John Wayne Gacy: Defending a Monsterby Sam L. Amirante, Danny Broderick
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“Sam, could you do me a favor?” Thus begins a story that has now become part of America's true-crime hall of fame. It is a gory, grotesque tale befitting a Stephen King novel. It is also a David and Goliath saga—the story of a youn
Before Casey Anthony or O.J. Simpson, there was a “trial of the century”
which was arguably more grotesque than the other two combined,
especially when considering the body count . . . After more than 30 years, now-Judge
Amirante is breaking his silence about the infamous case . . . [the authors] take pains to demystify the man who has been known as the “Clown Killer" [and] paint a much more nuanced picture of a deeply conflicted man.
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JOHN WAYNE GACYDEFENDING A MONSTER
By SAM L. AMIRANTE DANNY BRODERICK
Skyhorse PublishingCopyright © 2011 Sam L. Amirante
All right reserved.
Chapter One"Sam, could you do me a favor?"
A telephone call, seven short words, a simple-enough request. That's how it all began.
I knew the guy on the other end of the line. Everyone on the Northwest Side did. He was a political wannabe, one of those guys that was always around, talking about all the big shots he knew, hoping that the importance of others would rub off on him, a nice-enough guy—maybe a little pushy, a bit of a blowhard, telling tall tales, but still, a nice-enough guy. He was a precinct captain for the Norwood Park Township Regular Democratic Organization, and so was I. He was actually one of the best precinct captains they ever had, better than me, some might tell you. He really brought in the votes for that tiny organization.
I had met him at one function or another. He always bought a full table at all the fund-raisers, ten tickets, which translated into a sizable contribution to the party; and then he'd fill the ten seats with kids that looked like they really didn't wear business suits very often, unsophisticated ... that would be a kind way to put it. They were usually his employees, young kids that worked for his contracting business.
Plus, he was on the Norwood Park Township Street Lighting District as a trustee, the secretary-treasurer, and I did some volunteer work on the side for the district. I was their lawyer. So I knew him.
"What's the problem, John?"
"You know all of the coppers over in Des Plaines, don't you, Sam?"
"Sure, John, I know most of them. We all used to work on different sides of the same building. I have worked on cases with most of them. Why?"
"Well, the Des Plaines police are following me around wherever I go. I have no idea why, but they're starting to cause problems for my business. It's really beginning to annoy me, Sam. It's getting nuts. Could you ask around and try to find out what the fuck they want, what they think I did, why the hell they are harassing me like this?"
He seemed genuinely upset—livid, one might say.
"What do you mean following you around wherever you go? How do you know?" Maybe he was just paranoid, imagining things, I thought.
There was a disgusted chuckle at the other end of the line. "If I am at a restaurant having breakfast in a booth, they are in the booth next to me. If I stop at a gas station to get gas, they are waiting across the street for me to finish. Wherever I go, they follow. No matter how fast I drive or how slow I drive, they are always right behind me. They sit outside of my house all night long until I leave in the morning. Then we all leave together. My neighbors are starting to complain."
Hmm, maybe this wasn't just paranoia.
I sat there wondering why in the world the Des Plaines police would have any interest whatsoever, but especially such an intense interest, in this rather-overblown, self-important hanger-on.
"How long has this been going on, John?"
"A few days, I think."
"And you have no idea why they are interested in you?"
"One of them said something about a missing teenager. I don't know. I sure as hell don't know anything about any missing kid."
"Let me see what I can find out. I will look into it."
"I'll owe you one, Sam. I really appreciate this."
"Call me tomorrow."
I hung up the phone and thought for a second about how John Gacy had once been to my house in his capacity as a contractor. My wife and I were planning an addition to our home to accommodate our expanding family. Our second son, Jimmy, had been born, and we wanted to add a new room, a nursery. That's what my wife, Mary, called it, anyway. I called it a bedroom.
We did not end up hiring him, but we seriously considered it. So, like I said, I knew him. I thought I knew him pretty well. What I didn't know, however, what he didn't mention during our short telephone conversation, was this:
On Monday, December 11, 1978, just three short days previous, John Wayne Gacy had an appointment at Nisson Pharmacy, a busy drug and sundries store located at 1920 E. Touhy Avenue in Des Plaines, Illinois. He had done some remodeling work at that establishment in the past, and when brothers Phil and Larry Torf, the owners of the store, decided to add some shelving and make some other changes, Phil called John.
