To Catch a Killer (1992)
"To Catch a Killer" tells the true gruesome story of John Wayne Gacy - a good friend and helpful neighbour, a great child entertainer, a respectful businessman, and a violent serial killer who raped and murdered over 30 young boys.
One night at a pharmacy in Des Plaines, IL, a 15-year-old named Chris Gant mysteriously disappears after being seen talking with a heavy-set contractor named John Wayne Gacy (Dennehy). The boy's parents immediately call in the Des Plaines police, led by Lt. Joe Kozenczak (Riley) who investigates Gacy's background to find out that the contractor had a history of assaulting young men. A search warrant is obtained and evidence from the Gacy house reveals the contractor's ties to several missing boys. Gacy is put under surveillance but strikes back with a lawsuit. Eventually a second warrant is obtained, and something more frightening is found - there are bodies buried all over the property! Gacy is charged with 33 counts of first-degree murder. This is the true story of how the worst mass murderer in the history of the United States was eventually brought to justice, and how the methods used to apprehend him became the model for law enforcement across the country in detecting & apprehending mass murderers.
It is December of 1978, and 15-year old Chris Gant disappears after being observed talking to a contractor about a potential new job. He would never be seen alive again. The man he was talking to was John Wayne Gacy - the worst mass murderer in the history of the United States. Chris's family immediately report him missing to the Des Plaines, IL, Police, and Lt. Joseph Kozenczak starts looking for the missing boy right away. Looking into Gacy's past, they discover he has a history of assaults on young men & boys, and this enables them to get a warrant to search his house. They find several items that belong to other missing people, along with a photo stub that was in the parka Chris was wearing the night he disappeared! Gacy is put under 24-hour surveillance by the police but swiftly reacts by trying to have his lawyer file a lawsuit to shut down the investigation. With time running out, Kozenczak interviews Gacy's old roommate Ted Koslo, who reveals a frightening secret - that Gacy was making him dig holes under the house, supposedly for drainage tiles. In addition, after being invited into the house, a policeman notices a bad smell in the immaculately-kept home - the smell of decomposing bodies! Gacy is later arrested on a drug charge and a second search warrant is obtained. When Kozenczak and his officers re-enter Gacy's house, the house is filled with the odor of death, and within minutes, an officer makes a horrifying discovery; there are bodies in the crawlspace under the house. A long excavation & recovery process begins which reveals 25 bodies in the crawlspace, and 4 others found in various locations on the property. In addition, 4 more bodies are found off the property, dumped in the Des Plaines river. This is the story of how a small-town police department put an end to the career of the worst mass-murderer in U.S. history, and of the detective whose tactics became adopted around the country in the detection & arrest of serial murderers.
- At the Wabash Ave. Police precinct in Chicago, a man, Marko Miklovich, reports his 19-year old son missing, and urges the officer taking the report to call the construction company his son worked at, LPW. The officer sends the man away with instructions to wait 48 hours before inquiring again. A few months later, a woman is reporting her 18-year old son missing to police in neighboring Des Plaines, IL. The officer assures her he will likely show up sometime soon.
December 11, 1978. 15-year-old Chris Gant is working at the Austin pharmacy, and has just asked his boss, owner Vincent Austin, for a raise. He is disappointed when his boss refuses, in spite of wanting to give him a raise for his hard work. Nearby, a burly contractor and owner of LPW Construction, John Wayne Gacy, overhears the conversation and states he starts his staff off at twice the rate the pharmacy pays. Chris overhears Gacy and thinks about talking to the contractor. He buys a gift of perfume for his mother's birthday and then gives co-worker Cindy Beck a roll of film for development. She puts the receipt in his parka - an act that will prove important later. Chris discovers that Gacy has left behind a workbook while talking to Mr. Austin about putting in shelves, and when his mother comes to pick him up he tells her he just wants to speak to the contractor who left the book, as he may offer Chris a job.
As closing time approaches, there is no sign of Chris. His mother looks out in the parking lot and calls out to him but gets no reply. Cindy and Mr. Austin check through the store but there is no sign of him. Mr.Austin decides to phone Gacy just in case, but gets a recording. As the recording is playng we see Gacy's Oldsmobile parked outside, indicating he is, in fact, at his home.
