Palczynski left suicide note to mother

Fugitive held a family in Chase house, wrote message, owner says.

March 24, 2000|By Nancy A. Youssef | Nancy A. Youssef,SUN STAFF

Hours before commandeering a Dundalk rowhouse and taking three people hostage, Joseph C. Palczynski wrote a suicide note to his mother and left it at a Chase home, the home's owner said yesterday.

Palczynski wrote the note on the back of a child's homework assignment and left it folded on a night stand, said Douglas Wilkinson, owner of the home in the 10200 block of Bevans Lane.

"He was finishing up the note when we walked into the house," Wilkinson said. "He said he didn't know if he was going to make it out alive."

The note, now in the hands of police, supports speculation by Baltimore County police that Palczynski sought a violent confrontation or, as they described it, "suicide by cop."

Palczynski was shot to death Tuesday night, after a four-day standoff, when police stormed the Dundalk rowhouse where he was holding three members of his ex-girlfriend's family hostage.

He was wanted in four killings, three of them on March 7, when his former girlfriend, Tracy Whitehead, was abducted from a Bowleys Quarters apartment.

The fourth killing occurred the next night, when, police say, Palczynski shot a passing motorist during an attempted carjacking. He was on the run until March 17, when he took the hostages.

Also yesterday:

County police said they are conducting two investigations into the Palczynski case. Homicide detectives are trying to determine whether anyone helped the fugitive during his 11-day flight. And internal investigators are examining whether two members of a police SWAT team were justified in shooting him, a standard procedure in shootings by officers.

Neighbors of the Dundalk rowhouse complained that police who occupied their homes left them in shambles, drank their beer and ate their food. Police denied the allegations.

An attorney who has represented Palczynski said the fugitive was ready to surrender the night before the hostages escaped.

Pupils who had missed class since Friday returned to the Dundalk elementary school that was converted to a shelter for residents displaced by the standoff.

Wilkinson said he, his wife and his 4-year-old son found Palczynski inside when they got home the afternoon of March 17. Wilkinson said Palczynski kept his family tied up with computer and cable television wires for five hours and stole three firearms.

Palczynski wrote the note on the back of his son's homework assignment, Wilkinson said, and left it on Wilkinson's night stand.

Palczynski then made Wilkinson memorize his mother's phone number, forcing him to repeat it about a dozen times.

Palczynski did not allow Wilkinson to read the note but told him some of the things that were in it.

"He said he was sorry for the [victim's] families, but [the victims] got in his way," Wilkinson said.

Police sources would not comment on the contents of the note.

Attorney David Henninger, who negotiated with Palczynski while he was holding hostages, said the suspect was ready to surrender to police Monday night.

"He actually agreed to come out Monday with the stipulation being that it would be the FBI and not the police [who would arrest him] and be taken to a federal courthouse on federal charges," Henninger said.

"They called me at dinner time and I was going to go. They were going to send the federal papers out on a robot."

Henninger said he did not know why the plan wasn't carried out.

Police sources said the plan collapsed because authorities didn't believe Palczynski was sincere.

During the standoff, Henninger said, Palczynski told him, "Either I'm going to kill myself or surrender, and I'm too tired to decide what to do."

On Lange Street yesterday, residents struggled to restore order.

Standing in his front yard, John Shifflett, 33, displayed two miniature bottles of peach schnapps and vodka, and law enforcement-supply catalogs that he said police left behind after they used his apartment in the 7500 block of Lange St. as a staging area.

"I was really [angry] when I saw that," he said. "That's ridiculous."

Tears filled the eyes of Jim Rytina, 54, an out-of-work truck dispatcher, as he surveyed the damage to his apartment in the 7500 block of Lange St. He said the cremated remains of his wife were tossed in a corner, undershirts were used as floor rags, a basement tool chest was torn apart and his refrigerator was raided.

"I had four Delmonico steaks. They're gone," Rytina said. He suspects that police ate them because he found his portable electric grill spotted with grease.

"I can see them commandeering the house, but take care of things," said Rytina, who called his terrier-Chihuahua mix, Chi Chi, "the only thing I've got left."

A Baltimore County police spokesman said he had not heard of such allegations and that he

doubted their accuracy.

"During this operation, our officers acted in a professional manner, and at this time, we have no reason to believe that they acted otherwise," said Cpl. Ronald Brooks. "Obviously, it would not be proper procedure to consume alcoholic beverages while on duty at any time.

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