Mr. Gacy arrived in his brand-new black four-door 1979 Oldsmobile 98 promptly at 5:30 p.m., as agreed, and parked in front of the store just off Touhy. There was snow and slush left over from a typical Chicagoland December snowfall, which would melt some during the day and freeze up solid during the night. John negotiated the puddles left over from the day's thaw and thought about offering to return with his snowplow to clear the parking area completely, thereby alleviating the puddle problem—he did plowing as a side business—but once inside the store, he was distracted by other things and never made the offer.
He shivered as he unzipped his black leather bomber jacket, stamped his feet on the matting just inside the door, and shook off the damp chill from the outdoors. He immediately saw Phil Torf coming from the rear of the store to meet him, and he lumbered his rather-cumbersome two-hundred-plus-pound five-foot-nine-inch frame down the aisle, big fleshy hand extended in greeting. As he passed the cash register, he smiled at the young cashier, Kim Byers, bundled up in an ill-fitting oversized light blue nylon down parka because she was exposed to the arctic blasts from the open doors every time a customer came in or went out. He made a mental note to attempt to sell the Torf brothers on a revolving door system to replace the simple double doors that presently existed and were the only thing blocking out the crisp December air. They are heating the outdoors and exposing their poor little cashier to the elements in the process, he thought. She might catch her death from a cold or flu.
He wasn't sure if he remembered Kim from his last extended visit to the store when he did the previous remodeling job. Back then, he was an employee of P.E. Systems, a firm that specialized in remodeling and design for the pharmacy industry. He had learned a lot from his time spent with that company, and now he was returning as the proud owner and proprietor of PDM Contractors (Painting, Decorating, and Maintenance), the company he had founded after he left P.E. Systems.
John and Phil shot the shit for quite a while before the contractor got down to business, taking measurements and figuring out a quote. During his time at the store, he was introduced, or in some cases reintroduced, to many of the employees; most of them were young kids working part-time after highschool to make some extra spending money, save for college, or save for a car.
One such part-timer was Rob Piest, a fifteen-year-old sophomore and budding star gymnast at Maine West High School in Des Plaines. Rob fell into the save-for-a-car category, and he was becoming increasingly frustrated at the seemingly insurmountable task of saving enough money to purchase a reliable car on his $2.85/hour wage at the pharmacy. He had looked at a Jeep and was getting close to his goal; he had $900, but it seemed to him to be taking forever. He wanted to make more money. He was fuming a bit because his employers had rebuffed his previous requests for a raise.
Rob had not been introduced to John Gacy; he was much too busy working, but he thought he had overheard the contractor talking to Linda Mertes, a longtime employee at the pharmacy, about his policy to pay his young workers $5 per hour to start. He couldn't believe that a highschool kid working part-time could make that much money. Linda later confirmed this fact to Rob, and he was intrigued, to say the least. Imagine making nearly twice as much money each and every hour! Rob was fast approaching his sixteenth birthday, and he, like every other teen his age, wanted to be ready when that magical age arrived—sixteen years old, the age when he would finally get his driver's license.
At 7:15 p.m., when Mr. Gacy finished his business at the pharmacy and left the store in his shiny new car, Rob was slightly disappointed. He hadn't had the opportunity to approach the man with an offer to work for him. He had, however, noticed that while the contractor was taking measurements and "walking off" the store, writing up his proposal and speaking with Mr. Torf, the guy seemed to be looking at Rob, watching him work. This happened more than once during the time the man was in the store. Rob was sure that the fat guy with the fancy new black luxury cruiser was impressed with his hardworking style, his attention to the task at hand, the overall way he worked so hard at his job. Maybe if he approached him later, called him on the phone or something, Mr. Gacy would give him a job that paid $5 per hour. If that happened, Rob would be driving his own brand-new Jeep before he knew it.
Meanwhile, John Gacy was speeding south on Interstate 294 on his way home from what he was sure was yet another successful bid for a new remodeling job. He had become adept at schmoozing the potential customer. He had long ago realized that he wasn't just selling the job, the work itself—he was selling himself. There were hundreds of guys that could do that job as well as he could, although he did pride himself in his attention to detail. He considered himself a perfectionist; lots of contractors did good work, but they didn't have his stories, his jokes, and his knack for befriending the customer. The $1,600 proposal that he had left with Phil Torf was money in the bank as far as he was concerned.
