MAYWOOD — Four decades after John Wayne Gacy lured more than 30 young men and boys to his Chicago-area home and strangled them, his case has helped authorities solve another killing — one he didn't commit.
Investigators have identified the remains of a man who in 1978 never returned to his home that was just a few miles from Gacy's house. They also say they know the identity of his now-deceased killer. The Cook County Sheriff's Office announced the findings Wednesday — the result of an ongoing effort to name several unidentified victims of Gacy, who was executed in 1994.
Though the news that 22-year-old Edward Beaudion of Chicago is believed to have been killed by a small-time Missouri crook named Jerry Jackson, who died last year, comes too late for justice, it answers a question Beaudion's family has asked for decades.
"I always thought he was killed but you still aren't sure until you get the proof," said Beaudion's father, Louis Beaudion, 86, who professed that he was scared he would die without knowing what happened, like his wife did in 2001.
Many things may never come to light about Edward Beaudion's death, partly because his skull was never recovered.
Beaudion was driving his sister's car on July 23, 1978, when he dropped a friend off and told her he was heading home. No one ever heard from him again.
That August, Jackson was taken into custody in Caruthersville, Mo., after he was found driving the car, which Beaudion's family had reported stolen.
Jackson was extradited to Chicago, where police said he told them he had met Beaudion on July 23 in downtown Chicago and punched him in the face during an altercation, rendering him unconscious. Police said he told them he stuffed Beaudion's body in the car, drove to a wooded area about 15 miles southwest of Chicago and dumped it.
When he took police to the area, no body was found, so police didn't charge him in Beaudion's death, settling for auto theft and a four-year prison sentence for Jackson.
In 2008, hikers discovered a partial skeleton in a forest preserve — in the same general area where Jackson had taken police years before. With little more than shreds of clothing and no indication of a cause of death, the investigation went nowhere. The bones, one of which had an orthopedic screw in it, were taken to the county medical examiner's office.
"They never did anything," Sheriff Tom Dart said.
Three years later, Dart's office exhumed eight of Gacy's unidentified victims from the 1970s to test DNA. Dart asked that relatives of young men who disappeared at the time of Gacy's killings to submit DNA samples for comparison.
Beaudion's sister, Ruth Rodriguez, called.
"I didn't think Gacy killed him but we figured we'd go ahead and try," she said. Tests ruled out Gacy.
In the meantime, sheriff's detective Jason Moran was among those working with the medical examiner's office to clean up the operation in the wake of embarrassing revelations about stacked bodies and remains tossed haphazardly in boxes. The office shipped some unidentified bones to the same lab where Moran had sent DNA samples from Beaudion's relatives.
Earlier this year, the lab reported a "genetic association" between the bones and DNA from Beaudion's relatives. Moran said he interviewed Beaudion's father and sister, who confirmed Beaudion had an orthopedic screw in his left knee.
Rodriguez and her father said they're disappointed Jackson died before he could be brought to justice.
Beaudion's remains will be cremated and eventually buried with her father, Rodriguez said.
Moran said he recalls the moment when he and Dart recently took the family out to the spot where the bones were found.
"He (Louis Beaudion) starts crying and opens a bag that has a cross in it (and) he gets down on one knee and with a little hammer pounded this cross into the ground," Moran said. "This guy, 36 years after his son is killed, he's crying like he went missing yesterday and then he grabbed my arm and said, 'Thank you.'"