One year after Gliniewicz: Leaders recall how their lives changed
When Fox Lake police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz killed himself Sept. 1, 2015, in a failed attempt to cover up years of embezzlement and misconduct, the fatal gunshots he fired into his chest reverberated throughout the town.
The case left emotional bruises on many in Fox Lake, but especially on three people who were closest to it.
"No one was left unscathed in this," Village Administrator Anne Marrin said.
It was Marrin's investigation into Fox Lake's finances that helped uncover Gliniewicz's wrongdoing at Fox Lake Law Enforcement Explorer Post 300. When she pressed him for an inventory of the Explorer post, Gliniewicz staged his death to look like he was murdered.
For months, Marrin couldn't escape the case. It followed her home, followed her into her bed.
"It's constantly in your mind," she said. "You can't turn it off."
Round Lake Park Police Chief George Filenko, who led the death investigation for the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force, never met Gliniewicz and only vaguely had heard his name.
But Filenko knows he will remain permanently linked to the disgraced cop.
"It's the price you pay working especially high-profile cases," he said.
Fox Lake Mayor Donny Schmit was Gliniewicz's longtime friend. He wishes the officer would have come to him for help.
"The whole thing is a tragedy, over a few lousy bucks," Schmit said. "A wife doesn't have a husband, four kids don't have a father. ... I wish he would have come and talked to us about what was going on."
Looking back a year later, here's how they were affected.
It's not the death threat, the weight loss or the sleepless nights that left Filenko a changed man.
What got to him was how the probe uncovered the betrayal of a profession Filenko has admired since childhood. He no longer assumes the best if he hears about an officer with a sterling public image.
Gliniewicz had that good reputation around town, though the investigation into his death turned up reports of drunken nights and past punishment for harassing a female co-worker.
"You read about police corruption in the newspapers, you see it on the news reports, but when you actually firsthand experience it, it's a whole different type of scenario," Filenko said. "It really hits you personally and it hits home. It's reality at its worst."
Filenko, who led the task force for six years and retired from the post in April, said most police officers are cynical by nature. His cynicism has grown because of Gliniewicz.
"Now, you have to prove to me I can trust you," he said. "Before, if you were a police officer in a uniform, immediately I trusted you. You're part of a group of individuals that have sworn an oath. I look at you as being an ethical person with high values. But after the Gliniewicz case, yeah, you do become a little mistrusting and I'm a little more careful."
For nearly three months, all he could think about was the Gliniewicz investigation. He couldn't sleep. He lost 30 pounds he has gradually regained.
Filenko suddenly found himself thrust into the international spotlight as the principal spokesman in the investigation. As it shifted from a cop's murder to the unthinkable staged suicide, people questioned Filenko's law-enforcement abilities and a retired Chicago cop telephoned a death threat to the Lake County coroner's office that included him and others.
Joseph A. Battaglia, 54, of Oak Lawn was sentenced in December to one year of supervision after pleading guilty to disorderly conduct. Under the deal, Battaglia cannot have any contact with Filenko, the task force or coroner's office employees.
"Emotionally, it was tasking, not just on me but on my family," he said. "It got to a point where I think my wife, daughter, son just quit watching the media reports because of some of the criticism."
On the positive side, Filenko said, his collaboration with the FBI and other federal agencies left him with a greater appreciation for the work they do. He credited Lake County sheriff's office spokesman Detective Christopher Covelli for helping him navigate the media coverage.
Marrin admits being unprepared for the intense media spotlight Gliniewicz's death triggered that hot September morning. The barrage of reporters' questions and demand for new details about what happened was incredible.
Those two months, she said, were "the most stressful of my career."
"It was surreal, really, having all of that pressure to give all this information," she said.
And it wasn't just the media causing the stress.
Marrin was threatened daily by phone, in emails and on social media by people upset about the case. Sometimes the callers identified themselves. Sometimes they were anonymous.
"Some threatened physical harm against me directly," she said. "Some accused me and other village employees of a cover-up. They primarily peddled conspiracy theories, implying the village had a hand in the incident (or) was covering up information."
Despite it all, Marrin never changed how she did her job. She didn't add personal security, alter her route to work or enter village hall through a different door.
On Nov. 4, 2015, police investigators revealed Gliniewicz had killed himself and staged his death to look like a murder because his years of embezzlement had been uncovered.
In the span of one news conference, Gliniewicz went from a fallen hero to a hated criminal.
Marrin said she was relieved the truth finally came out. But village employees, especially the town's police officers, took it hard.
"People were just so disappointed," she said. "People were frustrated. People were angry. People were shocked."
Marrin suddenly had to focus on improving morale at village hall and the police station. It became a priority, forcing many projects and programs to the side.
They tackled the problem by instituting new employee training programs, revamping and expanding the employee manual, and creating policies to ensure Fox Lake would not be permanently stained by the shame Gliniewicz brought to the town.
"I did what I needed to do to get through this and to get everybody else through this," she said.
The important thing, Marrin insists, is the village has moved on.
"We certainly don't want it to define who we are," she said. "The actions of one misguided police officer shouldn't define the police department or the village of Fox Lake."
No one was more shocked to learn about Joe Gliniewicz's misdeeds than Schmit, who said the two men had a "professional friendship" spanning much of Gliniewicz's 30-year police career.
Schmit said he and Gliniewicz spent a lot of time together, as they met for lunch and attended work events together.
"Obviously, he didn't tell me a lot of the things that came out during the investigation," he said.
In the 24 hours before Gliniewicz died, Schmit and Gliniewicz traded text messages while the veteran cop inventoried items inside the Fox Lake Community Center basement -- dubbed "Explorer Central."
Schmit said he was in bed when the final text arrived at 9 p.m. He didn't respond.
"It was late and I had to be up early, so I said I would just reach out to him in the morning," he said.
Schmit regrets the decision.
"When I look back now, you could see in the message he was very distraught," Schmit said. He later added, "The whole thing was such an unnecessary tragedy."
Schmit also felt pressure from the "relentless" media scrutiny for several months while the story unfolded.
When he went to a Chicago Bears game Nov. 9 in San Diego, some reporters made a story out of it and "acted like I abandoned my town," he said.
People accused him of not releasing all the information in the case, even though he didn't know what was happening.
"People everywhere wanted to know the inside story. For six months, I couldn't get away from it," Schmit said.
The lesson he said he learned is to always make sure government checks and balances are in place.
"There can never be a time when there is just one person looking over anything," he said.