As John negotiated the ramp that led to the Kennedy Expressway and moved to the right lane where he would exit south at Cumberland Avenue, he looked at the seat next to him, then all around the interior of the car. "Fuck," he muttered to himself. "I left my damn appointment book at Torf's place." John was close to his home at 8213 W. Summerdale. It was just east of Cumberland, so he decided to continue home to check his answering machine before he made the trek back to Des Plaines. He also figured he might as well take his black Chevy pickup with the snowplow attached on his return. Maybe he would pick up some further business while he was there. Perhaps it would not be a totally wasted trip.
When Gacy checked his answering machine, he was reminded that he was late for another appointment that he had made with Richard Raphael, a business associate who lived in Glenview, Illinois. John knew he had to hurry but he figured Des Plaines was on the way to Glenview. It would all work out.
Had he not forgotten his address book, he would not have gone back to the pharmacy that evening. He would have driven straight to Glenview.
That evening, when John Wayne Gacy pulled up in front of Nisson Pharmacy for the second time, it was just past 8:00 p.m. He had made record time traveling back because he rarely paid any attention to speed limits. He thought of himself as someone far above those poor little souls that had to bother themselves with such mundane rules. He was much too important a figure to have to worry about speeding tickets. He would simply have them "fixed." He knew all the right people in all the right places.
As his pickup truck squeaked to a stop in front of the drugstore with its second set of headlights blazing above the snowplow, he noticed the kid that he had seen stocking shelves earlier carrying some trash out to the Dumpster in the alley. He watched as a young girl threw a snowball at him and ran away to join her friends, giggling and laughing. She was obviously someone he knew from school or from the neighborhood. The kid was wearing the same blue nylon parka that he had seen on the cashier earlier that evening. It was Rob Piest.
"You are a hard worker," Gacy said through the side window of his truck.
Rob looked up, squinting into the bright lights over the plow. John switched them off, allowing Rob to see who was talking to him.
"Oh, hi, Mr. Gacy." He pointed to the pickup truck. "Different ride."
"How did you know my name?"
"Linda told me. She said something about you looking for help ... or something."
"I could use a hard worker like you. I bet I pay better than your boss, Phil, does too. You interested?"
"Yeah ... yes, I am, sir, but I gotta get back inside right now. I can't let Mr. Torf see me talking to you about a job. You know what I mean. Plus, I'm on the clock."
"Loyalty, I like that. It's one of the qualities I like most. If I hang around till you get off, could we talk then?"
"Sure, but my mom is coming to pick me up at nine o'clock."
"I'll hang around. I have some more measurements that I have to take anyway," Gacy lied. "Then we can talk. It won't take long to exchange information. Right? Would that be OK?"
"That would be great, Mr. Gacy." Rob ran into the store. He was giddy. He could already see himself driving his brand-new Jeep.
John watched Rob enter the store and throw his jacket on some boxes near the cash register. Then he sauntered into the store as if nothing had happened, where he immediately saw Phil holding his appointment book.
"Did you forget something?" Phil asked, smiling, taunting him.
About five minutes before nine o'clock, John, while he futzed around pretending to remeasure the shelves in the store, saw a woman, who was obviously Rob's mother, enter the pharmacy. She spoke to some of the other kids and to her son and then meandered toward the greeting card section to wait for her son to finish up. John went outside to his truck. He surreptitiously eyed Rob and nodded toward the door as he left, all in keeping with their plan to meet without alerting Phil Torf.
Minutes later, Rob grabbed his coat, mumbled something to his mother about what he was planning, and ran out the door.
Rob Piest was never seen alive again.
* * *
"What's your name? What do your friends call you?" Gacy asked this as soon as he saw Rob bound enthusiastically out of the pharmacy. John had the engine running, and the cab of the truck was beginning to warm up.
"Rob ... Rob Piest."
"Hop in, Rob."
"Ah ..., Mr. Gacy, my mom is inside the store. She is here to pick me up."
"Don't worry, Rob, I'll take you home. She will understand. Won't she?"
"But, sir, it's her birthday. My family is waiting at home for me so we can cut the cake and sing 'Happy Birthday' ... all of that. I really have to be quick about this."
Everyone who ever knew John Gacy knew one thing about him—he was a master manipulator. He could sell ice cubes to Eskimos. He had the Polish version of the gift of gab. John had already decided that this young man was coming home with him. He was not taking "no" for an answer.
