Ted Szal ran out on his family 35 years ago after the turmoil of a divorce and a bitter family feud. Szal was 24 when he parked his car at Chicago’s O’Hare airport in 1977, threw his keys down a sewer grate and got on a plane to Colorado Springs.
He intended to never look back, Szal said. But it wasn’t that easy. Holidays and birthdays were tough, and his wife pleaded with him to reconnect, he said, but he was too stubborn to make the phone call.
“I threw the keys away and I threw my life away 35 years ago,” Szal said. “I missed them a lot, course I did. But I’m also stubborn. I made up my mind,” he said.
Szal “wandered around the mountains for a while” in 1977. Unable to find work and low on money, he moved to California before migrating to Oregon to help build a new shopping mall in Springfield.
Szal’s older sister contacted the Cook County sheriff’s office in October when authorities asked for tips that might help them identify eight of Gacy’s victims. The sheriff’s office issued a public plea for families of young men who disappeared in the 1970s to submit DNA samples for comparison with the victim’s remains.
My family thought I was dead. That hurt when I heard that,” the 59-year-old carpenter told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “There’s a difference between being murdered and running away, and I basically just ran away.”
Szal hasn’t spoken with his relatives yet. It’s overwhelming, he said, and he needs to digest the news. He told police they could give his address to relatives, and they’ll start with letters.
Investigators said Gacy lived near O’Hare. As a young white man who worked in construction and disappeared from the airport in 1977, Szal fit Gacy’s victim profile, investigators said.
Authorities used a computer database to find Szal living in Beaverton, Ore., and a local police officer visited his apartment Monday to confirm his identity.
Even before his name was publicly linked to the serial killer, Szal had taken an interest in the Gacy case and had even read some books about it. He can understand why some would suspect connections to his disappearance, he said, but it never occurred him.
A carpenter, Szal is now working on starting a building maintenance business. Finally reconnecting — facing his emotions and his feelings of betrayal — feels like a “horrible weight” has been lifted, he said.
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