Video: Decades after murders, new twists in Gacy case

  1. Transcript of: Decades after murders, new twists in Gacy case

    LESTER HOLT, anchor: He was one of the most notorious mass killers of his time, and those of a certain age will remember John Wayne Gacy , the Chicago murderer who brought fear to that city more than three decades ago. Now, after so many years, some new twists have emerged, as we hear from NBC 's Stephanie Gosk .

    STEPHANIE GOSK reporting: The police arrested John Wayne Gacy in his Chicago home on December 21st , 1978 , and for months afterwards, the bodies kept coming out.

    Mr. ROBERT EGAN (Prosecutor): He said that he had 30 bodies buried in his crawl space, and nobody really believed him.

    GOSK: Thirty-three in total, young men between the ages of 14 and 22 lured into his home, sexually assaulted and murdered. Gacy , who sometimes worked as a volunteer clown, was convicted and eventually executed by lethal injection.

    But a mystery remained: eight unidentified victims. Now, more than 30 years later, with modern technology at his disposal, Chicago Sheriff Tom Dart wants to know who they were.

    Sheriff TOM DART: Now, through DNA , families that had no hope of having a match now have the absolute hope. We can be definitive in saying this is or is not your loved one.

    GOSK: So the police dug up the eight sets of remains and sent them to this lab at the University of North Texas for DNA analysis . To find possible matches, police have opened a hotline and are asking families, like the Bodians , for DNA samples. Twenty-two -year-old Edward went missing in 1978 .

    Ms. RUTH RODRIGUEZ (Victim's Sister): It's been 33 long years not knowing what happened to my brother. I would like to know one way or another .

    GOSK: Investigators believe most, if not all eight victims will be identified; but they uncovered new leads in this dusty Chicago evidence room. While looking through the boxes, investigators also found plane tickets to at least 10 different states during the same time he was murdering young men here in Chicago . They thought to themselves, 'If he was murdering them here, what are the chances he wasn't committing the same crimes while he was on the road?' At the time, there were no computers or missing people databases, tools investigators have now used to possibly link Gacy to 27 unsolved cases around the country.

    Sheriff DART: We're running out some of these leads right now, and we're just finding some intriguing patterns.

    GOSK: Technology can now answer decades old questions about one of the most monstrous crimes in US history ; and, chillingly, it may be raising some new ones. Stephanie Gosk, NBC News, Chicago .

NBC News
updated 10/15/2011 7:36:04 AM ET 2011-10-15T11:36:04

There is a place where the lost can be found.

Long before Lisa Irwin vanished from her Kansas City home, there was another desperate search in Missouri for a little girl. Her name was Elizabeth Gill. On the afternoon of June 13, 1965, Elizabeth was in her family's front yard in Cape Giradreau. It was the last time the 2-year-old was seen alive.

Scott Kleeschulte also disappeared in Missouri. On June 18, 1988, the 9-year-old freckled face boy was walking down a street in St. Charles County. To this day, nobody knows what happened to him.

The three cases, separated by decades, share a common bond with thousands of other files accessible to the public on the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System website.

Known as NamUs, the vast national registry lets relatives, law enforcement, victim's rights advocates, and anyone scan the records and search for information that could help solve these heartbreaking mysteries.

NamUs, which is run by the National Forensic Science Technology Center, is under the direction of the National Institute of Justice.

Story: $100,000 reward in Lisa Irwin disappearance

“We know that NamUs could really be the key to making a difference in the lives of families that have been waiting and waiting to find missing loved ones,” said Kristina Rose, deputy director of the National Institute of Justice

There are more than 8,800 total missing persons cases on NamUs, of which 75 percent remain open, including one that goes back to the Great Depression.

'Really cold cases'
Joseph Lawrence Halpern was 22 on Aug. 14, 1933. That was the day he disappeared while hiking in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. The NamUs website indicates Halpern was wearing a light blue shirt, brown trousers and was carrying an army backpack.

“Many are really cold cases,” Rose told NBC News, “but the more people you have looking at them and make the connection and build bridges to share information, the chances become much higher in solving those cases.”

There are many familiar names in the NamUs system, names like Lauren Spierer, the Indiana University student who vanished last June. The case of Etan Patz, who was the first missing child to appear on a milk box, is also detailed in the database.

“Etan was last seen at 8:00 a.m. at Prince and Wooster Streets going to the school bus stop,” the NamUs information indicated. “He was wearing a black cap, a blue corduroy jacket, blue pants, blue sneakers, and carrying a blue bag with elephants on it.”

NamUs said it has helped solve 62 missing and unidentified person cases, including that of Paula Davis.

Video: Home videos released of missing baby Lisa (on this page)

“She went missing in 1987 out of Kansas City, Missouri and 14 hours later a body was found in Ohio,” Rose said.

In 2009, after watching a public service announcement for NamUs, Davis’ sister searched the database and ultimately determined that the body discovered in Ohio was that of Paula Davis.

NamUs gave her an answer. But many other families are still waiting for one, including that of Jamie Peterson.

The 30-year-old Pittsburgh mother was home Sept. 26 when her children went to school. When they returned in the afternoon, Peterson was gone.

Her file, #12519, was entered into NamUs last week.

“I think there’s always hope,” Rose said, “and that’s what NamUs does, it gives people hope that these cases will be solved.”

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