When Ted Szal disappeared in Chicago 35 years ago, his family assumed that he had fallen victim to serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

But Szal's family got an early Christmas gift this year when they learned that he had been alive all this time and living in a suburb of Portland, Oregon.

"My family thought I was dead," Szal told The Associated Press. "That hurt when I heard that."

"There’s a difference between being murdered and running away, and I basically just ran away," he explained.

At the age of 24, a divorce and bitter family feud had prompted Szal to toss the keys to his car down a sewer grate, hop on a plane at O'Hare Airport and never look back.

"I missed them a lot, course I did. But I'm also stubborn. I made up my mind," he recalled.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart launched an investigation earlier this year to identify the eight Gacy victims who are still unaccounted for.

"There are a lot of people hiding in plain sight," Dart told NBC Chicago. "And for a myriad of reasons, for family reasons, they’ve chosen not to be found."

In October, the Cook County sheriff's office determined that presumed Gacy victim Harold Wayne Lovell was also alive.

Watch this video from NBC Chicago, broadcast Dec. 21, 2011.

View more videos at: http://nbcchicago.com.