‘Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes,’ Explained – What Happened To Gacy In The End?


The Netflix documentary, “Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes,” takes us back to the 70s when a horrific incident shook the whole of the United States of America. John Wayne Gacy, the murderer of more than 30 men, was interviewed from November 1979 to April 1980. Those recordings are made public for the very first time in this documentary. It is atrocious and frightful to think that any individual could think like this, or do anything close to what he did, in a civil society. So let’s assimilate the findings that the police investigation led to, and look into the revelations that were hard to digest.

Warning: Mature Content

Who Was John Wayne Gacy? What Was John Gacy Being Accused Of?

Sam Amirante, John Gacy’s criminal attorney, got a call from him. He asked him to look into a matter in Des Plaines, the epicenter of all the drama that was slowly unfolding. A case had been filed for a missing boy, and Gacy was suspected to be behind it. Everybody knew John Gacy in the neighborhood, and Sam Amirante was no different. Gacy had a construction business and was a democratic Precinct Captain in the Cook County Democratic Organization. Gacy was a popular guy, and everybody knew him. That is why Sam Amirante immediately went to the police and told them that they were terribly mistaken to accuse John Gacy of kidnapping a guy.

It was December 12th, 1978. A boy named Robert Piest has gone missing. Peist was working in a pharmacy, Nisson Drugs. A report for the missing person was filed with Rafael Tovar, the Des Plaines P.D., who immediately went to the Nisson pharmacy store to inquire and get more information. John Gacy had visited the store on the day Robert Piest went missing. When the police ran his name through the records, they stumbled upon a very astonishing piece of information. John Gacy had been sentenced once earlier in Iowa for sodomy. Their suspicion was increased, but still, they had to be careful as this was a man who had some influence and had contacts in the right places.

Lieutenant Kozenczak contacted Gacy and asked him to come to the police station. John Gacy, in his arrogance, told the officer that he would come as and when he had some time to spare.

Terry Sullivan, the prosecutor, went and asked Gacy, when he was sitting in the police station, if he would be willing to give permission to get his house searched, considering he had nothing to hide. But John Gacy refused. It meant that he was hiding something. The authorities were able to get a search warrant eventually. They found some adult magazines and books written about some dark desires that were illegal. They found chains and handcuffs. They found a crawl space too, but didn’t find anything substantial inside that claustrophobic place.

Though all this was very intriguing and raised suspicion as to what the man was up to, nothing was enough to incriminate John Gacy and prove that he kidnapped Rob Piest.

What Was John Gacy Convicted Of In Waterloo? Who Was Steve Nemmers? 

John Gacy was never close to his father. As he says, he couldn’t ever do enough to please him. He had a similar relationship with his father-in-law too, who, according to him, always treated him in a condescending way.

Steve Nemmers met John Gacy in 1967 in Waterloo, Iowa. Gacy called him over for drinks and dinner. He started behaving obnoxiously with Nemmers. All of a sudden, while playing pool, Gacy asked Nemmers if he would opt to play a game with really high stakes. The stakes were that whoever lost had to commit an intimate act on the other. Nemmers was taken aback. He was in that compromising position where he didn’t know how to react. It was Gacy’s way of trying out his luck. But the problem was that he was too persistent, almost to a level that would be termed coercive. When Nemmers said no, Gacy asked him if he had ever watched a stag film. He started one such film and, out of nowhere, pointed a loaded revolver at Nemmers. He ordered him to do as he said. Out of sheer fright and horror, Nemmers started crying. As quickly as a lightning bolt, Gacy’s expression changed. The man started laughing. He told Nemmers that it was a game he played often. He liked putting psychological pressure on people and witnessing how they reacted to the situation.

That night, when Nemmers went to sleep, Gacy repeated the act, where he coerced him to indulge in a intimate act with him. He pointed a knife at him and asked him to oblige. Once again, he started laughing and told him that he was playing the same game.

Gacy was subsequently charged with assaulting a minor boy and committing sodomy. Throughout this time period, John was in complete denial, even though the evidence against him was crystal clear. He maintained a narrative that he was being used and that, in fact, he was the victim. He thought pleading guilty to the sodomy case would get him probation, but instead, he got sentenced to 10 years. But because Gacy was a first-time offender, the sentence was revised, and he was sent to a men’s reformatory in Anamosa, from where he came out in about a year’s time.

Did The Police Department Get Any Evidence Against John Gacy? 

While the police were on the Rob Piest case, they started following Gacy and keeping a check on his movements. John Gacy mostly employed young boys in his construction company, and the police came to know that one such boy, named Gregory Godzik, had gone missing. On further inquiry, it was revealed that John Butkovich and John Szyc, two youngsters working with John Gracy, were among the list of people who had disappeared.

