For decades their identity was a mystery, but thanks to the work of a nonprofit called the DNA Doe Project (DDP) and the Chicago area police, genetic genealogy helped solve the case.
According to the group’s website, a tooth from the victim was sent to a lab in California for DNA extraction. A DNA sample was sent to a lab in Alabama for sequencing.
“DNA matches in the range of first cousins have been found, allowing DDP’s team of volunteer genetic genealogists to build family trees and identify Francis Wayne Alexander as a candidate for Gacy Victim # 5,” said the DNA Doe Project.
“He was both unlucky to live in the area where John Wayne Gacy committed most of his murders, where he targeted most of his victims. He’s also been unlucky to also operate in an area where John Gacy has targeted specific people and groups as well, ”Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said, according to CNN affiliate WLS.
Police say Alexander, who was born in North Carolina and then moved to Chicago after living in New York City, was 21 or 22 when he was killed.
The Sheriff’s Office investigated whether Alexander was related to Gacy in any way using DNA from Alexander’s mother and half-brother. Their DNA samples had a ‘strong genetic association,’ sheriff’s office said
“The sheriff’s police also combed through financial records, public records, autopsy reports and other data to confirm that Victim # 5 and Alexander were the same person,” the office said in the press release.
The sheriff’s office officially informed Alexander’s family of the discovery on Friday.
Family says learning about death is always difficult
The sheriff’s press release included a statement from the family.
“It is difficult, even 45 years later, to know the fate of our beloved Wayne. He was killed by a vile and evil man. Our hearts are heavy and our condolences go out to the families of the other victims. Our only comfort is knowing that this killer doesn’t breathe the same air as we do, ”the family said.
Gacy was arrested in December 1978. Authorities said he had lured his victims to his home for six years. To get them there, he had promised them construction jobs, drugs and alcohol, or posing as a police officer or offering money for sex. Police said he often targeted hitchhikers and people at bus stations.
Twenty-seven victims were searched from the crawl space. Another was under his garage, and there was one more in his backyard. Four more were thrown into the Des Plaines River afterwards, Gacy told investigators he was out of crawl space.
Gacy was convicted in 1980 of murdering 33 boys and young men, making him, at the time, the most prolific serial killer in US history. He was executed in 1994.
In 2011, the Cook County Sheriff’s Office launched an effort to identify the eight unidentified victims.
William Bundy (2011) and Jimmy Haakenson (2017) were identified in 2001 and 2017, respectively, using DNA. Five of Gacy’s victims have yet to be identified.
CNN’s Claudia Dominguez contributed to this report.