Boys Enter the House: The Victims of John Wayne Gacy and the Lives They Left Behind

Chicago Review. Oct. 2021. 336p. ISBN 9781641604864. $28.99. CRIME
Rather than focusing on the heinous crimes of serial killer John Wayne Gacy, who in the 1970s preyed on more than 30 young men and boys, journalist Nelson explores the lives of Gacy’s victims. He writes that most of these young men spent time in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, where some of them got into fights or were victims of gang violence; oftentimes their families moved frequently and struggled financially. Some turned to sex work, which Nelson argues left them especially vulnerable to a predator like Gacy. Nelson extensively interviewed family members and loved ones to examine the brief but full lives of these boys—their childhoods, first loves, jobs, dreams, and friendships with other victims. Many of the boys were free to hitchhike and roam the neighborhood and weren’t reported missing right away, and investigations were frequently closed when mistaken eyewitnesses claimed to have seen victims after they were abducted. Nelson argues that Gacy flew under the radar because he targeted gay men and boys; due to bias and homophobia, police investigations were often lackluster. The book is compelling and moving, though hard to follow at times because it covers so many victims.
VERDICT Heartrending and poignant, this is an excellent sociological examination of life in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood in the 1970s.
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