Special Report: Gliniewicz's final hours as he staged his 'hero' cop death
Wedging the muzzle of his police pistol under the upper left side of his bulletproof vest, Fox Lake police Lt. Charles "Joe" Gliniewicz pulls the trigger as a final step in his grandiose scheme to concoct a hero's death. Missing his heart, the .40-caliber bullet rips through his pulmonary artery and left lung and bounces off the bulletproof vest protecting his back before lodging against his 10th rib.
Having shown an uncanny ability to endure pain before, the Army veteran known as "G.I. Joe" remains standing as blood gushes from the mortal wound in his chest. Given an unanticipated 90 seconds or so of life, Gliniewicz drops his gun into the tall grass, just as he had done earlier with his baton and pepper spray, as if he'd lost them during a struggle.
He walks five feet toward a swamp at the other end of the small clearing in the woods. Gliniewicz turns around and takes in a final view of the lush forest before falling face first, his right arm bent under his body and his left arm straight at his side.
As his fellow officers follow the sound of his gunshot, Gliniewicz dies with every reason to believe he has orchestrated a death scene that will immortalize him as a brave cop gunned down in the line of duty.
And his plan works, at first. Gliniewicz's fatal shooting on Sept. 1 draws more than 400 law enforcement officers, 48 canine units and infrared-equipped helicopters to the swampy woods behind an abandoned concrete plant in Fox Lake in a frantic attempt to catch three men Gliniewicz had radioed he was pursuing.
The 52-year-old husband and father of four sons receives his hero's funeral.
Then it all unravels in spectacular fashion.
"This is where the facts take us," George Filenko, commander of the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force, says more than two months later as he stands in the spot where Gliniewicz died and describes in detail the scenario that emerged after investigators peeled away the layers of deception. "This is where it started, and this is where it ended."
In the eight weeks after Gliniewicz's death, the task force works with Lake County Coroner Thomas Rudd, agents from the FBI, ATF, Homeland Security, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. marshal and a host of other federal, state and local authorities to compile more than 50,000 pages of evidence and develop the narrative of how and why Gliniewicz orchestrated such a stunning demise.
The final report exposes Gliniewicz as an unsavory police officer who killed himself in the heat of new village administrator Anne Marrin's inquiries into the Fox Lake Explorer Post 300 he directed. Along the way, the task force unearths Gliniewicz's three decades of drunken behavior, inappropriate sexual relationships, violent threats and disregard for his duty that led other officers in 2009 to write a letter to the mayor complaining about Gliniewicz.
Yet, on the day he dies, Gliniewicz immediately draws tributes from Fox Lake and beyond. He's lionized as "G.I. Joe." Banking on his experience of fabricating evidence and crime scenes for his Explorers on the same tract of land where he shoots himself, Gliniewicz seems to have pulled off his ruse.
The task force runs through dozens of scenarios. Did Gliniewicz happen upon violent strangers? Was it a planned ambush? Was he targeted by someone he knew and trusted, such as another police officer or a woman? Could the shooting have been a bizarre accident or a suicide?
The turning point comes weeks into the investigation when federal authorities recover more than 1,000 electronic messages Gliniewicz deleted shortly before his death.
With those revealing a motive and Gliniewicz's frame of mind, Filenko, Lake County sheriff's detective Christopher Covelli and Grayslake detective Stephen Kueber, the new chief evidence technician for the task force, are confident they can re-create Gliniewicz's final acts.
At 6:52 that Tuesday morning, Gliniewicz responds to an email sent the day before by Marrin repeating her request for an inventory of his Explorer Post's equipment, which includes a glut of unusual items such as helicopter helmets, gas masks, flak jackets and other military surplus, some of it acquired with the forged signature of former police Chief Michael Behan. Marrin's inquiry is about to expose Gliniewicz as a thief who stole money from the Explorers to spend on himself, including on vacations and pornographic websites, Filenko says.
In his deleted messages, Gliniewicz hints about hiring a hit man to kill Marrin or planting drugs on her to ruin her credibility.
