Robert Egan dies at 74; prosecuted ‘Killer Clown’ John Wayne Gacy

During his decadeslong career, Mr. Egan worked in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and in private practice as a criminal defense attorney.

SHARE Robert Egan dies at 74; prosecuted ‘Killer Clown’ John Wayne Gacy
Robert Egan (center) walks out of court in March 1980 flanked by fellow prosecutors William Kunkle (left) and Terry Sullivan (right) after the jury in the John Wayne Gacy Jr. case handed down a verdict of guilty on all counts

Robert Egan (center) walks out of court in March 1980 flanked by fellow prosecutors William Kunkle (left) and Terry Sullivan after the jury in the John Wayne Gacy case handed down a verdict of guilty on all counts. Gacy was found guilty of the 33 sex-related murders of young men and boys, most of whom Gacy buried under his home.

Associated Press

Robert Egan’s wife, Tracy, remembers her husband as a gifted storyteller, though she said he rarely spared the gory details, even at the dinner table.

After decades working in criminal law, he had plenty of material.

One of Mr. Egan’s most notorious cases was the trial of Chicago-area serial killer John Wayne Gacy, for which he served as a lead prosecutor. Gacy, known as the “Killer Clown,” was put to death for murdering at least 33 young men and boys in the 1970s.

“We would be in the middle of dinner, and he would say, ‘You know, 33 bodies in the crawlspace under a house really creates quite a stench,’” Tracy Egan said, laughing.

Of Gacy’s 33 victims, 29 were found on his property in Norwood Park Township, and most of those were buried in his crawlspace. Four were found in the Des Plaines River.

Wrecking equipment tears at the former home of John Wayne Gacy in Norwood Park Township in 1979.

Wrecking equipment tears at the former home of John Wayne Gacy in Norwood Park Township in 1979.

Sun-Times file photo

Mr. Egan died April 6 of complications from pneumonia. He was 74 and had recently been diagnosed with cancer, Tracy Egan said.

Mr. Egan grew up on the South Side of Chicago and attended the University of Notre Dame, earning undergraduate and law degrees. He and his wife lived in Evanston, where they raised two daughters, Fiona, 25, and Lucy, 21.

Terry Sullivan, who worked with Mr. Egan on the Gacy prosecution, was “devastated” to hear of Mr. Egan’s death.

His former colleague was “a wonderful person and a fantastic lawyer,” Sullivan said.

“He was consistently a wonderful partner,” he added. “He never wavered and was always there when we needed him.”

Tracy Egan said her husband had a “storied life and storied career.” He worked in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and in private practice as a criminal defense attorney. He also worked as a compliance officer in the Cook County Sheriff’s Office.

“Bob left an indelible mark on the office with his kind-hearted nature and his commitment to justice,” Sheriff Tom Dart said in a statement.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart speaks at an October 2011 news conference, joined by Robert Egan (far right), about renewed efforts to identify  eight of serial killer John Wayne Gacy’s victims.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart speaks at an October 2011 news conference, joined by Robert Egan (far right), about renewed efforts to identify eight of serial killer John Wayne Gacy’s victims. Egan had been lead prosecutor on the Gacy case.

Sun-Times file photo

Another case that worked its way into Mr. Egan’s repertoire of courtroom stories was the Dave Matthews Band Chicago River incident. Mr. Egan supervised the prosecution after one of the band’s tour buses dumped hundreds of pounds of sewage from the Kinzie Street Bridge onto an architectural tour boat below.

“He just had a very wonderful way of telling the story that was fair and funny and just rich with often gory detail,” Tracy Egan said.

Mr. Egan taught at Oakton Community College from 2006 to 2015, and throughout his career mentored and taught students and young attorneys.

“Nothing made him happier” than following the careers of young lawyers he had worked with, Tracy Egan said. Since her husband’s death, many people have expressed their gratitude for his mentorship. She believes his strength as a mentor came from his willingness to listen to people’s stories.

Robert Egan wears a red collared shirt and glasses as he smiles at the camera in this family photo. Mr. Egan, who prosecuted John Wayne Gacy, died on April 6, 2023 following a recent cancer diagnosis.

Robert Egan was a “wonderful dad,” said his wife of nearly 30 years, Tracy Egan. The couple lived in Evanston, where they raised daughters Fiona and Lucy.

Family photo

“Bob was a very humble man, and he would not really in life boast about anything that he did,” Tracy Egan said. “He would just really be overwhelmed with how many people count him as a mentor and a friend and an inspiration.”

Toward the end of Mr. Egan’s life, Tracy Egan said she collected letters to be read to her husband at the hospital. She said the “outpouring of respect” in those letters was “really meaningful” to her and their daughters.

Mr. Egan was a “wonderful dad” and would “involve his girls in anything,” Tracy Egan said. He loved aviation and would take Fiona and Lucy to the airport to watch planes take off on the weekends, she said. He would also referee soccer games, drive the girls around and always show interest in his daughters’ schoolwork and sports.

Her husband, she added, often watched movies with Fiona and Lucy, and sometimes, he would get emotional.

“Even though he was kind of a ruthless and very skilled trial attorney, he would weep at ‘The Natural’ or ‘Top Gun,’” Tracy Egan said. “He was an all-in kind of person, for sure.”

The Latest
Mr. Woo, who became a Chicago cop in 1969, is remembered as one of the department’s first Chinese American officers, and co-founder of the Asian American Law Enforcement Association.
The four Northwestern educators are charged with obstructing police during the protest. Those arrested questioned the timing, and the potential chilling effect on academic freedom.
Monday’s storms knocked down transmission towers and scattered wires across Interstate 55 near Channahon.
King Arthur already had a robust mail-order business, which makes up 30% of its sales, and it’s been sharing recipes and baking tips online for years.
Here are a few ways you can tweak your diet to help eat your way to a calorie deficit, or at least make it harder to go overboard on them.