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updated: 8/1/2011 3:32 PM

Attorney: John Wayne Gacy had a 34th victim

Gacy's attorney says there was another victim in the Des Plaines River

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  • Former judge Sam Amirante, who co-authored the book "Defending a Monster" about his work as John Wayne Gacy's defense attorney, reveals details from behind the scenes of the case, including sites in Des Plaines where Gacy carried out his horrible acts.

       Former judge Sam Amirante, who co-authored the book "Defending a Monster" about his work as John Wayne Gacy's defense attorney, reveals details from behind the scenes of the case, including sites in Des Plaines where Gacy carried out his horrible acts.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • John Wayne Gacy drew this picture of his attorney, Sam Amirante, while he was being tried for killing 33 young boys and burying most of them in the crawl space of his Norwood Park Township home.

       John Wayne Gacy drew this picture of his attorney, Sam Amirante, while he was being tried for killing 33 young boys and burying most of them in the crawl space of his Norwood Park Township home.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Danny Broderick listens to Sam Amirante, John Wayne Gacy's defense attorney, discuss the book they wrote together, "Defending a Monster."

       Danny Broderick listens to Sam Amirante, John Wayne Gacy's defense attorney, discuss the book they wrote together, "Defending a Monster."
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Sam Amirante, John Wayne Gacy's defense attorney, discusses his book, "Defending a Monster," which he co-authored with Danny Broderick, left.

       Sam Amirante, John Wayne Gacy's defense attorney, discusses his book, "Defending a Monster," which he co-authored with Danny Broderick, left.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • "Defending a Monster" by Judge Sam Amirante and Danny Broderick.

       "Defending a Monster" by Judge Sam Amirante and Danny Broderick.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Danny Broderick, who co-authored "Defending a Monster" with John Wayne Gacy defense attorney Sam Amirante, points to an entry in Gacy's checkbook log.

       Danny Broderick, who co-authored "Defending a Monster" with John Wayne Gacy defense attorney Sam Amirante, points to an entry in Gacy's checkbook log.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Danny Broderick holds a suit which notorious killer John Wayne Gacy wore to court in 1980. One pocket of the suit still holds butterscotch candies. Broderick co-authored a book with Sam Amirante, John Wayne Gacy's defense attorney, entitled, "Defending a Monster."

       Danny Broderick holds a suit which notorious killer John Wayne Gacy wore to court in 1980. One pocket of the suit still holds butterscotch candies. Broderick co-authored a book with Sam Amirante, John Wayne Gacy's defense attorney, entitled, "Defending a Monster."
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • A legal box holds items from John Wayne Gacy's murder trial.

       A legal box holds items from John Wayne Gacy's murder trial.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Video: Gacy attorney talks about 34th victim

 
 

John Wayne Gacy was put to death in 1994 for killing 33 young men and burying most of them in the crawl space of his home in unincorporated Norwood Park Township.

However, there was a 34th victim, Gacy told his attorney, Sam Amirante.

"There was one more," Amirante said during a recent interview in his Palatine law office. "He said he dumped five bodies in the Des Plaines River, but we only found four bodies."

Despite an extensive search, the unidentified 34th victim was never found. Because there was no body, Gacy was never charged with that death.

Speculation still lingers as to whether Gacy killed more men during his notorious murder spree in the late 1970s, but Amirante insists the total number of murder victims is 34. Amirante said the investigation was so thorough, and Gacy talked so much to so many people about his crimes, they would have known if there were any others.

In his new book being released today, "Defending a Monster," ($24.95, Skyhorse Publishing) Amirante describes his bond with Gacy and tells what it was like to be the attorney -- and close confidante -- for the most hated man in America during what was, at the time, the trial of the century.

Written in a conversational and John Grisham-like style, the book gives some insight into Gacy's personality. He could be a regular guy at a neighborhood picnic one minute, and transform into a coldblooded killer the next, the book said.

"There was a lot (Amirante) was privy to when Gacy was alive that we weren't," said Rolling Meadows attorney Terry Sullivan, who prosecuted Gacy and published "Killer Clown," a New York Times best-selling book about the case. "It'll be a testament to this part of history."

"Defending a Monster" is packed with fascinating, horrifying and even funny behind-the-scenes stories about the case, as well as graphic crime scene photos, newspaper clippings, and personal letters written by Gacy.

Specific suburban locations are mentioned throughout the book, including the Des Plaines pharmacy where Gacy picked up his last victim, Maine West High School student Robert Piest, 15. The pharmacy has since closed and the building is now a day care center.

Amirante, a retired Cook County circuit court judge who now lives in Barrington, was a 30-year-old lawyer when the Gacy case fell into his lap. He had just left the Cook County Public Defender's office and was starting his private practice when Gacy called him and asked, "Sam, can you do me a favor?" He wanted to know why the Des Plaines police were tailing him.

Amirante knew Gacy from Norwood Park political circles, where Gacy was a Democratic precinct captain. Amirante figured he'd make a few calls to the Des Plaines police department and that'd be that. But it became immediately apparent this was a major case. Gacy paid Amirante a $3,000 retainer, and became his first private practice client.

One late night before Christmas 1978, Gacy demanded to meet with Amirante. Tired and irritated by Gacy's rambling, Amirante slammed a Daily Herald story about the missing Piest boy on his desk and pointed at it, demanding Gacy tell him what he knew. "He's dead," Gacy told Amirante, and then unloaded a startling confession.

"Defending a Monster" details the personal struggles Amirante faced during this time, and his fierce determination to provide Gacy with a fair trial despite the heinousness of the crimes and the countless death threats Amirante and his family received for representing the madman.

"It's a story about Sam more than it is about Gacy," said Danny Broderick, the former defense attorney and Lake Zurich resident who co-authored the book. "The Constitution is one of the characters. The Constitution wins in that book. Sam doesn't."

While there are several other books about Gacy, Amirante said he wanted to write this one to set the record straight and show people another side of Gacy.

"It's Gacy's story, in some ways. People looked at him as a monster. I looked at him as a pathetic, broken man," Amirante said. "I wasn't looking at him as a guy who killed all these boys. I was looking at him as my client. My job was to protect him."

Amirante hardly saw his family during the 15 months he handled the case -- something he deeply regrets to this day -- but being Gacy's attorney also changed his life in positive ways. He said it made him more compassionate and a better judge, taught him how to deal with the media, and inspired him to write legislation, quickly passed into law, that required police to immediately begin searches for missing children rather than waiting 72 hours.

That program, called I-Search, helped find more than 3,000 children in its first year alone and was the precursor to the Amber Alerts we have today, Amirante said.

When asked if Gacy deserved the death penalty, Amirante, who mounted an insanity defense for the killer, paused and thought.

"Probably," he said, hesitantly, "but he shouldn't have been sentenced to death. They could have studied him, and find out why he did what he did ... so this doesn't happen again."

Amirante and Broderick, who are working on two other books, have already jokingly speculated who would play Gacy (Ed Norton) and Amirante (Shia LaBeouf) if "Defending a Monster" becomes a movie.

"Joe Pesci can't play me because he's too old. Danny DeVito can't play me, because he's too short," said the 5-foot-tall Amirante, laughing.

One thing's for sure: Gacy's story is still big news in the suburbs. Broderick says he was amazed how many people knew the serial killer through his work in local politics, his home remodeling business, or his volunteer work as the infamous Pogo the Clown.

"You cannot throw a rock in this town without finding one or two or three degrees of separation from him," Broderick said. "But it was a huge news story all over the world. It still is."

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