On December 9, 2010, I called Barry Boschelli, who was notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy’s childhood friend. Today, he is 69 years old and living in Cheyenne, Wyoming where he collects antiques and loves presidential history. Of all the interviews I have done with people in the political world and the world of entertainment, this stands as probably the one that is unlike all others.
Barry had a story to tell, a catharsis to go through and clear his mind. While most interviews are question and answer, this time I just let Barry tell what he needed to tell, and I helped steer when necessary, which was not often. In the following conversation, you will hear about how Barry was almost murdered, how his family and Gacy’s family interacted, and what may have been the cause of Gacy’s violence and temper. While most serial killers are probably sociopaths due to genetic defect, Barry has another suggestion.
For those interested in more about John Wayne Gacy, after you read this interview, be sure to buy Barry’s book Johnny And Me: The True Story Of John Wayne Gacy and pick up a copy of the new movie Dear Mr. Gacy, a true story based on the book The Last Victim: A True-Life Journey into the Mind of the Serial Killer by criminologist Jason Moss.
GS: I wanted to start out by saying that I have done many interviews, but you are probably the most unique subject to date.
BB: I have been told now, since the book came out September 5, 2008, that they believe that there is nobody else who has come forward with Dahmer or Bundy or any of them and had this kind of situation where somebody actually knows someone before he becomes a serial killer.
GS: As far as I know, that is probably true.
BB: This is a big country, but Illinois is what I know.
GS: And I live in Wisconsin, so the story is very familiar to us here.
BB: Oh, you are? Did you follow the trial and all that?
GS: I am a little too young for that, before my time.
BB: Oh, alright. I’ll fill you in then. I didn’t have to appear, so I want to tell you right off the bat, when all this hit the fan, when he tried to do me in at his house in 1978, he was looking for me. I have some memos that he had put the word out, and I lived out here, in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Mom had died in 1970 and Johnny was at the funeral. He was in our family every way he could. I came out here and in 1975 I returned to Illinois, and my sister — who is long gone — called me up and said, “Did you know that when Dad was doing the preparations for the funeral…” I was not involved in that in any way. But Johnny was there, and she didn’t know the whole story, but she knew a jewelry box was taken off of Mom’s dresser. She was not aware, nor was I, that Dad had given Marion (Gacy’s mother) and Johnny permission to take all of Mom’s beautiful jewelry. If the family had known, they would have blown a cork. I was back in Illinois in an apartment on Clark Street, and Johnny came visiting one night. I don’t know how he broke through security, but Johnny was Johnny. He came up to the third floor around 9 o’clock, and I had a roommate. He asked if I was expecting anyone and I said no. I opened the door, and this is what Johnny said: “This is from me and this is from your father.” And then he hit me in the face. My whole face swelled up and I fell to the floor. My roommate was going to throw him over the banister, and I said, “No Chuck, don’t ever do anything like that.” I said, “He’s on probation. I will handle it.”
The next day I called his mother, who is very close to me and I miss her today. I said, “Marion, this is Barry. This is not a social call. I want to let you know something. I want you to go to the phone right now and Johnny needs to be put away for hitting me. My face is swollen and it was about the jewelry box.” She never confirmed that Dad had said anything about the jewelry box, and I said to her, “If you see Johnny, tell him if he ever sees me again, he better be walking away from me if he sees me on the street.” Well, now that I look back over the years and all the other things that had gone down, I should have picked up the phone and reported it. I didn’t want to hurt his mother who had been so kind to me. But that’s history now.
