“Clowns can get away with anything…Clowns can get away with murder.”
The creepy clown archetype is nothing new in the horror film industry, from Stephen King’s “Pennywise” to today’s Black Phone’s “Al” the scary clown has been haunting our dreams for a long time. But where did this once beloved children’s character, go so wrong? Many trace the origins of the demented clown concept back to infamous serial killer John Wayne Gacy and his alter ego of “Pogo the Clown.”
John Wayne Gacy is a Chicago native, convicted of the rape, torture, and murder of at least 33 men and young boys during his almost 10-year crime spree. But while the nature of his crimes was disturbing enough, his fascination with clowns, added an additional element of derangement and depravity to them. When Gacy dressed as his alter ego “Pogo” sometimes called “Patches” the clown he stated he felt invisible and untouchable. He felt that he could do anything he wanted, especially those things he could not do in normal life. Gacy would use his clown costume to perpetuate assaults on women, touching them inappropriately at events and getting away with it, as it was all “part of the show.” But his clown crimes did not stop at just frisky feels, Gacy unbeknownst to those around him was leading a double life. A life in which during the day he was involved in Chicago politics and community activities but at night he was raping, torturing, and killing men and young boys and burying them underneath his home. Quite the dichotomy.
Behind the Painted Mask
On the outside, Gacy had seemed to all like a pillar of his community. He belonged to the Jaycees, a group of young men that organized charity and community events, he was active in local politics and was a thriving businessman. He was also a part of the Chicago area “Jolly Joker” club, a group that would dress as clowns to perform for children’s events. Gacy had initially appeared happily married with two children, although his wife ultimately divorced him and took the children. From the outside, Gacy had appeared a normal, healthy, functioning member of the Chicago community. But inside Gacy struggled with his sexuality, drugs, alcohol, violence, and a deep sense of self-hatred.
So what would make a seemingly upstanding member of Chicago society turn into a cold-blooded killer? As with many serial killers, diving into their past usually gives clues to their disturbing futures, and Gacy was no exception. It was revealed that Gacy’s own father was a violent alcoholic who often trapped him in the basement of their childhood home, beating and berating him, calling him “dumb” and “stupid.” These words showed up in Gacy’s torture of his own victims, as he often berated them calling them “dumb” and “stupid” as he hurt them. Many experts feel that as Gacy killed his victims he was actually mentally killing himself, over and over.
“Clowns Can Get Away With Murder”
So, what’s with the clowns? Gacy stated that he felt “clowns could get away with anything” and that “clowns could get away with murder.” With the innocent exterior of the clowns, their face paint, big red nose, and floppy shoes who would ever suspect them of anything? Little did people know that this clown image would become an allegory for Gacy’s life, an innocent exterior, hiding his sinister acts. Because who would ever suspect an upstanding business and family man of cold-blooded rape, torture, and murder? Gacy identified with his alter ego of “Pogo the Clown” and felt he was able to do things in his clown disguise without the threat of being caught. Gacy even tried to enter an insanity plea during his trial, claiming Pogo the Clown was an alternate identity and was the one who committed the murders. It was ultimately unsuccessful.
When investigators searched Gacy’s home they found disturbing paintings of clowns all over the house. There were clown lamps, pictures, and paintings all over the home. And once Gacy was sent to prison, he even painted a number of self-portraits, done by Gacy himself in which he was dressed as his deranged alter ego “Pogo the Clown.” These paintings were originally displayed at a Chicago Gallery and were ultimately sold at auction.
The Final Act
Ultimately Gacy’s crime spree came to an end. Following the disappearance of 15-year-old Robert Piest, police began to zero in on Gacy. Gacy had met Piest at the pharmacy where he worked and Piest had left the pharmacy the night of his disappearance, telling his girlfriend that he was going to meet with “a man” about a construction job. When he never returned or made it to his mother’s birthday party that night, the police were called. Gacy initially denied having even spoken to Piest but police were not convinced as Gacy had been in the pharmacy that night and owned a construction company. Piest did not re-appear and the case began to escalate. The police performed an initial search of Gacy’s home but while they found disturbing magazines, photos of clowns, and a board with handcuffs attached to it, they did not find anything linking Gacy to a crime.
Finally, after months of searching, the police turned to a psychic. With the help of psychic Carol Broman, the police force was able to gain information that ultimately helped them solve the case and made believers of the entire task force. They were finally able to secure a second search warrant and were able to find what they had missed in their first search, 33 bodies. The bodies were buried in Gacy’s basement crawl space, garage, and even under the floorboards of rooms of his home. Robert Piest’s body was found at a different location a few months later. Gacy was caught and convicted. A judge sentenced him to 12 consecutive life sentences and he was given the death penalty.
Gacy died by lethal injection in 1994, leaving behind a legacy that still haunts our nightmares to this day. The Creepy Clown archetype Gacy introduced far outlives his death.