Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dr. Steven Egger: Expert on Serial Murder

Tears of a Clown

John Wayne Gacy dressed as a clown
John Wayne Gacy dressed
as a clown

A killer in Des Plaines, Illinois, near Chicago, lured young men to his home and tricked them into allowing him to bind them with a special rope device. Once they were helpless, he would then rape and strangle them. No one would have guessed that John Wayne Gacy, a good neighbor and successful businessman who entertained sick children as a clown, was capable of the kind of deviance he displayed, but even as he threw large parties in his yard, he had nearly 30 of these victims buried in the crawl space beneath his house.

Near the end of 1978, when Rob Piest went to speak to Gacy about a summer job in construction and disappeared, the Des Plaines police put surveillance on Gacy and finally arrested him. He confessed, but tried to blame an alternate personality for the deeds. He also blamed the victims, saying they had come on to him. His final toll was 33, and despite his bid for an insanity defense based on an inability to control himself, he was found guilty and sentenced to die. While Gacy was on death row, Egger had a negative encounter with him.

"I talked to Gacy briefly through the bars," says Egger. "He had seen me on TV and he came across with some profanity that I had not heard yet — all these adjectives and adverbs mixed together, and then he ended by calling me an expert. I turned to him and said, 'John, I'm not the serial killer, you are. You're the expert.' All of death row cackled, because they did not like John Wayne Gacy."

I-57 killer Henry Brisbon
I-57 killer Henry Brisbon

Egger's comment got a rise out of the "I-57 Killer," Henry Brisbon, who was responsible for several murders along I-57 south of Chicago from 1972 to 1976, including a couple he shot to death after forcing them to "kiss their last kiss." While serving a long sentence at Stateville Correctional Center, he reportedly got into a fight with another inmate, Richard Morgan, and killed him. For that, he received a death sentence. Then he got into a fight with Gacy and tried to stab him, but did not succeed in killing him. This incident occurred just a few months before Egger arrived.

"He was willing to talk to me and to shake my hand," Egger says about the dubious honor. His most lengthy conversation with a notorious serial killer was the series of interviews he had with Henry Lee Lucas.


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