Two months later, still few answers in Fox Lake lieutenant’s death

WGN Investigates
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FOX LAKE, Ill. -- Nearly two months after the death of Fox Lake police officer Lieutenant Joe Gliniewicz, there are few answers. A victimology report is underway to discover everything they can in the lieutenant’s life. The idea is a profile could provide clues to his killer.

Tonight, WGN Investigates takes you closer to the crime scene than you’ve ever been while raising questions about what really happened.

First, how did a 30-year police and army veteran get taken down? Gliniewicz was in top shape competing in Spartan races across the country. Just 16 days before his death, Gliniewicz competed in the Chicago Spartan Super Weekend against men and women half his age. The race is eight miles of fire walls, mud and barbed wire.

Gliniewicz was shot twice with his own gun reportedly by three men. The men vanished into the early morning air that awful day, September 1, 2015.

Let’s rewind, though, taking you step by step through that day beginning with the lieutenant’s first stop.

7:08 a.m.:  Lt. Joe goes to a local gas station near his home. The owner says he picked up two packs of cigarettes and shows Gliniewicz’s signature on the receipt.

7:32 a.m.: Before work, Gliniewicz arrived at the abandoned concrete factory in the middle of nowhere. He left his police car and walked around a locked gate. He was on foot for 20 minutes apparently looking around after reports of vandalism in the area.

7:52 a.m.: Lieutenant Gliniewicz makes his first call to dispatch, “At the old concrete plant checking on two male whites, male black.”

He declines backup and provides no better description than three males, two of which were white and one black.

That inadequate description raises questions for security analyst and former chief deputy U.S. Marshal, John O’Malley. According to O’Malley, “It is Police 101 that when you give descriptions of individuals, you’re going to give clothing descriptions, ‘I’m getting out to investigate two male whites, one male black, they’re wearing blue jeans, red t-shirt, ball cap.’ You’re going to give a physical description of those individuals, the best he can.”

7:55 a.m.: The Lieutenant makes his second call calmly saying the men are headed toward the swamp. This time he ok’s an offer for back up,

His fellow officers arrive quickly in six minutes. It took another eight minutes to find his body. In those few short minutes the suspects disappear.

A massive manhunt starts with police helicopters, the FBI., U.S. Marshalls, ATF, state, county and local police scouring the area. The schools are placed on lockdown and nearby businesses are put on alert.

Still, not a single person nearby saw anything.

There is only one way in and out by car. Even with signs saying otherwise, none of the business owners we talked to had working cameras. The lieutenant’s car did not have a camera either. One home surveillance camera showed some promise capturing three individuals on video, but a week later that lead disappeared.

That raises even more questions for O’Malley.  “I find that odd. That would potentially mean there was another set of two white males and a black male in Fox Lake, close to that area. It just doesn’t add up. This is a very small community where again no vehicle was seen leaving the crime scene, seen entering the crime scene prior. So that tells me, if these people exist, they arrived there on foot and would have had to leave on foot.”

Within days, the crime scene is cleared. The massive police presence quietly fades away. The more than 300 leads investigated appear to be as thin as the amount of information being released to nervous residents.

20 days later, the task force says it has ballistic tests, gunshot residue and DNA. A tease to be sure, but what it means, they won’t say.

With a lack of information, the rumors run rampant around the town. To understand why you need to go back in time before Lieutenant Gliniewicz was found dead.

Two probes were ongoing. One, into the police chief of Fox Lake, questioned how he disciplined an officer accused of rough-handling a drunk man in lockup. Saying it had nothing to do with the investigation, the chief resigned on Friday, August 28th.

The second probe called a “clean slate” review of all the police inventory began on Monday by the city administrator. She called in Gliniewicz and asked him to help.

The next morning, he was dead.

WGN Investigates received permission to go to the crime scene. We walked around the locked gate, down the gravel road to a spot our helicopters spied from the sky to give you an idea of the surroundings. Trying to go through the swamp would be a very difficult route.

That’s another problem for O’Malley, “Nobody saw anyone go out that way.  But prior to that you’d have to believe they then stopped, came back toward Lieutenant Gliniewicz and a life and death struggle then ensued. Lieutenant Gliniewicz taught tactical training. I believe he was a firearms instructor, and again one of the first things a police officer is taught is weapon retention. If those three defendants were coming back towards him, I find it very odd, again, its Police 101, he’s going to get on that radio. That’s his lifeline. He’s going let those responding officers know that they’re coming back towards him. Or he’s going to retreat back to his vehicle where he can find some cover and concealment.”

According to the task force commander George Filenko, “There were indications that there was a struggle that took place at the crime scene.” Yet, a month later, the Lake County investigators won’t say what signs they found.  Gun residue tests were inconclusive.

What we do know now, that we didn’t know then, is the lieutenant was shot twice with his own weapon. According to Filenko, “One of the shots entered the right side of the front of his vest. A comparison was made that it would be similar to a sledge hammer hitting you in the side. The second shot which we believe was the fatal wound occurred in the upper chest region of Lieutenant Gliniewicz.”

That raises another set of those unanswered question for O’Malley. “Three individuals are involved in a police officer’s murder and they’d leave that weapon behind?  Even if they were panicked, that doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t pass the common sense smell test that they would leave that weapon on scene knowing that their fingerprints or DNA was left behind.”

Nearly two months later, lead investigators still stand by what they’ve been saying all along: That this is a homicide investigation. When asked if suicide is being considered, Filenko said, “Nothing is off the table.”  But without suspects, it is possible they could leave the case officially undetermined.

O’Malley adds, “As they said, they’re conducting this investigation as if it is a homicide.  However, they can’t rule out suicide. I don’t think anyone in their right mind would think this is an accident. So we’re left with two, homicide or suicide.

A task force spokesman said the investigators have been unbelievably diligent. He added, each rumor was examined to see if it could be substantiated and to ensure that nothing was left to be reviewed. He said, “We have been and continue to work with the FBI on a daily basis.”

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