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John Wayne Gacy- A Look Into a Killer Mind

Introduction

The question is: How could a man considered by so many to be an upstanding citizen

actually be the murderer of thirty three young men? Within the pages of this report I intend to

examine Gacy s life through two psychological theories in order to give some insight into some of

the factors that may have caused Gacy to act as he did. The beginning of this paper will start with

some family history and then move into the criminal aspects of this case.

Offender Background

Family/ Private Life

John Wayne Michael Gacy was born on March 17, 1942 to parents John Stanley

Gacy and Marion Elaine Robinson. He grew up in Norridge, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, with two

sisters. Up until age eleven he attend a Catholic School and then later moved and enrolled in public

school. Although regarded as a good student, he never finished high school. (Sears, 1991)

Life for young John Gacy was difficult. His father was very abusive and strict as

well as a perfectionist. Stanley was an alcoholic who was self-contained and silent and was a quick

tempered individual who often exploded with little warning. Stanley believed that to spare the rod

was to spoil the child . (Anonymous, 1992:51) John was always trying to please his father but

anything he had done was ridiculed. His father would constantly belittle John often calling him

names like stupid, mama s boy or sissy. Stanley never let an opportunity go by without letting him

know how much of a disappointment he was. John s mother, Marion, was a hard working

pharmacist who loved to sing and dance and socialize over a few drinks with her friends. John

always loved her mother and always spent more time with her. His father always taunted him over

that and told him he was going to be a queer .(Anonymous, 1992:54) Marion would often protect

her son by covering up or withholding secrets from his father so he wouldn t be punished.

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(Anonymous, 1992)

At age nine one of his father s friends began to give John frequent visits. Often

taking him on rides in his truck and ending up putting the young boy s face in between his legs. John

knew he was being victimized but feared telling his father because he thought he would taunt him

for being a queer. At age eighteen, a time in life when looks become important, Gacy was very

insecure. Often he would lie to his peers about sex because in reality he was still a virgin. He began

to have fantasies about what it would feel like to be in the arms of another boy but never spoke out

about it because his father often voiced his hatred towards homosexuals. The mental and physical

abuse would continue throughout his childhood and teenage years.(Anonymous, 1992)

Professional / Criminal Background

At age fourteen Gacy started his first salary job as a delivery boy for a supermarket. During

his mid teenage years he became interested in police and other volunteer work. He began a civil

defense squad in high school which gave him a sense of acceptance and belonging amongst his

peers. Soon after Gacy got involved with politics. He volunteered to work at a campaign office of a

local candidate, which Gacy really enjoyed. A little later that same year he joined a local church and

formed a group called Chi Ro Club in which he organized dances and other activities.

(Anonymous, 1992)

At age nineteen Gacy got into a huge argument with his father and drove off

to Las Vegas where he found work at the Palm Mortuary. There he became curious about dead

bodies. Three months later Gacy quit the job after a run-in with his boss. His boss began to raise

suspicions when he started to find corpses unclothed in the coffins. After this incident Gacy went

back home and enrolled in a local business college. In 1963 Gacy had gotten a job with a shoe

company called Nun-Bush, he was twenty one years old. He soon became a manager and things

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were beginning to look bright. Gacy moved out of his parents house and in with his maternal aunt

and uncle where life was much easier. Later that year he joined the Junior Chamber of Commerce,

the Jaycees. Very quickly he became sociable and involved in the Jaycees and soon earned the

respect and recognition he had been dreaming about. In 1964 Gacy married Marlynn Myers (a co-

worker at the department store Gacy was working at) and had their first child. Gacy was then

offered a job by Marlynn s father, Fred, to come manage three Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets in

Waterloo, Iowa which he excepted. Everything in Gacy s life was excellent, Gacy was feeling on top

of the world. Then in 1968 Gacy s world had collapsed. He was arrested and charged for sodomy on

a young employee of Kentucky Fried Chicken named Donald Voorhees. At the trial several other

young employees came forward and said they too were assaulted by Gacy. The trial ended with the

judge taking into consideration all the testimonies of other young victims and sentenced Gacy to 10

years in the Iowa State Reformatory for Men. On the day Gacy was sentenced, Marlynn filed for

divorce and Gacy would never see his children again. While in prison Gacy s father had died but

Gacy was not notified until several months later which upset him very much. On June 18,1970

Gacy was released from prison on good behavior only after serving eighteen months. Gacy moved

back in with his mother and found employment at a Chicago restaurant called Bruno s. There he

became fixated on a police person named Jack Hanley. Gacy admired Jack because he was

everything he was not- almost an image of his father. Gacy would later use Jack as a scapegoat for

many of the murders committed.(Anonymous, 1992)

In 1971 Gacy began taking on odd maintenance jobs and showing interest in small

construction work. In the months to follow Gacy decided construction is what he wanted to do, so he

quit his job at Bruno s and opened a business called PDM. The business became very successful in

the months ahead. Gacy decided to move out of the condo he was living in with his mother and into

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a rancher style home on 8213 West Summerdale dr. in Des Plaines, Illinois.(Anonymous, 1992)

In 1972 Gacy remarried an old acquaintance from high school named Carole Hoff. A short

time later Gacy s wife recalled a rancid odor emanating from under the house. When she

complained, Gacy would cover by saying it was just the dampness of the ground causing the smell.

