DNA test confirms teen missing since 1976 was John Wayne Gacy victim

CHICAGO — A St. Paul, Minn. teen who went missing more than 40 years ago has been identified as a victim of serial killer John Wayne Gacy, authorities announced Wednesday.

DNA samples from the remains of a body found in the crawl space of the notorious killer match those of James "Jimmie" Haakenson, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart said. The sheriff said the 16-year-old boy who went missing in August 1976 is one of seven victims of Gacy who authorities have long been seeking to identify.

Gacy tortured, assaulted and murdered 33 men and boys, many who he lured to his home by impersonating a police officer or promising them construction work. Most of the victims were found hidden in his home on the city's Northwest Side after he was caught in 1978.

"He was a young man who wanted to go out on his own to a bigger city," Dart said of Haakenson. "He was in touch with his mom...we believe hours before he was killed."

Authorities for years have struggled to identify several of Gacy's victims, who were killed long before the advent of DNA testing.

Haakenson's mother, who died in 2005, had visited the sheriff's department in 1979 to inquire about whether her son, who was known as Jimmie, might be one of Gacy's unidentified victims. She had last heard from him on Aug. 5, 1976, after he had called to tell her he had gone to Chicago.

She did not have dental records, limiting the detectives' abilities at the time to ascertain if her son's body was among the unidentified remains, Dart said.

In 2011, Dart, whose jurisdiction includes Chicago, announced that he was reopening the investigation into the deaths of eight unidentified victims of Gacy who were found stuffed in the crawl space of his home or elsewhere on his property.

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The sheriff asked family members whose missing loved ones fit the profile of Gacy's victims to contact his detectives, and asked many to submit DNA samples.

The identity of one of the original eight unidentified victims, 19-year-old William George Bundy, was confirmed through DNA testing in late 2011, just months after Dart launched the Gacy inquiry, but the sheriff's office had no more positive hits until now.

Still, Dart persisted on calling on families and friends of young men who went missing during the years Gacy preyed in the Chicago area to contact his office. His office has submitted DNA samples from the relatives of 57 missing men and boys whose loved ones went missing around the time Gacy was on his killing spree.

In March of this year, the sheriff's department was contacted by a nephew of Haakenson, who stumbled upon a Sheriff's Department web site that explained the effort to try to identify the missing. Soon after, Haakenson's brother and sister submitted DNA that the University of Northern Texas Center for Human Identification used to test against the unidentified victims’ remains.

"The nephew never met him but felt very compelled to find out about (what happened) to his uncle," Dart said.

Dart said the Haakenson's corpse appeared to have been stacked in the crawl space of Gacy's home underneath the body of Rick Johnston, a high school student who went missing after attending a concert in August 1976 at the city's Aragon Ballroom. That was right around the same time Haakenson last had contact with his mother, Dart said.

A third body, one of six victims who have not yet been identified, was lying underneath Haakenson's remains, the sheriff said.

Gacy was executed in 1994.

Follow USA TODAY Chicago correspondent Aamer Madhani on Twitter: @AamerISmad

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