Crime History: The (Nearly) Botched Execution Of John Wayne Gacy

John Wayne Gacy mug shot [Des Plaines Police Department]

CREST HILL, IL — On May 10, 1994, notorious 52-year-old sexual sadist and serial killer John Wayne Gacy stepped into the execution chamber at the Stateville Correctional Center.

Related: A Look Back at “Killer Clown” Serial Killer John Wayne Gacy

Gacy had spent the previous 14 years on death row, following his 1980 conviction for, among other crimes, raping and murdering 33 children and young men. At last, his appointment to die by lethal injection was at hand.

The afternoon before his scheduled demise, Gacy enjoyed a picnic on prison grounds with members of his family. His last meal consisted of Kentucky Fried Chicken, fried shrimp, French fries, strawberries, and Diet Coke.

Upon being strapped to a gurney, the steadfastly unrepentant slayer and retired party clown spat out his carefully chosen final words: “Kiss my ass!”

First Lady Rosalyn Carter with John Wayne Gacy at a civic function [WIkiMedia Commons]

First Lady Rosalyn Carter with John Wayne Gacy at a civic function [WIkiMedia Commons]

Related: Cheetos, Eggs & Papaya Juice — What 10 Serial Killers Ate Before They Died

From there, Gacy did not go down easily. A syringe designed to pump the muscle relaxant pancuronium bromide malfunctioned, resulting in the chemical solidifying in an IV tube en route to Gacy’s veins.

After noticing the problem, officers closed the blinds on the chamber’s observation window. Technicians rushed to replace the damaged items.

Ten minutes later, the blinds reopened and the execution resumed. The entire process took 18 minutes. Illinois Department of Corrections Director Howard A. Peters III said, “We had to make some adjustments at this time but the process worked effectively.” By that he meant Gacy died … eventually.

Related: Serial Killer Cinema: 5 Films Inspired By John Wayne Gacy

The United States’ adaptation of lethal injection as the primary means of capital punishment is rooted largely in the belief that it kills the condemned prisoner rapidly and without pain. Neither proved to be true when it came to John Wayne Gacy. Few, however, expressed sympathy for the psychopath’s suffering.

John Wayne Gacy as Pogo the Clown [WikiPedia]

John Wayne Gacy as Pogo the Clown [WikiPedia]


As pointed out by Gacy attorney Karen Conti: “He was the poster child for the death penalty. Everyone said: ‘I don’t believe in the death penalty, but for Gacy, yes.’”

Related: Decades-Old Murder Case Solved Thanks To John Wayne Gacy Investigation

Following the Gacy mishap, Illinois changed its method of lethal execution to a less complicated technique. To date, the state has put a total of 12 convicts to death. The last execution occurred in 1999.

Twelve years later, Governor Pat Quinn abolished capital punishment in the Land of Lincoln, stating:

“It is impossible to create a perfect system, one that is free of all mistakes, free of all discrimination with respect to race or economic circumstance or geography. To have a consistent, perfect death penalty system, I have concluded, after looking at everything I’ve been given, that that’s impossible in our state. I think it’s the right and just thing to abolish the death penalty.”

Still, in regard to John Wayne Gacy, even the staunchest execution opponents can concede the truth in prosecutor William Kunkle’s observation: “He got a much easier deal than any of his victims.”

For more on John Wayne Gacy, watch the “Cold Blooded Killers” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Most Evil on ID GO now!

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Main photos: John Wayne Gacy mug shot [Des Plaines Police Department]