THE STAR OF THE SHOW BIDES HIS TIME in a windowless, six-by nine-foot cell at the Menard Correctional Institution in Illinois. John Wayne Gacy, now a pudgy 52 and still the undisputed champion among American serial killers, has been there 14 years-writing letters, playing cards, dabbling at painting and consistently protesting his innocence against the proven charges that he murdered 33 young men and boys between 1972 and 1978. But shortly after midnight on May 10, if the State of Illinois has its way, Gacy will be put to death by lethal injection at the Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet.
Gacy, who is nearly obsessional about the evidence against him, has accumulated 20,000 pages of documents relating to his case. In an inter-view with Alec Wilkinson of The New Yorker magazine, he admitted being bisexual but denied that he is homosexual. "In my heart, as God is my witness, I never killed anyone," he told Wilkinson, adding, "what is to be gained by killing me, except revenge? There's not a damn thing I can do about it, though." He also said he is "not going to make no damn Ted Bundy last-minute confessions. None of that s---. I'm not going to put my family through the media circus. And I'm not going to be buried with my mother and father, like some people have written, because I don't want no one desecrating their graves."
Like any celebrity, Gacy now has a 900 number all his own. For $2 a minute, callers are treated to a 12-minute tape on which Gacy describes himself as "the 34th victim" of the real killer or killers. He also answers frequently asked questions about the case-asserting, for example, that some of the victims died of drug overdoses instead of strangulation, as prosecutors charged, and denying police reports that the 27 bodies found in the crawl space of his suburban Chicago home smelled.
His oil paintings, which have been exhibited in a gallery in Los Angeles and a nightclub in New York, are priced at $500 to $20,000 apiece. In addition to his portraits of Christ, Hitler, Elvis Presley and fellow serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, Gacy is famous for his clown paintings. As any student of mass murder knows, Gacy entertained children-and allegedly recruited some of his victims-by dressing up as "Pogo the Clown" during his homicidal period.
It seems likely that his oil paintings and 900 number are making money for Gacy. Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris thinks so, and he is angry about it. Burris, citing a 1982 law that allows the state to recoup the cost of incarceration from convicted felons, is currently suing Gacy to recover the proceeds of his extramural deals. A hearing is scheduled for April 25 and this arcane legal wrangle, which is still unresolved, may have the perverse effect of delaying the execution. Gacy's lawyers are fighting for permission to bring their client to court-one last public appearance, as it were. The state says Gacy can stay in his cell while his lawyer represents him. But if the controversy drags on, a spokesman for Burris's office says, the state will drop the lawsuit and proceed with the execution.
If and when it takes place, Gacy's execution will open a new chapter in the history of the death penalty in Illinois. Gacy's lawyers are prepared to fight all the way. They say new evidence shows that Gacy was out of town during some of the murders; if proven, this finding could win him a new trial. Prosecutors, meanwhile, are preparing for every contingency. Expecting a flurry of last-minute motions from Gacy's lawyers, they have ordered open phone lines to Gov. Jim Edgar's office, the Department of Corrections, U.S. District Court, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals-and to the U.S. Supreme Court, which turned down Gacy's appeal last year.
At Joliet, meanwhile, prison officials are rehearsing the lethal-injection procedure. It should take no more than 45 minutes, they say, maybe less.