afraid of telling his father since he thought that his father would conclude that he was queer. As he grew up, Gacy started lying to his friends about his sex life since he felt insecure. He had fantasies about how life would be in the arms of other boys. However, he never spoke that out because his father had spoken of his hatred of homosexuals (Sullivan and Peter 19)

Professional and Criminal Background

Gacy got his first salary at the age of fourteen after acquiring a job as a delivery boy in a local supermarket. Before then, in his mid teen years, he got interested in police and volunteer work. He started a civil defense squad at high school, and he had a sense of acceptance and belongingness among his fellows. Later after, Gacy got involved in politics and volunteered to work as a volunteer in one campaign office for one of the local candidates. Later after, Gacy joined a local church and formed a dance club, which he called Chi Ro Club. This was like his father who also liked organizing social events. This portrayed Gacy as a social person who wanted to fit among his peers. At this age, he is believed to have had the best days of his life since he could associate well with the people around him. At nineteen, Gacy engaged in a huge argument with his father and this made him drive way from home. He found a job at the Palm Mortuary where his curiosity on dead bodies grew. Three months later, Gacy got in a run-in with his boss and quit his job. His boss had raised suspicion after he found several corpses unclothed. Gacy went back home and enrolled into a local business college. Later in 1963, he acquired a job in Nun-Bush, a shoe company when he was twenty. At this time, he became a manager in the company and things looked bright. Gacy moved into his maternal aunts home where life was easier than at home. Later in that year, Gacy joined the Jaycees, a Junior Chamber of Commerce. He acquired high social status within the club and earned recognition and respect he always needed. Gacy married Marlynn Myers in 1964 and the same year, he got his first-born. Gacy was offered a managerial job by Marlynn’s father to manage several Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets. Everything in Gacy’s life was excellent, and he was living at the top of his life (Nash 234-239).

Gacy’s life changed in 1968 when he was arrested and charged of sodomy. He was found to have sodomized Donald Voorhees, a young employee of the KFC outlet, which he managed. During this trial, several other employees gave witness of the assaults Gacy had committed on them. After considering all the evidence forwarded by the young men, the judge sentenced Gacy to 10 years imprisonment at the Iowa State Reformatory for Men (Silerman 88-89). On the day, the sentence was passed, Marlynn filed for a divorce, and Gacy would never see his children again. During his time in prison, Gacy’s father died, but Gacy was never notified until several months later. Gacy was significantly annoyed by this. After serving eighteen months in prison, Gacy was released from prison because of his good behavior. He moved with his mother and acquired a job at one of the restaurants in Chicago. While working at the restaurant, Gacy was fixated on Jack Hanley, a police officer who was everything Gacy was not. Gacy considered Jack as an image of his father. Gacy would later exploit Jack as his scapegoat for the murders he had committed. In 1971, Gacy took to odd maintenance jobs and showed interest in construction jobs at Bruno. He later on opened a business, which he named PMD. This business grew rapidly, and within a few months, it was significantly successful. After being successful in his job, Gacy decided to move out of his mother’s house and started living alone. He moved into a rancher style home in Des Plaines, Illinois on 8213 West Summerdale drive. While living here, Gacy married a former high school acquaintance called Carole Hoff. Carole started raising suspicions after she started recalling rancid orders from under the house. Gacy covered this up by claiming that the smell was because of the dampness of the house. This new marriage started deteriorating once Gacy started bringing young men to his garage late at night (Nash 19).

According to Gacy’s testimony, the killings started with the murder of Tim McCoy on January 3, 1972. Gacy had picked the boy from the Greyhound bus station in Chicago. After brining him home, they had sex and later went to bed. Gacy recalled that, in the morning, the boy tried to attack Gacy with the knife. During the struggle, Tim McCoy fell on the knife and died. In Gacy’s testimony, he claimed that he had some form of sexual release after the death of this boy. In the next six years, Gacy lured several other victims in different ways. In some cases, he posed as Jack, the police officer. In other cases, he promised the victims drugs and alcohol. His victims ranged from employees of his business to runaways and street hustlers. In 1976, police started surveillance on Gacy’s house after a male prostitute went missing. However, the surveillance bore no fruits (Giuseke 29).

Gacy’s link to missing young men went unnoticed for two additional years. However, in December 11, 1978, the police figured out that all the evidence directed towards Gacy after Robert Piest, a fifteen-year-old boy as reported missing. The police force decided to set up a severe surveillance on Gacy. Throughout the next couple of days, Gacy’s acquaintances were interviewed and interrogated on what a man they thought Gacy was. Basing on the statements given by acquaintances, a search warrant was issued. Gacy was later arrested while passing a bag full of marijuana, which instigated a thorough search on Gacy’s house. During the search, police discovered twenty-seven bodies of young men in the crawlspace under the house. According to witnesses, Gacy had arranged the bodies neatly under each room. Gacy later gave the locations of seven additional bodies bringing the tarry to thirty-four bodies. Gacy was arrested and his trial begun on February 6, 1980. After the presentation of the different portraits of Gacy over a period of six weeks, the trial was concluded. After one hour and fifteen minutes session of deliberation, the verdict was guilty. The same jurors who had passed the verdict deliberated for the sentencing and within two hours, they gave their verdict as death through lethal-injection. For fourteen years, Gacy waited on death row while painting portraits of himself as a clown, writing and doing correspondence. He was executed on May 10, 1994 (Silverman, 89).

