Funny or insensitive?
A section of a haunted house near Chicago devoted to serial killer John Wayne Gacy is drawing complaints, but the producers see it as something humorous and are calling it “art.”
The “Gacy room” is part of Rob Zombie’s Great American Nightmare in the Chicago suburb of Villa Park. In a replica living room replete with 1970s-era wallpaper and furnishings, “Gacy” is dressed in a clown costume and the actor, complete with clown makeup, sits in a recliner blowing up balloons. Next to him sit two child-sized dolls dressed as Boy Scouts with khaki-colored ties and shorts.
“It’s in very poor taste,” Robert Egan, one of Gacy’s prosecutors (and who now teaches a criminal law class), told PEOPLE. “It’s insensitive to the families.”
One victim’s mother, who still lives in the area, told PEOPLE she was “not happy” with the room. “I don’t want that.”
The infamous serial killer, who dressed as “Pogo the Clown” for children’s parties and civic events in the 1970s, lured 33 young men and boys to his Chicago-area home, where he killed them and buried most in the crawl space underneath. He was arrested in 1978 and executed by lethal injection in 1994.
All of Gacy’s victims came from the Chicago area, Egan said. “The families of the victims, the friends of the victims, still live around here,” he said. “It’s not like it’s in some other state where the families would never even hear about it.”
Creepy versions of Gacy have appeared elsewhere before, but the inclusion of one of the nation’s most prolific serial killers so close to the scene of the crimes is disturbing, Egan said.
“I’m concerned for the families of the victims,” he said, though he noted, “I don’t argue with his right to do what he’s doing.”
Another Gacy prosecutor, Terry Sullivan, told the Daily Herald newspaper in Arlington Heights, Illinois, that the Gacy room was “in terrible taste.”
Steve Kopelman, who produced the haunted house with Zombie, said the Gacy room wasn’t for everybody. “It’s tasteless and offensive, but it’s art,” Kopelman told PEOPLE. Calling the haunted house “immersive theater,” he said, “Some art is tasteless and offensive.”
Kopelman said his intention wasn’t to hurt anyone. “I have empathy for the victims’ families,” he said. “They shouldn’t come to the haunted house.”