Harold Wayne Lovell hadn't been heard from for 33 years since the day he told his family he was headed to Aurora for a construction job. When he never returned, his family believed he was one of the eight unidentified victims of serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
Lovell's younger sister Theresa Hasselberg and brother Tim Lovell, who now live in Alabama, believed what their mother told them about their brother's disappearance. But, when word of the Cook County sheriff's office probe into the eight remaining unidentified Gacy victims reached them, Hasselberg contacted the department while her son took to the Internet. What he found shocked the family.
He spotted a police booking photo of Harold Wayne Lovell, now 53, from South Florida.
"I always believed what my mom told us, but we always had this little glimmer of hope that it wasn't true," Hasselberg said.
Since 1977, when Harold Wayne Lovell disappeared at age 19 over what his family now realizes was a "battle" with his stepfather, he did not know his relatives believed he was a victim of the infamous killer.
"He had no clue," his younger sister said Tuesday night. "He did nothing but cried when he found out."
Hasselberg said she and her brother Tim pooled together some money after reaching Harold Wayne Lovell by phone Monday night, and got him on a Greyhound bus for Alabama two hours after hanging up.
"We could not believe for 33 years he was actually in Florida," Hasselberg said. "We all thought he had died."
She credits the Cook County sheriff's department for the family's reunion with Lovell, which reopened the Gacy case two weeks ago. The department asked anyone whose male relatives disappeared from the area in the late '70s while they were in their late teens or early 20s to submit DNA to match that taken from the victims.
Lovell matched that description, and his family planned to submit a genetic profile to be tested for a match.
"When my son said they had the DNA for the eight, we got on the Internet," Hasselberg said. "We wouldn't believe that someone would be gone for 33 years and not be found or proven that he's dead."
Hasselberg said detectives found a piece of jewelry in one of the etching's of a victim's body in the 1970s that her mother said belonged to Harold Wayne Lovell, furthering their belief he was the victim.
Harold Wayne Lovell spent the entire day Tuesday, after arriving in Alabama at 2 a.m., catching up with his family and filling them in on the last 33 years.
"He had 56 dollars saved in his pocket, and he said he remembers me talking when I was little about going to Florida," Hasselberg said. "That it was warm and it was pretty -- so he bought a ticket and went."