CHICAGO -- A man whose family feared he had become a victim of serial killer John Wayne Gacy has been located alive living in Beaverton.
The Cook County Sheriff's office says Theodore Szal went missing from the Chicago area in 1977 at age 24. His race, age and the date he disappeared bore enough similarities to Gacy's 33 victims that his family's DNA was compared to eight never-identified Gacy victims whose bodies were recently exhumed.
There wasn't a match and the sheriff's office was eventually able to track Szal down 35 years later in Beaverton. He's now 59 years old.
Szal said he parked his car at Chicago's O'Hare airport 35 years ago, threw his keys away and got on a plane to Colorado Springs. He says he abandoned his relatives after the turmoil of a tough divorce and a bitter family feud. He's struggled emotionally with the decision, but was too stubborn to make contact again.
I didn't know my family thought I was dead. That was a tough pill to swallow. That's different than just skipping town, there's a difference in my mind, he said.
Investigators eventually traced Szal to Oregon through his Social Security number after his sister recently contacted authorities, wanting his case re-opened.
Sheriff Tom Dart said Szal's family was ecstatic and amazed that he's alive. He said they're planning the best way to reconnect.
Another man thought to be a Gacy victim was found alive in Florida in October.
Gacy also became known as the Killer Clown due to his charitable services at fund-raising events, parades and children's parties where he would dress as Pogo the Clown , a character he devised himself. (See photo, above right.)
It's hard birthdays, holidays ... I stood godfther for my sister's kid, she's a grown woman now - things like that haunt you, he said.
Szal now has a family with his wife Debbie and her two daughters and he's a step-grandfather to seven other kids.
We've had many tear-filled Christmas. My good wife and I have had some tough ones.I tend to go a little gooney at Christmas. All those feelings you're trying to bury come out. This year is going to be different.