In an interview from ISHI 24, Dixie Peters describes how the identity of a John Wayne Gacy victim is revealed after more than 30 years.
My name is Dixie Peters, and I’m the Technical Leader of the Missing Persons Unit at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, Center for Human Identification. The case that I presented today was “The Identification of a John Wayne Gacy Victim”.
John Wayne Gacy murdered 33 young men from 1972 – 1978 and only 25 of the victims were ever identified, and they were identified through personal artifacts, through dental records, and through Gacy’s own admissions, confessions, and his person relations with some of these young men. So, that left 8 that were unidentified.
In 2011, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office decided to reopen this as a cold case, and they exhumed those 8 sets of mandibles and maxilla and sent those to use to process for DNA. Well, the 8 cases that we processed, we were able to get full mitochondrial DNA profiles off of all 8 of those, and then partial STR profiles off of 6 of 8 of those.
Once we had some genetic results, then the Cook County Sheriff’s Office made a plea to the public for family members to come forward to give their samples so that they could also be processed and compared to these remains.
So, they made that press release in October of last year, and November of last year was when we wrote a report on the first association in which we made a mitochondrial association between the sister who was missing her brother. And he was identified as William George Bundy. He was age 19 when he was missing. He went missing in October of 1976 and his sister has always suspected that he was a victim of Gacy, and she and her mother had tried to find dental records for him about that time in late 1978-79, but his dentist had destroyed those records, so this victim went unidentified for more than 35 years until we were able to use DNA to reunite them.
These remains were buried directly into the soil, and they, the bones themselves, were very dark, so that some of the soil particulate had sort of leached into the bones. And also in Chicago, where there is a lot of snowfall, and the snow remains on the ground for months at a time, that kept the ground very moist, and then in addition, when the snow does melt, it continues to keep that soil moist, so that moisture sometimes gives with it bacteria, and that bacteria will eventually degrade the DNA over time. So, that presented a challenge. It’s just the age of these bones and the environmental insults that they had sustained made these challenging.
We have finished our work on the remains, however Cook County does continue to send us family reference samples that we will continue to process and continue to compare to the unidentified remains that we have. What was interesting, so far we have received 40 family reference samples that represent 24 pedigrees, and we’ve made that one association that I just mentioned.
There was another interesting association that we just made just this past month that was a mother and father, and we received their samples in the summer of 2012. It didn’t match to any of the Gacy remains, however it did match to some remains that we’d received in 2010. So, it was interesting in that we were able to help identify their son, and what had happened is that their son, during a summer break, had gone to Washington State for a summer job, and then he was travelling back to Chicago, and his choice was to hitchhike. Not really sure what had happened, they never heard from him again, and his remains, the remains that were sent to use in 2010, had been found on Mt. Olympus in Utah. So, not really sure exactly what happened, but oftentimes investigations can’t even begin until they know the identity of those remains.
But that also highlights the importance of the Missing Persons Program, and how it’s so important to try to get that information out to the families and to law enforcement, because these families don’t know that this service is available to them. And, it’s not just at our laboratory, but there’s other laboratories that perform similar work.
But, if they could come forward and ask for their sample to be taken, or if law enforcement would reach out to these families and say “hey, we can take your sample and submit those to a laboratory and put those into a CODIS database”. And there’s some chance that we would eventually be able to help to bring some sort of closure, some sort of peace to them to help them figure out what had happened to their loved ones.
But that’s just this whole thing with the missing persons; just continuing to do community outreach and to get that information out there and let families know that it could be 30 or 40 years ago or even more that their loved ones went missing, but it would never be too late.
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