"You love your mother," he asked the question in the form of a statement, a foregone conclusion.
"Well, yeah, of course I do," Rob promptly answered.
"Imagine coming home with the news that you have landed a new job that pays $5 per hour to start, a job with perks and a future. She would be happy for you, wouldn't she? That would make her happy, wouldn't it?"
"Sure, it would."
"And what better present could you give to your mom on her birthday than to make her happy? Isn't that the purpose of a present?"
"I guess so ..."
"I have been watching you work, Rob. You have a great work ethic. I am also impressed by your devotion to your mom. Hell, I love my mom too. All true men should love their mothers. But I need for you to fill out some forms if you are going to work for me, and those forms are in my office at my house, which is about twenty minutes from here. I can have you back in about forty or forty-five minutes, an hour, tops. Only, in an hour from now, when you walk into the house, you will be able to tell that wonderful mother of yours that you have a new, well-paying job, that you have doubled your salary. What do you say? I have an appointment myself that I must get to after I drop you. You do want the job, don't you?"
"Are you saying I have the job, Mr. Gacy?" Rob was bubbling over with excitement. Five dollars per hour! He could easily make $100 per week. He would have enough for his Jeep well before his birthday in March. This was a dream come true.
"You will when we finish filling out those forms. We have to comply with all of the legal stuff, after all, right? No employer can afford to play fast and loose with the goddamn IRS."
Rob glanced back at the door of the pharmacy, thought for a second about how happy his mom would be when he told her about his new job; then he put his hand on the passenger-side door handle of the truck, opened the door, and jumped up into the pickup. He looked at his new boss.
Excerpted from JOHN WAYNE GACY by SAM L. AMIRANTE DANNY BRODERICK Copyright © 2011 by Sam L. Amirante. Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Sam L. Amirante is a retired judge and lawyer. His first case after leaving the Office of the Public Defender was The People of the State of Illinois v. John Wayne Gacy. In 1988, he was appointed to the bench as an Associate Judge of The Circuit Court of Cook County where he served until his retirement in 2005. He is now the principal attorney of the firm of Sam L. Amirante and Associates, P.C. Amirante authored procedures adopted by the Illinois General Assembly such as the Missing Child Act of 1984 (I-SEARCH), which is credited with helping to locate more than 3,000 missing children. Sam lives with his wife and children in Barrington, Illinois.
Danny Broderick founded the firm of The Law Offices of Daniel J. Broderick. During his twenty years of private practice, Mr. Broderick represented thousands of persons charged with felony and misdemeanor crimes. Danny has two sons and lives in Lake Zurich, Illinois.
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I have read Killer Clown by Terry Sullivan who was the prosecutor, and Chicago Killer by Joseph Kozenczak who was a Lieutenant with the Des Plaine Police Department during the investigation. This book really brings into perspective the great amount of work the defense has to to prepare a high profile defendant such as Gacy. Gacy was his own worst enemy, this book really gets inside and lets you really into the mind of a maniac. I enjoyed this book more than the others I have listed above. while I disagree with the defense on their claims of his mental standing, nonetheless and excellent read.
In the book "John Wayne Gacy: Defending a Monster," former Gacy lawyer Sam L. Amirante writes: "The basis of our defense was to save his [Gacy's] life and allow him to stay in a structured environment where he could be studied and hopefully prevent a repeat of such horrific crimes." That is all well and good, but if the defense was conducted like the book's trial portions, I can see why the jury found Gacy guilty of serial killings. But first, let's look at the book as a whole, insanity defense aside. The book is good and well worth reading. The first part threw me a bit. It is apparently a fictionalized account told mostly from the point of view of Gacy's last victim. I found it a bit unsettling (and confusing, as there was no note to explain) that the authors presumed to know this young man's final thoughts and words. The parts about Gacy's interaction with his lawyers and his behavior are interesting. I love true crime and legal thrillers, and this book satisfied both these parts of me. Something Amirante writes repeatedly is that he 100 percent believes Gacy's brain was broken, that Gacy did not know what he was doing was wrong. I wish the book would have made a better case on this. For example, the authors do not present what their rebuttal arguments (if any) would have been for some of the state's claims/examples that Gacy was odd, but knew what he was doing was wrong. Bottom line: Good book, worth reading, but does not go deeply enough to explain why Gacy was insane - IF he was - and how he could have done what he did.
