CHICAGO, IL — On August 5, 1976, 16-year-old Jimmie Haakenson called his mom back home in Minnesota to tell her he’d had taken off on his own and made it safely to Chicago. Alas, once there, he was anything but safe. Shortly after hanging up, Jimmie was never seen nor heard from again.
Jimmie Haakenson’s summer escape from St. Paul to the Windy City was a typical teenage rebellion of the time, when Midwestern youngsters hitchhiked all over in search of adventure while pondering life beyond high school.
Tragically, Jimmie’s runaway jaunt let him straight to notorious Chicago serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Authorities even suspect Gacy may have murdered Haakenson that very same day.
DNA tests conducted last year identified Haakenson as one of 33 boys and young men slaughtered by the infamous murderer who’s come to be known as the “Killer Clown.” Prior to that, for 40 years, he was a body with no name, referred to only as “Victim #24.”
June Haakenson, Jimmie’s mom, reported her son missing after not hearing from him for several weeks. A message sent from St. Paul police to the Chicago Police Department included the line, “Mother thinks he may be in company of gays in Chicago.”
After Gacy got busted in 1978, June wondered if Jimmie might be among the corpses removed from the madman’s crawlspace. Unfortunately, she never followed up on police requests for her to submit her son’s dental records.
As a result, Jimmie’s case went cold and, for the next four decades, he officially remained a “missing person.”
In 2016, the Cook County Sheriff’s Department asked to hear from anyone who might have insight into the eight remaining Gacy victims that still hadn’t been identified. Jeff Haakenson, Jimmie’s nephew, filled out a form, and an officer got in touch with the family.
Jimmie’s father and sister submitted DNA samples, and in 2017, police confirmed the grim discovery: Jimmie Haakenson was “Victim #24.”
Investigators were able to conclude that Haakenson died in August 1976 due to where Gacy placed the remains of his victims.
While digging through the piles of cadavers under Gacy’s house, officers removed Haakenson’s body from directly beneath Rick Johnston, a teenager who vanished from a concert on August 6. Haakenson was also on top of a still unknown youth known as “Victim #26.”
Lorie Sisterman, Haakenson’s DNA-donating sister, expressed both grief and gratitude for the discovery, stating:
“One of the worst people in the world that walked the earth murdered my brother. You hope for something different [but] I’m so glad to know where my brother is.”
The Cook County call for DNA possibly related to Gacy’s crimes also identified William Bundy, a 19-year-old Chicago construction worker who had been one of the eight unknowns.
In addition, the investigation led to the location of five missing persons who were alive and two missing persons who had died elsewhere in the United States, including a teenager who bolted from a Chicago orphanage and passed away in the woods of New Jersey — all the way back in 1972.
Still, six unidentified Gacy victims remain. The Cook County Sheriff’s Office continues to seek information that may lead to their names. The following is from their official website:
“We are seeking living family members who:
• Had a male relative go missing between 1970 and 1979 in the United States;
• Are directly related to the missing person by a blood relationship;
• And are willing to donate a DNA sample for direct comparison to the six unidentified Gacy victims.”
The Sheriff’s Office asks that if you meet those requirements or have any other possible information to please call (708) 865-6244 and/or to fill out and submit the online form at the bottom of the page linked here.
For more on the effort to identify John Wayne Gacy’s victims, watch the “Bones of Contention” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Deadline: Crime With Tamron Hall on ID GO now!
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Main photos: Jimmie Haakenson [Cook County Sheriff’s Office handout]; John Wayne Gacy [Des Plaines Police Dept]