After that, I settled up in Fontana, and Dad was becoming very ill and he was very close to Johnny. He put Johnny in his own cocktail lounge and hired him as assistant chef. This is in early 1970. Dad was very close to Johnny and gave him every benefit of the doubt because Johnny had been in prison. He was in there for sodomy charges, which I know all about, too. Johnny had called my Dad up and asked where I was, but my Dad didn’t know because the last thing out of his mouth was — excuse the expression — “Get the hell away from us, we don’t want you here.” And so what I did, I felt in my heart I had to make peace for my Mom’s sake. I asked (in 1978) if I could visit, and he said “surely”, but not long before I got to my Dad’s, he got a call from Johnny asking, “I’m looking for Barry, did you know where he is?” And Dad said, “Isn’t that strange, he is coming to visit me.” And I never did make final peace with my dad, because I was dumb and stupid and Johnny was smart as ever. Anyway, I went to the phone and I was shaking. I had been hit by him, you know, and I didn’t want to be hit again. I called and he asked why I seemed nervous. “Oh, you know, it’s because I have come to see Father after all these years. I just don’t know how it’s going to go down.” “Oh. Do you want to come out and visit me?” “I don’t even know where you live.” “Oh, it’s out in Norwich.”
The next morning I had feelings running through me that I cannot express to nobody but myself, but they were not very good. I kept getting feelings not to go, but I didn’t listen. I got in my dad’s car and arrived at about 10:30 to a smell that would have choked anybody. The only way I can describe it, sir, is five skunks all spraying at the same time. I got out and plugged my nose up. Johnny came out and said he was glad to see me. “Johnny, what is that smell?” “Oh, my sewer broke.” And of course, what do I know? I went inside and the smell was worse — little did I know that I was sitting above a cemetery. We reminisced about the past and he shared things with me. At one point, he said, “Would you do me a favor, would you try on these handcuffs?” “What handcuffs?” And he got some out. So I said, “Johnny, would you do me a favor? Would you get me a glass of water?” I don’t know how I got that out, but that’s what crossed my mind. And it saved my life, sir. I believe it was the man upstairs.
I ran, and I fell, and i hit a wall, but I had my dad’s keys and I ran. I don’t know if he’;s upset or he’s trying a new trick on me. Johnny yells out, “Please don’t leave my sight!” I get to my Dad’s car, I’m shaking like a leaf, and I gunned it. Johnny had his hand up in the air, and he says, “I’m going to murder you!” When I got to my brother — that’s my older brother — I was trying to be calm but I was screaming, and he said I was ready for a booby hatch. So the next day my brother called him up and laid it out in no other terms: “Don’t ever put a hand on my brother.” A week or two later, the detectives came, and you know the rest of the story.
GS: Prior to him punching you in 1970, did you ever see any signs of violence?
BB: He lived out in Norwich in the Irving Park area… he lived outside Chicago. When he was a little boy, about 5 or 6, he had to go by a cemetery and he saw some flowers and he thought he would bring them to his mother or a teacher. Well, the police saw him and they brought him home. Mr. Gacy, his dad, thought he was a perfectionist and said, “Don’t worry, officer. I’ll handle it.” This is in the 1940s. He took Johnny to the basement, picked up a board and hit him in the head a couple of times. Now their doctor was also our doctor, Dr. Burrows. He told Marion sometimes when she would bring Johnny to the office that he would report the violence. Marion said that Johnny had fell, but the doctor said, “No, no. I can’t go this route any more.” And he did report it. Johnny was hit in the front of his forehead with the board.
Move up a little more, and I learned that one time a jar of Jiffy peanut butter was thrown at his forehead. Now move up to the early 1950s, this time he’s 8 and I’m 9. The kids in the neighborhood all stuck together and we decided to go on a picnic. We were going up to Waylon Woods, which was 40 blocks from where we lived. We had a wagon, and we wanted to go on the adult swings, which are now long gone. We were swinging, and when Johnny went over to grab a swing, it clobbered him in the forehead. Johnny falls to the ground and he’s blanked out. We put him in the wagon and we brought him back 40 blocks, crying because we think he died. Marion and John came out and picked up their son. Marion said I had to go home because it would take some time, but that she would let my mother know. I came back home and prayed. And about a week later that’s when things began to change.