Gacy s marriage began to decline when Gacy started to bring young men back to the garage of his

house late at night. In 1976 the couple divorced.(Anonymous, 1992)

Gacy recalled around January 3,1972 the killing started with a boy later identified as Tim

McCoy. He was picked up by Gacy near a Greyhound bus station in Chicago and brought back

to Gacy s house where they had sex then went to bed. In the morning Gacy stated he woke to the

youth coming at him with a knife, they had a struggle and the boy fell on the knife. Gacy noted that

during the struggle he experienced a sexual release .(Anonymous, 1992) Over the next six years

Gacy lured many victims in various ways. Some were coerced by posing as police officer Jack

and others by the promise of drugs and alcohol. The victims ranged from runaways and hustlers to

employees of his contracting business. In 1976 police surveillanced Gacy s house in connection with

a young missing male prostitute but came up with nothing. Gacy s connection with missing young

males was virtually unnoticed until December 11,1978 when fifteen year old Robert Piest was

reported missing. The police soon figured all the evidence pointed to Gacy so they set up an intense

surveillance. Throughout the next ten days numerous acquaintances of Gacy s were interviewed and

based on the statements given a search was issued. On December 21,1978 Gacy was arrested for

passing a bag of marijuana and a search began at Gacy s house. In the crawlspace under the house a

huge discovery was made. The bodies of twenty seven young males were found neatly arranged

under almost every room in the house. The floors had to be ripped up so the coroners could exhume

them properly. Gacy later gave the locations of seven more bodies, one set in the cement of his

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garage (John Butkovich an employee of Gacy s) and marked with an X , one underneath the

asphalt of the driveway, and four more dumped in the Des Plaines river about fifty miles from

Gacy s house. In all, thirty three bodies were recovered. On February 6,1980 the trial began, and

taking about six weeks to present conflicting portraits of Gacy. On March 12,1980 the trial ended

with a deliberation of only one hour and fifty minutes, the verdict was guilty on thirty three counts of

murder. On March 13, 1980 the same jurors deliberated again for sentencing, within two hours the

verdict was back- death by lethal injection. For the next fourteen years Gacy spent life on death row

taking up activities such as writing, correspondence and painting portraits of himself as a clown. On

May 10, 1994 Gacy was executed.(Anonymous; Sears,1991)

Theories

Neo- Freudian Theory of Criminality

Followers of Freud s theories began to theorize a fundamental distinction between the

different roles of the Id, Ego, and Super Ego. The main difference was between punishing and being

punished. Freud theorized that an overly dominant super-ego resulted in guilt and a need to be

punished. Whereas Neo- Freudians believed that a controlling and dominant Id results in need to be

satisfied, a need to punish which in turn results in crime.

August Aichorn is a well known Neo-Freudian who theorized in criminology. Aichorn felt in

order for criminality to surface as a lifestyle there had to be three characteristics: 1) seeks immediate

gratification without concerns for others, 2) unable to retain a health relationship; prefers to satisfy

personal desires, 3) no sense of remorse over acts committed. Based on these theories Aichorn came

to assume the powerful Id was to much for the Ego in criminals. An Ego which has been damaged in

an early age could result with the over powering Id taking control and manipulating one s behavior

thus making it very difficult for a person with an dominating Id to live in society because they are

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unable to understand the impact of their behavior towards others.(Holman and Quinn, 1992)

Classification

Neo- Freudian theorists would use micro theory to classify this theory because it explains

behavior at the individual level. Positive classification would be used because observational and

empirical methods are used to measure crime and criminal behavior related to this theory.

Processual would apply because it uses psychology, sociology and biology to explain how

individuals become criminal. Consensus theory would be the last classification because the beliefs in

laws and the Criminal Justice System are agreed among all members of society as being equal and

fair.

