How investigators determined Gliniewicz killed himself

  • Fox Lake Police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz in August scans the crowd at Lakefront Park for the Fox Lake Cardboard Cup Races.

      Fox Lake Police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz in August scans the crowd at Lakefront Park for the Fox Lake Cardboard Cup Races. John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Investigation by the numbers

    Graphic: Investigation by the numbers (click image to open)

 
 
Updated 11/4/2015 10:05 PM

In the beginning, it was the unthinkable.

So implausible, in fact, that it would be weeks before the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force even began seriously considering the possibility that respected Fox Lake police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz -- whom everyone called "G.I. Joe" -- had taken his own life.

 

"We believed from day one that this was a homicide," said George Filenko, commander of the task force. "But we explored every possibility of what could have happened out there. We succinctly began to conclude (suicide) within the last week and a half."

That's when evidence that Gliniewicz had been embezzling money from the Police Explorer post he led put everything in a new light, even the crime scene.

"As you approach the crime scene itself ... you see first a canister of pepper spray with the safety taken off, then the expandable baton. Toward the swampy area you find his personal glasses, and further on you find Gliniewicz," Filenko told reporters at a news conference Wednesday morning. "This was laid out to seem that this was an ongoing type of struggle."

But what was missing was what led investigators to ultimately consider that Gliniewicz had shot himself and staged it to look like a murder.

Gliniewicz's uniform was not disheveled when his body was found, as it should have been had he been overpowered. There were no wounds on his arms or legs to indicate he'd put up a fight, investigators said.

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Even his microphone was still clipped to his shoulder lapel, Filenko said, adding that piece of equipment routinely comes loose even in mild exertion.

Once suicide became the working theory, other elements of the investigation also made more sense.

"I remember questioning why (Gliniewicz) called off backup when he first called out with three suspicious subjects," said former Naperville Police Chief David Dial, who is now the chair of the Criminal Justice Department at Aurora University. "That is unusual. When police officers stop three suspicious persons it would be automatic to have backup en route and then cancel. But he canceled first, and that didn't sound right."

According to the timeline investigators provided, Gliniewicz's car was parked near an abandoned concrete factory at 7:31 a.m. Sept. 1. It would be 21 minutes before Gliniewicz would contact dispatchers to let them know he was investigating three men -- two white and one black -- near the plant. He immediately called off backup. Three minutes later he requested backup. Fourteen minutes later Gliniewicz was found dead in a marsh near the plant.

Investigators said Gliniewicz took his service weapon, pointed the muzzle against the right side of his bulletproof vest and pulled the trigger. The bullet destroyed his cellphone and left a sizable bruise on his torso, but it did not penetrate his vest.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A second shot, pointed at a downward angle and pressed against his left chest near his shoulder inside his vest, penetrated an artery and caused death within a few minutes, according to Lake County Coroner Dr. Thomas Rudd.

"This to me is a suicide and not something where he just tried to wound himself for some reason," Rudd said. "This officer killed himself."

Gliniewicz's suicide touched off a massive manhunt with hundreds of local, state and federal law enforcement agents assisting in the initial hours, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in the first days. More than 25,000 hours were spent on the investigation by the task force, authorities said.

The intricacy of Gliniewicz's staging of his suicide to look like a murder is fairly unprecedented, experts said.

"In all the suicides I studied, I don't remember anything like this coming up one time," said Naperville Police Chief Bob Marshall, who wrote a report in 2000 on police suicides and presented it at an FBI symposium. "What drives these suicides most commonly isn't the internal dangers of the job; it's the external stresses of shift work and missing out on family time, kids' birthdays, that kind of stuff."

But investigators said the external pressures weighing down on Gliniewicz were of his own doing.

"There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that Lt. Gliniewicz's death was a carefully staged suicide as an end result of extensive criminal acts he had been committing," Filenko said. "He had been stealing and laundering money from the Fox Lake Explorers post for the past seven years."

Filenko put the dollar amount stolen by Gliniewicz over the years at somewhere in the "five-figure range" and said he used it for personal expenses, including travel and adult websites.

The turning point of the case was the contents of thousands of text messages and emails, recovered by authorities even though they'd been deleted, that showed pressure mounting on the longtime police officer and that his use of the Explorer funds as his "personal bank account" was wearing on him in the six months leading to his death.

There are no line items in the village's annual budgets or audits that show how much money the Explorer program was being allotted. Additionally, the registered nonprofit program never filed annual spending reports with the federal government.

The Explorer program is offered at many suburban police departments to serve as a gateway for youngsters interested in police careers. Gliniewicz oversaw the program for years.

Text messages police say were recovered from Gliniewicz's phone reveal recently hired Village Administrator Anne Marrin was demanding accounting of the funds the village was spending on the Explorer program and that Gliniewicz was using the funds personally and letting others borrow from it as well. As Marrin intensified her scrutiny, Gliniewicz was getting more and more desperate.

"Trust me," one text message says, "ive (thought) through MANY SCENARIOS from planting things to the volo bog!!!"

Filenko said the investigation indicates at least two others were involved in the criminal activity that precipitated Gliniewicz's suicide. The investigation by local and federal authorities is ongoing, he said.

Fox 32 News reported late Wednesday that Gliniewicz's wife, Melodie, and son D.J. are under investigation in connection with the embezzlement of funds from the Fox Lake Police Explorer Program, citing anonymous sources.

Gliniewicz also oversaw a program where military surplus is given to police agencies throughout the country, according to a report from the state's Central Management Services office. Although the Fox Lake program was suspended in 2014 at the request of state coordinators because of a "paperwork" issue, federal officials said it has been in good standing ever since.

According to the most recent inventory list from the U.S. Department of Defense's Defense Logistics Agency, Fox Lake police have received three trucks, 24 handguns and 10 rifles issued by the federal agency. There is no indication that any of those items are missing.

The task force faced criticism throughout the investigation because scant details were released about its progress. When asked if he owed the public an apology for not coming forward sooner that evidence was pointing to suicide, Filenko was steadfast.

"I don't see where we would owe the public an apology for doing a thorough investigation," he said. "We don't assume. We don't presume. We don't jump to conclusions. The embarrassment comes to me personally ... that this is the first time as a police officer that I felt ashamed by the acts of another police officer."

Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran said he supports the task force and applauded their work.

"We do owe a debt of gratitude to Filenko and all the people on the task force," Curran said. "I'm satisfied from the perspective that this task force has more integrity than it has in the past. Until recently, we couldn't find people who wanted to be on it."

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