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Gacy had at least one accomplice, two lawyers believe

Serial killer John Wayne Gacy 1978.

Serial killer John Wayne Gacy in 1978.

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Updated: March 11, 2012 8:48AM



Did the “Killer Clown” act alone?

Two Chicago lawyers have re-examined the circumstances surrounding the disappearances of three victims of serial killer John Wayne Gacy — and concluded he probably had one or more accomplices.

Criminal defense attorneys Robert Stephenson and partner Steven Becker took a fresh look at victims Russell Nelson of Minneapolis and Robert Gilroy and John Mowery of Chicago.

The three young men disappeared in 1977 and were among 29 victims found in 1978 on Gacy’s property in unincorporated Norwood Park Township. Four other victims were found in the Des Plaines River. Gacy, a building contractor who performed as an amateur clown, was executed in 1994.

The attorneys said they reviewed Gacy’s travel and work records, which indicated he was out of town when Nelson and Gilroy disappeared. The work records also showed Gacy didn’t have much time to abduct, torture and kill Mowery, the lawyers said.

Stephenson said some relatives of the victims have told him “they would like the investigation re-opened or at least people questioned and then see what the evidence actually is.”

Stephenson said he’s prepared to provide the Cook County Sheriff’s office and other authorities with the names of potential Gacy accomplices. The sheriff’s office originally investigated the murders.

Stephenson said the evidence of possible accomplices is particularly compelling in the Gilroy and Nelson cases.

The attorneys pinpointed the time Gilroy vanished to the hour between a 5 p.m. telephone call to a girlfriend and a 6 p.m. horse-riding appointment he missed on Sept. 15, 1977.

They also found a copy of a plane ticket showing Gacy flew to Pittsburgh on Sept. 12, 1977 and didn’t return to Chicago until 8:28 p.m. on Sept. 16, 1977.

The attorneys said nothing in 18-year-old Gilroy’s background indicates he would have run away, based on interviews with his friends. They believe someone abducted him while Gacy was out of town.

The attorneys also spoke to relatives of Nelson, a University of Minnesota architecture student who traveled from Minneapolis to Chicago with a friend on Oct. 18, 1977 to look at skyscrapers.

The friend told police that Nelson vanished on the evening of Oct. 19, 1977 while they stood outside a bar in Chicago. But Nelson’s mother said the friend later gave her a different account.

Stephenson said he doesn’t believe Gacy could have snatched the 21-year-old Nelson from the street without the friend seeing anything.

Nelson’s mother told Stephenson the friend repeatedly asked her for money. The friend, a 29-year-old carpenter at the time of Nelson’s disappearance, also lived in Minneapolis, but some have speculated he may have met Gacy when the contractor was working a job in Minnesota.

She provided another chilling detail: the friend offered Nelson’s two brothers a job with Gacy.

The brothers and Nelson’s father traveled to Chicago to look for him and met the friend, according to Teresa Nelson, a sister-in-law of Russell Nelson.

“I always thought someone else was involved [with the murder],” she said. “I don’t think they should let this lie... This caused a lot of hurt. I closed myself off to the world for six months. If there was an accomplice, he should be brought to justice.”

Stephenson asked that the friend’s name not be published, but said he would provide it to authorities.

“I don’t know that [the friend] was involved,” Stephenson said. “But I know that he wasn’t telling the truth here.”

Stephenson acknowledged the evidence in Mowery’s case is the weakest in showing an accomplice may have worked with Gacy.

Mowery, 19, disappeared at 10 p.m. on Sept. 25, 1977 after having dinner at his mother’s house. He was scheduled to work the next morning, Stephenson said.

Contractor records show Gacy was at a job in Michigan at 6 a.m. on Sept. 26, 1977 and was in Michigan until Sept. 30, 1977, Stephenson said.

“No one ever questioned Gacy’s meticulous records,” Stephenson said.

Stephenson said he doubts Gacy would have the time to abduct, torture and kill Mowery in the narrow time frame between Mowery’s disappearance and Gacy heading to work in Michigan.

Stephenson said other evidence points to accomplices, too.

After he was arrested in 1978, Gacy told officers: “Who else do you have in the station? There are others involved.” He was asked, “Directly or indirectly?” and responded, “Directly. They participated.” He was asked, “Who are they?” and responded, “My associates.”

Also, Gacy told police he got the idea of putting his victims on a “torture board” from Elmer Wayne Henley, a Texas serial killer. Henley was an accomplice of Dean Corll, who killed at least 28 boys and young men. Henley killed Corll and is now serving a life sentence.

“Gacy was a copycat,” Stephenson said. “And he was copycatting a killer who used accomplices.”

Additional evidence Gacy may have worked with accomplices includes the testimony of Jeff Rignall.

Rignall said he was lured into Gacy’s black Oldsmobile in March 1978. He said he was drugged, tortured and raped in Gacy’s home, then dumped in Lincoln Park.

Rignall tracked down Gacy and went to the police, who arrested him. Gacy was awaiting trial in the Rignall case when he was arrested for the bodies in his crawlspace.

Following Gacy’s arrest, Rignall said he believed someone else was in the house when he was tortured. He said lights were going on and off while Gacy was torturing him; he heard other voices; and at one point woke up to see a man in front of him while Gacy was behind him.

Rignall has since died, Stephenson said.

Stephenson said he became involved in the Gacy case in early 2011 after agreeing to help the mother of victim Michael Marino investigate her nagging doubts that her son was one of the bodies recovered from Gacy’s property.

A dentist who performed the original body identifications re-examined X-rays of Marino’s mouth and said he’s certain the victim was Marino. Stephenson would not comment on the next step.

Also last year, the Cook County Sheriff’s office launched an investigation to determine the names of Gacy’s eight unidentified victims. In December, Sheriff Tom Dart announced one of the bodies was identified through DNA testing as 19-year-old William Bundy, a North Sider who disappeared in 1976.



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