Skinned Alive: The Murder of Katarzyna Zowada (Part 3)

Now, as we discussed in last week’s episode, a potential suspect in the brutal murder of Katarzyna Zowada would emerge, but it would not be for a significant number of years after her death, and maybe not how one might imagine the person to enter into the picture. 


And because I am a person that has to keep you all guessing for just a bit longer, I am going to begin an interview with Kasia’s mother, that was published in the Gazeta Krakowska, or Krakow Gazette, on June 26th, 2014, and written by Marta Paluch.


In the 15 years since your daughter’s death, you have not spoken to the media. Has anything changed now?

I don’t know. I just want to remember Kasia’s case. I hope this helps with the investigation.


Do you believe that the police will now be able to find her killer?

I believe. The investigation has been resumed for two years, enormous evidence has been collected, and many people are involved. It would be a pity to waste it. Especially since Kasia’s killer is still at large. And it endangers people.


Investigators tell you about their current work?

I haven’t had access to the files for several months. I asked about it and met with the new prosecutor in charge of the case. So far, he hasn’t been able to answer many of my questions because he’s only been running it for a few months. I was afraid he would drop the case, I asked him not to. He assured me that wouldn’t happen. He just said he needed some time. Previously, prosecutors kept me informed about what was happening in the investigation and sent me information by mail. The new prosecutor emphasized that this would continue to be the case.


There was information that plant remains were found on Kasia’s body, which will help locate the murder site. Did you feel that investigators were getting closer to an explanation?

The prosecutor noted two years ago that it would be a long way to prove anything in this case. Although I had a few moments when I felt the end was approaching. Each time, however, it turned out that the end was far away.


What punishment would be just for the perpetrator of such a crime?

I don’t know. There are so many different emotions inside me. Isolating the killer from people is the only possible punishment. I don’t know what else it could be. It’s hard to say that I would wish him to die the same way as my daughter, right? (Cry). But at least, under our justice system, he would receive the maximum penalty. It is unimaginable that something like this could be done to a human being. I can’t believe it… It’s terrible, unbearable. Many things come to an end, are closed, and this one… It goes on and on, with new information emerging every now and then. The worst thing is that you can’t finish it. It’s hard to talk about forgetting because I will always have to live with it. But I want the murderer to be punished for what he did.


Does he deserve the death penalty?

It’s not in the Polish code, but… he deserved it. I guess so.


What do you feel now?

Powerlessness – that you can’t do more, track down, prove, accelerate. I’m sorry, I don’t think I have the strength to talk about it, talk about myself… (interrupts).


Let’s go back in time. Kasia made an appointment with the doctor on November 12, 1999, at 18. She didn’t come. What were you thinking?

I felt something bad had happened. I was waiting for her in front of the clinic in the estate. Lovely, very concerned. She was verbal and always showed up for appointments. There were no cell phones back then… That evening, I went to the police to report her missing. They told me to wait.


And then?

The police were looking for her, but not very intensely. I hired a detective. And I was rushing from one place to another, walking, searching. I visited sects and other places. Some said: do this, others: do that. Some: report there, others: look elsewhere. And I felt that I had no help from anywhere. Terrible time. And then the policeman brought me a summons to the prosecutor… It was written that I would be questioned in a case under Article 148, paragraph 2. I found out that it concerned a murder with particular cruelty. Only then did it hit me. When I saw the DNA test results, I had to believe it was her…


Did you believe then that the killer would be caught quickly?

I don’t remember what I thought at first. This brutality paralyzed me. When I found out what he had done to my daughter, I thought I would go crazy from the pain… When I came to, I began to be afraid that he might hurt someone again. And then the investigation was discontinued.


This was a year after her death.

I was terribly outraged that this man would go unpunished. Everyone in Krakow was afraid. When someone’s body was found, the case came to life, and I hoped again that something would come out about Kasia’s case. I hoped they would discover the murderer by accident.


Did you hate him?

A lot… I think I still hate him.


Can you tell me about Kasia? How was she?

I do not know if I can. Not because I don’t have anything to say, but I just can’t (cries). There is so much regret and pain in me… And she is gone.


You still haven’t come to terms with it?

Of course not.


How are you coping?

I can’t do what I used to do when I worked as a child psychologist. Now I’m a speech therapist, it’s my second profession. Work helps me. At least I can take my mind off things for a while.


You are a psychologist. Does it make it easier to deal with pain?

No, that has nothing to do with it. Everyone probably feels the same pain… I believe, I really want to believe, that now the investigators will find the murderer. I have the impression that if we don’t succeed now, this case will never be solved.


