1978: When a Serial Killer Meets a First Lady

john wayne gacy pogo the clown costume
Martin Zielinski, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

In the annals of American history, few meetings are as incongruous and chilling as that between First Lady Rosalynn Carter and notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who at the time of their encounter was not yet identified as a murderer. This eerie intersection of paths occurred on May 6, 1978, at a social event connected to the Polish Constitution Day Parade in Chicago, which Gacy was directing for the third consecutive year.

John Wayne Gacy was a man who lived a life shrouded in duality, a horrifying reality that was yet to be unveiled during this occasion. He was known as a respected businessman and children’s entertainer, as well as a Democratic Party precinct captain. But his monstrous alter-ego, the “Killer Clown,” lured 33 young men and boys to their deaths. This was a secret not yet revealed to the public.

The First Lady was visiting Chicago to attend the Polish Constitution Day Parade, a celebration of the advent of democratic government in Poland. Within this backdrop of celebratory fervor, an unsuspecting Mrs. Carter found herself shaking hands with Gacy. As part of the occasion’s protocol, Gacy was wearing an “S” lapel which indicated he had been vetted by the Secret Service and was allowed to interact with the First Lady.

The unsettling encounter was immortalized by a White House photographer, and Mrs. Carter, in an act of courtesy and unaware of the horrifying events to come, even autographed the photograph for Gacy. The picture later surfaced and was commented on by Mary Hoyt, Mrs. Carter’s press secretary, after The Chicago Sun‐Times published it.

John wayne gacy rosalynn carter
White House photographer, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Just two months prior to this encounter, a 27-year-old man had lodged a complaint against Gacy, accusing him of abduction, rape, and torture. Despite the gravity of these accusations, no charges were filed due to a lack of evidence.

In December 1978, just a few months after this shocking encounter, police began to uncover the horrifying evidence of Gacy’s murderous rampage. Officers located 26 bodies in the crawl space under his Illinois house, and another three outside the property. He later confessed to four additional murders.

Des Plaines Police Department, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The convergence of these two lives serves as a chilling reminder that sometimes, the most dangerous of predators can hide in plain sight.

Written by Editorial Team

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