Different news stories and events can have such an immediate and lasting influence on one’s life. When I mentioned what I thought was a household name to my twenty year-old daughter—she had no idea who I was talking about.
The story I was telling my daughter took place during the late ‘70s. It was a time when “Christmas Break” was renamed at school to “Winter Break,” which, during the snowy Chicago winter of 1978-79, was an appropriate name.
It was during that first day of winter break, while driving home with Mom after a brief stint of Christmas shopping, that I first heard on the radio the story that rocked the Chicago area that Christmas season: The story of a contractor named John Wayne Gacy and the discovery of bodies buried in his crawl space. The young men, the serial killer murdered and buried under his house, were around the same age as Steve and Scott. This reality had a chilling effect on my parents, as it did on many of the people in Chicago area and the rest of the country. It would be several months before the excavation of the house was complete and all bodies were found. In the meantime, the newspapers would report as bodies were discovered, continually reminding the community of the sickening crime.
In Illinois, Gacy, who was later convicted of murdering 33 young men, became the poster boy for the death penalty. I don’t think you’d be too hard pressed to find a volunteer to “flip the switch,” so to speak, in 1979. While Gacy may not have earned any mercy, it’s possible the supporters of the death penalty in Illinois were a little too eager to apply the same standards to other criminals.
As it turns out there were a number of convicts on Death Row in Illinois that were wrongly convicted. On January 31, 2000, then Governor George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions. It seems like the worst case scenario was taking place all too often in Illinois. Since that time there hasn’t been a public outcry in favor of the death penalty but then again there hasn’t been another case like that of John Wayne Gacy either.