While serial killers themselves are regarded with horror, disdain and are often the target of jailhouse retribution, frequently the scores of victims they claim before their capture don’t rate the same level of attention.
Being both relatively large in number (murderers like the Green River Killer claimed dozens) as well as marginalized members of society oftentimes (prostitutes and runaways are very common serial killer targets), victims of serial killers like John Wayne Gacy often go to clandestine mass graves with little chance they’ll ever be identified or given a proper burial. And much like other serial killers, Gacy was not reluctant to paint his victims as existing on society’s fringes, creating stigma and obfuscating the true circumstances of their death- surviving relatives could fear their loved one being linked in perpetuity to the predator’s seedy acts.
While Gacy’s habit of preying on young teens may have prevented some identifications- eight of the bodies definitively linked with Gacy were never positively ID’d- police hope that now some of the victims’ families will be less wary about coming forward and that DNA advances could give some of the boys a name. Detective Jason Moran has been working on IDing the victims three decades later, and says that the changed social mores may allow for the boys to finally have a voice:
“I’m hoping the stigma has lessened, that people can put family disagreements and biases against sexual orientation (and) drug use behind them to give these victims a name.”
Sheriff Tom Dart says curiosity built up over the years may compel some previously silent kin to come forward:
“There are a million different reasons why someone hasn’t come forward. Maybe they thought their son ran off to work in an oil field in Canada, who knows?”
Stigma notwithstanding, authorities say, now science exists that did not in the intervening three decades. While lack of dental records may have prevented some identifications even for teens that came from loving homes (many were thought to be wards of the state) the advancement of DNA science means that samples taken from bone could precipitate a positive match. Robert Egan, one of the prosecutors who helped convict Gacy explained:
“It’s very conceivable that a kid in his teens didn’t have dental records. There could have been parents who would have loved to have brought in dental records but they didn’t have any.”
Sheriff Dart believes that the chances of all eight unidentified boys getting their names back are slim, but also says he would be surprised if a few did not come through with a positive match.