1970s serial killer has history in eastern Iowa - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

1970s serial killer has history in eastern Iowa


ANAMOSA (KWWL) -- 30 years ago, a serial killer with Iowa ties was convicted and sentenced to death for killing at least 33 boys and young men.  It was John Wayne Gacy, Jr. sometimes called the "Killer Clown".

He was convicted of killing the men and burying many under his Chicago house and dumping others in a nearby river between 1972 and 1978. But his criminal history started here in eastern Iowa. 

In the 60s, Gacy lived in Waterloo, managing a Kentucky Fried Chicken.  While in Waterloo, a teenage boy said he'd been raped by Gacy.  He was convicted in Black Hawk County in 1968.

"John Wayne Gacy came to Anamosa in the fall of 1968 serving a 10 year sentence for sodomy. This incident involved a young man from Waterloo," Anamosa Penitentiary Museum Director Richard Snavely said.

Snavely was a counselor and psychologist for the prison for 37 years. His first year, he worked with Gacy.

"John Gacy was a very pleasant person," Snavely said. "He became the lead cook in the dietary department and was viewed as being a very responsible inmate."

One of Gacy's projects in Anamosa was a miniature golf course, which the museum says is still used by current inmates.

Snavely volunteered to work with the institutional Jaycees, which Gacy was involved in often going on trips and doing special projects with other inmates.

"It's our Jaycees Toys for Tots Christmas program.... Wednesday night we had a party in Monticello for the underprivileged kids, welfare. Santa Claus was there and a couple of clowns," one inmate describes in a WHO-TV interview from 1969.

One clown of those clowns at the Monticello children's party was Gacy.

"Gacy had his clown suit sent in, and he went as Pogo the clown," Snavely said.

His clown act is where the "killer clown" title comes from, though Snavely says its not really related to the later Chicago murders of young men.

"Pogo the clown was used for children's parties, young children, and his interest was with young men," Snavely said.

Snavely first heard about the serial killings when he got a phone call from the Chicago Tribune.

"You're not completely surprised or shocked when you find out someone has gone on to do something else, but certainly to the extent to what he did was very unusual," Snavely said.

Snavely points out serial killers are so rare it's difficult to predict what someone might do.

"He was a likeable personality, and that's one of the things that made him so dangerous. That's how he was able to entice his victims; his wonderful personality," Snavely said.

After 18 months in Anamosa, he was released on parole. He went back to Chicago, his hometown. In 1972, the killing began, perhaps Snavely says in an attempt to avoid another Anamosa experience.

 "This friend of his while he was doing time just said he just absolutely hated prison and was his theory what he learned in prison is don't leave any witnesses," Snavely said.

In late 1978, Gacy confessed to killing dozens of boys and burying many under his home. Gacy was executed by lethal injection on May 10, 1994.

Online Reporter:  Jamie Grey

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