Skinned Alive: The Murder of Katarzyna Zowada (Part 2)

 In our first episode we covered the background of Kasia, as she was referred to by her family and the couple friends she had. 

We discussed how she went missing before her scheduled therapy appointment on November 12th, 1998. And it was not until January 6th, 1999, when a local tugboat captain discovered something was lodged in the propeller of the boat, that had disabled his engine. 


And the grisly discovery he made was of  a “skin suit”, that belonged to none other than Kasia Zowada.


At first, the medical examiner did not believe foul play was involved and that the skin could have just been removed by the propellers of the tugboat as it went by the body in the Vistula River. But, upon further inspection, it was determined that the skin had been surgically removed, likely using a scalpel, and had been sewn together into a skin suit or vest, by the perpetrator. 


On January 14, 1999, workers found human remains and fragments of clothing material. They noticed them against the grate that stops waste from falling into the Vistula River. After examination, it turns out that it is a piece of the buttock and right leg with traces of being cut off, as well as a fragment of pants.


The cuts matched those of the skin suit already located. That along with DNA, indicated the body parts belonged to Kasia. There was also biological evidence found, but the specifics of what that evidence entailed was not released at that time. 


There was not much evidence to go on, as they didn’t even have a full body or murder scene to examine.


This investigation was anything but smooth. Over the course of the year, investigators tried to recreate Kasia’s last weeks, days, and hours in the hopes of this information leading to her killer. 


Based on interviews they had with friends, acquaintances, family members, fellow students, neighbors, etc investigators determined that like many people her age, Kasia had been seen going to the movies, shopping at record stores, walking around Market Square in Krakow’s Old Town, and looking around a bookstore. (Police saw her movements as “normal”)


It’s possible her killer saw her at one of these locations…a chance meeting, or following her…stalking his potential victim. Or, maybe he already knew her, since we know Kasia had changed her appearance over the past few weeks. 


One of the first people police investigated was a young man, who was a regular at “Pod Przewiązką”, the underground record exchange Kasia frequented. He was known as Jakub. He was a collector of music and books, had interacted w/ Kasia, and according to some witnesses that spoke with police, Kasia was enamored with him. 


Jakub was friendly with Kasia, but he told police he wasn’t interested in her like that, and he had a girlfriend. Police did look into him a bit more, including his past, but found nothing to suggest he was involved in Kasia’s death. 


The next person police looked at was also associated with “Pod Przewiązką”. His name is Tadeusz, and was viewed by some as the manager of the underground exchange, but in actuality he was more of a bouncer.


Women who frequented the exchange, said he could be a little too friendly, and liked to get a bit more “hands-on” then the women were comfortable with. He claimed he had only interacted with Kasia on 3 or 4 occasions, and only ever at the club. 


However, police were able to determine that it was Tadeusz that had made the phone calls to Kasia’s mother after she disappeared. But we will likely never know why, or what he wanted to say because he has adamantly denied making the calls. I also wasn’t able to find anything saying how police were able to come to the conclusion that he had made the phone calls.


Despite their best efforts to connect Tadeusz with Kasia’s murder, it was just another dead end. (No pun intended) 


Police, having run out of immediate suspects, decided to take a closer look at the evidence and the psychological profile which was put together by many of the top psychological profilers in the world. It seems Poland was doing its due diligence in seeking help from other nations in trying to solve this baffling case.


The profile indicated that Kasia’s killer was a male, in his mid twenties to thirties, a sadistic psychopath with a narcissistic personality disorder, of above average intelligence, and likely had a job where specific knife skills would be used. (Butcher, surgeon, veterinarian, tailor, hunter, or fisherman, etc.) 


It was also believed that he would have certain sexual fetishes, and that the “skora” or skin suit that was made from Kasia’s body, was made for him, to be worn by him. It is possible he may suffer from Autogynephilia. 


According to an article from the National Library of Medicine, Autogynephilia is “defined as a male’s propensity to be sexually aroused by the thought of himself as a female. It is the paraphilia that is theorized to underlie transvestism and some forms of male-to-female (MtF) transsexualism…in which men desire to impersonate or turn their bodies into facsimiles of the persons or things to which they are sexually attracted.”


It is important to point out, autogynephilic males are not homosexual. It is not about who they want to have sex with, it is about how they view themselves, what they want to be, and how they become aroused by the thought of themselves as a female.


It is likely that the killer stalked Kasia, to determine if she was the “right victim”. Remember this is about how the killer saw himself, not as others would have viewed him. With that being said, psychologists indicated he viewed Kasia as his physical likeness, her height at 5’6in, or 1.7 meters, and having a medium physical build. 


Police believed he befriended her, to gain her trust, feigned interest in the things Kasia liked, and with Kasia not having many friends or people she felt she could confide in, she likely took interest in him, as well, especially because he was male. (Remember she changed things about her physical looks before her murder)


The profile also suggested it was unlikely the killer had sex with his victim. Any arousal would have been derived from the pain, torture, and murder inflicted on his victim. And the anger or rage he experienced, although directed at Kasia, was not about her, but more about himself and what he was NOT. A female. This is what makes him a sexual sadist.