Next morning, Des Plaines P.D. Chief of Detectives Lt. Joseph Kozenczak is reviewing the Chris Gant missing persons file with a colleague, when the desk sergeant comes in and tells him that the family is outside. Kozenczak reviews the details of their son's disappearance with them, and finds out the details of Chris' apparent meeting with John Gacy. The lieutenant then asks to speak privately to Chris's sister, Lorna. He asks if Chris could have run away; Lorna tells him that they were informed of a 48 hour waiting period before police could act (according to department policy), and also that Chris had disappeared on her mother's birthday. Kozenczak is now convinced that Chris Gant is NOT a runaway, and orders his colleague, Det. Williams, to work full time on Chris Gant's file until the boy is found. Williams protests, but Kozenczak insists on carrying on. He also calls in 2 other men to help. Gacy eventually returns a call to the police and tells them he had been seeing a sick uncle, which delayed his visit to the police. Later on Kozenczak pays a visit to Gacy at his home,and is brushed off by the contractor. After the lieutenant and 1 other officer leave the house (and a 2nd officer sits outside), we see Gacy climb the stairs to the attic and shine a light on a big bag that has been trussed with rope and weighed down. Not long after, the company van, driven by Gacy's foreman Ted Koslo, leaves the house and the officer follows. Gacy soon emerges from the house, looking out into the empty street.
Next day, Kozenczak approaches the City Attorney regarding a possible search warrant for Gacy's home, after another detective discovered that Gacy had assault complaints against him pending in Chicago. Showing the violent nature of the assault to Attorney Carlson, she urges caution but has a colleague help Kozenczak with a request for a warrant. In the meantime, Gacy has shown up with his business lawyer and starts making a statement to Kozenczak's colleagues. Kozenczak takes the application to a judge, who has met Gacy personally and is stunned by the nature of the kidnapping complaint contained in the warrant. The judge asks Kozenczak if he thinks Gacy has, in fact, 'grabbed a kid' ; Kozenczak replies, 'Yes, sir'. The judge only pauses a second before signing the search warrant.
When Kozenczak returns to the police building,he asks Gacy for the keys to his house, and hands Gacy's lawyer the warrant. The lawyer orders Gacy to hand over the keys, but asks how the warrant was obtained. Kozenczak replies simply, 'talk to your client' , and Gacy reluctantly hands over the keys. Arriving at the house, Kozenczak and his men start their search. They find several things that point to a possibly chilling end for Chris, as well as several items implicating Gacy in the possible disappearance of several other young men; hundreds of pieces of jewelry (too small for Gacy), numerous pairs of underwear (also too small for Gacy), wallets minus the ID, male pornographic magazines, and handcuffs. But Kozenczak himself finds the most chilling thing: a board with a set of handcuffs at either end. Another officer finds a trap door in the closet, which leads to a crawlspace under the house. The door is opened but the officers see nothing in the crawlspace.
After returning the keys to Gacy Kozenczak informs him that the company van and Gacy's car have been impounded for inspection under the warrant's terms. Gacy curses at the lieutenant and his lawyer drives him home. The lieutenant approaches his boss, Chief Wally Cameron, about having Gacy placed on 24-hour surveillance. The chief reluctantly approves, but Kozenczak still has to get the cooperation of the department's Delta Unit commander, Mike Paxton. 24-hour surveillance is commenced, and the officers see Gacy committing numerous drug offences and driving recklessly, but do not arrest him.
While processing the evidence obtained from the house, Kozenczak and the other officers discover that a ring found in the house came from a boy who attended the same high school as Kozenczak's son, and when Det. Williams visits the boy's parents he is informed that their son has been missing for 2 years. They also find out from their surveillance teams that Gacy's foreman, Ted Koslo, owns a car that matches the description of the car that belonged to the boy whose ring was found in Gacy's house. Koslo is interrogated and reveals that Gacy sold the car to him for $350. He also reveals that Gacy has been 'hitting' on some of the young men who work at LPW Construction, and also that Gacy could not be at his father's funeral as he was in Iowa under unclear circumstances. Kozenczak instructs Det. Williams to find out the reason, and it is discovered that Gacy was incarcerated in Waterloo, Iowa for a sodomy conviction dating back to 1968. As no one currently at the department knows the details behind that conviction, Kozenczak contacts Waterloo's Chief of Police the following day at his fishing spot. The chief tells Kozenczak that Gacy brutalized and raped a young man multiple times, keeping him prisoner in his garage. Gacy was paroled after only 18 months, after which time he returned to Chicago and apparently resumed his criminal behavior.