"Trust me ive thought through MANY SCENARIOS from planting things to the volo bog!!!" he writes to one confidant.
But in his final email to Marrin, he says, "I will hopefully be done by noon, 1 at the latest."
Instead of starting his day at the brick building housing the Explorer Post, Gliniewicz drives to the Citgo Quik Mart, where days earlier he'd written a $1,070.69 check to cover his monthly tab. Owner D.D. Patel says Gliniewicz stopped in every morning, and his last day on Earth is no different.
Gliniewicz puts two packs of Marlboro Ultra Lights 100's on his tab and drives his squad car, newly equipped with a GPS device, to the village's industrial park. He parks at 7:31 a.m. at the end of Honing Road, where a locked chain-link gate keeps cars from driving through an abandoned concrete plant. He knows the site, having staged scenes in which he'd leave mock evidence his Explorers, ages 14 to 21, would use to solve pretend crimes.
A video, recovered from Gliniewicz's home, shows Explorers in military garb "doing full tactical military maneuvers in that area," Filenko says. "He was almost yelling at them military style."
In another video, Gliniewicz, who often wore military fatigues instead of his police uniform, teaches his Explorers how to respond to a police officer who has been shot. "Rescue the downed officer," Gliniewicz implores his crew. "Got it?"
In the deleted messages, and in those that Gliniewicz left intact, he never mentions suicide. Investigators believe he set his plan in motion that morning.
Filenko says investigators suspect Gliniewicz sat in his parked car for 20 minutes, deleting messages from his personal cellphone, including one about Marrin that reads, "If she gets ahold of the checking account, IM pretty well (expletive)."
Fox Lake police begin roll call at 7:45 a.m., so there are no other officers on the streets when Gliniewicz radios in.
"I'm going to be out at the old concrete plant checking on two male whites and a male black," he says.
Recently purchased by the village, the site is littered with concrete rubble and rusty equipment and proves a tempting target for spray-paint vandals.
"Do you need a second unit?" the dispatcher offers.
Gliniewicz responds, "Negative, at this time."
At 7:55 a.m., Gliniewicz radios back to say his suspects "took off toward the swamp." Asked again if he wants backup help, Gliniewicz calmly says, "Yeah, go ahead and start somebody."
Planting evidence as if he were staging a fake homicide scene for his Explorer kids, Gliniewicz pulls off the safety on his pepper spray and sprays some before dropping the can alongside a path that deer use to travel through the thick brush to the swamp. A few feet farther down the path, he leaves his baton to be found in the grass. Then he pulls out his pistol, points it at his seldom-used police-issued phone clipped to the lower right side of his bulletproof vest and fires.
After passing through the phone, the slowed bullet doesn't penetrate his vest. But it delivers a wallop akin to being hit with a sledgehammer, leaving a 4-by-4-inch bruise under Gliniewicz's right rib cage. His glasses, either knocked off his face by the jolt or purposely planted by Gliniewicz, land in the tall grass nearby. The bullet sends a chunk of his phone flying into another grassy spot where evidence technicians, using everything from machetes to metal detectors, will find it three days later.
Gliniewicz handles the pain. Filenko says the officer, who has intricate tattoos covering sensitive areas of his chest and back, once tore a bicep from the bone in his arm and didn't seek treatment for days.
As Gliniewicz prepares to deliver the second, and final, shot, three backup officers in two squad cars pull up at different ends of the property. They don't see Gliniewicz and can't reach him by radio or phone. "We don't have him right now. We are looking for him," one radios.
The muffled sound of a blast rises up the hill through the humid air of the forest. One of the responding officers confirms the sound is a gunshot. The three officers, unaware of the deer path, scramble through the dense wall of trees and buckthorn with guns drawn.
It takes several minutes before the first one finds Gliniewicz's body.
"We've got an officer down, an officer down," the first-responder radios at 8:09 a.m. "Officer down at the swamp."
• Tomorrow in Part II: How the murder of a hero became a crooked cop's suicide