For the second time in six years, officials at the UNT Center for Human Identification have helped identify a victim of serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart announced Wednesday 16-year-old Jimmy Haakenson of Minnesota was among the dozens of bodies found in a crawl space of Gacy’s Chicago-area home in 1978.
The remains were only recently identified thanks to the UNT Center for Human Identification. UNT officials have been assisting the Cook County Sheriff’s Office since 2011 with the Gacy case.
“Back then, our lab developed DNA profiles from eight unidentified Gacy victims,” UNT spokesman Jeff Carlton said in a Thursday email. “These DNA profiles have been continuously compared to family references of missing persons.”
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In 2011, the UNT lab positively identified William Bundy, a 19-year-old construction worker from Chicago whose remains were found at Gacy’s home.
The second one came this week with Haakenson, a teen who ran away from his Minnesota home in 1976 and traveled to Chicago.
“We are honored to aid families in finding a resolution in the disappearance of their loved ones,” Carlton said.
Haakenson called his mother to say he was in Chicago and then disappeared. Detectives believe he then met Gacy.
Gacy was convicted of killing 33 young men and was executed in 1994. But authorities had eight victims whom they hadn’t been able to identify.
In 2011, Dart ordered the remains of the eight victims exhumed and asked families of young men who went missing in the 1970s to provide DNA samples.
“One of the worst people in the world that walked the earth murdered my brother,” Haakenson’s sister, Lorie Sisterman, who lives in North St. Paul, said Wednesday. “You hope for something different,” she said, but added, “I’m so glad to know where my brother is.”
Gacy is remembered as one of history’s most bizarre killers, largely because of his work as an amateur clown. The Chicago-area building contractor lured young men to his home by impersonating a police officer or promising them construction work. There, he stabbed one and strangled the others. Most of the victims were buried under his home, but others were dumped in a river.
Illinois investigators long referred to Haakenson as simply “Victim #24.”
Haakenson came to Chicago hoping to strike out on his own in a city far bigger than the community of St. Paul, where he lived, Dart said. According to Sisterman, the teenager had finally made good on his angry vows to his mother that he was going to run away.
He was a boy, said Sisterman, who kept “trying to find himself.”
After bodies were found in Gacy’s home, Haakenson’s mother was suspicious enough that her son was among the victims that she came to Chicago to talk to investigators. But she left without any answers because there was no way to identify the skeletal remains without dental records, Dart said. The mother died a couple of decades later.
Dart said a nephew of Haakenson became curious about the uncle he never knew and earlier this year went online to see if he could learn anything. That’s when he discovered Dart’s efforts to identify the remains of the eight young men.
Dart said the nephew went to his father, Haakenson’s brother, and his aunt, Lorie Sisterman, and persuaded them to submit the samples for testing.
“We got an immediate hit,” Dart said.
Authorities believe the teen was killed in August 1976, in part because of where he was found in Gacy’s house. Because Gacy was killing so many young men, his crawl space was filling up, forcing him to stack the bodies. Haakenson’s body was directly underneath that of Rick Johnston, who was last seen at a concert in Chicago on Aug. 6, 1976, and was on top of a still unidentified young man known as “Victim #26.”
This report contains information from The Associated Press.