John Wayne Gacy, one of America's deadliest serial killers, was able to evade the law while he raped, tortured, and murdered at least 33 teenage boys and young men between 1972 and 1978 in Cook County, Illinois because he hid under innumerable masks. And, one of those masks was that of a clown.
In the latest docu-series about the serial killer called 'John Wayne Gacy: Killer Clown's Revenge', the narrator repeatedly says, "He's the clown-obsessed psychopath that came before the horror-masterpiece 'It' and many other tales of jolly jokers-turned-terrifying."
But there was one crucial difference between John Wayne Gacy and the evil clown Pennywise of 'It.' Gacy did not disguise himself as a clown to carry out the killings. He dressed up as a clown to escape suspicion of both the police as well as the masses and portray himself as one who stood steadfast for societal norms and order after he had committed the heinous crimes.
Inventing his clown persona
In the 1970s, Gacy was a member of a Chicago-area "Jolly Joker" clown club and frequently performed in a clown costume at children's parties, charity fundraisers, and other events.
He even designed his own clown mask and makeup that went on to become his alter ego, "Pogo" or "Patches." His makeup was unique in the sense that it was a white mask with pointy blue eyes and a massive, sinister-looking red mouth.
"He did an extra-large mouth. He had sharp corners on the ends of his mouth," Tim Cahill, author of 'Buried Dreams - Inside the mind of John Wayne Gacy' said in the docu-series. "Most clowns - and John knew this - did not like sharp corners. [They] said it frightens children."
Although Gacy was mostly what was described as a "compassionate" clown, he admitted to becoming a "hatred" clown at certain times and that was when he let his evil nature slip into his clown persona.
"In a parade what he hated was children who had gotten candy and wanted him to give them more candy," Cahill said. "They were greedy, greedy kids... And he said often what 'I would do is go up there and pinch them on the cheek like clowns do but I would pinch and twist.' And then jump up down the street laughing, happy, with a crying child left behind."
The magic trick
His suburban home of Norwood Park, Chicago, was filled with paintings and portraits of clowns. When he lured his victims into his house, more often than not, he would use a magic trick to render them immobile.
"The guy (Gacy) pulls out a pair of handcuffs and he says, 'There's a trick to getting out of them. Let me show you.' He puts them on from behind, moves around a little bit and voila, the cuffs are off. He says, 'Okay, your turn. Can you figure out the trick?'" crime writer Shirley Lynn Scott said in the first episode of the docu-series.
She added: "The guy (the victim) is... you know, he wants to be polite so he goes along with it. Once he feels the click of the handcuffs on though, these feel legit. They are heavy. These aren't some toy pair of cuffs somebody bought. He tries to feel is there's any kind of button that he can push. The more that he squirms, the more uncomfortable he is. And he looks up at the guy and says, 'I can't figure out, what is the trick?' And the guy (Gacy) says, 'The trick is, you have to have a key.'"
After his victims were able to make a run for it or even defend themselves, Gacy sexually assaulted them and/or tortured them before strangling most of them to death with his hands or with rope.
“Clowns can get away with murder"
After 15-year-old Robert Piest went missing on December 11, 1978, the Des Maine Police were put on Gacy's tail by the victim's mother who told the authorities that her son was last seen talking to him about some construction job.
Following a search warrant of Gacy's house revealed a number of suspicious items, including souvenirs he had kept from his previous victims, the police decided to put a surveillance team on him - which ultimately led to a break in the case.
It was during a conversation with detectives during the years-long surveillance period that Gacy discussed his work as a clown, remarking, “Clowns can get away with murder.”