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Authors: Tim Cahill

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BOOK: Buried Dreams
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So Morrison asked him if maybe, subconsciously or something, he figured he got away with the first one after three and a half years. And when nobody came around asking about that kid, maybe he did another. Then another. Like it got easier after each one, just the way stealing gets easier when you aren’t caught.

That kind of thing burned in John’s brain every night up there in 3 North. He’d play dominoes with the seat-belt guy, watch TV, or play cards with other inmates. The docs couldn’t figure out why he never had nightmares, or remorse. He explained it to them over and over: you can’t have remorse if you don’t know whether you committed the crime. And yet, he could be sitting there watching
The Lou Gehrig Story
on TV and feel tears in his eyes. Never even heard of Lou Gehrig, and he starts to cry.

Just like, some of the inmates would be sitting around playing cards, talking about their trials, how they were going to “walk,” and it was sad. John felt compassion for them, because they didn’t know how the system worked, or because they were really crazy, or because everything was stacked against them. Allan Washington, a black guy, had it tough from the start. Accused of his second child killing, he’d already served a term for the murder of his two-year-old
daughter. The little girl wouldn’t stop crying. Washington was feeding her and she wouldn’t stop. This time they said he beat his three-year-old stepson to death, dumped the body in a field, doused it with gasoline, and set it on fire.

Washington wasn’t going to “walk,” not without John’s help. The black guy was grateful—John offered money and help finding a lawyer—and Allan called John “big brother.”

The thing of it was: how could you think about yourself when everyone had another sad story to tell? Heartbreakers whizzing by at a mile a minute up there in 3 North.

John spent a lot of time in his room working on jigsaw puzzles: those eighty-six-cent Tuco dime store puzzles, twenty-one inches by twenty-one inches, with a thousand interlocking pieces. He liked outdoor scenes, horses. There was one of a cabin in the woods, a river running by, the trees an autumn gold, snowcapped mountains rising in the distance. It didn’t take much to figure out why an inmate liked outdoor scenes. You didn’t have to be a hotshot psychiatrist to realize that what John knew of his life was scattered about in little pieces, like the parts of a puzzle. He was honestly working, working hard, to put them all together so he could see the picture whole, so he could finally and truly understand John Wayne Gacy, Jr.

The puzzles were like therapy. He had to start at the periphery, get the sky first, which was easy because all those pieces were blue, then work his way down into the guts of the picture, matching one piece against the other until the mind went blank and fuzzy. Then, suddenly, when he wasn’t even thinking about it, bam, a big revelation, a couple of pieces of his life slipping together, fitting perfectly, one against the other, just like parts of a perfect puzzle.

He could be fitting in one of the pieces—part blue, part white: the top of the mountain—and suddenly, in his mind’s eye, he could see Allan Washington. And at the same time, he could hear the Old Man going on about niggers, about how they all ought to be sent back to Africa, which was too good for them, anyway. Kill the sons-of-bitches was the best deal.

The Old Man was “racial.” John, sitting there with part of a mountain in his hand, would wonder why he hadn’t become a racist, growing up with John Stanley. Oh, sure, John Gacy, as an adult, would use the word “nigger,” but the way he meant it, a nigger was lowlife, scum. There were
white niggers just as there were black niggers. In fact, John thought he was more likely to give a black guy a chance, a man like Allan Washington, just because he had had it so tough in America: putting up with all that intolerance and shit.

But the Old Man, the way he thought, the South Side of Chicago would be one big pile of dead niggers. And John was just the opposite. It was like—and a couple of the pieces slid together right here—everything the Old Man did or said, everything he stood for, his son was just the opposite. John suddenly saw that it was a way to analyze his whole life, this idea of himself as the Old Man turned inside out, the two of them polar opposites.

Just like the summer John was eleven when the Old Man finally took him fishing. Fishing was one of the important things in life to the Old Man.

He liked fishing so much, it was a sort of affectionate joke around the house on Marmora. Ma even wrote a joke poem about it. It went something like this:

F is for the fish he always catches,

A is for the angling that he does,

T is for the tales he tells about them,

H is for how he hopes for big ones,

E is for . . . some shit, John forgot,

R is for the rowing out to get there,

Put them all together they spell father,

And something something ratta tat tat.

