Illinois police officer stole thousands before staging suicide, officials say

When Fox Lake Lt. Joe Gliniewicz died while on duty two months ago, the entire nation mourned. Now, investigators say it was a 'carefully staged' suicide prompted by the knowledge that his criminal activities would soon be uncovered. 

Lake County Sheriff/Handout
Fox Lake Lieutenant Charles Joseph Gliniewicz is pictured in this undated handout photo provided by Lake County Sheriff's Office in Illinois on September 1, 2015. Gliniewicz, whose September death prompted an extensive manhunt for murder suspects committed "a carefully staged suicide" as authorities began an audit that would have exposed his embezzling public funds, authorities said on November 4, 2015.

Reversing the narrative of a beloved police officer tragically slain on duty, investigators in Fox Lake, Illinois announced Wednesday that Police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz was stealing money from the police department before staging an elaborate suicide, drawing on his experience working at crime scenes.

"There are no winners here. Gliniewicz committed the ultimate betrayal to the citizens he served and the entire law enforcement community," George Filenko, Lake County Major Crimes Task Force commander said in his announcement of the investigation’s conclusions.

"This staged suicide was the end result of extensive criminal acts that Gliniewicz had been committing."

Following the discovery of Gliniewicz’s body, shot twice in the torso, on the morning of Sept. 1, local authorities launched a massive manhunt to find his murderers.

The FBI, US marshals, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were all involved in the ensuing search, but the case became more and more puzzling as no serious suspects were identified.

Wednesday's briefing not only confirmed the cause of Gliniewicz’s death as suicide, but also revealed the likely motive: an ongoing department audit would soon have uncovered that he had been stealing money from a youth mentorship program for which he was a leader.

For the past seven years, Gliniewicz stole thousands of money from the Fox Lake Police Explorer Post, a program for teenagers and young adults between ages 14 and 21 who are interested in becoming police officers.

Forging signatures on official documents, Gliniewicz used department money for travel expenses, mortgages, gym memberships, adult websites, and other personal purchases.

Officials said 6,500 pages of text messages were reviewed in the investigation, at least one of which revealed Gliniewicz's anxiety about the audit. Another message indicated that he used the Explorer account to pay for a $600 flight.

"The embarrassment comes to me personally that this is the first time, in my career, that I’ve felt ashamed by the acts of another police officer," Filenko said. "We completely believed from day one that this was a homicide."

There is evidence suggesting criminal activity by at least two other people, he added, but no further information was disclosed because authorities are still looking into the case.

Since it was launched over two months ago, the investigation into Gliniewicz’s death has cost at least $300,000, the estimated figure in October. A Lake County detective said more than 430 leads were analyzed, in addition to 250 pieces of evidence and 40,000 emails.

Before taking his life, officials say Gliniewicz had deliberately positioned a baton, pepper spray, and eyeglasses at the crime scene to misguide the investigators into believing it was a homicide. He was last heard on the police radio saying he was in pursuit of three suspicious men in a remote area south of the Wisconsin state border.

Receiving full military honors at his funeral, which more than 1,000 police officers attended, the 52-year-old veteran is survived by his wife of 30 years and four sons.

Attorneys say the suicide ruling would disqualify the family from hundreds of thousands of dollars in benefits for officers killed in line of duty, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Leroy Marre, a neighbor to the Gliniewicz family, told the Tribune that the news Wednesday has left him in shock.

"What a surprise, from hero to criminal," he said, standing outside their home. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.