The identity of Victim 24, whose remains were found buried among the many other bodies in the crawl space of serial killer John Wayne Gacy‘s Chicago-area home, has remained a mystery for more than 40 years.
On Wednesday, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart announced DNA had determined the remains were those of a 16-year-old boy from Minnesota who had disappeared in 1976.
James Byron Haakenson, known as Jimmie, left the Twin Cities that summer, telling his family he planned to explore Chicago on his own, Dart said at a news conference.
On August 5, 1976, he called his mother to let her know he had arrived. He was never heard from again, according to Dart.
Haakenson’s nephew, who had never met him, recently persuaded Haakenson’s brother and sister to submit DNA samples for testing.
The sheriff’s office formally notified Haakenson’s family of the identification on Monday.
“We had to tell them their worst nightmares were, in fact, true,” Dart said.
Haakenson’s mother had come to Chicago in 1979 to try to learn whether Jimmie was one of Gacy’s victims. But since she did not have Jimmie’s dental records — then the main method of identifying remains — the identification could not be made, Dart said.
In 2011, Dart reopened the Gacy investigation in an effort to use scientific methods and technology to help identify eight victims whose names remained a mystery.
Haakenson marked the second of those victims to be identified through DNA.
Haakenson’s identification helps narrow down the investigation into the identity of the person found buried just below him in Gacy’s crawl space.
Since authorities now know Haakenson likely died in early August 1976, the person buried directly beneath him was probably killed shortly beforehand, in July or August of that year.
“The bodies were buried almost consecutively as he was murdering people and filling up the crawl space,” Dart said.
The sheriff’s office has DNA records on file for that victim, and Dart encouraged anyone who suspects their loved one might have been killed by Gacy to come forward.
Earlier, William George Bundy, who was 19 when he disappeared in October 1976, was discovered to be a Gacy victim as well. Gacy’s home where the bodies were buried was in Norwood Park Township.
Through the efforts of the sheriff’s office, seven missing-person cases and three cold-case murders have been solved. None of those were related to Gacy.
Six of Gacy’s 33 victims remain unidentified.
In all, Gacy was convicted of the murder of 33 young men and boys in the 1970s. He was executed in 1994.