No, wait, E is for his eyes with fishlight shining. Eyes with fishlight shining. John Stanley kept his rods and reels, his tackle box, in the basement under lock and key. Like somebody might want to steal them.

Two weeks a year, on his vacation, the Old Man could go up to Wisconsin to fish. And in 1953, they went fishing together, man and boy. In the Catholic church that John attended, they had a sacrament called confirmation where you became a “soldier of Christ.” It was like officially becoming a man, and you were confirmed at about the age of eleven or twelve. In the Gacy family, being confirmed, becoming a man, meant that the Old Man asked you to go fishing with him.

The women went on their own separate vacation: they took the train down to Springfield to visit John’s aunt and uncle. The menfolk went fishing.

Except that there was a lot of rain that year, heavy midwestern squalls rolling across the lake; rivers and streams dark with runoff making the water muddy; the rain like something out of the Bible, the water pounding down in sheets, driving the fish deep, where they lay indifferent to bait or spoon. The fish waiting out a two-week spate of bad weather that just happened to coincide with the Old Man’s yearly vacation.

“So,” John recalled, “he drank. And the more he drank, the more he figured the rain was my fault. And then, when it was nice, we still didn’t catch fish, and that was my fault. What the hell, an eleven-year-old kid, he doesn’t have the same attention span. If I started to fidget, I was making waves, scaring the fish. And you couldn’t talk. You just had to sit there. And everything was your fault.”

The next year, when John was twelve, the Old Man went fishing alone. John went to Springfield with his mother and sisters. He wasn’t man enough to fish. He would never be man enough to fish with his father.

“Consequently,” John recalled, “one thing I always hated, I always hated fishing.”

Looking back, John could see that Ma’s encouragement, her uncritical acceptance—her mother’s love for an only son—was often expressed in clichés. A young boy doesn’t know these sayings are supposed to be corny. He’s never heard them before, and they settle in his mind and inspire him. “No matter how hard it seems,” Ma said, “you just gotta keep working at it.”

For Ma, things were always darkest just before the dawn. She knew that God worked in mysterious ways but that he helps those who help themselves. Love conquers all. Winners never quit, quitters never win.

While the Old Man was harsh and smart and violent, Ma was fair and accepting but maybe just a little too trusting. Naïve. She thought everybody was basically good; the Old Man figured people would fuck you any way they could. You had to stay one step ahead of them, you had to outsmart them. Trust was weakness.

After the panties incident, there seemed to be no pleasing
the Old Man. Go out to the quarry with
a wagon, bring back over nine hundred pounds of limestone, make a walkway to the house on Marmora, and the Old Man said it wasn’t straight. The Old Man, who spent an hour with a tape measure before he’d hang a picture. “I was never good enough for him,” John recalled. “Never accepted.”

“You tried,” Ma said, “that’s the important thing.”

He was eight when John learned from Ma that he moved his bowels when he was born and almost died. His health problems started at birth. He had never been a strong child, and it wasn’t his fault. Ma said there was a physical explanation for it, just as there was a physical reason for the Old Man’s rages. John had been born with an enlarged bottleneck heart, a serious condition. Baseball, football, any kind of sport at all could kill him just as surely as an argument could pop the Old Man’s tumor.

“So I was a disappointment to my dad,” John said, “because I was weak and he was strong. He hated the weak person. Even in emotions. We’d go to funerals for someone in the family, and he’d never get tears in his eyes. At a party, he’d never laugh. A strong, somber individual. Emotion was a weakness. Physical illness, even when it couldn’t be helped, was a weakness. I remember once he was so sick he couldn’t get out of bed, and Ma finally called a doctor. The doctor said, ‘How long have you been like this?’

“My dad said, ‘Ten days.’

“The doctor said, ‘Why didn’t you wait another day and just call the undertaker?’ And it turned out my dad had pneumonia.”

By contrast, John was sick as long as he could remember. A heart problem from birth; then, at the age of ten, something seriously wrong with the brain. He began passing out for no reason at all.

