Man Thought To Be Gacy Victim Alive, Reunited With Family

UPATED 10/26/11 6:38 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — For more than two decades, a local family thought their loved one was a victim of serial killer John Wayne Gacy. But this week, he turned up alive and was reunited with his family on Tuesday.

CBS 2’s Kristyn Hartman reports that the family, now living in Alabama, said they have Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart to thank for their reunion.

Dart’s office recently exhumed eight unidentified Gacy victims to collect DNA. Then he put out a plea to anyone who thought a loved one died at the serial killer’s hands to come forward and submit DNA samples to compare to the unidentified victims.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports

Theresa Hasselberg’s family responded. They wanted to know for sure if their brother, Harold Wayne Lovell, was one of the eight victims.

Years ago, they stopped searching for him because a reconstructive sketch of an unidentified Gacy victim looked like him.

But this new push to find out who the eight unknown victims are put detectives and Hasselberg’s family on a path they never imagined. They found Harold Wayne Lovell alive and well in Florida.

They were reunited early Tuesday morning.

“He cried and he cried. As soon as you talk about anything, he’ll just bust out crying, because he’s missed so much.” Theresa Hasselberg said.

Lovell joined CBS 2 by phone Wednesday morning to talk about his reaction to reconnecting with his family.

“It was awesome – a shock; disbelief. I’m still pinching myself,” Lovell said. “I mean, 34 years is a long time.”

Detectives found a record of Lovell in Florida. Hasselberg’s son also found an old mug shot of him.

Lovell, now 53, said he became separated from his family at the age of 19 after his father left and his mother was under too much pressure. He ended up in a series of foster homes.

“I wondered every day. (There wasn’t) day in 34 years that I didn’t think about them; what they were doing, if they were alive,” he said.

CBS 2’s Mike Puccinelli sat down with the sheriff’s detective who helped solve a case that went cold 34 years ago.

It was the spring of 1977 when Lovell, then a teenager, headed to Aurora to try and find work in construction.

But he never returned. That is, until this week, when the family was reunited in a way they never thought possible.

“In this case, his mother was absolutely convinced, she felt he was a victim of John Gacy,” said Sheriff’s Det. Jason Moran.

Lovell disappeared in 1977 and his mother, for the rest of her life, was convinced he met his end at the hands of one of the worst mass murderers of all time.

“The mother passed away, thinking that her son was killed by Gacy,” said Moran.

But in reality, Lovell was living in Florida – unaware that his mom or any other family members had been searching for him for decades.

When Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart went to the public asking for help in identifying the 8 still unidentified Gacy victims, Lovell’s family reached out to investigators.

After some basic police work, Moran found that Lovell was alive.

“I talked to him on the phone and said, ‘Do you know your family is looking for you?’ And Wayne was just very emotional about it. He wasn’t aware,” said Moran.

That led to a speedy reunion with siblings, now living in Alabama.

“To go from not knowing you had a family to knowing you got more than a handful all at once is amazing,” said Lovell.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d find a person who’s been missing for 30-some years,” Dart said.

Lovell said he left home when he was 19 because he felt unwanted. Dart said his mother’s actions say otherwise.

“I’m thankful to the family that I have that they never gave up,” Lovell said. “It’s just good to be home.”

Lovell said he plans to move to the Alabama area to be closer to his family.

They have been catching up on 33 years of lost time, trying to figure out how they lost contact to the degree they did.

“It was about emotional as you can get. I’m still sitting here crying. It’s been 48 hours,” he said. “I saw family I never thought I had. I went from having no family to having more than I can imagine. It’s just all been sweet.”

As for the work to identify the eight unidentified Gacy victims, no luck yet, but sheriff’s police are processing hundreds of leads.

  • Harry H. Hasselberg

    Thank you for taking to time to post this. I am Theresa Hasselbergs son. I am truly bleesed to have been apart of this remarkable event of finding my uncle after 34 years gone. I hope the every family gets the answer they are looking for. God bless!

  • Barbara

    One question to this family; IS ignorance truly bliss?? 24 YEARS ?

  • Harry H. Hasselberg

    It is amazing to have found him after being gone so long. It is a horrible feeling of not knowing what had happened. We still have a lot of questions. We are trying to take this day by day. It will be a long road.

  • punkin

    that sound crazy and stupid. it makes me think that this a joke because why would you not contact your family and say it was not me, what was really going on or what is really going on. who does that, just disappear and all of sudden you turn up and no one knew where you was and you did not contact your family after all these years even when you knew they thought you was a victim of violence but whatever the case maybe good they found you and enjoy your family and make new memories to make up for the ones that were lost.

  • Heidi R. Hasselberg

    We are truly blessed that after all these years of thinking our uncle was no longer with us he was alive. This ws the best thing that happened to the brother and sisters of him. We weren’t expecting this outcome at all but we were truly blessed. NO this was not a JOKE it has really happened we would not joke about something this serious like my brother said we are taking this day by day we just got him back in our lives yesterday. I am so thankful and I hope every family still looking gets the answers they need. I am the daughter of Theresa Hasselberg.

  • Harry H. Hasselberg

    “Punkin” think what you may. We do not have to sit here and explain to you why. Your truly a sick person if you think this was a joke. You look for someone for 34 years and think someone was dead. Like I said there is still a lot of answers that need to be filled in.