Reasons for his Crimes

The abusive nature of his father can be used in explaining why Gacy turned to be abusive. As already mentioned, there might be hereditary factors that play significant roles in determining a person’s character. Regarding this, some Gacy’s acts of violence and rage may be traced back to his father. John sr. was a strict and controlling individual and established the family rules. The wife and the kids were supposed to adhere strictly to the laws set. Deviance of the laws would lead to punishment and physical abuse. Gacy, on the other hand, did the same thing with his victims. He expected them to obey everything he wanted done. In case the victims failed to comply, Gacy would go into rage, torture them aimless and then murder them. This is like his father who would physically abuse his children if they failed to comply with his rules. Like his father, Gacy also had a strong desire for success. John sr. worked as a machinist and provided for the family in the best way a man could. Gacy, on the other hand, needed the same social success like his father. Both of them seem to have a lot of likeness for recognition and public success, although both hid dark secrets behind their success. With John sr., it was alcoholism and domestic abuse while with Gacy; it was the murder of innocent young men. Through the examination of these factors, it can be conclude that some personality traits are heritable. Both individuals exhibited extreme rage and violence that would be directed on others leading to physical harm (Sullivan and Peter 45).


One of the most basic theories advanced in explaining Gacy’s nature is the Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. Each person has his/her needs that are ranked according to their essentiality in the hierarchy. The needs include security, psychological fulfillment, esteem, social achievement and self-actualization (Larsen, 335). The home conditions for Gacy were made difficult because of his father’s abuse and alcoholism. This deprived Gacy a stable and secure environment. Gacy’s father has set standards for him, but because of a heart condition he had, he could not achieve them. His father ridiculed him constantly. This led to lack of acceptance and lowered his esteem. Additionally, for fear of being disowned, he kept his sexual desires and orientation to himself. This has been theorized as one of the reasons behind the crimes he committed. It is apparent that he wanted to live his life openly, but was afraid that the discovery of his sexual orientation would lead to a loss of his new acceptance. Based on his struggle with sexual identity, Gacy engaged in sexual activities with men although he would regress to how his father loathed and would treat such homosexual orientation.

Neo-Freudian and antisocial personality disorders are two other theories that can explain Gacy’s nature. According to Neo-Freudian theory, an ego that is damaged at childhood may lead to the overpowering of Id, which takes control and manipulates the behavior of an individual (Larsen 340). It can be argued that John sr. damaged Gacy’s ego through belittlement and ridicule to the point of worthlessness. Gacy tried to prove his worth through his different achievements and success he accomplished in life. After the death of his father, Gacy felt that he could satisfy his fantasies and needs in the absence of his tormentor. This led to Gacy satisfying his homosexual desires and revenging for the abuse he had gone through as a child. According to the antisocial personality disorder theory, a person with the disorder is extremely charming and manipulative as well as cold and calculated. According to the testimonies given by his acquaintances and victims, Gacy thrived through manipulating and controlling his victims through false promises. This is evident in one of the testimonies where Gacy tricked a victim that he was a magician. Convinced, the victim let Gacy handcuff him and tie a rope around his neck although he was let go. In Larsen (342) explanation, a person suffering from this disorder shows no remorse for his/her atrocities. This is true with Gacy who was eager to boast to the police about the murders he had committed. In his testimony, Gacy explained how he had murdered his last victim his last victim, Robert Peist. While he was killing him, the phone rang, and he answered it calmly. Afterwards, police came to do a check while he was putting the body in the crawlspace, but he showed no knowledge of Peist. In all most of his testimonies, Gacy maintained that his victims killed themselves. He also maintained that he was not a homosexual, a lie that could be proved by the number of male victims he had. After every murder, Gacy functioned ordinarily in the society acting as if murder was another one of his jobs. Gacy maintained control over his victims since he was the dominant personality. According to this theory, people will maintain their calm even after committing the most heinous atrocities (Larsen 340).

Personal Opinion

In my view, it is highly difficult to assess John Wayne Gacy. Although several theories have been advanced regarding Gacy’s character, I believe that he is a man of multiple personalities that make his assessment hard. Many of the theories still do not portray Gacy’s accurate and consistent psychological profile. Although the antisocial personality disorder theory shows some inconsistencies, I still believe it is the most appropriate theory that can be used in explaining Gacy’s case. Some of the inconsistencies I found include the capability of Gacy to love care and associate. According to the theory, a person suffering from antisocial personality disorder is incapable of loving and dealing with interpersonal relationships. Nonetheless, many other characteristics fit into Gacy’s profile. Gacy is almost a real life Jekyll and Hyde. He was known as a thoughtful, considerate, kind and devoted man, but others considered Wayne as a violent, psychotic and sexually pervasive man. Regardless of my analysis, Gacy remains as a puzzle to me. I still do not understand how such a socially acceptable person could let himself be ruined. Perhaps, it is time parents who practice poor, violent and abusive upbringing reconsidered their style. In my observation, poor, abusive and violent upbringing ruined Gacy’s life. Gacy deserved the death penalty considering the suffering he brought to the families of the victims.


John Wayne Gacy, being born of an abusive father, had a tumultuous childhood. He was ridiculed, belittled and physically abused by his father. This violent background, as observed, set the pace for the events that led to the death of thirty-four innocent young men. Although Gacy seemed to have a perfect social life, he hid a heinous secret. From the discussion, it is evident that Gacy was suppressing his pain. This is evident from the first job at the mortuary where several unclothed bodies were found before he quit his job. During his early days in crime, he molested and sodomized a young man at KFC outlet. In committing the crimes, the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs explains that he was trying to satisfy what was deprived of him in his childhood. On the other hand, the antisocial personality disorder theory shows how Gacy carried out his cold, calculated actions through manipulation and control. The neo-Freudian theory explains how, through the damage of his ego, Gacy’s Id took control of him.