Gacy's former wife, Helen, visits Kozenczak and informs him that during their marriage Gacy was taking boys into the garage. She also tells him that a father called about his missing son - a John Miklovich - and wanted John to call him back. Gacy reportedly said he 'had better things to worry about than some dumb kid who had quit on him'.
Kozenczak visits the Gant family & advises Mr. Gant that he has arranged for an Illinois State Police search team to start looking in the tree belt & along the Des Plaines River. He also states the search team will need pieces of clothing that Chris wore, so the dogs can pick up the scent. Mr. & Mrs. Gant now realize that Chris is most likely never coming home alive, and Kozenczak promises to continue to look for Chris and find him, dead or alive.
Gacy begins to sense the net of the law closing in around him, and files a lawsuit against Des Plaines Police & Kozenczak to shut down the investigation, taunting the lieutenant, 'Don't you know a clown can get away with murder?', referring to his alter-ego as Pogo the Clown. Kozenczak is undeterred by this threat, and continues with drawing the net ever closer to his prime suspect.
City Attorney Carlson is made aware of the lawsuit, and that it is only a short time before it enters a court of law. Also, she believes a judge will grant the restraint order and that she will not fight it as, 'besides, Don tells me most of your men are fed up anyway.'
Det. Williams informs Kozenczak that Lester Trask's mother informed him that Lester had carried a small portable TV set in his car, and when Kozenczak looks over the photos taken in Gacy's house during the search warrant he discovers a TV in the room that matches the description exactly. He decides that his men will have to try to find a way to track down the serial number, and Det. Williams speaks to Mrs. Trask again about locating the papers with the serial number.
The State Police search of the tree belt & Des Plaines river area reveals little of significance, but the sergeant in charge does tell Kozenczak that evidence was uncovered of tire tracks leading to the river's edge, and drag marks - possibly a body - leading to the water. The sergeant also states that the river is frozen solid and there is no way to search for the body until spring. As Kozenczak instructs his CSIs to check the tire treads again, something catches his and the sergeant's attention: one of the police dogs has assumed the 'death pose' at the trunk of Gacy's car. Unfortunately, it isn't substantial enough to be accepted as evidence.
Det. Williams visits John Miklovich's father at his meat packing plant, and is informed by the father that Gacy was uncooperative in his efforts to find his son. Even more chilling was the way Mr. Miklovich described the way Gacy looked at his son when he came to pick the boy up from work.
When he visits the Gants again, Mrs. Gant asks when Gacy will be arrested. Her husband gently replies, ;that's police business'. Mrs. Gant comments that her son took so many lovely photos, but they had so few of him, and speculated there may be some in the roll Cindy was getting developed. Kozenczak immediately asks when the roll was put in for developing, and a quick call to the Austin Pharmacy reveals it was entered on December 11 - the night Chris disappeared, and that Cindy Beck had entered it. As Kozenczak locates the photo receipt from the evidence room, Det. Williams calls the high school, only to be told that she is away at a swim meet but will be back later that afternoon. Kozenczak & Williams catch up to Cindy at the school, and they inform her that the receipt was found in the house of a man they believe has killed Chris Gant. Cindy states that she had put the receipt in the coat Chris was wearing the night he had disappeared. Kozenczak goes to City Attorney Carlson to apply for a 2nd search warrant, but the overly cautious City Attorney, afraid of stepping on legal toes, does not think it is enough to justify a warrant. She pawns it off on her deputy and runs out the door to a basketball game. Kozenczak & Williams angrily turn on the deputy, stating a 2nd search warrant MUST be obtained before a restraint order is obtained.
