Cook County sheriff: Mother suspected Gacy killed her son

  • Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart announces the identification of one of John Wayne Gacy's victims as James Haakenson of Minnesota.

    Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart announces the identification of one of John Wayne Gacy's victims as James Haakenson of Minnesota. courtesy of the Chicago Sun-Times

  • James Haakenson

    James Haakenson

  • John Wayne Gacy

    John Wayne Gacy

Updated 7/19/2017 5:34 PM

A 16-year-old Minnesota runaway has been identified as one of the eight previously unknown victims of notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

In a news release, the Cook County sheriff's department said the remains of a person whose body was found under the crawl space of Gacy's Norwood Township home in 1978 were those of 16-year-old James "Jimmie" Byron Haakenson. The teenager had left his home in 1976 and was last heard from in August of that year when he called his mother and told her he was in Chicago.


In 2011, the eight unidentified victims were exhumed at the behest of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart in an effort to identify them using DNA technology that wasn't available when Gacy was caught in 1978.

Haakenson is the second of the eight young white men and boys to be identified since then.

Haakenson's siblings submitted DNA samples that were used to positively identify his remains. Detectives also reexamined other items and reports taken nearly 40 years ago to confirm Haakenson's identity.

It is believed Haakenson was killed in early August 1976. He contacted his mother by phone Aug. 5, 1976, the last time anyone heard from him. Two other young men found in the same grave as Haakenson, another unidentified victim and Rick Johnston, were believed to have been killed around the same time. Johnston's last known contact occurred Aug. 6, 1976.

Dart said Haakenson's mother, who has since died, believed her son might have been a victim of Gacy as far back as 1979, but dental records weren't available, and that was the main scientific method used to determine identities at the time.

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Gacy was executed in 1994, after his conviction 14 years earlier for the murders of 33 young men and boys. His crimes were infamous not only for the number of victims but also for Gacy's frequent performances as a clown named Pogo at children's parties.

In 1972 he began killing victims between the ages of 14 and 21, authorities said. Gacy buried most of their bodies in a crawl space under his now-demolished home in an unincorporated part of the county near Des Plaines. When he ran out of room under his house, he began discarding the bodies in the Des Plaines River. Four bodies were recovered from the river, though Gacy claimed he dumped five.

Gacy was caught and confessed to his crimes in late December 1978 after the disappearance of 15-year-old Robert Piest. Gacy lured Piest to his death under the guise of hiring him for a construction job. Des Plaines police worked a lead from a pharmacy where Piest worked to determine Gacy had offered his victim a construction job while visiting the pharmacy.

Police eventually secured a search warrant for the house and found many suspicious items, which led to round-the-clock surveillance, ultimately leading to Gacy breaking down and confessing to his lawyers.

Dart's renewed investigation into Gacy's unidentified victims has also solved four cold cases that were not related to Gacy and located five missing people who were still alive and two who had died elsewhere in the U.S. For example, in 2013, Dart announced that thanks to the DNA collection in the Gacy case, investigators were able to identify remains found in a wooded area in New Jersey as a teenager who ran away from a nearby orphanage in 1972.

• The Associated Press contributed to this story

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