DNA has been used to name a previously unidentified victim of John Wayne Gacy, a serial killer and sex offender who murdered at least 33 people in Chicago in the 1970s.
The newly identified victim – Francis Wayne Alexander, originally from North Carolina – would have been 21 or 22 years old at the time of his death between December 1976 and March 1977. Cook County Sherriff Thomas J. Dart, speaking at a news conference, said that “[His family] just loved him, but they thought that he wanted nothing more to do with them, so that’s why there was never a missing person’s report.”
In a press release from the Cook County Sherriff, Alexander’s sister Carolyn Sanders said that “It is hard, even 45 years later, to know the fate of our beloved Wayne. He was killed at the hands of a vile and evil man. Our hearts are heavy and our sympathies go out to the other victims’ families.”
Francis Wayne Alexander’s remains were one of 26 sets found in the crawlspace of Gacy’s residence. Eight of Gacy’s victims were buried before they could be identified – but were exhumed in 2011 as the Sherriff’s office called for relatives of men who went missing in Chicago in the 1970s to submit DNA to help reveal their identities. Since then, three of these victims have been identified: 16-year-old James Byron Haakenson, 19-year-old William George Bundy, and now Francis Wayne Alexander.
To identify Alexander – then only known as “Gacy Victim Five” – the Cook County Sherriff’s Office collaborated with the DNA Doe Project, a nonprofit organization that uses genetic genealogy to identify bodies with no known identity.
DNA was extracted from one of Alexander’s molars. The sample underwent whole genome sequencing, and the resulting DNA sequence was uploaded to GEDmatch, a website that allows comparison of DNA sequences. GEDmatch has previously been used to identify the Golden State Killer and solve a 16-year-old double murder in Sweden.
DNA matches were found, and volunteers at the DNA Doe Project put together a family tree pinpointing Francis Wayne Alexander as the potential identity of the victim. DNA samples from Alexander’s mother and half-brother had a strong genetic association, confirming the validity of his identity.
“The advances in DNA technology and the expertise of the labs we chose, combined with the fact that a close relative had taken a DNA test, allowed our team of experienced investigative genetic genealogists to identify a candidate quickly,” said CEO of the DNA Doe Project Margaret Press in a statement. “We are honored to have played a part in giving Francis Wayne Alexander his name back and return him to his loved ones. We extend our deepest sympathy to his family.”
John Wayne Gacy – also known as the “Killer Clown” due to his performances in a clown costume – was executed in 1994. “Our only comfort is knowing this killer no longer breathes the same air as we do,” said Sanders. “We can now lay to rest what happened and move forward by honoring Wayne. We ask that you respect our wishes of privacy as we process this tragedy.”
“These unidentified young men brutally murdered by this vicious serial killer deserve dignity and that includes knowing their names,” said Sherriff Dart. “As science evolves, it is important for us to continually apply these new tools to both new and old cases to help victims and their families.”
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