CHICAGO -- Detectives have long wondered what secrets serial killer John Wayne Gacy and other condemned murderers took to the grave when they were executed -- particularly whether they had other unknown victims.
Now, the Cook County Sheriff's Department is trying to find out by entering killers' DNA profiles into a national database shared with other law-enforcement agencies. The move is based on an ironic legal distinction: The men themselves were technically listed as homicide victims because they were put to death by the state.
Authorities hope to find DNA matches from blood, semen, hair or skin under victims' fingernails that link killers to cold cases. They want investigators in other states to follow suit and submit DNA of executed inmates or from crime scenes.
"You just know some of these guys did other murders," said Jason Moran, the detective leading the effort. He noted that some of the killers ranged throughout the country before convictions that put them behind bars for the last time.
The Illinois testing is the latest attempt by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to solve the many mysteries still surrounding Gacy. Dart's office recently attempted to identify the last unnamed Gacy victims by exhuming their remains to create DNA profiles that could be compared with the DNA of people whose loved ones went missing in the 1970s, when Gacy was killing young men.
That effort, which led to the identification of one additional Gacy victim, led Dart to wonder if the technology could help answer a lingering question: Did Gacy kill anyone besides those young men whose bodies were stashed under his house or tossed in a river?
"He traveled a lot," Moran said. "Even though we don't have any information he committed crimes elsewhere, the sheriff asked if you could put it past such an evil person."
Dart's office said Monday that it believes this is the first time DNA of those executed before the database was created has been added to it.
After unexpectedly finding three vials of Gacy's blood stored with other evidence, Moran learned the state would only accept the blood in the crime database if it came from a coroner or medical examiner.
The coroner in Will County, outside Chicago, surprised him by having, in an office freezer, blood samples from Gacy and at least three other executed inmates, all of whom had been put to death there in the period after Illinois reinstated the death penalty in the 1970s.