New podcast on serial killer John Wayne Gacy raises questions about police investigation

Gacy killed 33 young men and boys and buried them in the crawl space under his Norwood Park home in the late 1970s.

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Serial killer John Wayne Gacy

Questions are being raised in the investigation of serial killer John Wayne Gacy in a new podcast.

AP file

After a recent documentary suggested that serial killer John Wayne Gacy may have had accomplices, a new podcast from a Chicago-area attorney says the police may have lied about two key pieces of evidence in the case.

Gacy killed 33 young men and boys and buried them in the crawl space under his Norwood Park home in the late 1970s. He was arrested in December 1978 and executed in 1994.

Gacy’s defense attorneys, who worked on an unsuccessful insanity defense, were Sam Amirante and Robert Motta. Motta’s son, Bob, is also an attorney and is the host of the podcast “Defense Diaries,” which has been examining the Gacy investigation.

In Episode 8 of the ongoing podcast, Motta unveiled an admission by three retired Des Plaines police officers and a former Cook County evidence technician that key pieces of evidence that led to the second search warrant, which resulted in Gacy’s arrest, may have been fudged.

At the time, police were looking for information about missing 15-year-old Robert Piest. On December 11, 1978, Piest was being picked up by his mother from his job at a pharmacy in Des Plaines when he told her that a contractor wanted to talk to him about a job. It was the last time Piest was seen alive.

Ultimately, the search ended up at Gacy’s home on Summerdale Avenue in Norwood Park, the day after Piest went missing. Gacy invited police in and told them he was at the Des Plaines drug store but did not remember talking to Piest, said Bob Egan, in a 2018 ABC report. Egan was a Cook County prosecutor in 1978.

The next day police returned with a warrant to search Gacy’s home where they found handcuffs, fake badges and a photo receipt from the pharmacy where Piest worked that belonged to his girlfriend. However, it wasn’t enough probable cause for an arrest, so police began a 24/7 surveillance operation.

During the surveillance operation, Gacy invited two of the detectives keeping watch into his home and one of them claimed to have smelled decomposing bodies when the furnace kicked on while he was using a bathroom.

The smell and the photo receipt turned out to be the two biggest pieces of evidence that led to a second search warrant being issued, which led to the discovery of bodies in the crawl space and Gacy’s arrest.

But now, more than 40 years after the crimes that shocked Chicago, former law enforcement officials interviewed on Motta’s podcast alleges that both the smell of decomposing bodies was a myth and that the photo receipt was found in the garbage on the curb in front of Gacy’s home which constitutes public property, not inside Gacy’s home.

Motta argues those two facts are vital and that if police would have told the truth, a second search warrant would have never been issued. He added that although there is no question of Gacy’s guilt, police did not do things the right way and Gacy’s rights were violated.

“It was the right result, we all know that, but it’s a slippery slope. We can’t start crapping on the constitution on a gut call,” Motta said.

Karl Humbert, a former Cook County Sheriff’s evidence technician, who was in the Gacy house during the first search, told Motta on the podcast that there was no smell of decomposing bodies.

Humbert reiterated his claim in an interview with the Sun-Times.

When I was in there, when it was the original Robert Piest case, I was in there serving the first search warrant, I was not aware of any overwhelming odor of decomposition,” Humbert said.

“Decomposing bodies was not something that I was unfamiliar with, so my nose may have been differently attuned to the odors that these guys were smelling, the police from Des Plaines. One thing that I remember was that it was a very marshy, mucky smell and I went through a few swamps in my day. For me, because I had been in swamps and I did work with decomposing bodies, my nose is a little differently attuned to different odors compared to someone who is just going in and never was in a swampy, mucky area. But I’m not about to say what somebody’s interpretation was.”

Additionally, Humbert was responsible for evidence logs and noted that there was nothing logged about the photo receipt in his evidence logs from the searches in Gacy’s home.

When we as evidence technicians went into a scene, regardless of what the scene was, anything we collect gets inventoried . . . So anything that I collected that night would have been listed on the evidence inventory sheet and been part of my report,” Humbert said.

Former Des Plaines police officers Michael Albrecht and Ron Robinson also told Motta on his podcast that the photo receipt, believed to have belonged to Piest’s girlfriend, was found in the garbage on the curb outside of Gacy’s home — a key distinction because garbage on the curb is public property, Motta said.

But former prosecutor Terry Sullivan contends that Motta’s podcast is “much ado about nothing,” and said whether police found the photo receipt inside Gacy’s home or in his curbside garbage would not have mattered.

John Wayne Gacy is led into the Des Plaines police station in December 1978.

John Wayne Gacy is led into the Des Plaines police station in December 1978.

Sun-Times file

“Whether the photo receipt was found in his garbage outside or inside, it still would have been the same piece of evidence for us for the search warrant,” Sullivan said.

He also said he does not believe the receipt was not inventoried and said Gacy’s lawyers, one of whom was Motta’s father, Bob Sr., had plenty of time to contest it during the trial.

Albrecht, who went on to serve as mayor of Des Plaines, also said the location of the receipt was irrelevant and questioned Motta’s motives.

Motta acknowledges he’s been in negotiations with Netflix and other entities about the possibility of turning his podcast into a documentary series.

As for the six-part documentary “John Wayne Gacy: Devil in Disguise” that aired on Peacock in March that claimed that Gacy had accomplices, Sullivan said that may be more realistic than the claims made by Motta’s podcast.

“I have never denied that somebody else might have been involved with him at some particular point, we just never had any evidence that would have led us to indict or charge somebody,” Sullivan said.

Gacy’s lead attorney, Sam Amirante, said Motta’s claims seem like revisionist history to him, but added that the defense did try to get the search warrant thrown out during the trial.

“We put it out there in the very lengthy motions to quash the search warrants,” Amirante said. “Judge [Louis] Garippo said at the time the affidavits were ‘inartfully drawn’ but still good. Bob’s dad and I uncovered every stone and did everything we could attacking the work of the police,” Amirante said.

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