In the nine days leading up to John Wayne Gacy’s December 21, 1978 arrest, the police surveilled him around the clock. They had deduced that Gacy, a contractor, was the last person to see missing teenage boy Robert Piest. Hoping to find Piest alive, the police parked outside Gacy’s house, tailed his car, and followed him into every restaurant and bar he entered for over a week. The friendly, overconfident Gacy knew they were on his tail, and even invited two officers into his home—the house that dozens of bodies of young boys Gacy had tortured and killed were buried under—for dinner on one occasion. In Peacock’s new original docuseries John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise, one officer recalls using the bathroom during this dinner. While he was in there, the vent began to pump out hot air. Later, he connected the smell of the hot air in Gacy’s bathroom to that of dead bodies in a morgue. Gacy was arrested just a few days later, and confessed to police that he had tricked young boys, including the missing Rob Piest, into handcuffs, and then raped, murdered, and buried many of them in the crawl space under his Chicago-area home.
Retired officer Michael Albrecht was there for Gacy’s confession. He was present when Gacy drew a diagram of where the police would find the shallow graves under his home. He was one of the four officers who worked on Gacy’s 24/7 surveillance team, and was one that Gacy took a particular liking to. In a new interview with Esquire, Albrecht discusses a number of questions raised in the new documentary—how it was handled by police, how Gacy evaded capture for so long, and if there might have been more victims not attributed to Gacy.
Everyone knows John Wayne Gacy's name, but you had a personal relationship with him, and he liked you during those days that you surveilled him. I would love to hear about how you felt about that relationship for those nine days before you knew the extent of his crimes and how you feel about it now, in retrospect.
Albrecht: Well, at the time when we first started the surveillance, we certainly were hoping to find Rob Piest alive, but that kind of evaporated rather quickly because as the other people involved in the investigation were looking into Gacy's background and Gacy's name, they came up with it being mentioned in other reports of missing teenage young men. It became apparent that he was involved with other missing persons that have never been found. So, we knew we were probably dealing with more than one victim here. Certainly I didn't have any idea it would be 33.
I had met Gacy two days before I got involved with surveillance because Lieutenant Kozenczak had gone to his house to interview Gacy and get him to come to the station with another detective. And Gacy, his uncle had apparently passed away that day, and he was involved in helping the family out or whatever he said he was doing, but he didn't want to go into the police station. He said he'd stop in when he could later in the evening. Well, he never showed up until about two o'clock in the morning. And when he came into the station, he was covered with mud. And what happened there was... at the time that Kozenczak was at the house the first time, the Piest body was still in his house. And so, after Kozenczak left, Gacy put the body in a blanket and put it in the trunk of his car and drove to Interstate 55, which goes south from Chicago and over to Des Plaines River. He had to make a couple of passes because there was traffic on the interstate. And finally, he had a clear spot where nobody was coming. He pulled off to the side of the bridge and threw the body into the Des Plaines. Now, this was the winter time, in December around here, and it's snowy and it's slick and he apparently lost control and ended up in a ditch, couldn't get himself out. So he's trying to dig himself out until a state truck came by and helped him out to get him unstuck.
So, when he came into the station at 2 in the morning, obviously, nobody from the investigation was around anymore, so he never was interviewed. And when he came in the next day, I had to keep him busy because Kozenczak wasn’t at the station, but executing the search warrant at Gacy’s home. So, I had to small talk with Gacy for a while. I brought him into the back office and just sat down and talked with him to keep him busy for a while.
I got along with Gacy. We talked and we got along. I mean, the guy was full of crap. He was a real bragger, he liked talking about himself. Told us how much money he had and all his property he owned in Nevada, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Florida. He was always talking about himself and I just let him go on a little bit because we had to build a relationship with him. The surveillance was not covert. He knew who we were and why we were watching him. He would ask us why we were doing it. I made a decision early on when we were watching him that when Gacy would go into a public place, a cab, or in a bar or restaurant or store or something like that, we would follow him and go in with him. And if he went into a private residence, of course, then we wouldn't. We'd wait for him outside. From midnight to noon was when we watched him, and during that time period, a lot of times Gacy would drive around the city doing his job estimates. And then after that, we would end up stopping in some 24-hour restaurant and sitting and talking to him.
I know that you were present when Gacy drew a diagram of where the bodies were located in his crawl space. The doc raises the possibility that Gacy at least tried to suggest that he had dissociative identity or multiple personality disorder, and in that moment, he claimed that someone else named Jack had actually drawn the diagram. What is your opinion on that?
Well, that there was no altered personality or whatever you want to call it. Gacy was very cunning in what he did, he knew exactly what he was doing. He was doing it for self-preservation. He didn't want to get caught. The first kid that he murdered was a subject that he found down at the bus station. Brought him back to his house. They did their thing through the night and in the morning he came after Gacy with a knife. They had a struggle and Gacy ended up killing him, knifing him. And that was the only victim that was knifed, all the rest of them were strangled. And I'm sure after that, Gacy was a little concerned what was going to happen. But nothing happened, the police didn't come by. Nobody came looking for that kid or associated Gacy with him. And I think that's how it started. Most of his victims were probably kids that had run away from other parts, rural areas, and come to the city. And you could pretty well tell a kid that's walking around in amazement in a large city like Chicago and also kind of lost. And Gacy had a car that he had a spotlight on, with a red light on it. And he had police identification, some police badges. Then he would start talking to these kids and get them in the car. Eventually, take them back to his house. The first few times, there was small talk, entertainment, drinking, and drugs, and all that stuff before he got into the sexual part of it. Gacy would do his handcuff trick and then what he called the rope trick.
