A cross-country trip to shake the devil's hand
Going to Gacy: A Cross Country Journey to Shake the Devil's Hand, tells the story of a drive I made cross-country with a pen pal of John Wayne Gacy’s, to visit the serial killer in prison in the weeks before his execution. I originally sold the piece -- my first feature -- to Details. I wrote a draft and faxed it to the editor - this was 1994 - who told me to read Griel Marcus's Dead Elvis and write another draft. I did, during the two weeks I was vacationing with my mother and four-year-old daughter. Every day when they went to the beach, I stayed in a cool back bedroom and taught myself how to write. Just before I faxed in the new draft, my editor decamped for Vogue. The new editor killed the story sight unseen.
Gacy had at this point been executed, and I was left holding what I thought meant something, or at least meant something to me; that, were I able to sell it, it would get me where I wanted to go. I sent it to Playboy and received a nice (handwritten!) note from the editor but no sale. I sent it to Harper's and heard nothing. It is crude if also accurate to say I felt as though I were hauling the story around like a corpse. Anne Thompson, then film critic for the LA Weekly and a fellow mom at my daughter's preschool, said, "Let me get it to someone at the Weekly." The Weekly wanted it. I went to their offices to copy edit, sitting at a stool by the editor's feet, knowing nothing about how editing worked, so that when he said, "We'll put a drop cap here," I asked, what's a drop cap? I did not have the courage to ask whether the story would be on the cover. The morning the paper published, I was waiting at the newsstand on the corner of Hollywood and Cahuenga. A pile of Weeklies was tossed off a truck. My story was the cover story. I grabbed four copies, went into the alley alongside the newsstand, and screamed.
Anyone who wanted to read the piece after that time was out of luck. The Weekly was not online in 1994. Gacy had not left the public imagination, and had granted few interviews at length. In 2014, I was glad for the opportunity to add an introduction and see the piece published digitally, under the new title, Destination Gacy. As for getting me where I wanted to go, I wrote for the Weekly until 2010, and have never stopped writing about sociopaths. It was strange fortune to have started with this story, which I read for you here.
Just listened to the Killed podcast 🤡 and want to send you some cheer. What a great story, - the Gacy letter to your daughter …. WHAAAAT!!! Thank you for your tenacious contribution to journalism. Officially a (non creepy) fan from Australia 🇦🇺