John Szyc’s mom had told the police that a T.V. was missing that the boy had in his bedroom. It was suspected that Gacy might have it in his possession. So Ron Robinson and Bob Schultz went once again to Gacy’s house. Bob Schultz accidentally got a whiff of a rancid smell coming from the heating duct in the washroom. He knew instantly that it was the smell of a dead body. They also found a receipt from Nisson Pharmacy that was put in Rob’s pocket by a colleague. That was the first piece of concrete evidence the police had laid their hands on.

Terry Sullivan, the prosecutor of Cook County, was requested to give another search warrant as the police department was sure that this time they would find something in the crawl space that was behind the trap door.

John Wayne Gacy used to consume Valium, a drug, and also had marijuana in his possession, which was also not legal at that time. The prosecutor, Terry Sullivan, got an excuse to take him down. Dan Genty was the evidence technician in the Cook County Sheriff’s office. He recalls that when the team entered Gacy’s house after obtaining the search warrant, their main aim was to find Rob Piest. In the crawlspace, they started digging, and were shocked beyond any measure when they started to find human bones.

Back in the police department, John Gacy started to confess. He said that the killings started in 1972. He mostly preyed upon the runaways, as they didn’t have any family members who would come looking for them. In his version, he only wanted to indulge in consenting intimacy and had no intention of killing them. Obviously, the police officials figured out that it was a lie and that he had every intention of killing each one of them. He stayed low for a while, but when the cops didn’t come looking for him after his first murder, it boosted his confidence.

Every victim alive corroborated the fact that Gacy had an obnoxious behavior. John Gacy used to entice young people by giving them free drugs or promising them a job. He picked them up in his car while circling around Bughouse Square, a place where gay men often gathered to socialize.

When the police officer started digging the floor of his house, they realized that the place was no less than a graveyard. But still, John Gacy thought while confessing that if he helped the police and could mislead them somehow, he would get away with everything. He didn’t listen to his attorney, Sam Amirante, who was constantly telling him to keep his mouth shut. Gacy was a control freak. He believed that his lawyers should do as he said. So he kept on talking in great detail about his homicides.

Was Rob Piest’s Body Ever Found? Did The Jury Uphold John Gacy’s Defense Of Insanity? 

Rob Piest’s father always asked this question: “Why Rob, of all the people?” But the truth was that there was an answer to it. The scariest thing about John Gacy was that he didn’t have any patterns. Anybody could be his next victim. Gacy had never laid eyes on Rob until that fateful day. There were 20 odd dead bodies that were excavated from Gacy’s house, but Robert Piest’s body still couldn’t be found.

Gacy told the police officers that he had eventually ran out of space and had to find an alternative place to dispose of the dead bodies. Rob had approached Gacy for a job, and he took him to his place, where he molested him. He put a noose around his neck, and Rob died on the bed. The next day, when the police came to Gacy’s house, Rob’s body was still in the attic, which they were unaware of. He put Rob’s body in his car and drove down to the Des Plaines River. He threw the body into the river, though the police couldn’t find anything there.

Finally, in April 1979, a body resurfaced, and it was identified to be that of Robert Piest. The winters had been harsh, and as soon as the temperature started rising, the body rose to the surface of the river. A book on legal procedures had been found in Gacy’s attic, and the chapter on insanity as a defense was marked. He was smart enough, and he knew that insanity was the tool that could work in his favor. The prosecutors were scared about the fact that John Gacy would get away with the defense of insanity.

A clinical psychiatrist examination of Gacy was ordered by the court. It was found out that Gacy questioned his masculinity from an early age because of his physical attributes. Gacy called himself “a sickly bookworm.” He had a troubled relationship with his father and found solace in his mother’s gentle and loving nature. He craved attention and showed compulsive behavior. The psychology reports somewhere hinted that Gacy suffered from a neurotic disorder. The prosecutors knew that their case was getting weak due to all these medical reports, so they put up a theatrical show to appeal to the emotional side of the jury. The jury found John Gacy guilty and turned down his defense of insanity. He was convicted of all 33 murders and was sentenced to death. 

What Happened To John Wayne Gacy In The End?

By appealing in the appellate courts, Gacy stalled the death sentence for 14 years. Finally, the supreme court turned down his appeal, and on May 10, 1994, the capital punishment was executed. In his last days, the man had no remorse. He said very arrogantly that he had  killed 33 times, but the law could only kill him once.

If we talk about the legality of the case, then it cannot be denied that he suffered from neurotic disorder and that a plea of insanity could have been used as a defense successfully. But the jury decided the other way round. The innocent minors suffered and met such a horrific end. The families left behind had to find a way to deal with their grief and learn to live once again. Their world had been destroyed, and all because of a man who wasn’t even remorseful for the acts he had committed. Many victims have not been identified till date, and the police authorities are still trying to identify them. Many would find that the prosecutors had a weak case, but the nature of the crime was so dreadful that after capital punishment was carried out, it gave a sense of retribution to every citizen. 

“Conversations with a Killer: The John Wayne Gacy Tapes”, a 2022 Netflix Crime documentary miniseries directed by Joe Berlinger, is an intriguing watch that shows you the unfathomable and horrific extremities that humans are capable of going.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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