Antisocial Personality

Antisocial personality disorder can be defined as follows:

The essential feature of antisocial personality disorder is a persuasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begin in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood (Linden, 1996:251)

This meaning a person will have no respect for authority and are unable to learn from

punishment. Antisocial personality disorder can be masked by many different characteristics. Often

a sociopath ( another term for antisocial personality) will be very manipulative and charming as well

as skilled and calculated in his/her activities.(Holman and Quinn, 1992)

Many have high IQ s. They display little or no remorse for their actions due to the lack of

experience and underdeveloped conscience. They often do not fear consequences of their behavior

thus showing little regard for others in society.(Holman and Quinn, 1992) The show an excessive

need to control others, seeing others as just life-size dolls to control and use.(Sears, 1991:50) They

often do not plan ahead if engaging in deviant behavior. There are many different characteristics to

antisocial personality disorder. The following is a list comprised from Hervy Cleckley, an

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authoritative figure in this area, of some of the other main characteristics:

Superficial charm; intelligence; absences of delusions or irrational thinking; lack of nervousness; unreliable; untruthful, and insincere; exhibits poor judgements and fails to learn from experience; pathological egocentricity and incapable of love; lacks specific insight; unresponsive in dealing with interpersonal relations; displays fantastic and uninviting behavior when drinking and sometimes without; sex life is impersonal, trivial, and poorly integrated; fails to follow any specific life plan. (Sears, 1991:55)

Classification

Antisocial Personality uses Micro theory to classify an explanation of behavior at an

individual level. Observational and Empirical methods are used to measure crime and criminal

behavior in this theory thus using positive classification. Prossecual theory would apply to antisocial

personality disorder because it uses psychological, sociological, and biological information to explain

how individuals become criminal. The last classification would be consensus theory because it

focuses on the beliefs in laws and the Criminal Justice System of all members of society as being

equal and fair.

Theory Application

Neo- Freudian

Neo- Freudians theory states that an ego that has been damaged at a young age could result

in the overpowering Id taking control and manipulating ones behavior. One could argue that Gacy s

father damaged Gacy s ego by ridicule and belittlement to the point of feeling worthless. Gacy was

always trying to prove his worth to his father by great echievments he had tried to accomplish

through out his life. One could theorize that when Gacy s father died in 1969, he felt it was alright

to satisfy his needs and fantasies without his tormentor around anymore.(Holman and Quinn, 1992)

Antisocial Personality Disorder

Often a person with antisocial personality will be very manipulative and charming as well as

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cold and calculated in his/ her actions. Many victims and acquittances of Gacy s testified in court

that Gacy thrived on being in control and manipulating his victims with false promises. On one

occasion Gacy told his victim he was a magician and asked him to participate in a magic trick, the

victim was so persuaded he allowed Gacy to hand-cuff him and tied a rope around his neck.

Although he was choked and molested he was one of the lucky ones to be let go. In Cleckley s

theory he states antisocial personalities show no remorse or recourse for his/ her actions. Gacy never

displayed any remorse, in fact when he was caught he was eager to brag to the police about his

murderous actions. In his confession Gacy explained how strangled his last victim, Robert Peist, in

the middle of his living room. While doing so the phone rang so he finished him, and then calmly

answered the phone. Shortly after the call, Gacy was putting the body in the addict when the doorbell

rang- it was the police doing a check on whether Gacy had any knowledge of Robert Peist

whereabouts. The police left that day without having any clue about that murder. Gacy is consistent

with other characteristics of antisocial personality disorder such as lying or denial, lack of

nervousness, and an excessive need to control and use others. Gacy always maintained he was

innocent and that the victims killed themselves. He also told police that he was not homosexual,

which judging from all the young male victims found proves to be totally untrue. After ever murder

he had committed he was able to function normally in society as if murder was his other job. With

every encounter Gacy had he was always the dominant one. He always controlled the victim so he

could have his way with him, like he was a life size doll .(Sears, 1991:50)

Gacy had some inconsistences with antisocial personality disorder as well. Antisocial

personality disorder theorizes that a person with this disorder is incapable of love and unable to deal

with interpersonal relations. Gacy had been married twice and had two biological children. Both of

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his wives stated he was kind, loving and easy to talk to. (Sullivan and Maiken, 1983; Anonymous,

1992)

Critical Assessment

John Gacy can not be assessed easily. Although there are many theories out there, there are

not very many that accurately and consistently portray a psychological profile of Gacy. Of the

theories I have used, the antisocial personality disorder theory worked the most. Many of the

characteristics used in this theory fit but do not fully paint an accurate picture of Gacy s lifestyle.

Gacy was almost a real life Jekyll and Hyde in that he was known by many as a thoughtful, kind,

considerate and devoted man and others as a psychotic, violent and sexually perverse man.

During Gacy s trial the notion of split personality came up. When ever the police had

question Gacy about details of the murderers he could not really tell them what had happened and

would refer to Jack as the person who knew. When the police tried to question Jack , Gacy never

responded. This idea was eventually tossed out after psychologist said he was bluffing.

Conclusion

John Gacy is a complicated man who was seemingly charming on the outside but cold and

ruthless underneath, and had a clear absence of any feels of quilt. Through the psychological

theories used in this case study we might be able to get a little more understanding on how a man

can commit such brutal crimes.

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