  • Just Axin

    I believe that the family truly thought he was a Gacy victim as it appears he just disappeared, but Harry obviously didn’t want to be found. If he had a desire to contact his family, he would have done it in the last 34 years.

  • Heidi R. Hasselberg

    Actually he did want to be found he doesnt want to leave us! There is more to the sitiuation then you think he was threatend to leave with no choice in the matter! He never wanted to leave us never and that is all he keeps telling us!!!

  • A mom

    A few people seem to be making judgements here…remember: unless you’ve walked a mile in someone else’s shoes…
    The story mentions foster homes and a mug shot – obviously, this man was lost in many aspects. His family thought he was dead, so why would they look for him? While it may not be perfect (people are not perfect), they now know the truth and there is peace in knowing. Bottom line: they found each other. I wish them a healing, healthy recovery moving forward as they rebuild their family.

  • Heidi R. Hasselberg

    “A mom” i just wanted to thank you for your kind words.

  • Teresa

    To Heidi and Harry, I am very happy for your family being reunited. I think that people are confused about how he got separated from the family in the first place. Was he a runaway? Was he kidnapped? The news story is kind of vague. You dont have to answer but it would help clear up the story if you could explain that part.

    Best of Luck!

  • USAMade

    Finally, something good came from the gacy nightmare

  • cynthia

    The fact that the most important question of why he stayed away voluntarily has been left out of this story and actual family members are writing on this blog defending it without offering an explanation, tells me this is one big hoax.
    Why not answer the question? Why didn’t he didn’t try to find you? Amnesia? What? There is one big elephant in this living room.

    • Leanne

      No Cynthia, the most important question is: Who died and made you God? People don’t owe you or anyone else ALL the details of their existence… unless, of course, you’d like to divulge EVERY last dark detail and traumatic event of YOUR life! Stop being so freaking nosy, your mother should have taught you better manners.

  • USAMade

    No One owes anyone an explanation. Why would some of you want to take a feel good story & twist it? You should be HAPPY he is alive and has reunited with the family

  • BoBo

    Some of you are ridiculous! This is a great ending to a very sad story. If you want to be douch*bags find another post. This is a feel good story! God some of you need to get a life and quit with everything is a negative? Happy reunion Hasselbergs!!

  • Sherri Hasselberg

    This is Wayne’s niece this is no hoax, no joke and truly none of anyones business.., Nobody knows the story and honestly we had no intentions on telling the story the news contacted our family because of a detective who was trying to help us find our Uncle. Can we have a few days to enjoy our Uncle without people passing judgement…. Please keep your ignorant and unwanted comments to yourselves! And thank you everyone for the warm wishes. Everyone else knows what they can do with themselves and if you don’t e-mail me personally and i’ll tell you what you can do…. Your ignorant and disrespectful comments are doing nothing but upsetting my MOTHER and UNCLE……. Have a nice day.

    • USAMade

      Best wishes to your family :)
      I know this will be the best holidays for you all

  • Georgia

    You probably believe Obama’s giant tax increas is a “jobs plan” too.

  • Sandi Dean

    To Heidi and Harry and the rest of the Lovell family, this is truly a blessing for all of you and please don’t let other people take away from that. In this day and age, a lot of people have developed the mentality of the “paparazzi” and believe they are entitled to every little tidbit of information, which is utter nonsense, not to mention arrogance. So enjoy your reunion with your newly found family member and make the most of each day!

  • BoBo

    Wow Georgia! Bringing up Obama’s tax increase for the richest 1% for this story? Cutting into your millions is he? Get a life! Sherri you’re absolutly right people like Georgia need to shut the hell up! Go to another posting Geogia and justaxin. Again I’m very happy for you and your family Sherri. Don’t worry about these knuckleheads there is always some losers who can’t find happiness and MUST tear everyone or everything down. Just sayin…

  • Renee'

    I am absolutely overjoyed for all of the family! It’s going to be a blessed Thanksgiving and Christmas in Alabama this year and for many more I hope! People tend to forget that we have only in recent years become a computer and cell phone type of society. It is absolutely possible to believe a loved one has died and especially where the Gacy murders were concerned. You owe noone ANY explanation! Just hold your loved one close and I’m so glad he’s coming home to live with you all again!

  • Heidi R. Hasselberg

    If you guys have nothing nice to say then keep it to yourselves!!!!! We were raised if we aint got nothing nice to say then dont say it all! cynthia, Georgia and Just Axin we have nothing to explain to you!!! not one thing! you have no clue what this family has went threw not a clue! So keep your rude comments to yourself! We dont need them we dont want to hear them and leave it alone !

  • Heidi R. Hasselberg

    To the ones that are understanding and sticking up for us THANK YOU SO MUCH!

  • BoBo

    Well said Heidi! Ther are way more of us supporting you than not. Have a great holiday season. You all deserve it.

  • Heidi R. Hasselberg

    “bobo” thank you so much and you guys do the same!

  • Richard919

    Is there a grandmom named Edna in this family?

    Just wondering.

    Thanks if you don’t mind responding. (The family.)

    Congrats to finding your lost loved one.

    • Heidi R. Hasselberg

      no i am sorry

      • Richard919

        Thanks for taking the time!

        Good luck and hope you find some answers to those nagging questions.

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