The Bull

The Time My Mother Was Chased By A Serial Killer

Ariel Christiansen-Smith

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It was Spring Break of 1974, a cold and windy day in Cook County, Illinois. My mother Teresa (14 at the time) was visiting family with her mother and siblings in this unfamiliar state. Around 3 in the afternoon on Easter Sunday, her brother Tom (12) decided he wanted to go for a walk to get out of the house. Due to the harsh weather conditions, no one wanted to go with him. At the last minute, Teresa grabbed her big army jacket and ran out the door behind him. There are split seconds that determine the future in ways that we can’t imagine. This was one of those moments.

They stepped out into the frigid empty streets; they were the only people in sight. It was a city type neighborhood with a big bus station less than 10 miles away. After walking a few blocks, Tom noticed a man walking close behind them through the corner of his eye. He leaned to Teresa and told her he thought the man was following them. Unsettled by this thought, they decided to test it out by crossing the street and turning down a different road. They checked again and noticed the heavyset older male was still in pursuit, now he was close enough that they could clearly see his face. They began to speed up. The man quickened his pace too. They started running. The man ran after them. With the scary possibility now confirmed, they speedily cut through yards and jumped over fences to escape. They ran for a while, making twists and turns through back alleys and yards without looking back. By the time they made it back to the house, their parents were making dinner. They burst in, out of breath and in a panic. They told everyone what just happened but no one really cared or believed them.

Years later, early 1979, my mother was watching the news from her home in Maryland. John Wayne Gacy had just been sentenced to death for murdering 33 teenage boys from his hometown in Cook County, Illinois. They showed his face and immediately she recognized him. It was the man who had chased her and her brother years before. Just then her phone rang. It was her brother Tom, asking if she recognized the man pictured all over the news. They learned that he generally approached his young victims near bus stations and coerced them into coming back to his home. Sometimes, if they did not comply, he would chase and chloroform them. He enjoyed dressing up as his alter ego, known as Pogo The Clown, and entertaining at children’s birthday parties. He only preyed on boys, but my mother remembers tucking her braid into her hat and covering herself with a large jacket. Perhaps to Gacy, they both looked like promising new victims. There are split seconds that determine the future in ways that we can’t imagine. Perhaps Tom would not have noticed the man if he was not turning his head to speak to his sister who, at the last minute, decided to go with him. Perhaps the Easter Sunday would have forever been marked as the day two members of my family were kidnapped, tortured, and encased in cement in the crawlspace of John Wayne Gacy’s Chicago home.

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