FOX LAKE, Illinois — Investigators never found the men suspected of killing Lt. “GI Joe” Gliniewicz. Not for lack of effort, not for lack of evidence, and not for enough tips.
The men didn’t exist.
The three vaguely described suspects, “two male white, one male black,” were apparently a product of Gliniewicz’s imagination, ginned up to make himself go out like a hero.
Fox Lake police on Wednesday said Gliniewicz’s death was a “carefully staged suicide.” Gliniewicz had been stealing and laundering thousands of dollars from the police department’s youth auxiliary program for personal purchases, the department said. The purchases included gym memberships, porn websites, and mortgage payments.
Perhaps Gliniewicz believed his alleged theft was in danger of being uncovered. If he was caught, his life as he knew it—gung ho cop, patriotic Army veteran, spectacular father, loving husband—would be over.
“Gliniewicz committed the ultimate betrayal to the citizens he served and the entire law-enforcement community,” said George Filenko, commander of the Lake County Major Crimes Task Force. “Personally, this is the first time as a police officer that I’m ashamed by the actions of a member of law enforcement.”
As a leader in the police “explorer” program, Gliniewicz had extensive experience mocking up crime scenes to train aspiring cops, and officials say he used those skills to throw police off the trail of his deception.
His hoax sent local, state, and federal law enforcement down an expensive path, conducting what for months has been officially considered a homicide investigation. Initial estimates pegged the cost for the manhunt in the hours and days following Gliniewicz’s death at about $300,000. (On Wednesday, Filenko couldn’t say what the total cost for the investigation was.)
While the loss of a father and husband has devastated the Gliniewicz family—as well as his fellow officers at the Fox Lake Police Department—the new information provided by authorities may be even more painful to consider. The man known in this small northern Illinois town as “GI Joe” apparently wasn’t what he seemed, and he spent his last day trying to protect that legacy—of a committed cop and patriot, of a loving family man, of an American hero.
The theft might not have been in danger of being exposed when Gliniewicz was called in by the village administrator in August to assist in what has been called a “clean slate review” of the department after the former police chief resigned in the wake of allegations that a drunk had been roughed up in the jail.
Filenko said Wednesday that the still-unnamed officer disciplined in that case was not Gliniewicz, but it is unclear exactly when and how police began looking at the lieutenant for his alleged theft.
Regardless, Gliniewicz apparently thought he was in danger. Among the evidence presented Wednesday were text messages sent between Gliniewicz and two other unnamed individuals who remain under investigation.
In one, Glinieiwicz and a person identified only as “Individual 2” talked about village administrator Anne Marrin’s probe into the police department. “She hates me and I’ve never said more than 3 sentences to her the shes (sic) been here,” Gliniewicz wrote.
The recipient responded: “Hopefully she decides to get a couple of drinks in her and she gets a DUI.”
The texts also include one from Gliniewicz to ex-chief Michael Behan.
“[Marrin] has now demanded a complete inventory of [police explorer] central and a financial report…FML.”
Police did not provide The Daily Beast with Behan’s response. But considering Gliniewicz was in communication with the former chief regarding what police consider a crime, it’s probably safe to say he was in on the fraud.
Marrin didn’t take questions Wednesday, but with her voice shaking slightly it was clear she was distraught at what authorities have learned about a man they were honoring as a hero just a few months ago.
GI Joe was honored on the floor of the U.S. Senate by Dick Durbin of Illinois. The officer’s image was splayed on a video screen at Soldier Field during a Chicago Bears game. Little girls operated lemonade stands to raise money for the Gliniewicz family. At least one man paid for a tattoo to have the fallen cop memorialized.
At the same time, his death provided more fuel for those who said it was the latest piece of evidence in rising anti-police sentiment, partly as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Conservative wheels started spinning the moment Gliniewicz hit the ground—This is what you get when you question the police, the thinking went that warm week in late August. Dead cops.
Turns out it had nothing to do with Black Lives Matter, or suspicious men, or protecting and serving, or defending law and order. Instead it had everything to do with whatever was going on between Gliniewicz’s ears and in the heart he fired his own gun into.
Despite the extensive investigation, there remain serious questions that need to be answered in Fox Lake. Police made clear Wednesday that it was known fairly early that no one had touched Gliniewicz’s gun other than GI Joe himself. That, combined with the knowledge that the fatal bullet came from Gliniewicz’s own gun should have been enough to confirm a suicide weeks ago.
But it apparently wasn’t.
Coroner Thomas Rudd’s decision to inform the press that Gliniewicz’s gun was the murder weapon on Oct. 1 angered police. Filenko dressed down Rudd, telling any media outlet that would listen how the medical examiner’s release of the only pertinent information to come out since Gliniewicz died had put the entire investigation “in jeopardy.”
Filenko didn’t say how Rudd’s actions had done so at today’s press conference. As far as what will happen to the DNA samples “randomly” collected from hundreds of Fox Lake residents, or how many there even are, Filenko said, “I don’t know.”
Throughout it all, Filenko and others have insisted that they kept everything on the table, that nothing was discounted even as the mayor of Fox Lake called Gliniewicz’s death the “heinous murder of a police officer.”
All for a man who allegedly stole from his own department and the town that supported it, then deceived his fellow officers by concocting a fake emergency, and adding to his own family’s grief by tarnishing what had been a stellar career in law enforcement and a life of commitment to his loved ones until that day.
In his wake, Gliniewicz left confusion, anger, and sadness—perhaps even more so now that we know more about the full breadth of his actions. One of his sons, D.J., was especially torn.
“I know my father. My family knows my father and so do his closest friends,” D.J. told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in September. “He is not someone who ever contemplated suicide or had suicidal tendencies.”
All of those people were wrong. They apparently didn’t know as much as they’d thought about GI Joe.
He lied in life and he lied in death.