The search for more victims of serial killer John Wayne Gacy has led authorities to solve an unrelated 1970s cold case of a missing person linked to central Illinois, officials announced Thursday.
Chicago authorities have recently renewed efforts to identify more victims of Gacy, who is notorious for being one of the nation's most bizarre serial killers, mostly for his work as an amateur clown. Last year, the Cook County sheriff's office exhumed the remains of never-identified victims, prompting dozens of families of young men who disappeared in the 1970s to step forward.
That included the Noe family from Peoria, whose 22-year-old son went missing in 1978 while he was hitchhiking from Washington state where he lived back to Illinois.
DNA testing showed that Daniel Raymond Noe was not a match to the Gacy victims, but a larger search revealed a genetic association to an unidentified deceased person in Salt Lake City. Further investigation and testing confirmed that was Noe.
The remains of the onetime factory worker and surveyor were found by hikers in 2010 on a steep side of Mount Olympus, the Cook County sheriff's office said Thursday. Family and friends said Noe was an avid hiker and had wanted to return to Illinois to study at Northwestern University. Authorities said there were no signs of foul play.
"I think it's wonderful they found the body after all these years," Noe's mother, Phyllis Noe, told the Chicago Sun-Times. "This is a lot better than him being killed by somebody like Gacy."
Noe's parents said that after they hadn't heard from their son for months, they gave up hope he was alive. His father, Ray Noe, told the Sun-Times that for more than 20 years, debt collectors would call the house about one of Daniel's student loans.
"It was a constant reminder he was gone," Ray Noe said.
Meanwhile, authorities have been able to identify other Gacy victims in recent months or solve other cold cases. After exhuming the bodies last year, Dart said his office received calls from more than two dozen states and developed more than 100 leads.
Last November, authorities identified William George Bundy as a Gacy victim. The Chicago-area construction worker was last seen in October 1976 while heading to a party. In December 2011, a Chicago-area family who feared their son was a Gacy victim learned that he had run away and was alive in Oregon.
"While solving these cases is a bittersweet moment, the Cook County sheriff's office is pleased to give families some sort of closure regarding their missing loved ones," Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said in a statement.
Most of Gacy's victims were buried in a crawl space under his home, though detectives said four of them were dumped in a river after he ran out of room. Gacy admitted his crimes to detectives before he was convicted of murdering 33 young men and was executed in 1994.