SF homicide victim identified through John Wayne Gacy cold case investigation

On a June afternoon in 1979, two 11-year-old boys were with a dog at Ocean Beach.

Whatever the tone of that Tuesday at the shore had been, it changed when the dog started digging in the sand and uncovered the nearly nude corpse of a young man.

He had been shot three times in the chest the police discovered, but efforts to solve the crime soon languished and the case went unsolved.

Thirty six years later the body has been identified because of an ongoing attempt by Chicago’s sheriff to identify the victims of a serial killer.

The unknown victim of that 1979 homicide has been identified as a 16-year-old runaway, according to the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, who said the discovery came from their efforts to solve a handful of murders by executed serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

Andre Drath was a 16-year-old ward of the state of Illinois in late 1978 or early 1979 when he was last seen by his sister before leaving for San Francisco.

In June of 1979 San Francisco police found the body of a then-unidentified 16-year-old male with multiple gunshot wounds. The case went unsolved — and the killer has yet to be caught — but The City’s Medical Examiner’s Office preserved the victim’s tissue.

The Cook County Sheriff’s Office in 2011 reopened the closed cases of eight Gacy victims and made a national request for DNA and information from people whose family members had gone missing in the 1970s in hope of identifying unknown victims.

“As a young white male from the North Side of Chicago who went missing during that time period, Andy Drath fit a profile similar to many of Gacy’s known victims,” noted the Cook County Sheriff’s Office statement on the case. “Recognizing this, Dr. Willa Wertheimer – Andy Drath’s maternal half-sister – reached out to Sheriff [Thomas] Dart’s investigators and submitted her DNA.”

There was no link found between Drath and the Gacy victims, but the sheriff’s office uploaded the DNA sample from Drath’s half sister to a federal DNA database to see if it matched any missing persons. Then in May a match came back. Upon further investigation, the sheriff’s office verified that the homicide victim from San Francisco was in fact Drath.

Wertheimer was informed of her brother’s identification Sept. 10.

“You should never lose hope in finding your loved one. He could still be living, or at least your heart can know the peace of bringing him home,” said Wertheimer in the sheriff’s statement. “I urge all families of missing persons to submit your DNA to the national missing persons database. Thankfully I did, and as a result John Doe #89 now will come home to his kid sister, with his own name – Andy.”

Gacy killed 33 men and boys from 1972 to 1978 in Chicago and was executed in 1994.

Twelve cases have been closed because of leads that were born out of the efforts of Cook County Sheriff’s Office to solve the Gacy cold cases. Five missing persons were found alive, two died of natural causes and four unrelated cold cases were solved.

The San Francisco police did not return calls for comment, but the statement about the case said the department is now actively investigating the 1979 killing of Drath.

Tim Stelloh contributed to this story.

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An image of a story about the finding of an unidentified body on Ocean Beach in the June 20, 1979 edition of the San Francisco Examiner.

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