Heroin's grip proved too strong for Batavia woman

  • Janine Mokrzycki

    Janine Mokrzycki

Alicia Fabbre
Daily Herald Staff Writer
Updated 4/4/2014 5:30 PM
Editor's note: This story originally ran on Dec. 8, 2002 as part of the Daily Herald's "Hidden Scourge: Heroin in the Suburbs" series.

Janine Mokrzycki was 16 when she started using drugs.

Her parents had just moved from the suburbs of Atlanta to Batavia - 750 miles away from her friends. Janine was angry and looking for a way to rebel.


She started out with pot and acid and moved on from there. Friends say whatever drugs a co-worker could get his hands on, she'd do.

"She wouldn't even ask what it was," Janine's friend Laura Earnhardt said. "She'd just take it."

Her friends knew what was going on. They saw her drug use. She even told some of them why.

But her parents didn't know. All Tom and Yvonne Mokrzycki saw was a typical teenager.

Their daughter was regularly home for dinner and stayed in on school nights. She played soccer for a couple of years at her high schools in Georgia and Batavia and made the honor roll her senior year at Batavia High School. She worked a summer job and wanted her own car.

"She was quiet and very trusting," her dad said. "She was fun to be around. She was always warm to everyone."

It wasn't until Janine was arrested that they even knew she used drugs. By then, Janine was 20 and already had a taste for heroin.

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The Mokrzyckis did whatever they could to help her. After her arrest, Janine went into treatment three times. Her parents even got her drug-related arrest cleared from her record.

Nothing worked.

Janine died of a drug overdose Sept. 28. She was 22.

She was drug-free for at least nine months before she started using again.

A coroner's report shows Janine snorted lethal amounts of heroin. Tests also found heavy amounts of cocaine in her body.

Fateful night

Police say Janine and her boyfriend, Mark Novoa, spent the night of Sept. 27 speedballing - taking cocaine to get high and heroin to come down.

"It's like playing Russian roulette," St. Charles Police Detective Jerry Gatlin said. "One guy could do it all night. The next guy could do it for 10 minutes and it could kill him."


Gatlin was one of the officers called to Mark's St. Charles apartment Sept. 28. Janine was found dead, lying on top of a comforter on the living room floor.

She had moved in with Mark just three weeks earlier. The two met at the Lazarus House homeless shelter in St. Charles over the summer.

Janine started living at the St. Charles shelter in March after she finished five months of treatment.

Her parents were trying the tough love approach and told Janine she couldn't come home. They used the same approach when Janine told them she wanted to come home from treatment. This time, they hoped being on her own would help her straighten out.

Mark came to the shelter in July. He was starting a flooring business and having a tough time paying his bills. He needed a temporary home until he could save enough to move back into an apartment.

When they met, Mark and Janine clicked instantly.

"Everything went beautiful from the second we met," Mark said. "We were definitely falling in love with each other."

Within three weeks, Mark had saved enough money to get an apartment. He wanted Janine to move in with him.

The director at the shelter, Darlene Marcusson, warned against the move. Janine had started disappearing without explanation, and Darlene was worried Janine might be using again. She wanted Janine to go to a halfway house.

Mark had been at halfway houses in the past for his cocaine use and didn't like them. Janine told her friends she hated being in treatment and she didn't want to go back. She told Darlene no.

Janine and Mark thought they could conquer the addiction on their own.

"We just were so in love with each other we thought our love would overcome it," Mark said.

He said the two wanted to stay clean. He even vowed not to let drugs in the house.

"Janine and I were definitely two people who were fighting to stay away from it," Mark said. "She had gotten high for a long time, and she knew that wasn't what she wanted."

Their first three weeks went well. Mark's business was growing and Janine was working as a deli clerk at the St. Charles Meijer store.

Janine's parents had them over for dinner. Before Janine and Mark left that night, Tom and Yvonne gave the couple a few things to get started - a phone, pots and pans and other supplies.

Things seemed to be going well.

