The shrunken, sliced brain of John Wayne Gacy has been preserved in a Ziploc bag since his execution 15 years ago. It serves as a reminder of a story that's never been told. A story about the time Illinois’ most notorious serial killer got drunk in court -- legally.
In 1979, Robert Fitzgerald was a rookie Cook County Sheriff’s officer assigned to guard Gacy’s cell twice a week. Together they played dominoes and cards and talked.
“John was kind of an ego manic,” he said. Looking back nearly 30 years later Fitzgerald, now a sergeant, said he was a “21-year-old babysitting a serial killer.”
On November 9, 1979, Fitzgerald took a sober Gacy from his holding cell to the 10th floor of the old Criminal Courts building and returned the would be mass murderer with a half bottle of scotch in his stomach.
“He put his arm around me and says, come on Fitz we’re gonna go drinking,” said Fitzgerald. “He was probably the only prisoner in Cook County jail that could get drunk legally.”
Defense attorneys had ordered an EEG alcohol test administered by Dr. James Cavanaugh, a forensic psychiatrist. They wanted to observe Gacy’s brain waves while he drank. Gacy claimed to blackout when drinking, not remembering his actions during these times. The defense set out to see if alcohol turned Gacy into a killer.
Gacy, who had not had a drink in six months, was given six shots of J&B scotch over an hour and 15 minute period, 15 minutes apart.
Though there is a brief mention in court documents, it is a story that, to Fitzgerald’s knowledge, has never been reported.
On his way back to his holding cell, smoking a cigar, Gacy collapsed face first. “The cigar smashed in his mouth,” said Fitzgerald.
“This is not an unusual test,” argues William Kunkle, who was the lead prosecutor in the Gacy trial. Psychiatrists looked to see if a physiological change in the function of the brain occurred that would trigger a level of impaired behavior. In Gacy’s case, there was no change.
Despite this, Fitzgerald said he witnessed a drunken Gacy lash out at a correctional officer. It was the only time Fitzgerald said he saw Gacy, who was ultimately put in restraints, become violent.
“It changed him,” said Fitzgerald, “enough to show a darker side.”
Dr. Helen Morrison, who spent over 600 hours interviewing Gacy, claims he never drank before his murders. She has studied and interviewed 135 serial killers and took possession of Gacy’s brain at his autopsy. The tests she performed came back the same as the EEG: normal.
“Murder is just an action. It has no meaning. It has no motive. It has no underlying cause,” said Morrison. “The most frightening part about a serial killer is there is no reason.”
Morrison said, even now, little is known about what sparks a serial killer.
“We know that it is something in the electrical system that is acted on by hormones in the brain when adolescence begins and that is as far as we’ve gotten,” she said.
Convicted of 33 murders, 27 of Gacy’s victims were found in the crawl space where he buried them, beneath his house in Norwood Park Township.
“I don’t think you can predict human behavior. I don’t think you can define the reasons for human behavior much beyond the free will of an individual,” said Kunkle. “He was interested in the power of life and death and making that decision. That was what was exciting for John Gacy and made him the worst of killers.”
The brain of Gacy remains a symbol of how much we still don’t know about the makings or the mind of a serial killer.
“Is anyone going to have an answer that says we can diagnose 100 percent of every potential serial killer?” said Kunkle. “If yo u have that you better have another pill that says we can cure ‘em. Because if you don’t, what are you gonna do?”