Prosecutors from serial killer John Wayne Gacy's case say the "Gacy room" in Rob Zombie's new haunted house in Villa Park is distasteful and insensitive to victims' families, many of whom still live in the area.
"I find it to be in terrible taste," said attorney Terry Sullivan, who helped prosecute Gacy in the 1970s.
Fellow Gacy prosecutor Robert Egan, who now teaches criminal law at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, feels the same way.
"The kids killed were from the Northwest suburbs and Northwest side of Chicago, not too far at all from (the haunted house). It's a little too close to home and might open some old wounds. Not enough time has passed," Egan said. "I don't argue with Rob Zombie's right to do what he's doing. But it's a shame that what he's doing is causing the victims' families pain."
Zombie's new Great American Nightmare Haunted House, at the Odeum Expo Center in Villa Park, features several rooms dedicated to real serial killers, including Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer. In the 1970s-styled Gacy room, an actor dressed as Gacy sits in his famous clown costume, blowing up balloons, while two ghoulish dolls dressed as Boy Scouts sit on the couch.
In media interviews, Zombie has described the Gacy room as "funny." The haunted house's producer, Steve Kopelman, said the true crime rooms are meant to shock the audience with something new.
In the 1970s, Gacy killed 33 young men and boys and buried most of them in a crawl space inside his home at 8213 W. Summerdale Ave. in Chicago, near Foster and Cumberland avenues, in Norwood Park Township. He was put to death for the crimes 20 years ago.
Gacy remains the largest mass murderer in U.S. history to be convicted, Sullivan said.
Egan, who stood in Gacy's house every day as they dug up the bodies, understands that people are still fascinated by the crime 40 years later. He suspects most haunted house visitors are too young to remember how heinous the real case was, so it's just urban legend to them.
"I still remember it, and it still bothers me," said Egan. "It's in bad taste, but guys like Rob Zombie consider it a compliment, so what are you gonna do? As long as we have the First Amendment, we're going to have people doing stuff like this."
Murder should not be entertainment, added Jennifer Bishop-Jenkins, founder of the victims right advocacy group, IllinoisVictims.
"Would you go to a spoofy entertainment thing about a rape or a child molestation? There's nothing funny about it," she said. "(Rob Zombie) is the lowest form of human slime I can think of for deliberately trying to make it in the news media with this. The best thing people can do is not give this guy any money."