A new true crime documentary series on Netflix, Conversations with a Killer: John Wayne Gacy, publicizes for the first time, ecordings of U.S. serial killer John Wayne Gacy, an aspiring politician, contractor and occasional clown performer who assaulted and killed 33 young men in the 1970s.
From director Joe Berlinger (Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes), the Netflix series takes you through the chilling circumstances of these murders, while also hearing about these tragedies in Gacy’s own words from interviews conducted with him between November 1979 and April 1980.
“After I got away with the first, I just kept getting away with them,” we hear in a voiceover from Gacy’s recorded conversations. “That’s why I didn’t stop.”
At the outset of the series we hear from Dr. Kim Byers-Lund, who recalls the day her friend Rob Piest disappeared while they were working at a local pharmacy as teens in the Chicago area. Gacy was the last person who was with Piest.
Through a series of interviews with investigators, family members of victims, survivors and others who knew Gacy personally, at the core of the series is one key question: How was Gacy able to kill so many people for so long?
One component presented in the series, in an attempt to tackle that core question, is around Gacy being a relatively liked man, rubbing shoulders with politicians, dressing up as a clown for parties. His biggest criticism was largely just that he was a bit arrogant.
Another piece of the story is the prejudice around teens who came out, particularly in the 1970. As gay rights activist Martha Court describes in the series, many of these individuals who came out as gay or were discovered to be gay were “throw aways” from their families, which is presented as a contributing factor for the lengthy series of deaths at the hands of Gacy, seemingly without any thorough investigation from authorities.
A particularly impactful moment in the series is when investigators are describing actually finding the remains of Gacy’s victims, many buried in a crawl space at the killer’s home.
Dan Genty, an evidence technician with Cook County Sheriff’s Office, recounts the “horror” he felt when he first realized that had found “a basement full of kids.”
Listening to Gacy describe how he killed these young men and teen boys, what his pattern was, truly makes you feel sick, amplified even further as survivors grapple with the reality that they easily could have been killed, alongside graphic footage from the excavation.
“The saving of the corpses and storing them in the basement,” Gacy states in the audio recordings. “It was a hiding place. It was a secret place.”
“Those are my bodies. That’s where I wanted to keep them. They had no right to touch ‘em.”
Ultimately, Gacy was executed by lethal injection in 1994, but five victims remain unidentified.