“To Catch a Killer” begins with Mr. Miklovich (Peter Langley), a distraught father, who is in a Chicago police station reporting that his son is missing. The officer who is taking the father’s information seems thoroughly disinterested. He takes the form Miklovich has filled out and places it in a drawer. Mr. Miklovich, like several people in the miniseries, is based on a real person whose name has been changed. Miklovich has cause for concern. His son, like the sons, brothers, uncles and friends of over thirty families had the unfortunate luck of crossing paths with John Wayne Gacy.
For those who knew Gacy during the years 1972 through 1978, when he was engaged in his depraved acts of murder, he was considered many things. Gacy was a respected business man, who ran PDM, a successful contracting company. He was heavily involved in Democratic Party politics. Furthermore, he was viewed as an altruistic individual, someone who would dress up as a clown to entertain sick children in hospitals. (As an aside: Gacy, who was of Polish ethnicity called his clown persona POGO. The acronym stood for Polish and on the go).
Portraying Gacy is Golden Globe winner Brian Dennehy (Death of a Salesman). Dennehy completely embodies the role of the real life serial killer. His acting is superb, conveying more with a look and facial expressions than a great many actors could with an entire monologue. (As an aside: Gacy, who had a television in his cell, saw the miniseries. Afterward, he wrote Dennehy a letter stating his displeasure and proclaiming his innocence. Dennehy didn’t write him back).
After the opening scene, the series moves forward to Gacy talking to the owner of a pharmacy he’s doing work for. While engaging in small talk, Gacy’s attention becomes focused on Christoper Gant (Nicholas Shields). When Gant, who is saving up money to buy photographic equipment , hears that Gacy pays the guys who work for him double what he’s making at the store, he’s intrigued. He tells his mother (Judith Goodwin) that he’s going out to talk to a guy about a job. Hours later, Christopher has seemingly vanished. (As an aside: The character of Christopher Gant is based on Robert Piest, Gacy’s last known victim).
The next morning Christopher’s mother, father (Shawn Lawrence), and sister (Jaqueline Graham) go the police station to report he is missing. Their case is handed over to Detective Joe Kozenczak (Michael Riley). They relay to the detective that Christopher has never stayed out all night before. The fact that it was his mother’s birthday makes his absence even more puzzling. While talking with Kozenczak, the family mention Gacy’s name.
Without a shred of evidence, Kozenczak has a gut feeling after meeting Gacy, that something is off about a man many people consider a pillar of the community. He becomes relentless in his pursuit of Gacy and finding out what happened to Christopher Gant. Kozenczak sacrifices everything else in his life including his family: his wife Marcia (Lillane Clune), daughters Lisa (Sarah Gibney) and Debbie (Aviva Magner), as well as his son Michael (Toby Proctor). Kozenczak implores the district attorney (Meg Foster) to ask a judge for a search warrant to look through Gacy’s home. He asks his Chief (Michael Copeman) for more man power, which he is given in the person of Paxton (Scott Hylands) and his men, who are an elite investigative branch of the Des Plaines, Illinois Police Department. The detective even goes as far as consulting a psychic portrayed by Emmy winner Margot Kidder (R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour). Gacy is being kept under constant surveillance. Wherever he goes, the police are right there with him. Even at his lawyer’s office, which while under the law, they’re not allowed to enter, they sit and wait in the lobby. How long before Gacy cracks to the mounting pressure being placed on him?
“To Catch a Killer” was directed by Eric Till (Luther). The teleplay was written by Emmy nominee Jud Kinberg (Quincy M.E.). The miniseries premiered in Canada in January of 1992 on the CTV television network. Parts biography, crime, drama, and thriller, it has a runtime of 182 minutes. For those interested in learning more about the techniques utilized by Detective Kozenczak to bring Gacy to justice, he wrote a book, “The Chicago Killer: The Hunt for Serial Killer John Wayne Gacy.” The book, which he co-wrote with his wife, was published in November of 2003. For those interested in learning more about John Wayne Gacy, there are many books, magazine articles, films, and true crime television episodes about him.
The miniseries focuses on the police investigation and not Gacy’s vile actions. In the miniseries there are no specific scenes showing what Gacy did to his victims. There is, however, a standout scene where Dennehy is with a potential victim and takes things right to the edge of something truly awful happening. Dennehy, as stated earlier, is outstanding in his role. Riley, who played Kozenczak, is a bit underwhelming. I felt the actor lacked the intensity the role required. Overall, it is an absorbing miniseries that should appeal to those interested in true crime.