A man whose family thought he had been murdered by serial killer John Wayne Gacy has been found alive and living in Oregon, Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart said Wednesday.
For 35 years, Theodore "Ted" Szal's family thought they had lost him. But this week they learned he actually was alive and had willingly disappeared years ago while going through a divorce.
“I believe Christmas has come early for the Szal family,” Sheriff Dart said. “Being able to tell an 88-year-old father that his son, whose picture he has been carrying around for 34 years in his breast pocket, has been found alive is something special.”
The sheriff's office confirmed that Szal, now 59, is living in Beaverton, Oregon, and left town when he was 24 years old.
"He was not reported missing to authorities because Ted had a history of disengaging from his family for periods of time and then re-engaging," the sheriff's office said.
Szal told The Oregonian that he felt like the "black sheep" of his family and decided to leave town after having a disagreement with them.
“I threw my keys away down the sewer grate so I couldn’t change my mind,” he told the newspaper.
He told the paper he figured his family could find him on the internet if they tried.
Szal's description fit the profile that profile, and the general profile of several of Gacy's victims. And his car had been found abandoned near Chicago's O'Hare Airport, near where the serial killer lived. That led his family to believe he had likely been killed.
Gacy, a part-time party clown, was put to death in 1994 for the killings of 33 boys and young men between 1972 and 1978. "Victim 19" was believed to have been between 17 and 21 years old and between 5-foot-1 and 5-foot-6, investigators said.
Officials were able to find Szal as they embarked on a search to identify him as part of an ongoing effort to identify Gacy's unknown victims. They have been asking anyone who believes to submit DNA samples to see if they match any of the unidentified victims.
So in November, Szal's family gave DNA samples after speaking with the sheriff's office about their missing relative. DNA from Szal's parents were not found to match any of the victims, the sheriff said. So they began a subsequent investigation that led to Szal's discovery in Oregon.
When a detective first spoke to him and told him his family was looking for him "there was a bit of a silence on the phone," according to press release.
"Ted was completely surprised and searched for words," the sheriff's department said. "After talking with the detective for a while, he asked him to relay a message to his dad; he wanted his dad to know that he was still fishing, just the way his dad taught him when he was growing up."
The sheriff's office said that the family is currently working out what may be best way to get in touch with Szal.
“While we are so relieved to have discovered that Ted is alive and well, our thoughts and prayers are also with the families of the victims – both known and yet to be determined – of John Wayne Gacy," his family said in a statement. "We are so thankful to Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and Detective Jason Moran. The work they are doing is meaningful and important. With the news they were able to bring us, we do ask that our privacy be respected while we sort through the next steps with our family. Thank you."
Given all that has been written about Gacy, his victims, and his likely victims it is doubtful that this man did not know that the world thought he was dead. Whatever caused him to leave – it was cruel to let people believe his was dead.
very sad for his loved ones and very selfish on his part.
we are the captains of our own ship
Believe it or not, but not everyone scours every news story. I can't name a single victim of this killer.
Allah be praised for this magical act! Peace in the name of Allah! Very good! I hope the family converts to Islam which is the only true religion of peace on earth.
Peaceful nothing. You kill innocents.
You must be from Mars to miss the news on the religion of peace
I don't think the commenter kills innocents. I think the commenter is just ate up with religion, like many people I know.
Peaceful!?! muslims killed Christians on this Christmas that just passed for breathing and being Christian. Point out what's peacefully about that because I'm missing it.
go harbor some more terrorists and lie to the USA and tell us you're on the side of rights and democracy.
The only true religion, yeah right. I came along 750 years after Christ and was started by an illiterate arab wondering in off the desert that claimed he heard God speak to him, OK yeah right. You people will believe anything. You kill your own people, women and children and think your going to heaven.
Allah be spit upon as all delusional people who 'god' has spoken too. When people realize there is no God, no prophets no basis for religion, the world will be a better place.
Praise be to Father Perdubo!
All praise mother earth for the return of this adult to his parents!
This guy is a JERK to let his family believe he had died as a victim of Gacy in such a horrible manner. He doesn't deserve to have family back. How terrible to let them grieve for him as they have for such a long time. #DISGUSTED
Woah. I'm just.... Wow. This is definitely different in terms of news stories.
I don't see why you are hating on this guy. He just needed to get away. Though it might have been insensitive, it was his life to do with as he pleased. And, can any among us honestly say we have not thought of doing the same thing as some point in our lives? You know, to disappear and start over completely new?
This person seems very selfish indeed to do this horrible thing to his family. He could have sent them a letter stating he would like to be left alone and left, not put them through a hell many families go through each year because of real abductions. He seems like a real attention seeker!!!!!!
It to it will not pass for nothing.
This blog – This Just In – will no longer be updated. Looking for the freshest news from CNN? Go to our ever-popular CNN.com homepage on your desktop or your mobile device, and join the party at @cnnbrk, the world's most-followed account for news.