Then Mark promised Janine a day out. He figured they'd go to Great America or Navy Pier.

Janine wanted to buy heroin.

Mark says he's not sure why - maybe it was just a way to celebrate. He's even less sure why he gave in.

But he did, with a couple of caveats: They wouldn't buy a lot and they absolutely would not use needles.

They made the trip into the city Sept. 27 and bought $40 in heroin and $30 in cocaine.

Janine took half the cocaine and more than half the heroin.

That night she told Mark she felt safe.

"This is nice," she told him.

She didn't have to worry about not having a place to live anymore. And no one was breathing down her neck to find a job.

When Janine got up to turn off the TV, Mark got worried. She looked really high.

"Hey, babe, are you all right?" he asked Janine.

"Yeah, I'm cool," she replied.

She came back to the couch, told Mark she loved him, kissed his neck. And the two fell asleep.

Mark awoke at 2 a.m. thirsty and feeling a bit sick from the drugs. Janine had urinated on the couch, so Mark moved her to the floor.

Janine didn't stir when Mark moved her. He figured it was just the drugs.

The two had gotten high once at the homeless shelter. Janine passed out in his car for two hours. Mark figured the same thing was happening again.

After he moved her, he lay by her for a bit, talked to her and eventually fell asleep.

When he woke up shortly after 7 a.m., Janine still wasn't moving. He called police, but it was too late. She was dead.

"I woke up and she didn't," Mark said, sobbing.

Hidden habit

Janine, her parents and her brother, Brian, moved to Batavia after living in Atlanta for four years. Originally from the Chicago area, the family moved back in 1996 to be near relatives.

"When she got back here she started using drugs," Tom said.

Described as an "all-American girl" by one friend, Janine didn't seem like the type to use drugs.

She was bubbly. She wasn't prom-queen popular, but boys thought she was cute. She would do things such as talk like a cartoon character to goof off.

If she could, Janine wouldn't spend money when she went out with friends. She would rather save the $5 in her pocket than spend it on a burger.

"I always thought that would have been a built-in protection for her," Tom said, adding that he figured Janine never would blow money on drugs.

But three years after moving, Janine was using heroin. She was 19.

Janine found out a high school friend, Dan Davis, was using heroin, and she wanted to try it. For her, heroin was just something new, Dan recalled.

"We bought some and she tried it right away," he said.

The heroin made her sick the next day. But that didn't stop her from going back to Dan a couple of days later asking for more.

Dan told her no. But six months later, the two were using again.

On July 12, 2000, Janine and two friends were arrested in Batavia. Police found heroin and needles in Janine's car.

"The first day the heroin came to light was the worst day of my life," Janine's dad said.

Janine told her parents she only used heroin once. Her friend said that the heroin and needles were hers, not Janine's.

A lawyer got the charges expunged, but the judge ordered Janine into treatment.

After her arrest and two weeks of treatment, Janine's parents thought the worst was behind them.

Janine went back to taking classes at Waubonsee Community College, where her mom taught. She told them she wanted to be a graphic artist.

What her parents didn't know is that the day treatment ended, Janine started using heroin again.

"I honestly didn't think she'd go back to it," said Anni Leden, who was arrested with Janine. "It just seemed like she had too much to live for to go back to it."

Janine's habit grew. Friends started to talk about how worried they were about her.

Her friend from high school, Laura, was the one to tell Janine's parents that she still was using heroin.

Laura said she never used heroin with Janine, but she heard through the grapevine that things were getting bad. Laura decided to e-mail Janine's father at work and tell him Janine wasn't clean.

At first, Tom denied his daughter could be using again. Then he started noticing things.

The mileage on Janine's car was too high. When he'd visit her at work, Janine would be there but her car would be gone.

One day, he went up to Janine's room and asked her to open her safe. Inside, he found needles.

A few weeks later he got a call. Janine was in the hospital.

She had spent the day with a friend in Lombard and overdosed. The nurse at the hospital told Tom that Janine came as close to dying as a person could.

