The family knew him as “Wayne,” and the last they saw him, he was a young man in the mid-1970s — with his hair slicked-back and grinning beneath a wide mustache.
Four days ago, the North Carolina family learned that Francis Wayne Alexander died 45 years ago in one of the country’s most infamous string of murders, one of six bodies still unidentified in the crawlspace under John Wayne Gacy’s home in suburban Chicago.
Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart announced Alexander’s newly revealed identity Monday after extensive DNA research that began with a tooth. Though he did not identify Alexander’s hometown in his Monday news conference, he thanked Harnett County’s Erwin Police Department for its cooperation.
“It is hard, even 45 years later, to know the fate of our beloved Wayne,” said his sister Carolyn Sanders, in a statement released by Dart’s office.
“He was killed at the hands of a vile and evil man. Our hearts are heavy and our sympathies go out to the other victims’ families. Our only comfort is knowing this killer no longer breathes the same air as we do.”
Who was Francis Wayne Alexander?
Alexander would have been 21 or 22 at the time of his death.
Cumberland County birth records show a Francis Wayne Alexander born in Manchester township on March 11, 1955. A man who appears to have been his father, Edwin Hollister Alexander, was a Korean and Vietnam War veteran who won the Silver Star, according to birth and burial records.
He had relocated to New York, Dart said in a news release, then to Chicago, after getting married in 1975 and divorced three months later. The Francis Wayne Alexander born in Cumberland County was also married in New York in 1975.
His family did not alert authorities when they lost contact with him.
“They just loved him, but they thought that he wanted nothing more to do with them, so that’s why there was never a missing person’s report,” Dart said at a Chicago news conference Monday, according to the Associated Press.
Gacy killed 33 teenage boys and young men around Chicago between 1972 to 1978. He was successful building contractor and well-known as a performing clown at children’s charities and hospitals, often, by his own description of his crimes, luring victims to his home and tricking them into handcuffs as part of a magic trick.
Many of Gacy’s known victims were young men who worked for him in his construction and painting business.
As part of his confession to investigators in 1978, Gacy drew a diagram of where he had buried bodies in the crawl space. Over a week’s time, investigators uncovered 26 of them. Convicted and sentenced to death, Gacy died by lethal injection in 1980.
How this Gacy victim was identified
In 2019, the Cook County sheriff’s office started working with the nonprofit DNA Doe Project to identify “Gacy Victim Five” using genetic genealogy.
The skeletal remains were described as coming from a 5-foot-9 male with brown hair, wearing a light-colored shirt, dark pants a sock and a leather belt. A molar from those remains went to Astrea Forensics in California, where investigators hoped to extract DNA, the nonprofit project reported.
The DNA sample then went to HudsonAlpha Discovery in Alabama for genome sequencing, DNA Doe Project said. Once the sample was interpreted and uploaded to an online matching file, Alexander’s relatives in the second-cousin range could be found. From there, the nonprofit said, volunteer genealogists could build a family tree.
Dart’s office estimated Alexander died between early 1976 and early 1977. As investigators searched for records to confirm the match, they discovered evidence of Alexander earning a small income and getting a traffic ticket in January, 1976.
“Sheriff’s Police found there is no other proof of life for Alexander after this time,” Dart said in a news release. “Alexander lived in an area that was frequented by Gacy and where other identified victims had previously lived.”
Through the sheriff’s office, Alexander’s family offered thanks and asked for privacy.
“We can now lay to rest what happened and move forward by honoring Wayne,” Sanders said in her statement. “Thank you, a mother who now has closure, sisters who now have closure, brothers who now have closure.”