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Glen Ellyn man, thought to be Gacy victim, found living in Oregon

John Wayne Gacy

John Wayne Gacy

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Updated: January 23, 2012 10:47AM

Ted Szal disappeared from Glen Ellyn 34 years ago and left only one clue — his car, abandoned at O’Hare Airport.

Szal wasn’t reported missing at the time because he had a history of disappearing, then returning.

But as the days stretched into years, his family came to believe he might have been a victim of serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

They even gave DNA samples to be compared to Gacy’s unidentified victims.

The samples did not match. But a simple search on his Social Security number by Sheriff Tom Dart’s investigators found Szal alive and well and living in Oregon.

“My family thought I was dead. That hurt when I heard that,” the 59-year-old carpenter told the Associated Press Wednesday. “There’s a difference between being murdered and running away, and I basically just ran away.”

A Gacy connection seemed plausible: O’Hare is near Gacy’s home in unincorporated Norwood Park Township, and Szal and Gacy could have met through their work in the construction business. Szal worked for a blacktop company.

Szal said he was aware of the Gacy case and had even read books about it. He can understand why some would suspect connections to his disappearance, he said, but it never occurred to him.

“It’s hard to believe he’s alive,” said Szal’s 88-year-old father, also named Ted. He has carried a picture of his son in his shirt pocket since his son vanished 34 years ago but admitted to mixed feelings about the news.

“I’m a little bitter about it,” the elder Szal said. “I don’t know why he didn’t get along with us because we loved him.”

Szal said he had a good relationship with his son when he was younger, but “I think on account of me getting a divorce — it hurt him.”

The younger Szal was 24 when he parked his car at O’Hare, threw his keys down a sewer grate and got on a plane to Colorado Springs. He said he abandoned his relatives after the turmoil of a divorce and a bitter family feud.

He intended to never look back. But it was not easy. Holidays and birthdays were tough, and his wife pleaded with him to reconnect, he said, but he was too stubborn to make the phone call.

“I threw the keys away and I threw my life away 35 years ago,” Szal said.

“I missed them a lot, course I did. But I’m also stubborn. I made up my mind,” he said.

Szal, who lives in Beaverton, Ore., has not spoken with his relatives yet. It’s overwhelming, he said, and he needs to digest the news. He told police they could give his address to relatives, and they will start with letters.

Szal’s cousin, Sun-Times gaming columnist John Grochowski, was a frequent playmate when the two were growing up in suburban Lisle. He was “stunned” to hear his cousin was alive. “We assumed he was probably dead for years.”

Growchowski recalled Szal as an “aggressive athletic type,” and a White Sox fan. As Szal grew older, Grochowski said, “He was having some problems and every now and again he would disappear for a few days. Only this time the few days turned into 30-plus years.”

Now a carpenter, Szal is working on starting a building maintenance business. Finally reconnecting — facing his emotions and his feelings of betrayal — feels like a “horrible weight” has been lifted, he said.

“We’ve had some tough Christmases just because it’s hard not to be depressed,” Szal said. “So this year there’s a little light shining on us now.”

Contributing: AP

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