Authorities say someone could be helping fugitive

Police battling terrain, Palczynski's outdoor survival skills

March 14, 2000|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County police have consulted behavioral experts, FBI profilers, friends, family and associates to help them understand -- and find -- Joseph C. Palczynski.

Yet, after an intensive, six-day search for Palczynski, they say they are battling unfavorable terrain and a suspect who had apparently made painstaking preparations to survive in the woods and wetlands of eastern Baltimore County.

"He is our Eric Rudolph," said Baltimore County Police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan, referring to the suspect in several bombings who is believed to have been hiding in the mountains of North Carolina since 1998.

At the beginning of the search for Palcyznski -- who is accused of killing four people, shooting another and kidnapping his estranged girlfriend -- authorities called him "volatile, violent and unpredicable." They are now adding "smart and daring."

Palczynski, who has received a diagnosis of mental illness, grew up in eastern Baltimore County and is known to be familiar with the woods and marshy parkland that covers much of the area.

Authorities say Palczynski probably has made plans to stay outside for a long time. He reportedly possesses a .22-caliber handgun, a knife, camping gear, food and a portable television, and is determined not to go to jail.

Authorities think he has help.

"It is really hard for me to comprehend that he has been at this this long without some help and/or preparation," Sheridan said.

Sheridan called the Essex-Middle River area where Palczynski is believed to be hiding "a rural area that is difficult to police." For the officers' safety, the search has been limited largely to daylight. At night, police have responded to hundreds of possible sightings throughout the county.

Yesterday, after combing part of a 95-square-mile area where they believe Palczynski is hiding, police found clothing and other items indicating that someone had been sleeping in the woods, Sheridan said. They are evaluating that evidence.

"We are going to find him," Sheridan said. "It is just a matter of time."

Authorities acknowledge the difficulty of the search, which is being called the largest of its kind in county history.

Though the county experienced 30 homicides and 26 arrests last year, most of those investigations were centered in more developed areas. About half of the county is wooded.

Police say criminals often tell someone where they are or what they did. But so far, police say, they have not spoken with anyone who has acknowledged talking with Palczynski about his whereabouts.

An Essex native who grew up next door to him said she is not surprised that he apparently is remaining in the area and relying on his outdoors skills to elude police.

The woman, who asked not to be identified out of concern for her safety, said Palczynski told her three weeks ago that he would rather die than go to jail, and that he had made plans to escape if he was arrested again. She said she watched him bury money, equipment and ammunition in Gunpowder Falls State Park.

"He can live in the woods forever," the woman said. "He'll eat grass if he has to."

Police continue to follow every lead, responding to calls from residents who believe they've seen Palczynski at a bar, in their back yard, walking along the street.

"This is not the place for a 31-year-old, white. 5-foot-9-inch, 180-pound man wearing a camouflage jacket these days," said Sgt. John Cullum, who supervises the 911 dispatch center. "You are going to be stopped."

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