Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Haunted Crime Scenes

Where Grass Refused to Grow

John Wayne Gacy, mugshot
John Wayne Gacy, mugshot

John Wayne Gacy was arrested in 1978 and charged with the murders of 33 young men, most of whom he had buried in the crawl space beneath his home. Terry Sullivan from the DA's office tells the story in Killer Clown.Gacy had lived with the stench of death for several years. After his arrest, he confessed but then pretended to have an alter personality, "John Hanley," who was responsible for the crimes, so his attorneys offered a defense of insanity based on a compulsion to kill. A number of psychologists and psychiatrists put Gacy through a battery of assessment instruments and came up with a variety of diagnoses. The overriding claim was that he had experienced an "irresistible impulse" when he killed each young man, and thanks to alcohol had either blacked out or lost his inhibitions to such an extent that he was unable to control himself. This was in keeping with a phrasing of the insanity defense at the time in Illinois that allowed that a person might realize that what he was doing was wrong but was nevertheless unable to stop himself.

The jury rejected the defense, largely because the prosecutor was able to show that Gacy had planned several of the murders and his team's psychologist insisted that an irresistible impulse cannot be planned in advance — especially not multiple times. Gacy also exhibited a good memory for the crimes and where he had placed each young man's body — an indication that he had not blacked out.

While investigators searched for bodies, Gacy's house was literally torn apart. They looked from attic to basement, dug up the garage floor and excavated the yard ten feet down with a backhoe. When they finally decided that they'd found all of the remains they were going to find in that location, the place was a disaster. The decision was made to just level it.

Gacy's house after demolition
Gacy's house after demolition

Eventually the neighbors got over having this monster in their midst and pushed aside the images of the bodies being carried out. But Gacy's former property did not recover, as if the ground itself was mourning its abuse. Reportedly the grass did not grow back, even after two or three summers had passed.

Eventually the property acquired new owners who built a house and changed the address. They wanted no more morbid tourists gawking at them. And for them, the grass grew back and the scars healed, although some would say that the six to eight dead men or boys who were never identified probably still linger.

If that's so, then there are likely many spirits around the next haunted property.

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