Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Police Solve 41-Year-Old Case While Trying to Identify Gacy Victims

Steven Soden. Family photo.

Steven Soden was 16 when he disappeared while on a camping trip with his orphanage in April 1972. He and another boy, 12-year-old Donald Caldwell, were never seen again after the trip. This week, Soden’s family was relieved to learn that the young man’s death was not at the hands of notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

In their effort to identify the remains of eight young men murdered by Gacy, police collected DNA samples from young men who had disappeared during the time when Gacy was active. Soden’s sister, April Leonard, provided a sample which matched a set of remains found over ten years ago not far from the park where Soden had vanished. At the time, Leonard was still living at the New Jersey orphanage. The two had been placed there by their mother. Leonard feared that Soden ran to Chicago, where Gacy lived. Police say they will now begin searching that same area for Caldwell’s remains.

Though Soden’s cause of death has not been determined, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart says his sister and half-brother were “relieved” that he was not a Gacy victim: “With Gacy, your fear is that your loved one’s last minutes was with this monster and to find out they weren’t is a relief.”

In 2011, after the bodies of eight young men were exhumed at Gacy’s property, Chicago police began a widely publicized effort at identifying the victims. In all, Gacy is believed to have killed 33 young men. He was executed in 1994.

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