________________________END OF INTERVIEW_____________________________________


I think it is safe to say, any parent in her situation would agree that the pain is never going to go away and that being a psychologist, and having the tools that, on paper, should help with the coping process associated with grief, aren’t much of a consolation when you are the one going through it.


It would be another 3 years before the alleged perpetrator of this crime would come to justice. Now let’s look at the facts as we know them, and what led police to suspect a resident in their own backyard. 


Thus far, the physical evidence found indicated that Kasia had been: tortured, tied to something with a chain, drugged by administering a sedative or painkiller of some type by injection, beaten with a heavy, metal object,  kicked & hit using martial arts moves, skinned while still alive, asphyxiated by the same chain she was tethered to, and eventually dismembered. The exact cause of death would either have been from blood loss or asphyxia.


 Oh, and let’s not forget her killer decided to sew her skin together to make a vest out of it, except it likely didn’t fit, or he didn’t find it acceptable and disposed of it, as he disposed of the rest of her, well the parts that were found in the Vistula River. To date, they do not know where the other parts were disposed of, and likely, unless the accused decides to make that information known, 25 years later, the remains of Kasia will not be found.


I want to say, before I go into the full chronology of how the individual allegedly involved in Kasia’s murder was suspected and discovered by police, that different sources have this information chronologically different. So to the best of my ability, given the language barrier between English and Polish, I have tried to recreate how Robert Janczewski, yes now we have a name, was discovered.


As far back as the year 2000, Robert was on the radar of the police. A letter was sent to the police, by a friend of his, known as Leszek L., who owned a pet store in Krakow. At this time, Robert worked at the Institute of Zoology, also in Krakow. Leszek and Robert had been friends for a number of years, going back to grade school. The letter that Leszek wrote to police has been kept secret from the public for evidentiary reasons.


However, some of this information did become public from Robert’s own father, Jozef, during an interview with the same newspaper Katarzyna’s mother did the interview with, The Krakow Gazette. Supposedly, in the letter to police, Leszek wrote that Robert used to bring him the mice/rats that the Institute of Zoology would experiment on, after they were dead, so he could feed them to his reptiles at the pet store.


Leszek told police that Robert used to kill and mutilate the guinea pigs at the Institute, which ultimately led to his dismissal. Jozef, Robert’s father, adamantly denies Leszek’s accusation, and says he made this up after Robert decided to put his foot down about bringing him the mice and rats. Basically, Robert felt used and didn’t like Leszek’s attitude towards him. 


Allegedly, a local woman, whose name was not released, also went to police after word of Kasia’s murder got out. It is rumored she told police that she also believed Robert was the killer, as he was known to walk around in women’s underwear, harass women, and lived very close to the Vistula River, where he used to go fishing, and gut his own fish. He was actually only a few hundred meters from where the skin suit was found. 


Now police did look into Robert, even going to and inspecting his house. But they did not have enough evidence against him, so they couldn’t make an arrest. Police still were watching him though and considered him to be a plausible suspect. 


But who really is Robert Janczewski, and why would he have it in him to kill Kasia Zowada?


He was born in the second half of the 1960s, I do not have the exact date. Robert supposedly had a difficult childhood. There were arguments and violence at his home. Robert’s father, Jozef left his mother for another woman, and later had a child with her. Robert was left in the care of his mother, and they lived in a tenement house. Neighbors and colleagues did not like him and saw him as a “freak”. However, they did admit he had above-average intelligence. 

He also was known for tormenting cats and dogs. He also liked fishing on the Vistula River. He could walk along the river for hours. He was also an audiophile. More specifically, amplifiers, loudspeakers, and musical equipment, which he was able to build on his own.


Robert also trained in martial arts at a school in Olsza. He also had a hard time in school. He was picked on by other schoolmates for essentially being different. He was scrawny and a nerd at that time. He was also kicked out of one school after he kept mouthing off at his teachers. 


He also became known for an unusual joke that involved unscrewing one screw every day from the wainscoting in the corridor. According to his school friends, the prank worked, and the wood came down with a bang after removing the last screw. 


In the second half of the 1980s, Robert was commissioned by the Polish Army for service. He completed his mandatory service in a “monastic” hospital. It was a religious hospital run by monks. He performed various tasks, including in the mortuary that operated there at that time. This is allegedly where he refined his “knife skills”, by mutilating bodies. 


Robert took a job at the “ Cloth Hall”, which I didn’t know until I looked it up, that it is known as “Sukiennice”, which is considered to be the world’s oldest shopping mall. It dates back to 1555.

Now, experts examining Kasia’s skin found traces of blows that could only have been inflicted by someone who trained martial arts. Robert not only exercised a lot, practiced martial arts, but he also had great strength. The precision of the cuts on her skin proves that the murderer knew what he was doing. Robert could have learned or observed the skill of cutting human skin while working in the mortuary.