Also, crimes of this nature are often not isolated. The murderer will reoffend until he is stopped. He is unlikely to be able to stop himself. Police were under immense pressure to catch him before he struck again. 


They also looked to see if any other similar crimes had been committed in Poland before, with victims having been skinned or dismembered. There was only 1, at that time, that stood out to them. And that case was in June of 1985, about 10 years prior to Kasia’s death. 


This case was also very disturbing. A 48 year old husband and father, killed and skinned his wife and teen son. Their bodies were found in the Vistula River, the same river Kasia’s body was found. The body of his wife and son had been sliced from top to bottom, and their eyes had been cut out. 


The man convicted for their murders was also out of prison at the time of Kasia’s death. It was looking like police may have found their man, but that was not to be the case. When police went to interview him, they found him wheelchair bound, and both physically and mentally incapable of having committed Kasia’s murder. 


Back to square one.


Five months after Kasia’s death, in May of 1999, police had another promising lead. An older man had contacted the Krakow police saying he had found a body in his basement. The Forensic Medical Unit in Krakow received the body from the scene and discovered a 50 year old, male victim, whose head had been severed off, and skin had been meticulously removed from the skull. 


When police initially arrived at the scene, the older man told them he believed his grandson had killed his father, and police found him singing & dancing in the kitchen. The older man had terrible vision, and after murdering his father, Vladimir tried to trick him by impersonating his father. He wore his father’s clothes, and the skin mask which he made after decapitating his father. It wasn’t until he found the body in the basement that he realized what his grandson had done. 


In trying to determine if there was a connection to the murders, police looked at similarities between Vladimir and Kasia. They were of similar age, attended the same university at the same time, though not in the same circles, and there was no evidence to suggest they ever met or even knew one another. No evidence was found in Vladimir’s home to link him to Kasia either.


Also, Vladimir’s murder of his father was deeply personal. The motive in his case was that of revenge. Vladimir’s father left his mother when he was younger and he told police that he hated him. He did not fit the profile in Kasia’s case, and this was just another dead end for police. 


A year went by, and Kasia’s murder case went cold, and became just another case file added to Krakow’s “Archive X” or “X-files” department. Over the next decade, tips would come in, which police would follow-up on, but they didn’t result in an arrest. 


The same doctor that originally misdiagnosed Kasia’s death as accidental, thinking she was killed by the tugboat had a new theory. And get ready because this one is a doozy.


Dr. Tomasz Konopka discovered Kasia’s skin had post-traumatic stretch marks. These marks can happen when a victim falls from a higher altitude, like from an airplane. Another alternative is if a body falls out of a speeding car. 


So his hypothesis is that Kasia was pushed out of a speeding vehicle, and then someone else came along, found the body, dismembered, and skinned it. What are the odds right?


Police did consider it, probably because of his status at the Dept of Forensic Medicine in Poland, but I’ve got to imagine they secretly thought his idea was far-fetched at best. They determined Kasia took public transportation or walked wherever she went. And because she didn’t have but a couple friends, and the lack of evidence to suggest road rash or other injuries, police disproved Dr. Konopka’s hypothesis.


Desperate for any information in the case, the Krakow police even brought in multiple clairvoyants to give their impressions of what happened to Kasia. Many of them suggested Kasia was not killed randomly. Some suggested the killer had social standing, another said the killer was a priest.


A more notable clairvoyant, by the name of Krzysztof Jackowski , suggested to the investigators that they had found something in the initial investigation, but whatever it was had been discarded due to lack of evidence. I tried to find out exactly what this was, but it wasn’t made public, and he said in an interview that he could not make it known because of evidentiary reasons. 


The thing that I did keep coming across as I searched for him, were wedding photos of his much younger bride, 16 years younger to be exact. Coincidentally, her name is also Katarzyna. Not that this has anything to do with the case, just an interesting sidenote. 

Almost 13 years after her death, Kasia’s case was reexamined by police. Using a new, innovative 3D body scanning tool, they were able to determine, more specifically, the injuries Kasia endured during her torture, before her death. 


Pathologists saw there was extensive internal and external trauma, likely taking place over the course of some time, not from one isolated occurrence. They believed the injuries were from repeated strikes from someone who practiced martial arts. 


The pathologists also discovered vegetation fragments found on her skin, which were compared to samples from the Vistula River, and determined not to have come from the river. The type of vegetation found only exists in limited areas of the Krakow region. Making this a very important clue in the investigation. (Maybe the one the clairvoyant insinuated?)


Unfortunately, it would still be another 5 years before a legitimate suspect would come to light. The question is, would this be Kasia’s murderer, or just another false lead?


Stay tuned until next time to find out on our next episode of Sleuth Be Told.

Leave a Reply