Up to this point, Johnny was mild and easy going, never threatened me or raised a fist or anything. He was a bit of a control freak, saying that he wanted things done a certain way, but if he was in my house, it would be done both ways. About a week later, I was invited to come over and he was sitting on the gray, 3-piece, sectional couch. I remember it well — William (Forsythe) took me back last year after forty years of not seeing the house — and Johnny wasn’t the same anymore. Because he couldn’t hardly talk, he would get aggravated with himself and snap his fingers, stomp his feet. From that day forward, I saw a gradual change in him.
And, of course, we have the Christmas story in my basement. He sang “O Holy Night” and he had a beautiful voice. He really did. There was me, Karen Gacy, and Johnny. And people would be crying and say that Johnny needed to be taken somewhere and worked so that maybe he could be become a singer or an opera star. But it never happened. Mr. Gacy used to drink like a… whatever. I would be over there, and if Mr. Gacy came up the stairs drunk, Marion would tell me to grab Johnny and go to my house, and she would call us when the coast was clear. Many times Johnny got it before I could grab him, for no reason. Just because of the hate. My father was the same way, very Italian. He would be betting on the hockey… he knew all the sports figures, the baseball players, he had connections from 1929 up to 1975. He knew Mayor Daley and all that. What happened was, I came in after being at Johnny’s house, and we had a small 9″, which was big in those days. I happened to come in when he was losing — I had no idea he had bet $500 on the race — and he said, “Go back and close that door.” And so I did, but he wasn’t satisfied because he had to get that anger out. He smacked me, and across the room I went. I laugh now because it was his calling card. He didn’t say, “Son, I’d like to talk to you about this.” No, the calling card was his fist.
Johnny and I grew together as friends. People come up to me and say he was no good, and I say, “Yes, he did terrible things. And yes, he deserved to be executed. But you have to understand I knew him before he was a serial killer.” I try to get them to understand my thinking and background. He never hurt me (up to that point), he was very intelligent. He was in politics — I’m sure you learned all that. He rubs noses with all the elite. And thanks to my father’s clientele, Johnny was catapulted to the big time.
GS: Let’s shift to the movie, “Dear Mr. Gacy”. Knowing John as well as you did, how well do you think William Forsythe portrayed him?
BB: He did excellent. He did it right on the mark. He portrayed Johnny just the way he was. William caught the essence of Johnny. There were many times William called me up on the phone, and once he told me of all the roles he had done — 107 movies — this was the hardest of his life. I just want to say he did good and if anyone really wants to know Johnny as I knew him, go and check out that movie. It’s awesome. There’s no other word that can describe it. I was moved. I knew his ways, I knew him as my friend — not the man with the killing. People have asked why he attacked me. And I say it is because he started with me, and he had to finish what he started. Since I was his only friend fifty years ago, he had to wipe me out. Friendship meant nothing to him anymore. I could have been #34 — at the time Johnny was bigger, and I was skinny. All he had to do was hit me with his fist and I’d be on the floor. He could gag me and that would be the end of that. But thankfully, the Good Lord stepped in and saved my life.
William and Clark Peterson did a wonderful thing. William was going to take me to Vancouver to see the movie, but something happened. He always felt bad about that. He called me up one time, and wanted to make it up to me, and asked what else I would want in all the world. I said, “William, I want to go home — I want to see my house for the last time.” Him and Clark Peterson arranged it, they took me home, and got some of the hurt out of me, though I could not change the way things were. I came to terms with my own peace. We went to Johnny’s old house, went through the rooms, I showed them where he used to sit on his toybox. I lived four doors from him — I was on Monitor and he was on Memore (sp?). Johnny never had any money, at least not until he worked as a clerk for IGA. And then he fell down the stairs trying to deliver groceries to somebody.
I am very grateful to William and I wish him nothing but the best on his movie.
GS: Thank you, Barry.
BB: Thank you for letting me share this from my heart and my soul. Every time I talk some more I am able to find that inner peace. They are all gone now, it is just Karen and me left.