clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Family of newly identified Gacy victim can finally grieve, 45 years later

Family members of Francis Wayne Alexander, the third victim identified after the Cook County sheriff’s office in 2011 reopened an investigation into Gacy’s murders, said they “miss him terribly.”

The unmarked grave of a John Wayne Gacy victim that says “we remember”, Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021, at Glen Oaks Cemetery at 4301 Roosevelt Rd in Hillside, IL. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
The unmarked grave of Francis Wayne Alexander, one of John Wayne Gacy’s victims. His family spoke to the media on Tuesday.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

More than 40 years later, the toll of serial killer John Wayne Gacy is still being felt.

On Friday, a North Carolina family learned their late brother, whom they hadn’t seen since the late 1970s after he moved to Chicago’s North Side, died at the hands of Gacy.

And Tuesday, they spoke publicly, saying they are grateful for the work by the Cook County sheriff’s office to identify the victim, but still “miss him terribly.”

“We’re just relieved that he has been found, even though it was such a tragedy in the way he was found and killed,” Richard Clyde, the victim’s half-brother, said in an interview via Zoom with the Sun-Times and other news outlets.

Francis Wayne Alexander, whose remains were found in a crawl space in Gacy’s home in December 1978, is now the third victim identified after the Sheriff Tom Dart in 2011 reopened an investigation into Gacy’s murders of 33 people decades ago.

Alexander was around 21 at the time, and had only been living on Chicago’s North Side for about a year prior to his murder, which occurred around 1976, detectives say.

Genealogy information helped Cook County investigators identify Francis Wayne Alexander as one of the unidentified victims of John Wayne Gacy. | Brian Rich/Sun-Times
Genealogy information helped Cook County investigators identify Francis Wayne Alexander as one of the victims of John Wayne Gacy.
Brian Rich/Sun-Times

“Obviously we always held out hope that he would call or show up at a front doorstep,” said Clyde, 49. “During the holidays, he was talked about. ‘Wow, wouldn’t it be great to see Wayne during this Christmas?’ or ‘What if he came in?’”

Before his disappearance, Carolyn Sanders, Alexander’s half-sister, remembers piling into her father’s car with Alexander to see a movie every Saturday afternoon, and going to church with him every weekend. He was a “jokester” who had a sensitive side, family members said.

“We don’t consider ‘half.’ To us, we’re brothers and sisters, period,” said Sanders, 57. She and Clyde grew up on Long Island with Alexander and four other siblings before moving to North Carolina.

Glen Oaks Cemetery in Hillside, where Alexander’s remains were buried | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
Glen Oaks Cemetery in Hillside, where Alexander’s remains were buried in 1982
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Alexander, who moved to Chicago in 1975 after being married in New York, worked in various bars and clubs, the sheriff’s office said.

Sanders remembers receiving a postcard before Christmas from Alexander shortly before he vanished. “Hey baby, I’ll see you soon ‘cuz I love you. -Wayne,” it read, with no return address. She assumed her brother would follow through on his promise, but then he never returned.

Sanders said she would think about him often. In more recent years she would search for her brother’s name on Facebook to see if he would pop up, but he never did.

Then in June, Cook County Sheriff’s Lt. Jason Moran contacted the family, telling them he was looking into an unidentified persons case, and asked for a DNA sample and any other information they had about Alexander.

Though Moran didn’t initially tell the family he suspected Alexander to be a victim of Gacy, Sanders said she made the conclusion on her own when she found out the location and year Alexander’s remains were found.

“My initial thought was Gacy, and with that going through your head of your sibling, it’s excruciating,” she said.

Lieutenant Jason Moran speaks at a press conference about how Cook County investigators identified Francis Wayne Alexander as one of the unidentified victims of John Wayne Gacy. | Brian Rich/Sun-Times
Lt. Jason Moran informed the family that Alexander was one of Gacy’s victims on Friday
Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Gacy made it particularly difficult for law enforcement to identify his victims. After murdering them, he covered the bodies with acid and lime. But on Monday investigators announced they identified Alexander’s remains based on DNA matches with distant cousins who uploaded their genetic samples to an online database, GEDmatch.

Alexander’s remains were buried in Hillsdale in 1981 as part of a public funeral ceremony for the last of Gacy’s unidentified victims.

When Sanders and Clyde received news confirming what they feared, it was still “a shock,” Clyde said.

“We’re just trying to process it all,” Clyde said. “It’s very difficult.”

While Sheriff Dart told reporters on Monday that the family thought Alexander had willingly cut off communication with them decades ago, Alexander’s sister and brother disputed that.

“I don’t think any of us ever felt that he didn’t want to talk to us,” said Sanders, who was 14 at the time of his disappearance. Sanders said they always felt “something was preventing him from contacting” the family.

FILE - This 1978 file photo shows serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who was convicted of killing 33 young men and boys in the Chicago area in the 1970s and executed in 1994. More than 40 years after a collection of decaying bodies was found beneath Gacy’s house, authorities announced Monday, Oct. 25, 2021, that they have identified the remains of one more of his victims. (AP Photo, File) ORG XMIT: CER203
Serial killer John Wayne Gacy
AP Photos

While the sheriff’s office said a missing persons report was never filed in Alexander’s name, his family says they tried to report his disappearance to police in California, where they thought he was working, but a misunderstanding led to no formal report being filed.

Despite the difficult news, Sanders and her brother said that by “the grace of god,” they will get through it.

“I know he’s suffered, I’m sure, but he’s not suffering anymore,” Sanders said. “It’s just a process I guess you have to deal with the best way a person possibly can.”