Authorities said Wednesday a police officer who was praised as a hero after his fatal shooting triggered an intense and costly manhunt, actually killed himself since he was about to be exposed as a thief, and carefully staged his death to make it seem like he died in the line of duty. Lake County Major Crimes Task Force Commander George Filenko said Fox Lake Police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz embezzled thousands of dollars from the town’s Police Explorer program for seven years, and spent the money on mortgage payments, travel expenses, gym memberships and adult websites.
Filenko said “We have determined this staged suicide was the end result of extensive criminal acts that Gliniewicz had been committing.” Filenko declined to provide more details about these crimes, because “the investigation strongly suggests criminal activity on the part of at least two other individuals.”
When asked skeptical questions from journalists on his handling of the two month investigation Filenko said “We completely believed from day one that this was a homicide. Gliniewicz committed the ultimate betrayal.” On Sept. 1st minutes before he died, Gliniewicz radioed that he was chasing three suspicious men in a swampy area of Fox Lake, a suburb north of Chicago.
Backup officers then followed a trail of equipment to the Army veteran’s body, about 50 yards from his squad car. His boss said Gliniewicz was a 30-year police veteran and expert crime scene investigator, and took elaborate steps to try to make it look like he died in a struggle.
The first bullet struck his cell phone and ballistic vest. The second pierced his upper chest, and his head was bruised in ways the coroner identified as possibly intentional. Filenko said his handgun wasn’t found for more than an hour, even though it was less than three feet from the body.
According to an analysis that the Daily Herald newspaper published in early October, an intense manhunt began immediately with hundreds of officers searching houses, cabins and even boats on area lakes. Helicopters with heat-sensing scanners and K-9 units scoured the area for days and some 50 suburban Chicago police departments and sheriff’s offices assisted.
Over 100 people submitted to DNA tests as investigators sought matches to evidence collected at the crime scene which Filenko said ultimately led to nothing. Even after questions arose more than 100 investigators stayed on the case for weeks.
One hint came when the Lake County coroner, Dr. Thomas Rudd, announced that Gliniewicz was killed by a “single devastating” shot to his chest, and that he couldn’t rule out suicide or an accident. However Filenko revealed Wednesday that as the case progressed, investigators were uncovering incriminating texts and Facebook messages Gliniewicz had sent, expressing fears as early as May that his thefts were about to be exposed by an audit of the Explorer program being conducted by a new village administrator.
Village Administrator Anne Marrin read a brief statement Wednesday thanking authorities for their work, and noting that the officer threatened her personally after she began asking tough questions. Even after authorities announced in October that Gliniewicz, 52, had been shot with his own weapon the public was still under the impression that the case remained a homicide investigation.
Authorities released the vague description of three suspects that Gliniewicz had radioed in, two white men and a black man. Filenko said they tracked down three men captured on a home security video system, but all had rock solid alibis, and no one was ever arrested.
Gliniewicz was held up on national television as a hero who died doing his job in a dangerous environment and the officer’s picture was hung in storefront windows and flags flew at half-staff in his honor. Gliniewicz’s family had dismissed the suggestion of suicide.
His son D.J. Gliniewicz said the tattooed officer with a shaved head, who was married and had four children, “never once” thought of taking his own life and was excited about his retirement plans.
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