To Catch a Killer

To Catch a Killer is a two-part television film from 1992, directed by Eric Till and starring Brian Dennehy and Michael Riley. It is based on the true story of the pursuit of American serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

To Catch a Killer
Written byJud Kinberg
Directed byEric Till
StarringBrian Dennehy
Michael Riley
Music byPaul Zaza
Country of originCanada
Original language(s)English
Executive producer(s)Jud Kinberg
Jinny Schreckinger
Peter Filion (co-executive producer)
Lance H. Robbins (co-executive producer)
Producer(s)Richard O. Lowry
Patrick Whitley (co-producer)
David McAree (associate producer)
Production location(s)Toronto
CinematographyRene Ohashi
Editor(s)Ralph Brunjes
Running time182 minutes
Production company(s)Creative Entertainment Group
Libra Pictures
Telestories Entertainment Inc.
Original networkFOX
Picture formatColor
Audio formatStereo
Original releaseMay 15, 1992 (USA)


As he investigates the missing person report of a teenager named Chris Gant (based on Gacy's genuine final victim, Robert Piest), Des Plaines, IL detective Lt. Joe Kozenczak (Riley) becomes concerned that local businessman John Wayne Gacy (Dennehy) may be responsible for this as well as many other disappearances. However, when he and his team are ready to arrest Gacy, their evidence is viewed as being circumstantial. Worst of all, everyone (including Kozenczak's superiors) view Gacy as a respectable pillar of society. Meanwhile, Gacy himself begins a sadistic game of cat-and-mouse as he tries in every way to manipulate and outwit the police.

After eventually achieving two search warrants, Kozenczak finds a large amount of incriminating evidence, as well as 29 bodies buried throughout John Gacy's property; the remaining four are found dumped in a nearby river, including Gant's remains. Afterwards, he is charged with the rape and murder of 33 boys and young men and convicted, being sentenced to death.


The film was broadcast in three countries, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.[1][2] In general, the film was received well by critics. As a result, Brian Dennehy was nominated for an Emmy Award for "Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Special". In addition, actor Michael Riley and director Eric Till were both nominated for two individual Gemini Awards.


Historical Context

The film broadly follows the historical narrative of the investigation leading to John Wayne Gacy's arrest in December 1978 and does not directly depict his earlier life or criminal activity prior to 1978. Several changes to names and details of real persons involved in the case were made. This was likely for legal reasons, as many key witnesses and victims' family members, as well as Gacy himself, were still alive at the time of production. Gacy's last known victim Robert Piest was represented in the film as 'Chris Gant'. The name of Gacy's contracting company was changed from 'PDM Contractors' to 'LPW Construction' in the film. The real-life detective Lt. Joseph R. Kozenczak served as a technical advisor to the production.[3]

Dennehey's performance was widely recognised and the actor became associated with Gacy. In 2010, eighteen years after the film's first broadcast in the US, a profile of Dennehey in the Times of North West Indiana noted, "whenever Dennehy comes back to Chicago, which is often... he's inevitably asked about his made-for-television 1992 movie role in "To Catch a Killer.""[4] Dennehey received a letter from Gacy following the film's US broadcast, in which Gacy admonished him for taking part in a "fraud" film and maintaining his claim that "lots of people had access to that crawl space."[5]


  1. ROSENBERG, HOWARD (1992-05-13). "TV Reviews : 'To Catch a Killer' a Cop's-Eye View of Gacy Case". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2017-10-16.
  2. 19 August 1994
  3. "Joseph R. Kozenczak, Des Plaines detective chief on the Gacy serial-slayer case, dead at 75". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2017-10-16.
  4. 852-4327, Philip Potempa -, (219). "OFFBEAT: Actor Brian Dennehy still haunted by killer John Wayne Gacy role". Retrieved 2017-10-16.
  5. 852-4327, Philip Potempa -, (219). "OFFBEAT: Actor Brian Dennehy still haunted by killer John Wayne Gacy role". Retrieved 2017-10-16.
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