Ex-Glen Ellyn man 'hurt' to learn family thought he was Gacy victim
When his 88-year-old father saw a recent picture of Ted J. Szal, the older man wasn't sure who he was looking at.
After all, it had been 34 years since the two men had seen one another, let alone spoken.
"We got a picture of him, but it doesn't really look like him," the father, Ted W. Szal, said. "But I guess they say it's him."
The younger Ted Szal was tracked down Monday by Cook County sheriff's investigators working to identify eight unknown victims of notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Investigators located the younger Ted Szal, now 59 years old, living in Beaverton, Ore.
Investigators said the man's sister had contacted the sheriff's office when Sheriff Tom Dart recently announced renewed efforts to identify the unknown victims.
The younger Ted Szal, a native of Glen Ellyn, had disappeared from the area in March of 1977. His absence wasn't originally reported because he had a history of going in and out of contact with his family. But because he never re-emerged, his sister believed he might have been a victim of Gacy, who killed 33 teenage boys and young men and buried their bodies in and around his house near Des Plaines.
Gacy's crimes were discovered in 1978. He was executed in 1994.
Family members submitted DNA to cross-check against that of Gacy's unidentified victims, but there was no match. Meanwhile, investigators did a routine check of the younger Ted Szal's personal information. They found him living in a suburb of Portland.
"We thought he had been killed by that guy in Chicago," explained the elder Ted Szal, an Army veteran who fought in the European theater during World War II and now lives in Darien.
It turns out the younger Ted Szal left the area voluntarily amid a divorce and a conflict with the family, authorities said. According to a records search, the son has lived a fairly nomadic life in the Pacific Northwest since leaving Illinois. He has had several addresses in various Idaho towns, lived for a time in Western Washington and has had several apartments in the Portland area over the past decade.
When a sheriff's investigator located him earlier this week, the younger Ted Szal was surprised to learn his family was looking for him. The son asked the investigator to tell his father that he was fishing like the two used to do when he was a child.
The younger Ted Szal was 24 when he parked his car at O'Hare airport in 1977, threw away his keys and got on a plane to Colorado Springs. He says he intended to never look back, but it wasn't that easy. His wife pleaded with him to try and reconnect, but he admits he was too stubborn to make the phone call. That's all changing -- slowly.
"My family thought I was dead. That hurt me when I heard that," the son said. "There's a difference between being murdered and running away, and I basically just ran away."
The elder Ted Szal has been carrying a picture of his son with him for the past 34 years. He said he hasn't spoken with his son yet. His daughter is working to reunite the family, he said.
"I believe Christmas has come early for the Szal family," Dart said in a news release Wednesday. "Being able to tell an 88-year-old father that his son, whose picture he has been carrying around for 34 years in his breast pocket, has been found alive is something special."
The younger Ted Szal said he gave authorities permission to give his family his Oregon address so they could begin the reconnection process via letters.
"I just found out and I want to get used to the fact," he said. "The door's been shut, locked up, for 35 years."
The renewed effort by Dart's office to identify Gacy's unknown victims has led to the discovery of one victim's identity. Late last month, the sheriff's office revealed that forensic investigation had discovered that the body of one of the unknown victims was actually William "Bill" George Bundy, a Chicago resident who disappeared in 1976 when he was 19.
Investigators have also been able to rule out others whose families thought their missing loved one might be a Gacy victim. Another man, whose family thought he was dead, was also discovered alive recently in Florida.
Dart's office continues to investigate any leads. He is urging anyone who believes their friend or family member who went missing in 1970s to contact his office at (800) 942-1950 or via the department's website, cookcountysheriff.com.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.