Hostages safe; fugitive killed

Sun Reporters

Accused killer Joseph C. Palczynski's two-week crime spree came to aviolent end late last night when Baltimore County police SWAT team membersshot him to death in the living room of a Dundalk rowhouse where he had beenholding three hostages since Friday.

Two of the three hostages escaped out a window while Palczynski slept on afamily room couch shortly before the SWAT team broke into the house. Thethird, a 12-year-old boy who was sleeping on the kitchen floor, was later ledto safety by police.

The escapes "prompted us to go in or that boy was dead," said Police ChiefTerrence B. Sheridan.

No officers were injured.

The events ended a 97-hour standoff that began when Palczynski, 31, shothis way into the apartment. He had been on the run since March 7, when, policesay, he abducted his former girlfriend, Tracy Whitehead, and fatally shot thecouple she was living with and a neighbor who tried to come to her aid.

A day later, he allegedly shot and killed a passing motorist in anattempted carjacking.

Lynn Whitehead, Tracy Whitehead's mother, jumped out the front window ofthe first-floor apartment in the 7500 block of Lange St. about 10:20 p.m. andher boyfriend, Andy McCord, followed about 20 minutes later. SWAT team membersbroke through a window and shot Palczynski, who had a gun on his lap under ablanket on the couch. They then escorted 12-year-old Bradley McCord -- Andyand Lynn's son -- out of the apartment.

"They have Joe. They have Joe," neighbors screamed shortly after theoperation was over.

"I am here to report that we had a successful operation," Sheridan told acrowd of reporters at the command center in Dundalk as residents and policeofficers hugged each other. "Three hostages are safe because we had asuccessful operation."

Responding to angry criticism that police were slow to resolve thesituation, Sheridan said, "Patience is what counted."

"Notwithstanding some of the criticism and the impatience, we had to stayfocused," said County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger. "In my opinion,[Palczynski] felt he was the star of the show. He loved this. This was hisshow, this was his game.

"We're blessed. We're happy. And frankly, we're a little lucky."

Thankful family members praised God yesterday for answering their prayersover the ordeal.

"I had a feeling Lynn would do something," said Jean Jones, 47, who calledher cousin "a fighter. She just probably had enough of it."

Jones rushed to the scene when she heard of the escape and ran to embraceher sister, Debbie Hands, 48, of Armistead Gardens, who said, "I thought hewould kill them."

Lynn Whitehead's son, Bobby, 14, said: "We drove here as fast as we could.We are just so relieved."

Earlier yesterday, police had speculated about the condition of one of thehostages believed injured by a gunshot in the apartment Monday.

Last night, police said Palczynski said one of the hostages had been shot,but that proved to be false.

Neighbors had said that Palczynski had placed the younger McCord in frontof an apartment window on more than one occasion. A source close to theinvestigation confirmed that people in the house had been used as shields.

Police also had tightened security and made two arrests in a restrictedfour-block zone circling the Lange Street rowhouse where the hostages werebeing held.

As the standoff dragged on, police negotiators continued talking with thesuspected killer in "on-again, off-again conversations."

On the two previous days, Palczynski had fired out an apartment window atleast nine times, once flattening tires on a police armored personnel carrier.

But it was one gunshot inside the house about 3 p.m. Monday that worriedpolice. The shot was fired after negotiations between police and Palczynskiresumed after six hours of silence.

A Whitehead cousin, Judy Gronke, told the Associated Press that AndyMcCord's leg was grazed by the bullet. However, police spokeswoman VickieWarehime said this morning no hostage was wounded in any way.

Yesterday, with a heavy rain falling, there were few bystanders at thescene. Police had become increasingly concerned about people congregating inthe area, including those seeking to take advantage of free media attention.Some had tried to pose as reporters.

Police arrested Charles Ryan of the 7300 block of Berkshire Road andcharged him with disorderly conduct and trespassing at the BerkshireElementary School shelter about 1:30 a.m. yesterday. Police said Ryan, who wasreleased on his own recognizance, was arguing and trying to cross into therestricted zone near Lange Street.

A second man, who police said identified himself as a free-lancephotographer, was arrested about 1:30 a.m. at Dalton and Berkshire avenueswhen officers found him in the so-called "kill zone." The man was told toleave, police said, but a short time later was found in an alley behind therowhouse where the hostages were being held with a camera and a picture ofPalczynski in his wallet. Police said the suspect was to be charged lastnight. He was not identified.

A third person was taken into custody about 4:30 a.m. yesterday. The man,who described himself as a former producer for a local television station, wasdressed in shorts and camouflage on a 30-degree night and his face was smearedwith syrup, police said.

The man was taken into custody for psychiatric evaluation. Police said theman voiced "a plan to end this."

At one point before the escape, as reporters pressed him on reports thatthe hostage-taking had taken an inordinate toll on the neighborhood, policespokesman Bill Toohey answered heatedly: "Let us try to remember something. Webelieve this man has killed four people and kidnapped two. He's unpredictable.He's violent. He has three captives in there now.

"Let's not lose track of what started this. This is a man we think hasmurdered four people then traveled out of state and come back. Let's rememberwhat happened the night of March 7, when he went into an apartment, draggedone woman out of there and shot two people and then a third and a fourth.

"Let's not lose sight of that."

Palczynski has been on the run since March 7, when police say he abductedTracy Whitehead. She was staying with 50-year-old Gloria Jean Shenk and herhusband, George Shenk, 49, after her most recent breakup with Palczynski.

Police said that as Palczynski dragged Whitehead from the Town & CountryBowleys Quarters Apartments, he fatally shot the Shenks and David M. Meyers, aneighbor who tried to help. Whitehead escaped the next night.

Police also allege that Palczynski shot and killed Jennifer McDonel, 37, apassing motorist, during an attempted carjacking the next night.

Palczynski then traveled, probably by train, to Virginia and stole two gunsand cash from a house, said police, who also believe he forced a man atgunpoint to drive him back to eastern Baltimore County.

After eluding a massive manhunt in the woods and marshes of easternBaltimore County, Palczynski reappeared Friday night, police said, when heshot at the Lange Street rowhouse and took the three hostages.

Yesterday, police faced criticism from angry residents who could not getpets out of homes in the restricted zone.

Police responded by removing three dogs from homes in the morning, Tooheysaid, but "at certain locations, there are people we cannot get out, and atcertain locations, there are pets we cannot get out."

Toohey verified that police shot and killed a dog in a home where policehad set up surveillance early in the standoff. He said the dog was shotbecause "it was in a threatening position."

Sun staff writers Jay Apperson, Tim Craig and Michael James contributed to this article.

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad