John Wayne Gacy Victim Identified 41 Years After His Disappearance

Minnesota family finds peace after Jimmy Haakenson, who disappeared at 16 in 1976, is identified as victim of notorious serial killer

Jimmy Haakenson was identified as a victim of John Wayne Gacy, 41 years after he disappeared from Chicago. Credit: G-Jun Yam/AP

Last month, Cook County Sergeant Jason Moran delivered some devastating news to Jimmy Haakenson's family in Minnesota: their long-missing family member was indeed Chicago serial killer John Wayne Gacy's victim No. 24. The revelation came more than four decades after Jimmy's initial disappearance.

Jimmy's is the second of eight bodies to be identified following Gacy's 1978 arrest; authorities at the time didn't have DNA technology to ascertain their identities. Gacy was convicted of killing a total of 33 young men and executed in 1994.

But according to a piece published yesterday by the New York Times, until just last month, Jimmy's family had thought all hope for finding him was lost. He had run away from his St. Paul, Minnesota, home back in 1976, and after phoning home from Chicago on August 5th of that year, was never heard from again. He was 16.

"It was so loose and easy back then, you could just hitchhike and not worry about it," his older sister, Lorie Sisterman, told the New York Times. "If he thumbed it all the way to Chicago, we don't know."

According to the Times, June Haakenson reported Jimmy missing to the police after several weeks, and a message relayed between the St. Paul police and the Chicago Police Department said in part, "Mother thinks he may be in company of gays in Chicago."

When news of Gacy's arrest made national headlines two years later, June thought of her missing son, suggesting to Lorie that perhaps Jimmy was one of the victims. After reaching out to the St. Paul police, who forwarded her theory onto the Cook County police, however, she failed to follow up with Jimmy's dental records, as requested. The case went cold. 

But in 2016, Jeff Haakenson, Jimmy's nephew, caught wind of a call from the Cook County Sheriff's Department looking for anyone who might have insight into who the remaining eight unidentified victims could be. (The case was reopened in 2011). He filled out a form with his uncle's name, birth date and last known location, and was contacted by Sergeant Moran.

After a few DNA tests (Jeff's father Donald Haakenson and his aunt, Sisterman, both submitted samples), it was confirmed that Jimmy was in fact one of Gacy's unidentified victims.

"One of the worst people in the world that walked the earth murdered my brother," Lorie told The Associated Press. "You hope for something different … [but] I'm so glad to know where my brother is."