Newly revealed Gacy victim's family speaks: 'The wait was excruciating'
Even though it had been nearly 45 years since she'd last heard from her older brother, Carolyn Sanders said the hardest part of his absence came during the past five months.
In June, Sanders was notified that Cook County sheriff's investigators needed DNA samples from her family as part of a missing person case. After hanging up with detectives, she wondered if her long-absent brother, Francis Wayne Alexander, was a victim of John Wayne Gacy, one of the nation's most infamous serial killers.
"It did cross my mind," Sanders said Tuesday during a video conference with reporters. "After the phone call. When I found out the location and the year that his remains were found, that was my first thought."
DNA samples from Sanders' brother Richard Clyde and their 87-year-old mother were collected and compared to a genetic sample from one of six remaining unidentified victims of Gacy, authorities said. The family wouldn't learn Alexander's true fate until earlier this month.
"The wait was excruciating," Sanders said. "Because as I mentioned before, my initial thought was Gacy, and with that going through your head, about your sibling, it's excruciating. I don't know what other word to use."
For decades, the family believed police were actively trying to locate Alexander. They believed their mother had started a missing person investigation in California in December 1976, when she called police to try to locate him after Alexander had given her an address where he wanted his birth certificate sent.
Police told her Alexander didn't live at that address. And that call turned out to be merely a well-being check, and no investigation into his disappearance was started.
"I always hoped that he was still out there and for some reason couldn't call, not that he didn't want to call," Sanders said. "I guess I always had hope that one day he would call."
Lt. Jason Moran, lead investigator of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart's Gacy victim identification task force, said Gacy's arrest led to major overhauls in the way police handle missing person cases in ways that likely wouldn't have allowed Alexander's disappearance to fall through the cracks the way it had.
"It really changed the way law enforcement responded to missing persons," Moran said.
The family really had no idea Alexander was still in the Chicago area since he was asking for things to be mailed to California. They believed he'd left the area after moving here from New York following a marriage that ended in divorce after just three months.
The last the family heard from Alexander was in November 1976, when he called his mother. Sanders, who was 14 at the time, also received a postcard that read, "Hey baby. I'll see you soon 'cause I love you, Wayne."
"We got excited thinking, 'Yay! He's coming home for Christmas,'" his sister recalled through tears. "And he never did."
Sanders and Clyde said the family talked frequently about Alexander and hoped that he would one day just show up at the doorstep.
"He was loved by the whole family," Clyde said.
Alexander's youngest brother said he even submitted his own DNA to an online database in hopes it would match with a sample of Alexander or someone who could lead him to his missing brother.
"Even until we got the initial phone call from (detectives) in June, I would go on Facebook and look up his name just to see if he would pop up," Sanders said. "But it just didn't happen."
Alexander's DNA was ultimately matched with a second cousin whose sample was being analyzed as part of the DNA Doe Project. The cousin's DNA sample was voluntarily submitted to the GEDmatch genealogy website. Several other cousins were also matched, authorities said.
"I think it's a great thing, the whole genealogy and being able to find your relatives and people you didn't know, your people," Clyde said. "It is great they can use the genealogy to help find missing persons. I think that's very important. And how it brought Wayne to us, it's a miracle."