John Doe No. 89: 36-year-old mystery solved thanks to John Wayne Gacy

24 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Decades later, John Wayne Gacy probe still solving cold cases.

CHICAGO — An effort to identify remains of young men killed by John Wayne Gacy in the 1970s has led to a break in the case of a teenager found shot to death in San Francisco 36 years ago, the latest in nearly a dozen cases either advanced or closed by the attempt to match DNA with exhumed Gacy victims. A set of remains unidentified for 36 years appear to be those of Andre “Andy” Drath (photo, left), Cook County officials announced Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2015, during a news conference in Chicago attended by Drath’s half-sister Dr.Andre Drath was just 16 when he left home in Chicago for San Francisco and was never heard from again, leaving his loved ones in uncertain despair over his fate. When Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart reopened the case in 2011 with the goal of learning their names, his office sought DNA samples of family members of Chicago-area boys who vanished in the late 1970s.

The Cook County Sheriff’s Office is closing cold cases unconnected to the deceased killer, identifying bodies long labeled as John Does, and reuniting families with missing relatives thought dead. This led to the identification of one of the eight, William George Bundy, within weeks of the exhumations, but the woman’s DNA did not match any of them.

The latest came Wednesday when the sheriff’s office announced they identified a teenager who went missing more than three decades ago, and San Francisco police reactivated their homicide investigation into his death. The call marked her first step in a journey that culminated this month with a stunning answer to her brother’s fate — and the start of another mystery 2,000 miles away. While Wertheimer’s hunch that her brother had been a victim of Gacy, the monster who dressed as a clown to prey on young boys, proved incorrect, it did lead to closure.

The office invited families who thought their missing loved ones could have been murdered by Gacy to provide DNA samples that could be compared with the victims’. Like the samples from the unidentified Gacy victims, those samples were uploaded into a federal database, and Dart’s office was notified in May of a genetic association between Wertheimer and the San Francisco remains. He took a DNA sample from Wertheimer, 51, who had the same mother as Drath, and waited to see whether her genetic profile matched any of those taken from the victims. Dental records, an ‘‘Andy’’ tattoo, and records that show the unidentified youth had traveled to San Francisco helped to confirm the identification. ‘‘You should never lose hope in finding your loved one,’’ Wertheimer said in an announcement issued by Dart’s office. ‘‘He could still be living, or at least in your heart can know the peace of bringing him home.’’ Though no remains found outside the state have been identified as Gacy victims, Dart has said that because the killer traveled extensively, there could be more victims than those found in a crawl space in his house and dumped in a river.

In three other cases, DNA samples collected as part of the Gacy probe led to living men, including one in Las Vegas, and another who had been living in Oregon with his spouse and children. He found former missing persons who were still alive, others who had died of natural causes, and three who had died under suspicious or unexplained circumstances. The investigation has inadvertently illuminated America’s historically poor handling of missing-persons cases and the country’s slipshod system of tracking the unidentified dead — a crisis that the National Institute of Justice has called a “silent mass disaster.” Tens of thousands of people vanish every year, and an estimated 40,000 sets of human remains have gone unidentified.

And last year, law-enforcement officials closed a homicide case from 1978, identifying the victim from skeletal remains found in 2008 at a county forest preserve. While Wertheimer remained with her father, Drath spent his teens in and out of foster homes and juvenile detention facilities, frequently running away. It was troubling to think of how easily Drath’s disappearance had fallen through the cracks of a broken system — his unstable home life, his unsupervised arrival in California, his forgotten death, the delayed processing of his remains — and how arbitrarily the pieces had come together.

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