Skip to main content

Runaway teen from Minnesota is ID'd as one of John Wayne Gacy's victims

This solves a nearly 40-year-old mystery.

A 16-year-old runaway from Minnesota has been identified as a victim of John Wayne Gacy – one of the most notorious serial killers in history.

James Byron Haakenson was reported missing to St. Paul police in 1976, the Cook County Sheriff's Office in Illinois said. He last spoke to his mom on Aug. 5, 1976, telling her he was in Chicago.

He was never heard from again.

In the years after he went missing, his mother wondered if he was one of Gacy's victims. And it turns out she was right.

On Wednesday, the sheriff's office said it had solved the nearly 40-year-old mystery thanks to the advancement in DNA technology and "old-fashioned detective work," a news release says.

Haakenson's remains were found with the remains of "multiple" other victims in the crawl space of Gacy's Chicago-area home in December 1978. Most of the victims were identified at the time, but Haakenson and seven other victims were buried without officials knowing who they were.

Then, in 2011, the sheriff's office reopened the case hoping to identify the eight victims using DNA testing. DNA from Haakenson's siblings, along with post-mortem reports and other data, helped officials confirm that "Victim No. 24" was the 16-year-old from Minnesota.

Officials believe Haakenson was killed in August 1976.

More on the 'killer clown'

Gacy – who was dubbed the "killer clown" because he'd dress up as "Pogo the Clown" at parties – was accused of killing 33 teenage boys and young men in the Chicago area from 1972-1978, the release says.

For most of his victims, he would capture, sexually assault and then strangle them with a rope, Biography says. He'd then bury most of them under his home. Gacy was executed for his crimes in 1994.

All but six of Gacy's victims have been identified.

The sheriff's office is asking anyone who thinks their missing male relative could be a victim of Gacy's to submit a DNA sample. Click here for more information.

Next Up


Man charged with attempted murder of White Bear Lake police officer

Daniel Holmgren Jr., 33, was being served an arrest warrant at the time of the incident.


Gallery: 1,000-acre Wisconsin resort listed for nearly $4.3M

The lush landscape features a creek and private lake.

school bus

Alert after Woodbury students approached by strangers asking if they want candy

Valley Crossing Elementary School urged parents to go over safety information with their children in response to the incident.

basketball unsplash stock

North St. Paul basketball cancels Eden Prairie game after opposing coach's reinstatement

Head Coach Cornelius Gilleylen said he let his players decide amongst themselves.

Pixabay - school - classroom

These are the nominees for 2023 Minnesota Teacher of the Year

Education Minnesota has nominated 131 teachers from across the state.


Cities prepare for release of footage showing Tyre Nichols' fatal arrest by Memphis PD

Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O'Hara issued a statement on the incident Thursday.

DeShaun Hill

Cody Fohrenkam found guilty of Deshaun Hill Jr.'s murder

The 15-year-old was fatally shot on Feb. 9, 2022.

Screen Shot 2023-01-26 at 12.15.23 PM

Gov. Tim Walz proposes $3.3B for aging infrastructure

Walz's borrowing plan comes days after the release of his two-year state budget proposal.


skylar hunter and jamie hunter

Victims in double killing ID'd as father and son; suspect was son's roommate

A man killed his roommate and his roommate's father early Saturday in St. Louis County, authorities said.

Arrest made in one of seven recent anti-Semitic incidents at U of M

There have been several anti-Semitic incidents on campus lately.

Screen Shot 2021-06-08 at 9.31.17 AM

Cambridge boy ID'd as victim killed by stray bullet during street racing

The 17-year-old was a student at Cambridge-Isanti High School.

Shootings in Minneapolis are up, with 6 injured early Monday

There have been at least 260 gunshot victims in the city so far this year, which is up compared to last year.

Update: Body pulled from Lake Minnetonka ID'd

The body was found at around 4 p.m. Thursday.

Charges: Man fatally stabbed mother of his unborn child

This is the first domestic violence-related homicide of 2017.

2 men charged in 'highly organized' national prostitution operation

The organization has ties to the Twin Cities, California and New York.

Raina Neeland

Drowning victim ID'd as teen who saved her cousins

The 18-year-old's identity was released Tuesday afternoon.