Battle for sobriety

Janine stayed in the hospital's psychiatric unit for two weeks.

Just before she was released, a psychologist who treated Janine before her overdose called with a warning that would prove prophetic. It was April 2001.

"He said if we don't do something she'll be dead in a year," Tom recalled.

Because Janine was an adult, all the psychologist would tell Tom was that her test results were "disturbing." He wanted Janine in an institution.

Tom and Yvonne urged hospital officials to lengthen Janine's stay. They said she was fine and there were no signs of mental illness, then released her.

Tom and Yvonne went to a judge and got orders to have her committed. She went back to the same hospital and was out in a week.

Janine didn't return home after her release. Instead, she moved in with her then-boyfriend, Dan Davis, and his grandparents.

Janine and Dan started dating in February 2001 - just a few months before her overdose. Her near-death experience couldn't keep them from using again.

"We used to talk about how we needed to quit," Dan recalls.

He remembers trying a couple of times. They'd make it through a day, but the sickness from heroin withdrawal drove them back.

They were addicted.

"She said it was fun," Dan recalled. "She liked the way it made her feel."

Janine and Dan had worked up a habit that cost them hundreds of dollars a day. At the height of her addiction, Janine was injecting 28 bags of heroin a day. Dan was using 32. They shoplifted every day to afford their fix.

Though she had moved out, Janine's parents were still trying to help. They'd call, but they couldn't get through. Dan even filed a complaint, saying her parents were harassing them.

It took another arrest to get Janine's attention.

It was October 2001 and Dan was arrested for stealing from the St. Charles Meijer store, where Janine later would work.

He went to jail. Dan's mom, Diana, went to Janine. It was the first time she saw the track marks up and down Janine's arms.

"Janine, what are you doing?" Diana asked. "You can't go on like this."

"I know," Janine replied.

Janine pulled out some information about drug treatment she had picked up along the way.

They called Janine's parents - this time Janine was volunteering to get help. She spent the next five months in treatment.

She stayed clean during treatment, but it was clear heroin still had a strong grip. When she came home for Christmas, her parents were worried that serving alcohol would bother her.

"Just don't put a big pile of heroin in front of me," she told them. "That would bother me."

During treatment, she talked to her parents about her habit - when she started using, why and what she did. It seemed like she wanted to turn things around.

Laura and Janine started hanging out more. She said she wanted to fix things. Janine especially wanted her parents' trust back.

But when Laura would tell Janine how worried she had been about her and that Janine needed to stay clean, Janine replied with the obligatory, 'I know.'

"She didn't want me to preach to her," Laura recalled.

When she offered to help Janine find a job, Janine never called.

"She never seemed determined to stay clean," Laura said. "She couldn't figure out how her life was supposed to be without it."

Life lessons

Looking back, Tom realizes there were a few warning signs of Janine's drug use. He wishes now that he would have paid attention to them then.

He remembers a parent-teacher conference at which one of Janine's teachers commented about Janine being tired in class. The teacher was worried Janine was working too many hours.

Now, Tom realizes it probably was an early sign of her drug use.

"I think she was doing drugs at the high school," Tom said.

He wishes teachers could have tested her for drugs. Maybe that would have opened his eyes.

Janine's death also has hit her friends hard.

For Laura, Janine was the first person close to her to die. Laura now wants to be a drug counselor and hopes to someday open a drug treatment center in Janine's name.

Dan is on parole for his shoplifting charge and says he has stayed clean since last October.

"It was a reality check for me," he said. "It's just not worth it.

"I think about it constantly," he said of Janine's death. "It's sad. ...It's a terrible thing that happened."

Mark replays the night of Sept. 27 over and over in his head. What could he have done? Why did he allow her to get the drugs?

"I thought I knew what I was doing, but I lost someone who I loved so much," he said.

He says he realizes he can't ever go back to drugs and that he has been clean since her death. He says he even has turned down invitations from old buddies to go out drinking.

"I always told Janine she would be the one to change me," he said. "I never thought it would be this way."

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