• Unspeakable Times

Inside John Wayne Gacy's Dark Childhood

We live in the golden age of true crime media, and no conversation about prolific serial killers in American history is complete without John Wayne Gacy. Over the course of six years, Gacy lured young men into his car. They ultimately ended up underneath his floorboards or in the Des Plaines River in Illinois. At a time when homosexuality was misunderstood and demonized by so many, the nature of his crimes disturbed the public even more. 

Gacy was well-loved in his community. He was married to a woman and worked as a clown at children's parties until police took him into custody in 1978 for his role in the disappearance of 33 young men. Many psychiatric experts met with Gacy in an attempt to uncover the reasons for his transgressive tendencies. They wanted to learn about Gacy's childhood, what his upbringing was like, and what could possibly turn a successful business owner into a dangerous social deviant.

Like Ted Bundy's adolescence, Gacy's childhood was dark and twisted. His father physically harmed him and a family friend engaged in inappropriate behavior with him. While his horrible upbringing is not by any means an excuse for his actions, it does illuminate some of the creepy specifics of his crimes.

  • Photo: John Wayne Gacy / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    He Constantly Tried To Gain His Father's Approval

    As a small child, Gacy attempted to help his father work on a car. When the 4-year-old Gacy misplaced some parts, his father "whipped" him for the error. When he was older, Gacy attempted to bond with his father on a fishing trip. When the preteen became bored with fishing, Gacy's father declared his son was not "man enough" for the pastime.

    Gacy's lack of athleticism and overweight physique also clashed with his father's concept of the ideal son. 

  • His Father Became Aggressive When He Drank

    John Wayne Gacy entered the world on March 17, 1942, the only son and eventual middle child of John Stanley and Marion Elaine Gacy. Throughout Gacy's childhood, his father used a leather razor strop to discipline him and his two sisters. 

    Mr. Gacy also drank to excess. When the family moved into a larger house in 1952, the basement became the patriarch's preferred drinking location. The family spent many nights in dread while Mr. Gacy drank and yelled in his basement. He would make his way up the stairs and sit at the dinner table, signaling that it was now time for everyone to eat.

  • His Father Once Knocked Him Unconscious With A Broomstick

    Gacy's father constantly yelled at him. During one particularly nasty altercation, the elder Gacy knocked his son unconscious with the handle of the broomstick.

    After the harsh strike to the head, Gacy supposedly awoke in the arms of his mother.

  • A Family Friend Behaved Inappropriately With Young Gacy 

    Allegedly, his father's friend paid special attention to the 7-year-old Gacy. This attention included taking Gacy for rides in his truck that ended with the adult wrestling the child's face into his private area.

    Gacy was afraid to tell his father about the encounters so he kept them a secret.