Years before his own killing spree began, Brian Dugan survived a chance encounter with another notorious murderer -- John Wayne Gacy.
Dugan was a young teen when he said the stranger molested him after he accepted a ride while walking to a grocery store in Lisle.
That's the story he's told, as early as two decades ago, to at least three people. He's hazy on a few key details, though, and some authorities are skeptical about it.
But his defense team is investigating the alleged 1972 attack to possibly spare Dugan the death penalty if he's convicted of the 1983 abduction, rape and murder of 10-year-old Jeanine Nicarico of Naperville. The 51-year-old Dugan is serving life terms for two sex slayings in the mid-1980s.
Illinois' capital punishment law sets forth specific factors that a judge or jury may consider to mitigate punishment. A history of emotional or physical abuse is one of them.
But even if Dugan is telling the truth about Gacy -- who tortured, raped and killed 33 young men -- is it enough to sway those who hold his fate when weighed against his life of crime?
Running an errand
The earliest mention of a possible link between the two men came in the mid-1980s when Dugan told a state police lieutenant, a mental health expert and a prison psychologist.
Two of the men confirmed details to the Daily Herald, which also reviewed a July 1999 prison psychiatric assessment verifying the third account.
Dugan told them when he was about 15, he was walking from his home at 706 Jonquil Avenue to the National Tea grocery store in Lisle at his mother's request to buy hamburger and hot dog buns for dinner. A man in a dark-colored car asked him if he needed a job and offered him a ride.
Dugan said he hopped in the car, which was cluttered with construction tools. He immediately felt trapped. The man drove him to a secluded area, possibly an old quarry, where Dugan recalls kids used to swim. He didn't offer specifics, other than that the site was on the outskirts of town near some railroad tracks and possibly a sewage treatment plant.
Dugan claims the man forced him to perform and submit to oral sex after having him try on a pair of bikini briefs he gave him to model. Afterward, Dugan said the man drove him to the grocery store. Dugan said he grabbed the $20 bill the man tossed on the dashboard and left.
It wasn't until years later that Dugan made the connection. He said he realized the man resembled Gacy after seeing his face during extensive media coverage in December 1978, when he confessed to the torture, rape and murder of 33 young men, most of whom he buried in a crawl space under the floorboards of his house near Des Plaines.
Gacy was executed May 10, 1994, at Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet. He was 52. At the time, Dugan was incarcerated at another Joliet prison, now shuttered. The two men also stayed at Menard Correctional Center at the same time from 1987 to 1990, but it's unlikely they crossed paths because Gacy was on death row.
Dugan never reported the Gacy encounter to police. There also is no mention of it inside a lengthy FBI investigation conducted in 1985 into Dugan's past. The confidential report -- obtained by the Daily Herald in 2006 -- contains family interviews.
Robert Thorud was a state police mental health expert who, while conducting a study on sexual predators, recorded his three prison interviews in October 1986. Thorud said Dugan told him the Gacy story, but he didn't believe it.
"Dugan lacked salient details," Thorud said via e-mail, noting the two spent little time on the topic, "and he didn't discuss it much if, indeed, it were true. His memory, recollection of details, etc. was vague."
Others found Dugan to be cooperative and truthful.
"He never told me a lie, to my knowledge," said Ed Cisowski, a retired 23-year state police lieutenant who interviewed Dugan a half-dozen times in 1985 and 1986. "He said he tried to put it out of his mind afterward and didn't really want to think about it."
A ring of truth?
Clifford L. Linedecker, who authored "Man Who Killed Boys: The John Wayne Gacy Jr. Story," said Dugan at 15 would have fit the victim profile.
"He would have been about the right age," Linedecker said. "(Gacy) liked young men who looked like they were just on the cusp of becoming a man, that age where they are between a child and a man without a lot of muscle yet."
Gacy's victims ranged in age from 14 to 21. He lured most of them into his home with the promise of construction work. Linedecker never heard of the modeling ruse that Dugan reported.
Gacy did let some of his rape victims live. Dugan, though scared, said he remained calm. If true, Linedecker said that may have led Gacy to lose interest and, thus, saved Dugan's life.
