A new book provides an insider’s look at America’s first gay serial killer
“He was a homophobic homosexual,” says Sam L. Amirante of John Wayne Gacy, the infamous murderer he defended in court in the early 1980s. “He was a dichotomy.” Amirante and fellow attorney Danny Broderick are the authors of John Wayne Gacy: Defending a Monster, a rare inside look at one of the nation’s most horrific and fascinating serial killers — and the first with an openly gay slant. Or rather, openly closeted. While Gacy, a Chicago businessman and small-time politician, freely admitted to killing 33 young men between 1972 and 1978 and often teased his wife by dropping hints about his bisexuality, the authors say he went to his 1994 execution refusing to admit that he was, as he liked to call men who enjoyed sex with men, a “fruit picker.”
The authors believe it was this internalized homophobia, an almost pathological lack of self-acceptance, that motivated Gacy to kill. “He hated himself because his dad hated him, “says Broderick (who did not represent Gacy), “which he would project onto these victims. He would really, in essence, be killing himself, over and over again. ”
Broderick says this internal homophobia is what created the monster they chronicle in the book: “His father wanted John Wayne as a son and he got John Gacy. I can’t help but think that if his father had possessed an ounce of tolerance, John Wayne Gacy as we know him would have never existed.”
In addition, says Amirante, homophobia contributed to the abundance of Gacy’s killings: “In 1978 it was a totally different climate.” According to Amirante, many of the boys who were assaulted by Gacy and lived to tell the tale “would go to the Chicago Police Department to complain about him, but because some of them were gay, nobody would listen.”
One witness in the trial actually tried to plead the Fifth Amendment rather than admit in open court to having engaged in homosexual acts with Gacy. While Gacy might not have embraced homosexuality, the book’s authors are a different story. Broderick not only has a teenage gay son who serves as the president of his high school gay-straight alliance, but his younger brother Jim was an openly gay gymnast who, by sheer coincidence, appeared on the cover of The Advocate in November of 1978, a month before Gacy was arrested.
Despite the atrocity of his client’s crimes, however, Amirante says his ability to defend the killer — whom he knew socially before representing him and calls a “likable guy” — was all in a day’s work. “To the rest of the world he was a monster. But he was my client — my very first client in private practice. And even though I was invited to attend the [execution], I didn’t go. I didn’t want to see my client put to death.”
Originally published in The Advocate, December 2011-January 2012