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Mom asks: Was son misidentified as John Wayne Gacy victim?

Michael Marino whose mother is questioning whether he was victim John Wayne Gacy.

Michael Marino, whose mother is questioning whether he was a victim of John Wayne Gacy.

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Updated: November 10, 2011 10:25AM

Sherry Marino has faithfully visited the grave of her son for more than three decades.

Michael Marino went missing on Oct. 24, 1976, at age 14. He wasn’t positively identified until three and a half years later as one of the 33 victims of serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who would be executed in 1994.

Over the years, though, Marino has had nagging doubts that her son was one of the victims found in the crawlspace of Gacy’s Norwood Park Township home.

“I have always wondered if it is really Michael,” she said.

On Thursday, the North Side woman’s attorney, Robert M. Stephenson, filed a petition in Cook County Circuit Court seeking to allow her to have the body exhumed from Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside. New evidence has raised questions about whether investigators had misidentified the body in 1980, Stephenson said.

“We need to do a DNA test to learn the truth,” he said.

After Gacy was arrested on Dec. 21, 1978, police found 29 bodies of boys and men on his property.

Almost immediately after the grisly discovery, Marino provided dental records and X-rays of her missing son to authorities.

But it wasn’t until March 1980 that investigators publicly identified Michael and one of his friends, Kenneth Parker, as two of the victims whose bodies were found next to each other. They were Gacy’s youngest victims. And they had been reported missing on the same day.

Still, the delay in the identification of her son as a victim seemed odd to Marino.

She also was concerned that the description of the clothing on the victim’s body didn’t match what she thought her son was wearing when he went missing.

In May, Stephenson agreed to work for Marino for free to help her confirm or deny the identification of her son as one of Gacy’s victims.

A review of dental records revealed a puzzling discrepancy, Stephenson said.

The autopsy showed the victim had all of his second molars. But one of Michael’s adult molars hadn’t come in yet, according to a dental chart created about seven months before he disappeared in October 1976.

A dentist told Stephenson it’s unlikely the missing molar would have erupted in the seven months before he vanished. Those teeth typically come in sometime between ages 12 and 13, he said.

The autopsy indicated the victim had a broken collarbone at some point and that it had healed. Marino does not remember her son breaking his collarbone.

Also, the autopsy indicated that the body was white with “possibly some slight to moderate” mixture of Native American, but, according to Marino, her son did not have any Native American heritage.

Asked whether she still holds out hope that her son is alive, Marino said: “I sure do. Always.”

His disappearance has left Marino in limbo.

“My feet don’t touch the ground when I walk,” she said. “I feel like I am in a semi-coma. I have frequent nightmares, and I cry all the time.”

Every two months, she makes a pilgrimage to her son’s grave, taking her daughters, her grandchildren and a few close friends with her.

“We always bring flowers and I pray,” Marino said. “I talk to Michael, and I ask if it is really him.”

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