In the psychological profile put together by agencies around the world, sadism, bisexual orientation and a tendency to harass women were included as descriptors of the killer. Sound familiar? The tenement house where he lives is located on the Vistula Boulevards. 


According to criminologists, the killer feels a lack of love from his overbearing mother, has experienced mental and physical violence from peers and family, and would take part in fights as a child. This type of murderer chooses a random victim, plans everything carefully, shows great cruelty and his goal is to objectify the victim. Handwriting analysis was also done on his signature from police documents, journals, and diaries that were found when police finally raided his house in 2017. 


This information also said a lot about Robert, or people with technical talents, closed off to themselves, unpredictable in their actions, hiding their true self from the world, protecting their views and their privacy. These are people with an emotionally cold, socially indifferent personality.


After Kasia’s death, Robert became very religious. According to some cemetery workers, after information about the clairvoyant’s participation in the investigation was published in the media, Robert began to visit Kasia’s grave. It was alleged by one witness that he used to bring her letters and bury them near the grave, but none were ever found. Another person alleged that Robert would light a candle on Kasia’s grave, and when then one would burn down and out, that he would return with another one. These are speculations, since police have neither confirmed nor denied these things.

As he felt the police were closing in, Robert was taking precautions not to get caught. He cut himself off from the world. He installed a huge grate on the door of his apartment. He didn’t have a phone or internet in his house. He was basically a recluse. But, that wouldn’t stop the police when they finally felt they had enough evidence to once again return to Robert’s residence. 


On October 4th, 2017 police came to Robert’s house and placed him under arrest for the murder of Katarzyna Zowada. But this would not be a quick judicial process, it would actually last nearly 6 years. 

In 2020, the trial of Robert J. began. The indictment against Robert was brought forth by prosecutor Piotr Krupiński from the Małopolska Department of the National Prosecutor’s Office. The trial would take place behind closed doors, as “the prosecutor can present his position on the evidence, its strength and scope only in the courtroom, not in the court corridor.”


There is what’s called a subsidiary prosecutor in the case. They are allowed to sit alongside the prosecutor. In this case, the subsidiary prosecutor is the mother of Katarzyna Zowada. In a conversation with journalists, she admitted that she expects a fair trial, but she does not count on the fact that the outcome of the case, the solution of which has been waiting for over 20 years, will bring her any relief.


During the investigation, Robert denied the allegations and pled not guilty. He argued that he did not know who murdered Katarzyna Zowada. In an interview before trial, Robert said:


  • I don’t read newspapers, I don’t have the Internet, I don’t have a mobile phone, and the landline has been disconnected for many months. I am completely socially isolated. 


  • However, when pressed about the fact that he had been seen at Katarzyna’s grave in Batowice, he replied, “It is not a crime”.


In the opinion of his representative, attorney Lukasz Chojniak, the prosecutor’s position in this case “is deeply wrong”, and the conclusions he draws from the analysis of the evidence are “inappropriate”. He added that the case is complicated and circumstantial, and there is no direct evidence of Robert’s guilt. But, that’s what a defense attorney is supposed to say I believe.


In this case, there was a mountain of files, over 490 publicly, countless more that were kept secret until trial. The indictment itself was 789 pages long. 


The court heard witnesses quite quickly, within two years, and got acquainted with the opinions of experts, but it is not known what happened in the courtroom because the process is secret. The punishment prosecutor Piotr Krupiński demanded was life behind bars, because it was a murder with special cruelty. 


Robert’s parents were called as witnesses. Both of them, as their closest relatives, refused to testify. I guess in Polish court’s you have that option. 80-year-old Józef, the defendant’s father, did not go to the announcement of the verdict. Instead, he talked to a reporter from “Uwagi!” TVN and defended his son. He told the reporter, not only was Robert not capable of it, but he is not capable of it either.


In mid-September last year, the District Court in Kraków sentenced Robert to life imprisonment, in the murder of Katarzyna Zowada. The court confirmed the prosecutor’s findings that the accused was behind the murder. The trial lasted over two years, and Robert has been in custody for six years. Robert’s defense attorney is still convinced of his client’s innocence.


Per Krakow Naszemiasto – as of September 14th, 2023:


The parties to the trial have not received a written justification of the judgment. In an interview with a Onet journalist, attorney Lukasz Chojniak, Robert’s defense attorney, notes that the same court extended the application of pre-trial detention against his client until March 13, 2024, arguing, among other things, that although the justification for the judgment was allegedly already prepared by the clerk, it was sent to the secretariat for its transcription and final checking.



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