Rosalynn Carter Once Posed for a Photo With Notorious Murderer John Wayne Gacy


Nov. 20 2023, Published 10:02 a.m. ET

The Gist:

  • Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter was once photographed with serial killer John Wayne Gacy.
  • The two were photographed together in Chicago in 1978 because Gacy was affiliated with the Democratic Party in the city, and was in charge of a major parade.
  • The photo eventually became a point of embarrassment for the Secret Service after Gacy was caught.
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When news of Rosalynn Carter’s death first broke on Nov. 19, 2023, many paid tribute to her political legacy, and to the great marriage she seemed to have with former President Jimmy Carter. Along with those tributes, though, many also brought up an arcane piece of political history that is baffling, at least on its surface.

The mystery relates to a photo of Rosalynn with serial killer John Wayne Gacy. The photo was taken in 1978, and many want to better understand how the former First Lady wound up standing next to a mass murderer.

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Rosalynn Carter and Jimmy Carter on a plane together.
Source: Getty Images

Why was Rosalynn Carter photographed with John Wayne Gacy?

The photo in question was taken in 1978 at a private reception in downtown Chicago. Rosalynn is smiling and looking directly at the camera, while Gacy seems to be talking and looking off to his right.

When the news that Rosalynn had been photographed with Gacy first broke in 1978, after he was arrested in connection with the rape and murder of 33 boys, the Secret Service announced that it would launch an investigation into the matter.

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Rosalynn Carter and John Wayne Gacy side by side.
Source: Getty Images

While this may suggest to some that Rosalynn was somehow associated with the serial killer, though, there’s actually a fairly simple explanation. Gacy was involved in Democratic politics in Chicago starting in 1960 until he was captured. In that role, he eventually assumed responsibility for Chicago’s annual Polish Constitution Day Parade.

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It was through Gacy's work with the parade that he met and was photographed with the First Lady.

Rosalynn likely didn’t know Gacy all that well, but it did become an embarrassment for the Secret Service after he was caught in connection with the murders. Ultimately, though, it’s more a reminder that politicians and those around them meet and associate with lots of people. Politicians don't know or understand everything about those people's lives.

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Rosalynn was an advocate for mental health care.

In addition to being a loving and faithful partner to the 39th president, Rosalynn was also a fierce humanitarian and an advocate for mental health care as understanding about mental health grew.

“Rosalynn was my equal partner in everything I ever accomplished,” her husband said in a statement. “She gave me wise guidance and encouragement when I needed it. As long as Rosalynn was in the world, I always knew somebody loved and supported me.”

Rosalynn and the former president were married in 1946 and remained together until her death in 2023. She entered hospice care at her home in mid-November. Her husband was been in hospice care since February 2023.

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