Investigators have identified identified the body of a victim of serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who raped and murdered dozens of teenage boys in the 1970s.
Using current forensic technology, the Cook County Sheriff’s Department identified the remains as belongong to James Byron Haakenson, a 16-year-old St. Paul native who ran away from home in 1976.
Haakenson’s body was discovered along with 26 others in a raid on Gacy’s home in December 1978.
It’s believed Gacy tortured and murdered a total of 33 male teens and young men in his suburban Chicago home between 1972 and 1978. He buried all but six in a small crawlspace under his house.
Gacy was convicted of the murders in 1980 and was executed in 1994. But identifying the victims has been a decades-long process, one only recently aided by advances in extracting DNA evidence.
Police contacted Haakenson’s family Monday with the news.
“It’s not every day you heard this—’A monster murdered your brother,” Lorie Sisterman told reporters. “It’s just not an everyday, normal conversation that you have with a detective from a different state who tells you this awful news.”
The last Haakenson’s family heard from him was on August 5, 1976, just as he arrived in Chicago from Minnesota. Authorities believe it wasn’t long after that he crossed paths with Gacy.
The police department told the New York Times that Haakenson’s late mother had tried to determine if her son was one of the victims after Gacy’s arrest. But dental records, then the primary source of identification, were unavailable.
In 2011, Sheriff Thomas J. Dart reopened the investigation to identify the remains belonging to eight victims. Since then, officials have also identified the body of William Bundy, a 19-year-old who disappeared in October 1976.