CHICAGO — The Hutton family may spend their first holiday season together in 41 years after Robert Hutton, whose family feared he might have been a victim of John Wayne Gacy, was reunited with his father and sister through an investigation to identify the serial killer’s unnamed victims, the Cook County sheriff’s office announced Thursday.
Hutton was reported missing in 1972, when he was 21 years old, after telling his mother he was traveling from New York to California. His family never heard from him again, and law enforcement agencies closed the missing-person case after several years of trying to locate him, the sheriff’s office said.
Hutton and his family declined to comment, according to the sheriff’s office. Attempts to reach the family were unsuccessful.
In February 2012, Hutton’s sister heard the sheriff’s office was trying to identify seven of Gacy’s victims who were still unidentified. Gacy was convicted of 33 murders in 1980 and executed in 1994. His victims, all young men, some of whom he tortured for hours, were killed between 1972 and 1978, and many of their bodies were hidden in the crawl space under his home in suburban Norwood Park.
Like many of the victims, Hutton was a young man hitchhiking and traveling by bus who likely would have passed through Chicago, said detective Jason Moran, who leads Sheriff Tom Dart’s Gacy investigation. Hutton also worked in construction, and Gacy was known to lure victims by hiring them to do similar work, Moran said.
The sheriff’s office traced a man named Robert Hutton to Colorado but found he’d moved to rural Stevensville. In April, investigators confirmed it was the same Hutton who disappeared in 1972, Moran said.
“I sensed a little bit of regret when I was speaking to him,” Moran said. “He said he just got caught up in the ’70s lifestyle, and after years went by he became embarrassed he hadn’t had contact with his family and that made it easier to dismiss them,” Moran said.
Hutton said he tried to contact his family in the ’80s and ’90s but had trouble tracking them down, Moran said.
He never knew that the owner of a bar just a few miles from his home was his stepmother’s brother, Moran said. They’d spoken several times but never exchanged last names.
Hutton’s family was “ecstatic” to find him, Dart said. Hutton first reunited with his father in June and has visited him at his home in Washington state several times, Moran said.
His father, Chuck Hutton, is in his mid-80s and in poor health, and said he was very happy he was able to reunite with his son before he passed away, Moran said, adding that Robert Hutton said he plans to visit his sister soon.
Since the sheriff’s office began investigating unidentified Gacy victims in 2011, 150 families like Hutton’s provided leads, Dart said. Just one of Gacy’s victims, William George Bundy, was identified, but seven missing-person cases have been closed. Five, like Hutton, were found alive and two died of natural causes, Dart said. Moran said he is still investigating about 40 leads.
All seven unidentified victims have had their DNA tested, which wasn’t done at the time of their discovery, Dart said.
“If nothing else were to come of this, if everyone who had concerns about missing persons would get their DNA swabbed and put in a national database, you’d be amazed how many could be solved,” Dart said.
Finding Hutton, however, required only standard detective work, using tools that weren’t available at the time, Moran said. In the early 1970s, missing-person case records were often poorly maintained and there were no computers linking law enforcement offices and records across the country.
“Cases like Gacy changed how missing persons are done,” Moran said.