Gacy starts inviting surveillance officers into his home, and during 1 of these visits an officer tries to get the TV serial number. As he does so, under the pretext of using the bathroom, he notices a strong, foul smell coming from the heating vents in the house. When he emerges, Gacy violently evicts the men, threatening them as they leave. The officer, however, is successful - but got the model # instead of the serial number.
Later, that officer states to Kozenczak that he had smelled that nasty scent from Gacy's house before; from his days in Chicago P.D. He states it was exactly the same as the smell from the dead bodies at Cook County Morgue. Kozenczak & the officer head for the City Attorney's office.
Gacy, meanwhile, has showed up at his lawyer, Jake Burns, office, violent, angry, and high on drugs. Burns takes Gacy into his office, while the surveillance officers remain in the lobby. Gacy is in the office for several hours, and Burns emerges the next morning just as the officers' surveillance relief arrives. Burns informs the officers grimly, 'Whatever you do, DON'T let him go. Shoot out the tires of his car if you have to.'. The officers are stunned, but follow Burns' instructions as Gacy emerges from the office. Burns suggests calling a doctor, but Gacy reacts violently to Burns' suggestion. The officers follow Gacy out to his car & start tailing him again.
In a meeting with Carlson, Kozenczak lays out all the evidence uncovered so far. First, is the photo receipt put into Chris Gant's jacket the night his disappeared, and was found by Kozenczak during the search of the house. Also, the officer who smelled decomposition of flesh, coming from the heating vents in Gacy's house. In addition, there is the car sold to Ted Koslo, which previously belonged to a missing boy whose ring turned up in Gacy's desk; there is also the still-missing John Miklovich; and the surveillance team's report that even Jake Burns does not want Gacy escaping. Carlson is finally satisfied there is enough for a warrant, and Kozenczak returns to his office to start preparing the affidavit and evidence.
During the warrant preparation, surveillance officers pursue Gacy toward Chicago's O'Hare Airport, where Koslo told officers Gacy would try to fly out from. The officers call in Mike Paxton, the supervisor, and he soon joins the pursuit and catches up to Gacy. He signals Gacy to pull over, but the contractor continues to drive recklessly. Kozenczak is informed of the developing situation and authorizes the arrest to stop Gacy from leaving. Carlson does not think Gacy should be arrested, but she is unaware that Gacy had supplied Koslo with illegal qualuudes in front of officers. Paxton & the other 2 officers finally force Gacy off the road & arrest him for posession & distribution of an illegal substance.
As Gacy is being brought in, Kozenczak & the evidence technician, armed with the 2nd search warrant, enter Gacy's house. The foul stench is immediately obvious to the 2 men as they enter. Kozenczak goes to shut off the furnace while the evidence technician goes to work in the crawl space. As the lieutenant walks back towards the front door, the evidence tech calls up to him; 'Lieutenant, you'd better call the medical examiner. I think there's parts of 2, maybe 3 bodies down here'.
That night, the street in front of Gacy's house is cordoned off with yellow crime scene tape. It is also swarming with police cars, ambulances & crime scene vehicles. Officers are emerging from the house with basket stretchers containing the skeletal, decomposed remains of 25 boys kidnapped, tortured & then killed by John Gacy over a 6-year period - and found buried in the crawlspace of his house. A 26th body was reported found under the concrete floor of the garage, and a 27th under the recreation room's floorboards. Chief Cameron congratulates Kozenczak on putting a stop to John Wayne Gacy.
Inside the house, most of the walls & floors are stripped as more bodies are removed. It is revealed that Chris Gant's body was not among them, although his blue down jacket was found behind the furnace.
That spring, Joe Kozenczak continues to hunt for Chris Gant's body. 4 months later, at the junction of the Des Plaines & Illinois rivers, he is found. As Kozenczak drives off to break the horrible news to the family, the final disposition of the case is revealed; John Wayne Gacy was tried & found guilty of Chris Gant's murder as well as 32 other murders of young men & boys. He was sentenced to die and as of filming was awaiting execution (the real John Wayne Gacy was executed by lethal injection in May of 1994). The methods Kozenczak & his men used to ultimately prove Gacy's guilt became the FBI's template for training state & local police forces in detecting - and arresting - serial killers.