The Old Man tried to connect it to school. Early on, John attended St. Francis Borgia Grade School, and he feels he truly became a Catholic there, at the age of eight. When the family moved to Marmora Street, John transferred to the public school. That school was different, the teachers assholes, and John began getting failing grades. He couldn’t bring himself to attend classes: he’d walk his sister Karen home for the lunch he was supposed to make while Ma and the Old Man were at work.

Karen and John would take a vote, very democratic, and
decide that the afternoon would be better spent eating puddings and Twinkies that they bought on their lunch money.

John’s parents were called in for conferences, and Ma thought it might be a health problem. The boy sometimes just fell over, passed out for ten minutes at a time. They took him to the hospital a dozen times, and no one could ever tell them just exactly what the physical problem was. Maybe psychomotor epilepsy. Recurrent syncope. Nothing definite, though, no way to explain the symptoms.

The Old Man knew, though: the kid was skipping school when he was healthy, so he was probably pretending to pass out so he wouldn’t have to attend classes. Drawing sympathy to himself. Faking.

“I’d pass out for ten minutes at a time when it started,” John remembered, “then later I’d be out for, oh, half an hour. Even longer. Sometimes they’d find me and no one would know how long I’d been out.” John figured that he spent over a year, all told, in the hospital between the ages of fourteen and eighteen.

“My dad,” John said, “thought it was an attention-getter.”

If it was an attention-getter, why would you pass out when no one’s there? Richard Dalke, a boyhood friend of John’s, remembers looking for him at school one day. Both boys were fourteen. “I went into the office,” Dalke said, “and I asked one of the secretaries, ‘Where’s John?’ She said, ‘He’s in the next office.’ And I went in there and I didn’t see him. I came back into the office and she said, ‘He just went in there five minutes ago.’ So I went back into the office and there was this big desk and he was on the other side, passed out on the floor.”

The fire department was called, and John was revived by paramedics, who took him to the hospital. The Old Man stood in the hospital, telling John to his face that he was faking.

John’s friends—Barry and Ken and John and Richard—never had any doubts about John’s physical problems. “I always thought he was sick,” Richard Dalke recalls. “He had heart problems, and more or less we were around to protect him in case anybody wanted a conflict with him.”

There was no protecting John from the Old Man, though. When the boys were fifteen and sixteen, Dalke saw John Stanley Gacy swing at his son on several occasions. “I can remember once being at the house when his dad came up
from the basement, started swinging and yelling at him, and his mother stepped in, tried to protect him. John would never strike his father. He always just put up his hands and tried to protect himself.”

Dalke recalled that there was no provocation at all. When it happened, he said, “We were usually sitting around talking or just coming into the house.”

It was like a contest of wills between John and his father. Was the boy really sick, or was he looking for sympathy? In 1957, at the age of fifteen, John had his tonsils out. You couldn’t argue with that one. But when he complained of a severe stomach ache and the doctors could find nothing wrong, the Old Man thought he’d scored a point for his side. Except that John’s appendix was placed oddly, back behind the spleen or something. The doctors made a mistake, and when John was in so much pain that Ma finally took him back to the hospital, the appendix had burst and the boy very nearly died. Because the Old Man thought he was faking.

That was one John won.

A year later, in August, the Old Man scored big.

John’s sister Karen thinks it started when “he and dad had an argument. It was something over the car. John walked out. Dad held back the car on him. It was like a punishment. If you don’t do things my way, I’ll take the keys.”

Later that night, John was playing cards with Richard Dalke and Ken Dunkle in Bill Lambert’s basement. The boys had each drunk a beer or two. Richard Dalke remembers that John passed out, fell on the floor. “We called the fire department again and they came to take care of him. We thought he was having a severe heart attack, and somebody called one of the priests from the nearby church.”

Marion Gacy was notified, and she arrived just as the priest was giving her son the last rites. “I wanted to get him to the hospital,” Marion Gacy recalled, “so I took an ambulance over to Northwest Hospital.” John was there for three weeks until the Old Man came to sign him out.

BOOK: Buried Dreams
2.96Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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