So, he knew what he was doing. And he buried 27 bodies in the crawl space. He knew exactly where they were. If you looked at the diagram that was made, and they did the overlay at the trial of where the bodies were found, and his drawing, those drawings were exact. Almost exact to the T of where all these bodies were. When he was drawing, he started with the first one where he put a little rectangle or X and said that was the first one because the first one he had put concrete over it after he'd buried him. And then from then on, he just had trenches dug by the two young men that worked for him. And he would just put them into those trenches.
We were in a small interview room for the confession. Seated next to me was Gacy’s lawyer Sam Amirante, and standing behind him was the other attorney, Leroy Stevens. Right across from me was Gacy. Getting statements from him, I asked him to explain several things that happened, and he was leaning back in his chair, kind of comfortable. I was there for three or four of these, and he never once showed any remorse. He always blamed the kids. It was their fault. They came to him for money, for drugs, for sex, for whatever it may be. And he specifically said, they put the ropes around their own neck. They got what they deserved. He never had any remorse in any way. But this particular time I'm trying to get his statement, he's leaning back in his chair. It was very late, two or three o'clock in the morning, and he had his eyes closed and he was talking. And we were talking back and forth. And Amirante started calling him trying to get his attention and he'd say, "Jack, well, what about this? Jack, what about that?" To try to start a conversation by addressing “Jack.” And Gacy never responded. After probably five times of trying to do that, finally I said, "John, your attorney's trying to get your attention." And Amirante was sitting right next to me, and he immediately responded. Amirante gave me a look of... why'd you do that? Because his little plan didn't work. He didn't respond to Jack, but he responded to my John immediately.
This case is viewed by many as a failure of the police, as Gacy was left undetected for years as boys went missing from the surrounding area and were largely dismissed as runaways. Gacy was also released from jail several times, even though his name kept coming up in cases. Do you feel there's any validity to that claim?
Well, first of all, let's go back a little bit. Back in the '70s, you didn't have a computer system like now. I mean, where you could do a lot of research on things. And, unfortunately, now I'm not making excuses for anybody, but there were a lot of runaways at the time. Kids were constantly running away. And what happened a lot of times, there was either a fight with their parents, girlfriend, boyfriend problems, whatever it may be. And they'd run away, and the next day they'd be home. In fact, one of the results that came out of the Gacy case was that any juvenile that was reported missing had to be immediately entered into the criminal justice system. But yes, Gacy's name was mentioned in a few reports. And I guess you didn't have the interaction like you do now. Another process that came out of the Gacy case was much more contact and interaction between police departments. But at that time, Chicago’s districts were somewhat independent of each other. Things were more local, and society wasn't as vocal as it is now. So, I mean, there could have been more done. But when we got involved in it, our department, we did a background check on Gacy right away. And Gacy was very well-known in this community. When we went into bars and restaurants, a couple of times he went to a party that was going on, people just gravitated towards Gacy. He was very well-liked. People were glad to see him. That continued during the time we were watching him, except that as it went on, many of these people were interviewed by other investigators about Gacy, and I think they started realizing there was something going on here and started drifting away from him. And by the time the ten days of investigation were over, Gacy didn't have anybody really to talk to except us.
The documentary talks about the stigma against gay men in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Do you believe that any stigma against male prostitutes or gay men hindered the investigation in any way?
No, I don't think so at all. Of course it's much more accepted today as somebody's choice to make, and there's no issues with it. And back in the '70s, it wasn't like that. One victim that Gacy had let go had tried to report him to the police and they looked at him a little bit, but not as much. I'm sure some of these detectives in Chicago might have followed up in instances that he let victims go, and Gacy would tell them "Yeah, we had sexual contact and stuff like that but it wasn't forced in any way. It was consensual." And then he’d say how all of a sudden they're coming back to try to blackmail him because he's a successful businessman and all this kind of stuff. Gacy was a popular person. And then when we got involved with it, I mean, it certainly was never an issue. And Gacy did not like to be referred to as homosexual. He constantly told us he was that not homosexual. He was bisexual at times, but not homosexual.
The documentary shows that some people suspect there were others involved in these crimes that were never charged, and that there are additional bodies buried potentially outside the building that Gacy's mother lived in. Do you believe that others could or should have been charged or more investigation should have been done in this case?
I don't believe there's anybody else involved in the murders. Now, he had these two younger men working for him. They were working for PDM Contractors and digging the trenches. At the location where Gacy lived, there's a very high water tank. In his crawl space, he had a sump pump that would constantly be running. And so, he told these kids to dig these trenches to help get rid of the water. Now, as it went along, did they think something else was going on? I think they had to start thinking something was going on here. I know they didn't participate because if you look at what Gacy's statements were, everything he told us turned out to be very accurate. Gacy loved the notoriety. He just loved it. That was him.
And if you think about what Gacy was doing, he buried 27 kids in his crawl space and there was never any suspicion. He had a great thing going for himself. In fact, when we were talking to him, we asked him, "Why did you stop? Why did you go to the river?" And he said, "Because the crawl space was full." And there were four bodies thrown into the river. So, I mean, he knew what he was doing. He was very meticulous in what he did when he murdered these young men and what he did with the bodies afterwards. And there are no other bodies I don't think. I think he would've told us at that time because he was a braggart. He talked about what he did to these young men, especially about Rob Piest. He went into pretty good detail on what happened, from the handcuff trick to the rope trick, to starting to strangle them in such a way that it was slow while he would perform oral sex on the victims. Not to repeat myself, but there was no remorse at all. He blamed these kids and he told us what he did to them in a matter of fact conversation, just like we're having right now. It was just, "This is what I did today. I killed somebody." And it didn't bother him.
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