REMEMBERING A BRUSH WITH EVIL

There was nothing unusual about John Gacy's brick bungalow. I had seen thousands just like it all over the Chicago area. But Gacy's house at 8213 Summerdale, near O'Hare International Airport, held a horrifying and sickening secret. To create the events that took place there under cover of darkness would test the appetite for the macabre of Edgar Allan Poe or even the Frenchman, Cāline.

With a favorite length of rope, the chubby, walrus-mustached Gacy strangled 29 young men, and then buried them in a crawlspace under the living-room floor. With the crawlspace filled, he began tossing the bodies into the Des Plaines River until his total reached 33 and he was caught. Gacy killed the first of these boys in 1972 and the last in 1978. He picked up the first at the Greyhound bus station across the street from Marshall Field's department store in the Loop and brought him home for "some fun." Gacy never knew the boy's name. Police still refer to the body as "The Greyhound Bus Boy."

Convicted in 1980 after a 5 1/2-week trial, Gacy was executed a few minutes after midnight on Tuesday of this week.

@rule:
@body:Spend a career as a newspaperman and you realize only a few stories that you covered become unforgettable to you. I didn't have to work at remembering Gacy. There was nothing about him that wasn't sordid. The fault is my own. I never developed the moral discipline to erase it from my mind. The repulsive and grisly details overpowered my subconscious. Why would I want to remember it? Certainly, I played no dynamic part in covering the story for my newspaper. I was just one of dozens of reporters slogging through the details every day. Despite its sensational nature, there were never any big, breaking stories that merited journalism awards. Back in December of 1978, I spent the week before Christmas standing outside Gacy's home in subzero cold. I was just one of dozens of media foot soldiers, waiting for something to happen. It was particularly uncomfortable for me. On the night before the story began, I slipped on an icy sidewalk and fell into a concrete stoop, breaking my nose and getting two black eyes. So I had to wear sunglasses even though it was the dead of winter.

Each morning, I drove out toward O'Hare and then down Summerdale to number 8213 to join the milling mob standing there with paper coffee cups in their hands. There was only one entrance to the street, and Gacy's house was on the right. There were three casement windows on its front and a small, concrete walkway leading to a mailbox at the street.

The highlight of the day came just before dark when the police representatives would stand in the driveway and meet the press. They would announce the number of bodies that had been recovered that day while, in the background, other police would carry the bodies to waiting ambulances. It was a perfect setup for the evening television news.

I noticed that during this operation, many of the cops had strangely satisfied expressions on their faces. It wasn't until years later that I learned Gacy had a large stash of beer in his garage. At the close of the digging day, the police officers would pause and down a few beers. By the time the digging was finished, they had consumed two dozen cases of Old Milwaukee. That in itself must be a record of some sort.

This was the Chicago winter that it snowed a record 90 inches. The snow didn't melt until April, just in time for voters to burst from their homes and vote Jane Byrne, the town's first woman mayor, into office. Michael Bilandic, the incumbent who succeeded the fabled Richard J. Daley, had failed to remove the snow from the streets fast enough. In Chicago, politicians do not remain long unemployed. Bilandic soon became a judge, a position to which he has appended himself quite happily.

There was so much about Gacy that I never learned until much later. I was six feet away from him as he stood wearing a black leather jacket in court in Des Plaines for his arraignment. I was close enough to feel both the hatred and fascination held for this evil man by everyone in that courtroom. Gacy's hair was jet black then and he had a cowlick in the back. When I saw his picture the other day, his hair had turned snow white and his walrus mustache was gone.

I saw him again after he was indicted. This time, they brought Gacy into the Cook County Criminal Courts building. He appeared before Judge Richard Fitzgerald, who was always my favorite Chicago judge. Fitzgerald was an ardent handball player who also had the moral courage to stand up to the Democratic machine during the days of the civil rights marches.

By this time, the case was an international sensation. A bullet-proof glass partition had been built into the court to separate Gacy from the spectators. Many of the relatives of the victims were in the court. This was the first time I saw Harold Piest, the forlorn father of Rob Piest, 15, Gacy's final victim. Piest sat with his wife. They were neatly dressed suburbanites. Their son had been only two minor tests away from becoming an Eagle Scout. By now Gacy had acquired a young, ambitious lawyer named Sam Amirante, a diminutive Italian with a lot of energy and a wardrobe of loud suits. On this day, Gacy himself wore a brown sport coat, a white shirt and a polka-dot tie. He managed to appear bored by the procedure. Each time the death penalty was mentioned, he stared at the ceiling as if they were talking about someone else.

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