CHICAGO (FOX 32 News / AP) - A Fox Lake police officer whose shooting death led to a massive manhunt in September killed himself, carefully staging the scene to look like a homicide after years of stealing money from his department's youth program, officials said Tuesday.
FOX 32 broke the story via social media late Tuesday night. Prior to the official announcement, sources also confirmed to FOX 32 News that Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz was under investigation for embezzling funds from the Police Explorer program.
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 such things as mortgage payments, travel expenses, gym memberships and adult websites, Lake County Major Crimes Task Force Commander George Filenko said.
"We have determined this staged suicide was the end result of extensive criminal acts that Gliniewicz had been committing," Filenko said. He declined to provide more details about these crimes, because "the investigation strongly suggests criminal activity on the part of at least two other individuals."
The commander then endured blistering questions from skeptical journalists about his handling of the two-month investigation.
"We completely believed from day one that this was a homicide," Filenko said. "I was ashamed personally. I've been a police officer for quite some time. This was not a highlight of my career. I thought the ultimate betrayal was done by this police officer to his community, to his colleagues, to the 4000 police officers who came to pay their respects to him."
Minutes before he died on Sept. 1, Gliniewicz radioed that he was chasing three suspicious men in a swampy area of Fox Lake, a suburb north of Chicago. Backup officers followed a trail of equipment to the Army veteran's body, about 50 yards from his squad car.
Gliniewicz was a 30-year police veteran and expert crime scene investigator, his boss said, 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 said could have been intentional.
His handgun wasn't found for more than an hour, even though it was less than three feet from the body, Filenko said.
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. Some 50 suburban Chicago police departments and sheriff's offices assisted, racking up more than $300,000 in overtime and other costs, according to an analysis that the Daily Herald newspaper published in early October.
More than 100 people submitted to DNA tests as investigators sought matches to evidence collected at the crime scene - genetic tests that Filenko said ultimately found nothing. Asked Wednesday whether that evidence will now be destroyed, Filenko said he didn't know.
More than 100 investigators stayed on the case for weeks, even after questions arose.
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. That prompted an angry response from Filenko, who said releasing such details put "the entire case at risk."
But 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.
"If she gets ahold of the old checking account, im pretty well f***ed," the first message reads.
He had deleted the texts, but authorities were able to recover them anyway. Investigators released some of them verbatim, but did not identify the people he sent them to.
READ MORE | Text messages sent from Gliniewicz's phone
"This village administrator hates me and explorer program," he said in another. "This situation right here would give her the means to CRUCIFY ME (if) it were discovered."
On Aug. 31, the day before he killed himself, Gliniewicz wrote that the administrator had demanded a complete inventory and financial report on the program.
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.
In one of the texts, Gliniewicz and "Individual-2" discuss trying to get Marrin out of office, perhaps by arresting her for drunk driving, or worse. "Trust me ive thougit through MANY SCENARIOS from planting things to the volo bog," he wrote, referring to a local waterway that would be difficult to search.
To the public, the case remained a homicide investigation, even after authorities announced in October that Gliniewicz, 52, had been shot with his own weapon.
Authorities released only the vague description of three suspects that Gliniewicz had radioed in -- two white men and a black man. They tracked down three men captured on a home security video system, but all had rock solid alibis, Filenko said, 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. An outpouring of grief swept Fox Lake, a village of 10,000 about 50 miles north of Chicago. The officer's picture was hung in storefront windows and flags flew at half-staff in his honor. Others described him as tough when needed, but also as sweet and a role model to youngsters aspiring to go into law enforcement.
Gliniewicz's family had dismissed the suggestion of suicide. 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, his son D.J. Gliniewicz said.
Also, an organization that collects the names of officers killed in the line of duty for a national memorial says it has removed from its list Lt. Gliniewicz.
A spokesman for the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund said Wednesday that staff removed Gliniewicz's name and photo from the group's website after investigators said he had shot himself to make it look like he died in the line of duty.
Steve Groeninger says it would be inappropriate for him to be included alongside officers who died in the line of duty. But he also called Gliniewicz' case "heartbreaking."
The family of Gliniewicz released a statement Wednesday, just hours after officials announced the officer's death was a "carefully staged suicide" and the end result of "extensive criminal acts."
"Today has been another day of depe sorrow for the Gliniewicz family," the family said in statement released by their attorney. "The family has cooperated with the Task Force's investigatin and will not comment at this time. The Gliniewicz family requests that their privacy be respected as they continue to cope with the loss of the beloved husband and father."
The 100 Club released the following statement:
"The mission of the 100 Club is to provide assistance for the families of first responders who lose their lives in the line of duty. A key part of our mission is to assist the families within the first 12 to 24 hours, when they need it the most. This process sets us apart from other agencies, and has worked for the Club for the past 49 years.
On November 4th, the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force shared the conclusion of a thorough investigation into Lieutenant Joseph Gliniewicz’s death. The cause of death has been determined to be a “carefully staged suicide;” and not a line of duty death.
The 100 Club’s Executive Committee convened promptly and agreed that in light of this information, we will request that the Gliniewicz family return the initial $15,000 received from the Club immediately following the tragedy.
This is an unfortunate thing to have to do and we, of course, feel for the family. We know, however, that we must stay true to the mission and purpose of our organization and reserve financial benefits for families who lose a loved one in the line of duty.
We thank you for your continued support of the mission of the 100 Club and for your understanding during this time."