I have always had a fascination with solving mysteries. The idea that someone can inspect a scene, sort out the relevant information from the distractions, interview witnesses (while being able to differentiate who was lying from who wasn’t) and at long last, arrive at the correct conclusion is amazing to me. It’s not that I am interested in the crime itself, but rather, I want the persons responsible to be found so we can understand why it occurred in the first place. How could someone be capable of murder? What drove them to act, and, what prevents others from doing the same? As a child, I would beg my parents to set up ‘crime scenes’ so I could play detective and test my skills. I’ve always had a passion for finding the truth and that passion has only grown over the years.
I grew up in Des Plaines, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago nestled between O’Hare airport and a system of highways that can lead you to every other metropolitan city in the United States. Des Plaines was a safe, quiet town. Far enough removed from the dangers of the inner city yet close enough to reap the benefits; the ideal place to raise a family. One day, in the early 90s when I was in first grade, I had an unusual encounter with a clown that left me rattled and ultimately ignited my passion for true crime.
My class had just returned from afternoon recess when the principal came over the intercom. “Attention faculty and staff: we have an unidentified man in the school dressed as a clown. Students are advised to return to their classroom and not to talk to anyone, with whom they are unfamiliar.” My young innocent mind flashed. I pictured a clown walking through the hallway, carrying a large net, ready to swoop it down at any moment to catch a child like a helpless bug. These were the days before lock-downs. The teacher didn’t know what to do. She closed the blinds, turned off the lights, and carried on with her lesson to keep us at ease. We weren’t listening though, we were exchanging nervous glances as time slowly crept on. Our parents had to pick us up from the classroom that day.
Most likely, we hadn’t been in any real danger; the adults had identified the problem, called authorities, and made the announcement in hopes of scaring the man away. I also vaguely remember being told later that it had been a parent who had forgotten to sign in. That didn’t make the fear I experienced in that moment any less real. The situation left me with more questions than answers. Why would someone want to harm a child?
As I grew older, a story emerged of another clown that had inflicted terror upon the community 15 years earlier. His name was John Wayne Gacy. He was the reason we glanced at the person next to us at the grocery store. What secrets are they hiding? For those who are unaware, he was a prolific serial killer who is responsible for the deaths of at least 33 young men. Gacy was well known in the community; always volunteering and hosting large Fourth of July parties for the neighbors. He even dressed as a clown for children’s parties and parades.
It was as though the memory of Gacy was etched in the community. You cannot walk through the town without being reminded of his presence. This was intriguing to me. I always felt as though I was a few steps behind him. Chasing a ghost. He never lived in Des Plaines but buildings still stand, to this day, that Gacy walked through and touched. Locations where young men experienced their last moments of freedom. Visiting these locations always gave me an eerie feeling, and the desire for more information.
When I went to the grocery store with my mom, I was given quarters and told to keep my little sister busy with the machines containing tiny prizes while she paid. I would always rush through this process so I could look at the bulletin board of Missing Persons. I would study details and hope if the time ever came to recall them, I would be able to. It bothered me and gave me an overwhelming urge to help. How could this many people just disappear? Where could they be? What are their families doing without them? Was the missing person close by? Watching but unable to get free? Hoping a loved one, or a police officer, could put the pieces together and rescue them?
When I was in college, I took courses in psychology in an attempt to better understand the people who commit the unthinkable. By this point in my life, I had become obsessed with ‘American Justice’ and ‘Cold Case Files’; the extent of ‘True Crime TV’ in the early 2000’s. I was accepted into a higher level psychology class that explored the theories of personality and their development. During the first class, we were assigned a project where we had to choose one person (real or fictional) to analyze multiple times over the course of the semester. No one in the class could have the same person. A few days later, I walked into class with a piece of paper, folded up, and tightly clenched in my sweaty palm. It contained the names of serial killers I found interesting. The class started and I felt like I was having a panic attack as the professor went around the lecture hall taking down my classmate’s choices. After a moment my fear subsided as everyone was choosing fictional characters! I felt myself rolling my eyes. How can you understand the psyche of ‘Spiderman’ (as cool as he is) when multiple people, with different personalities, have contributed to the character over the years? When the professor called on me, my first choice was still available – John Wayne Gacy. Hands shot up all over the room “Can I change mine to Ted Bundy?” “Can I have Jeffrey Dahmer?” I smiled to myself and felt validated. I’m not the only weirdo that’s interested in this.
The last ten years of my life have revolved around my dad and his care after he became sick. Life kind of moved on, I got married, moved from Chicago to middle-of-nowhere Wisconsin, and had a daughter. Most weekends though, were dedicated to the long drive from Wisconsin back to Chicago, to spend time with my dad. Unfortunately, my dad passed away on Thanksgiving 2017 and I found myself with a huge void in my life. Not only from the pain that comes with losing a parent, but also because somehow, I had lost myself along the way.
I knew I had to redefine myself and find a new purpose. I ultimately wanted something I could use logic and my brain to dissect. (I had had enough of my daughter’s cartoons that I could recite in my sleep!) I had heard advertising for the Oxygen series ‘The Disappearance of Maura Murray’ while my dad was in the hospital but I wasn’t able to watch. This particular case gripped me back in 2004, at the time of Maura’s disappearance, because I was a senior in high school about to embark on my own college adventure and it left me feeling vulnerable. A carefree young women with the world ahead of her, vanished without a trace. I was intrigued with what new information had come to be so I re-familiarized myself with the case by devouring every bit of information I could get my hands on. I watched the Oxygen series, the Disappeared episode, listened to the podcasts, read the blogs, message boards, and the books. In the process of dealing with my grief over my dad, I found a father lost in grief over his daughter. The only difference being, I know what happened to my dad. He still, to this day, doesn’t know what happened to his loved one. It seemed as though Fred Murray would go to the ends of the world to bring his daughter home, just as I know my dad would’ve done for me; both Liam Neeson types. I felt my heartstrings tug and I knew I wanted to help, I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to write about un-solved cases, and missing persons in an attempt to gain more exposure for the families left searching for answers.
There are so many unsolved cases and, in most, it will only take one person to come forward; one person to speak. If I can continue to spread awareness and reach that one person who could hold the key to any one of these cases, this will be worth it. Thank you for going along on this journey with me to find answers and justice.