A 41-year-old New Jersey missing person’s case has been solved as a result of an ongoing investigation to identify the unnamed victims of serial killer John Wayne Gacy, Cook County Sheriff Thomas J. Dart announced today.
Relatives of 16-year-old Steven Soden contacted the Cook County Sheriff’s Office in 2011 after hearing about Sheriff Dart’s efforts to identify the unnamed Gacy victims and suggested the possibility that Soden may be one of them.
Gacy lived just south of Park Ridge and killed 33 teenage boys and young men in from 1972 to 1978. Seven of his victims remain unidentified. Des Plaines police first became involved in the case while following up leads of a missing Des Plaines teenager, Robert Piest. Des Plaines officers arrested John Wayne Gacy, one of the most sensational mass-murder cases in history, at his Norwood Park Township home on Dec. 21, 1978.
Gacy was executed for his crimes in 1994.
Soden, who lived at an orphanage, was last seen alive on April 3, 1972 running away with another boy, 12-year-old Donald Caldwell, from the Bass River Camp Grounds in Burlington County, New Jersey during a group camping trip. Neither boy was ever heard from again.
Relatives thought that maybe Soden headed to Chicago, where his biological father lived, and may have come into contact with Gacy.
At the request of Sheriff Dart, a DNA sample was taken from Soden’s sister by authorities in Washington State, where she resides. There was no genetic association between her and any of the unidentified Gacy Victims.
Although no match was found, her genetic profile was uploaded to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). In December 2012, her profile matched that of unidentified human skeletal remains found 13 years ago in New Jersey.
The remains were discovered in the woods in Burlington County in April 2000 – not far from where Soden was last seen.
In partnership with Cook County Sheriff’s Office, New Jersey State Police obtained DNA profiles of additional half siblings of Soden, including a paternal half sibling.
Genetic testing was performed by University of North Texas Center for Human Identification. Investigators concluded the remains are that of Steven Soden. His cause of death remains undetermined.
“It’s truly amazing what can be accomplished if people communicate and work well together,” said Arthur J. Eisenberg, Ph.D, co-director of University of North Texas Center for Human Identification.
Since 2011, Sheriff Dart has prioritized efforts to identify the unidentified Gacy victims and bring closure to their families. Since then, one of the unidentified victims, William George Bundy, has been identified; seven missing persons cases have been closed – five of them were found alive, two died of natural causes. Two unidentified deceased people unrelated to the Gacy investigation have been identified, including Steven Soden.
New Jersey State Police with the assistance of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has renewed the search for Donald Caldwell. Anyone with information about him is asked to call 1-800-THE-LOST (843-5678).
Anyone who believes their male relative may have been a Gacy victim is asked to call 708-865-6244.