In a FOX 32 special report: a potential breakthrough for the lost victims of John Wayne Gacy -- the notorious serial killer who terrorized Chicago and the suburbs.
Life-like sketches are combining old clues with cutting edge technology, and detectives say it's generating new leads that could finally provide answers for some families.
“People are desperate to learn what happened to their missing loved one. And it's hard to get local law enforcement to take on a case from 35 or 40 years ago,” said Cook County Detective Jason Moran.
Moran is still on the trail of one of Chicago’s most notorious criminals. John Wayne Gacy is the infamous serial killer who took the lives of at least 33 men and teenage boys between 1972 and 1978, many of whom were buried in the crawlspace underneath Gacy's Norwood Park home.
Gacy was put to death in 1994, but there's still unfinished business. Despite DNA and forensic research, at least six of Gacy's victims have yet to be identified.
“I’ve sat down with dozens and dozens of family members of long-term missing persons, and they're some of the saddest people that you talk to,” Moran said.
For years, the crude sketches were all investigators and the public had to work with. But now, computers are bringing new life to the victims and the investigation. The incredibly life-like sketches of victims 10 and 13, released just last month, are making a difference.
“Since they've been out, I’ve received probably about 20 leads,” Moran said.
“Every case we receive, whether it's an age progression of a long-term missing child's face, it's all unique,” said Colin McNally.
The new sketches are the work of McNally and his team at The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Here's how they get started: forensic artists import a CT scan -- or image of a skull -- onto a computer program, letting them see the skull in a 3D space.
In this demo, an artist builds the face based on features of the skull, combined with known characteristics, like age, sex and ancestry.
Piece by piece, the skull is slowly transformed until it becomes a lifelike image. McNally says they superimpose photographs of the skulls into Photoshop and from there, they can generate a facial structure.
“We feel as though there are people out there who might recognize these children,” McNally said.
It's not perfect, McNally admits, because hair color and hairstyles are just a guess. But it's a huge jump since the 70s and 80s when detectives relied on dental records to identify victims -- no DNA, no cell phone records and no Photoshop.
Since Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart re-opened the Gacy case in 2012, they've identified two of the unidentified victims and brought closure to their families.
Detective Moran says he won't rest until he remaining six have a name.
“I don't think that someone whose murdered today or someone that goes missing today is any more or less important than someone who was murdered 35 years ago,” Moran said.