Nature Vs. Nurture: do Genes Influence our Morals?

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When someone goes on a killing spree, there is always one question at the back of everyone’s minds: why did they do it? Was it something from their childhood that pushed them over the edge, or is it something in their head that just isn’t connecting right? Could it be both? In some cases, like with John Wayne Gacy, the atrocious acts that are committed are because of the nature of his brain, coupled with an abusive childhood and many emotionally traumatic events.

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On March 17, 1942, John Wayne Gacy was born in Chicago, Illinois. Throughout his childhood, he was severely abused by his father and was faced with many exterior problems. Gacy’s father was an alcoholic, and Gacy himself wasn’t exactly a social butterfly; he was overweight, he didn’t fit in with the athleticism of the rest of his class, and he was born with a heart condition that severely limited his activity. These imperfections simply gave his father more reason to beat him, further severing his connection with reality and his sanity. Gacy was molested from the age of 9, but did not tell anyone because he was simply too afraid. After he went into fourth grade, he began experiencing seizures, which even more so made him a social outcast. His physical appearance, abuse by his father, and medical problems lead to Gacy dropping out of high school and becoming a salesman in Springfield, Illinois. He later met Marlynn Myers and married her in 1994.

Gacy and Myers moved to Iowa shortly after their marriage, where Gacy quickly worked his way up to manager positions at multiple Kentucky Fried Chicken establishments. To Gacy, this was the climax of his life; his father had finally accepted him, and he had a wife and kids that loved him and that he loved dearly. However, this period of happiness didn’t last too long. Shortly after he was promoted to manager, he became entangled in the web of drugs and prostitution, where he had his first homosexual encounter. The drugs and prostitution that he was exposed to lead to the deterioration of his marriage, and he opened up a “club” in which he could socialize with underage boys and sell them alcohol. This club, seemingly just a getaway for teenagers with drinking problems, provided much more of a problem for Gacy than he could’ve thought. This club is where Gacy was convicted with his first of many accounts of sexual assault, against Donald Voorhees. Voorhees reported the assault to his father, who got Gacy charged for oral sodomy. This charge also lead to a sexual assault charge on Edward Lynch. Despite denying these charges, and attempting to clean his record by forcing Voorhees to deny the claims, Gacy was sentenced to ten years in the Anamosa State Penitentiary. This can be argued as the breaking point in Gacy’s life, because on this day, his wife petitioned for divorce, and took full custody of his children. After serving 18 months in jail, Gacy was released with a year of probation. He moved to Chicago with his mother, remarried, and started his own private contracting company, leading a seemingly normal life.

A year after he was released, Gacy fell into the pit of sexual assault again. However, the charges pressed against him were dropped when the boy failed to appear in court. Because of his nearly $200,000 gross profit margin per year from his contracting life, Gacy began to get involved in a non profit organization: the “Jolly Joker Clown Club.” Gacy’s clown persona, Pogo the Clown, was much scarier than the other clowns in the organization; he had much sharper makeup lines, especially on his smile. People claimed that he looked like an “evil clown,” and many urban myths were made up about Pogo. In early 1975, Gacy announced to his wife that he was bisexual, and that he would no longer have sex with her. This revelation caused an abrupt end to his second marriage, resulting in divorce and starting his killing spree.

The factors leading up to this point in his life affected him in the most awful way possible. Gacy’s childhood, his two divorces, and his pornography addiction, coupled with his mental and physical disabilities, lead him to murder and rape 33 young boys and men. Some may argue that there was just something not right in his head, but it is very apparent that it both involves the nature of his brain, and his upbringing as a child. Cases like these include many serial killers, but most notably, Perry Smith. Smith was in “In Cold Blood,” a true-crime novel by Truman Capote, and many of the aspects of Smith’s life are similar to Gacy’s.  

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Nature vs. Nurture: Do Genes Influence Our Morals?. (2021, Apr 03). Retrieved January 29, 2023 , from
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