He scurried beneath the pines to hide from the police chopper and its infrared eye. He climbed a tree to evade the bloodhounds.
Once, he draped his camouflaged body with twigs and leaves, lying
motionless as an all-terrain search vehicle nearly ran him over. Another time,
he all but laughed at how easy it would have been to gun down a line of
sitting-duck police officers.
These were a fugitive's tales, an account of Joseph C. Palczynski's 10
days on the lam. They were the experiences claimed by a wanted man who seemed
both lucky and cunning.
"He took a lot of pride in the fact that he could stay one step ahead of
the police," said David P. Henninger, a lawyer who talked with Palczynski
frequently during a four-day hostage standoff that ended Tuesday with a police
raid and Palczynski's death.
Sometimes, calming Palczynski meant stroking his ego.
"I'd say, `Joe, you're like Swamp Fox,' " Henninger said, referring to
Francis Marion, the Revolutionary War guerrilla who fought in the South
Carolina wilderness. "You're like Robin Hood -- they couldn't find you in the
"He'd turn around and tell the hostages, `My lawyer says I'm like Swamp
In eluding capture for two weeks, Palczynski combined his rudimentary
knowledge of most things paramilitary with a knack for exploiting good fortune
and his pursuers' near misses.
Early in the rampage, police swarmed around a Rosedale motel and rescued
Palczynski's estranged girlfriend, Tracy Whitehead, who had been taken
captive. As viewers watched on live television, police seemed about to capture
Palczynski. Before they saw him again, he'd gone to Virginia and come back
equipped to live in the woods.
The man he allegedly abducted in Virginia turned out to be a devout
Jehovah's Witness who'd recently read an article on cooperating with
kidnappers. When Palczynski sent the man into a busy store in White Marsh to
buy a television, the man dutifully returned to the parking lot -- without
At one point during the search in the eastern Baltimore County community of
Chase, a SWAT team came within minutes of trapping Palczynski in a trailer.
"Somehow he was able to elude us for a long period of time," said Lt. Kevin
B. Novak, a county police spokesman. "Whether it was skill, luck or a
combination of both, that we will never know."
Palczynski showed an ability to slip free from constraints long before his
face became a fixture on television news programs. For years he bounced in and
out of mental hospitals and jails, charged with illegally possessing a gun and
with beating his young girlfriends. He survived a police raid with tear gas
after a 14-hour standoff in Idaho.
Always, he returned to the familiarity of the county's east side.
In 1996, a Baltimore County judge finally declared: "This man is dangerous.
He is out there hurting people. I can't believe that any human being can make
so many mistakes and be given so many chances and not appreciate it, and I do
not feel, from what I hear, that the mental state is anywhere near as much an
excuse as he tries to use it for a crutch."
The judge, John F. Fader II, sentenced Palczynski to three years in prison
for violating probation by being convicted of battery.
After serving his sentence, Palczynski returned to Bowleys Quarters. But he
soon found himself in police handcuffs again -- just days before his alleged
Charged with assaulting Whitehead, he was released on $7,500 bail. A judge
later defended the bail set in the case, but some criticized the decision.
"This wasn't a hard case. There are many cases where it's difficult to
predict something horrible and tragic will happen in the future, but this
isn't one of them," said Lisae Jordan, chief of litigation for the House of
Ruth, a program for battered women. "His behavior was absolutely consistent
with a perpetrator of domestic violence."