John Wayne Gacy and “Death Alley”

One of the first stories I was told upon starting work as a ghost tour guide was a side-story about Death Alley, the alley behind the site of the Iroquois Theatre (now the site of the Oriental). At the time of the 1903 fire in the theatre that killed around 600 people was variously called “Death Alley” or “The Alley of Death and Mutilation” in publications.

The building on the other side, I was told, was a greyhound bus station where John Wane Gacy first met up with 26 out of 27 of his victims. He would meet them there on the pretense of a job interview, then load them into a white van parked in the alley.

Like many such stories that I was told early on, it didn’t turn out to be true, though parts of it came sort of close.

Gacy did meet up with ONE victim at a downtown Greyhound station, and possibly one other who got away, but that station was on the other side of Dearborn street from “Death Alley.” I’ve never found anything that connects him with the actual alley in question. The alley behind the Greyhound station would have gone through the middle of where the Goodman Theatre is now.

A bit more disturbing was stories about Gacy in Bughouse Square, the near-north side park which was a popular place to make speeches (and heckle speakers) until around 1960. In the 1970s, the place had become something of a late night cruising ground for patrons leaving the gay bars that lined Clark Street at the time. According to contemporary accounts, Gacy would hang around dressed as a cop, threatening to give people tickets if they didn’t perform certain favors. He told assistant state’s attorney Lawrence Finder that the area around Bughouse Square was his main cruising ground.

Most of his victims, though, would more likely have been picked up in the suburbs, nearer to his house, not downtown. His known number of victims hovers in the low 30s, but rumors of other victims buried in the ‘burbs come up from time to time.

I would never issue a blanket statement that Gacy was never in “Death Alley.” There’s too much about him that’s still a mystery to say anything like that, and, anyway, it’s quite likely he at least walked past the place at one point. Most Chicagoans do. But the evidence doesn’t back up the stories for now.  Sometimes I feel like I spend all my time just trying to clear up exaggerations!

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