"One of the things about Gacy, and a lot of people like him who kill, is fear and crying turns them on," said the Florida-based author. "That's exciting to him."
The timing of the alleged encounter also is of note.
Longtime Lisle residents recall a National Tea store in town in the 1970s. They say the path Dugan described while walking to the store is logical. And they recall two possible sites in town that fit his quarry description.
But Dugan isn't certain of his age or the date he claims to have crossed paths with Gacy. He is sure it was while his family lived at the Jonquil Avenue home. They rented the Lisle home for less than a year in 1972 before the family was evicted and moved to Batavia, the FBI records state.
Meanwhile, Gacy had just returned to the Chicago area in the summer of 1970 after being paroled from an Iowa prison for molesting a boy while living in Waterloo. After a short stint as a restaurant chef, he worked construction jobs and, in about 1975, started his own company, PDM Contractors.
Most of his victims were killed in a three-year span from 1975 to 1978, but Gacy admitted his first murder was in early 1972.
Linedecker said many of Gacy's victims were teenage runaways and other troubled youths. In 1972, Dugan already had been arrested for burglary, and he admits to experimenting with alcohol and drugs then. He served a stint in a youth home that same year and by 16 dropped out of high school.
Making their case
Dugan was serving life prison sentences for two other sex slayings and three unrelated attacks on young women when prosecutors charged him with the Nicarico murder.
His indictment on Nov. 29, 2005, was the latest twist in a long legal saga that saw two other men -- Rolando Cruz and Alejandro Hernandez -- sentenced to death for the killing but later freed.
Prosecutors said they have DNA evidence linking Dugan to Jeanine's murder, which he long ago admitted in out-of-court statements.
DuPage Circuit Judge George Bakalis imposed a verbal gag order on lawyers in the high-profile case.
The lead defense lawyer, Steven Greenberg, declined comment.
But the defense team plans to use the Gacy link as an argument against the death penalty should Dugan be convicted.
His lawyers learned of the alleged encounter late last year and are asking Gacy estate attorneys if there are records of Gacy working in the Lisle area in the early 1970s. He was said to have kept meticulous work logs.
The defense team also is working with Bill Dorsch, a private investigator and retired 25-year Chicago homicide detective to help determine the validity of the Dugan-Gacy connection.
In addtion to his professional background, Dorsch also has a personal connection to Gacy.
Gacy worked for the same Rosemont company as Dorsch's wife. Dorsch, who lived near Gacy's mother on Miami Avenue in Chicago, said he had dinner in Gacy's home in 1974.
Dugan said the man who molested him never revealed what he was doing in the Lisle area. Dugan assumed it was for work because of all the construction tools in the car. A Daily Herald review of village permits issued for three apartment buildings and a church in the area, where Dugan vaguely recalled some ongoing construction at the time, did not reveal any such work in 1972.
If his story about Gacy is true, it likely isn't the only time Dugan was a victim. There is mention in the 1985 FBI files that he may have been molested on more than one occasion while a teen in a state youth home, the Kane County jail and later in prison. The FBI report also documents an unstable childhood with an alcoholic father who often was on the road.
But the defense faces a daunting task in trying to make Dugan appear sympathetic. He was convicted of the July 15, 1984 murder of Donna Schnorr. He ran the 27-year-old Geneva nurse off the road and beat, raped and drowned her in a Kane County quarry.
Dugan went on a monthlong sex-crime binge afterward in which he attacked three young women -- all of whom survived.
Less than a year later, Dugan tried to abduct two girls June 2, 1985, in Somonauk. One escaped. Her friend, 7-year-old Melissa Ackerman, did not. Dugan raped and drowned the child. Authorities captured him a day later. He's been incarcerated ever since.
DuPage County State's Attorney Joseph Birkett wouldn't comment specifically on the possible Dugan-Gacy link, but the prosecutor was skeptical of abuse as a defense.
"The abuse excuse is very well-documented in the annals of capital litigation," Birkett said. "Prosecutors and juries have to struggle with it to actually discern whether there is any validity to it."
Dugan has pleaded innocent. His trial is set for Jan. 20.