Sherry Marino was looking forward to her regular Sunday evening trip to the movies with her son, Michael, as he prepared to hang out with friends for the afternoon.
Don’t forget about our outing tonight, she told him.
“OK, Mom,” he said. “I’ll see you at 6 o’clock.”
She never saw her son again. He was 14 when he went missing Oct. 24, 1976. Four years later, authorities told her that her son’s remains were among the 29 bodies discovered in the crawl space of John Wayne Gacy’s home near Chicago.
But Marino always has been unconvinced, especially after privately obtained DNA tests in 2012 indicated she was not the biological mother of the remains exhumed from what was believed to be her son’s grave at Queen of Heaven Catholic Cemetery in the nearby village of Hillside.
“I have no idea where he is, but I believe he is out there,” said Marino, 70, a resident of Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood.
Now she is asking a Cook County judge for permission to exhume another body said to be that of a Gacy victim — her son’s friend, Kenneth Parker, who went missing at the same time. A hearing has been scheduled for Monday in Circuit Court.
Although Marino is still holding out hope her son might be alive, her attorney, Steven Becker, said it is likely the decomposed bodies were misidentified when they were handed over to the families or the remains, which had been found side by side, were mixed together.
Kenneth’s relatives could not be reached for comment on whether they will oppose the exhumation. His remains were believed to be buried at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago.
Authorities have said both boys were killed by Gacy. Their decomposed remains were later identified through dental records.
In all, Gacy was convicted of the murder of 33 young men and boys in the 1970s. He was executed in 1994.
Two bodies, referred to as Body No. 14 and No. 15 by officials, were discovered together in the crawl space. The remains were buried in about 9 inches of dirt and were “plastered one right up against the other,” said a filing on Marino’s behalf that quoted from testimony at Gacy’s trial.
“Were these identifications forensically verifiable or [were] they simply ‘a best guess’ in an effort to close out the two cases under the logic that it was reasonable to assume that because Michael Marino and Kenneth Parker were friends and went missing at the same time they would most likely have been buried in the same grave?” Becker wrote in the petition to exhume Body No. 15.
However, an orthodontist who was part of the Gacy investigation team working to identify the remains decades ago told the Chicago Tribune in 2012 that he was skeptical of the privately obtained DNA tests and remained confident that Body No. 14 was Marino’s.
In 2011, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart reopened the Gacy investigation in an effort to use scientific methods and technology to help identify eight victims whose names remained a mystery. So far, that effort has identified the remains of one Gacy victim — William George Bundy, who was 19 when he disappeared in October 1976.
The sheriff’s office is taking no position on Marino’s request to exhume Kenneth Parker’s burial plot, spokeswoman Sophia Ansari said.
For more than 30 years, Marino visited what she thought was her son’s grave every few weeks. She even bought an adjacent plot for herself.
But citing what she called a mother’s intuition, she never believed the remains were those of her son.
She said her son disliked school and was a naturally good drummer — “like a little Gene Krupa.” Over the years, Marino said, she has had to leave restaurants out of grief when she sees other parents with teenage boys.
She has two adult daughters and enjoys taking care of her grandchildren, but the disappearance of her son remains ever-present on her mind, despite those who advise her to move on with her life.
She brushes aside those sentiments, she said, “because he’s my son.”