Great book, but chilling. Living in Illinois during this time, finding out how close his proximity was to me was shocking. The book is great and fills in details I had no idea about. Must read.
Written by his defense attorney, we get to see things from Sam's perspective and his firm belief that even the most evil, in our judicial system, must receive adequate counsel.
This book shows how the system works, even for the worst of criminals. It made proud to be an Americian.
Hope you have this book in nook or electronic format soon. Was planning on buying it until I discovered it was not available....
The first half of the book reads like a fiction novel and tells all about Gacy's murders and background, which was a thrilling read. The second half of the book is about his trial from the perspective of the Defense. I don't particularly care for trial books, so the second half was not as thrilling to me as the first (especially since we already know the outcome of the trial).
This book gave great insight to a defense lawyer and what it's like to defend even a guilty person and every one's right for a defense in this country no matter the crime .
I was deeply disappointed with this book. I was looking for a perceptive, in-depth look into the mind of Gacy and his detailed accounts of what he did to his victims -- not out of morbid curiosity, but out of interest in understanding the mind of one of the most prolific serial killers in American history. I read the sample chapter, and was thoroughly intrigued enough to shell out ~$15 for the book. However, that first chapter was unfortunately the best. This lawyer clearly had absolutely no understanding of how murderers "tick" -- especially organized offenders. He seemed convinced -- or perhaps this is merely lawyerly deviousness - that Gacy was insane. This idiot actually believed that Gacy's "alter ego" John Hanley was not a carefully crafted ruse to make himself appear insane, but was a way of making himself [gacy] feel important as he was trolling for victims. How DUMB can you be? While I admire his staunch belief in "innocent until proven guilty", it is abundantly clear that he walked away from Gacy with absolutely no understanding of what a cold-blooded, ruthless predator he was. In fact, it seems that his sincere belief was that Gacy was simply insane, and needed to be put in some sort of prison mental hospital in order to be "studied" further. Furthermore, he never gave any sort of explanation as to why he was so convinced of it. Profilers like John Douglas, Robert Ressler, and John Hagmaier would have been disgusted with him. If you REALLY want to know exactly how the mind of a serial killer works, read John Douglas' "Mindhunter", as well as "Inside the Mind of BTK". THIS is a man who understands the deviousness of murderers, and who wouldn't be fooled by such idiotic ruses on Gacy's part. In fact, Bob Ressler -- one of the foremost profilers/researchers into serial killers -- interviewed Gacy at length. On a complete side note, the prose is terrible. He may be a lawyer -- and judge, God save us! -- but he is a horrible writer. I can't count how many times he asked the inane question "What is wrong with this guy?" Ugh. A complete waste of money. I highly recommend NOT to buy this book, not even for people who are novices in the study of forensic psychology or true crime books. Amazing as it is for me to say, the book manages to be BORING! He spends inordinate amounts of time detailing the drudgery of drafting TRO complaints and filing motions, and precious little covering Gacy's personality, crimes, etc. and their history. I wish I could get my money back, for surely there are other books on Gacy out there that are much better than this drivel. I apologize for sounding so irate, but his utter lack of shrewdness towards this killer is infuriating. He also spends precious little time dwelling over the individual victims. He should have gone over their lives one by one, to honor and respect them. Instead, it appears to me that he wrote this book to glorify his own role as Gacy's lead defense attorney. In fact, I feel my suspicion is more than that, as he readily acknowledges that he likes the limelight and was not at all averse to his 15 minutes of fame. Honestly, I'm disgusted with this man. Just for a quick comparison, the book "Helter Skelter", written by the brilliant prosecuting attorney Vincent Bugliosi, details the Charles Manson case. And while he did not understand Manson's personality as well as psychological profilers did, he still understood everything about the case -- and, indeed, was instrumental in finding Manson in the first place -- than this Amirante could ever hope to, with his client, and Manson, imho, was a much more complicated knot to unravel than Gacy. In short, this book is almost a paradox - boring sensationalism. I highly recommend looking for information on Gacy elsewhere: anywhere else. This guy has no clue what he's talking about. Again, I suggest to all readers interested in this topic to start with Douglas' book Mindhunter. You'll receive an education in how their minds really work -- in fact, you'll never be the same after you read it.
Great book. Creepy details on this infamous serial killer and interesting points of view from the people unlucky enough to encounter him.
Into the mind of a madman and how they defended him.