Chicago-area detectives are using DNA evidence to determine the identities of eight young men murdered decades ago.

The eight were victims of John Wayne Gacy, who was convicted of murdering 33 boys and young men between 1972 and 1978. He was known as the “Killer Clown” because he would dress as one for charity events. Gacy was executed in Illinois in 1994.

Although 25 of his victims were identified, eight have remained anonymous until today. Now the Cook County Sheriff’s Department wants to use DNA techniques unavailable in the 1970s to identify them.

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When the murders originally occurred, the only way to identify a body was via fingerprints or dental records. The unidentified bodies were all of men in their late teens and early 20s, but officials had no dental or fingerprint records and so it was impossible to say who the men were.


Just in case dental records came to light, the pathologists at the time removed the upper and lower jawbones of the unidentified victims. Those bones were buried in 2009. Last week, investigators obtained a court order to exhume the jawbones and analyze the DNA. Of the eight remains, four contained enough material that could be successfully analyzed, but the other four could not. So detectives had to locate the graves where the bodies had been buried and exhume more remains, in those cases femurs and vertebrae.

The DNA used to identify the bodies is nuclear DNA, which is contributed by both parents. That means a match can be made with even a relatively distant relative, such as a cousin. But it still means a relative has to offer a sample to compare. The sherrif's office is asking anyone who reported a relative missing in the 1970s to come forward in the hopes that they get a match.

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Some victims may not have been reported missing. One reason is that 30 years ago, the stigma against young gay men was stronger. (Gacy’s murders often involved luring young men back to his home for sex). And in other cases, the young men could have been wards of the state or had already left home before meeting Gacy. They wouldn't have been reported missing. At the same, other people had insisted their son had been a victim of Gacy, but had no evidence to back.

Now, for at least some, that question can be answered.

Via Associated Press

Image: Bettmann/Corbis