In the past, rejection triggered violence

Suspect in shootings had convictions for beating ex-girlfriends

By Dennis O'Brien

Sun Reporter

March 10, 2000


He seemed to like fast cars, water sports and younger women.

But Joseph C. Palczynski also has a violent streak that has made him a dangerous man to the women he's dated.

As the search for Palczynski continued last night in the wake of a rampage that has left four people dead, friends and acquaintances in the Bowleys Quarters area where he grew up described him as a "Jekyll and Hyde" who could easily attract women but turned on them with fury when they tried to get away from him.

"What sets him off is if somebody doesn't want to see him anymore," said Connie Osborne, whose 17-year-old daughter dated Palczynski, who at the time was 27, for about a year in 1995.

Court records show he has convictions for beating three girlfriends -- all teen-agers -- and charges on federal gun law violations that put him in a mental institution after he entered an insanity plea.

"The way he is, there's no telling what he would do next," Osborne said.

Palczynski met her daughter through a friend at Kenwood High School in Essex, where Michella Lisa Osborne was a student at the time, Mrs. Osborne said. He would take her out on his Jet Ski, on either the Middle River or at Gunpowder Falls State Park near where he lived, she said.

He would show up at their house in a late model sports car, Mrs. Osborne said.

But when the girl tried to break up with him in 1995, it started a string of violent attacks against the family that led to a battery conviction.

According to Mrs. Osborne and court records, Palczynski showed up at their home in July 1995 and got into a fight with Gary Osborne, his girlfriend's father. Palczynski broke four of Mr. Osborne's ribs and split open his lip so that it had to be stitched, records show.

A few months later, Palczynski beat up his girlfriend twice -- at one point kicking her so hard in the stomach that she lost the 4-month fetus that she was carrying, Mrs. Osborne said.

It was Palczynski's child but he didn't seem to care, Mrs. Osborne said.

"He was a real jerk," she said.

Court records show that Palczynski showed a pattern of violence against women that goes back to 1987, when he punched a 16-year-old girlfriend for refusing to have sex with him and then threatened her with a razor blade.

Palczynski was sentenced to two years' probation after he was convicted of battery in that attack on the condition that he participate in a domestic violence counseling program.

But a year later, he was sentenced to four years in prison after he was thrown out of the counseling program for "continuous disruptive behavior" and failed to show up for a court-ordered evaluation.

In 1991, Palczynski was again charged with battery, for beating up Sharon Zamrzla, another girlfriend, in the halls of Kenwood High School, where she was a student.

"He was going to 'blow my brains out'" he "had no choice but to kill me," Zamrzla wrote in a charging statement filed Dec. 13, 1991.

Court records show that he was ordered to Spring Grove State Hospital Center and was charged with escape three days later, after he disappeared from the grounds.

In 1992, he was charged with federal gun law violations for purchasing a firearm as a convicted felon, court records show. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was held in a medical center in Missouri.

Court records show he was treated in guarded federal health facilities until September 1994, when he was released to state prison officials on the escape and battery charges.

Baltimore County Circuit Judge John Fader II sentenced Palczynski in 1995 to a three-year suspended sentence in Zamrzla's beating and to five years' probation. Fader also ordered him to receive treatment under state health officials and to refrain from contact with Zamrzla.

But a year later, Fader sentenced Palczynski to serve that three-year prison term after the series of assaults on Michella Lisa

Osborne and her father in late 1995, court records show.

In a letter to Fader, Palczynski asked for his release from the Eastern Correctional Institute on Maryland's Eastern Shore in January 1997, saying he had been treated at five mental hospitals.

He said he was taking lithium and Prozac, two medications used to treat depression, and that his problems began when he reduced his medication levels.

"I became an angry person with an attitude, and nothing seemed to matter anymore," he wrote.

But Palczynski also falsely claims in the letter to have worked at a job at a Cockeysville nursing home and to have taken courses in

computers and business law at Essex Community College, a school where records show he took only two water-safety courses in the late 1980s.

Palczynski has been the focus of a manhunt since Tuesday night, when he is accused of killing three people and abducting his former girlfriend, Tracy Whitehead, from an apartment in Bowleys Quarters.

Police said Whitehead had gone to the apartment to get away from him.

He is also accused of shooting three other people, one of whom later died.

Neighbors say Palczynski's temper was well-known in the community.

"He was always screaming at his girlfriend," said Gary Wilcox, a letter carrier in the community for more than a year who delivered Palczynski's mail.

"I could hear him yelling at her through the closed front door," said Wilcox. "It was an angry, mean sort of voice."

Linda Patrick lives in the adjoining building at the Town & Country Bowleys Quarters apartments and counted Palczynski and Whitehead among her friends.

But she said it was obvious they had a stormy relationship.

"It seemed they broke up every other week," said Patrick. "I could hear them when they fought. Then the next day Joe'd call me up and ask me if I'd heard from Tracy."

Patrick said Palczynski exhibited wide mood swings -- seemingly happy one day and openly depressed the next, especially in his relationship.

"When him and Tracy would break up, he'd always go over to his mother's house," Patrick said. Police staked out near the fugitive's home yesterday said his mother, who resides on Freedom Court in nearby Chase, was out of town.

A 1987 graduate of Perry Hall High School, Palczynski worked as an apprentice electrician for several area businesses, including Bray Electric in Catonsville. He helped wire new homes for the company for a few months last summer, said Roy Bray, the owner.

"He didn't stand out one way or another," Bray said. "It's just so hard to believe what's going on."

In his only written statement available in court records -- the 1997 letter to Fader -- Palczynski attributes many of his problems to depression that he says was brought on by a sister's death and by being sexually abused as a child.

"Due to the lack of medication, I was like a time bomb waiting to explode," he wrote.

Sun staff writers Joe Nawrozki and Jay Apperson contributed to this article.