Breaking point

As Joseph Palcyznski neared the violent end he had predicted, two women loomed largest in his life: the one he asked to marry him and the one who gave him birth.

Tracy Whitehead was 20 when she met the man she knew as "Joby." She was older than his previous girlfriends, and their relationship would last the longest, 18 months. By the time his violent jealousy finally drove her away, Tracy had suffered his abuse but had not forgotten his generosity. Joby was the one who helped her find a better life, Joby was the one who believed in her.

And Pat Long was the one who believed in him.

Before Joby met Tracy, his mother often packed his lunch and left it in his mailbox. She helped him buy the flashy cars, Jet Skis, designer label clothes - "the finer things"- that attracted people to him. And when trouble started, as it often did, she tried her best to make things right between her son and his girlfriends.

Whoever Joseph loves, I love, she would say.

More than anyone, Pat knew her son's moods. When his yelling and belittling progressed to a slap or a punch, her instinct was to defend him. Over the years, he had been convicted three times for beating teen-age girlfriends. Pat blamed the behavior on mental illness. Joseph was "bipolar," she'd say - but something had to trigger him. A girl's half-serious kick, throwing a pillow at him - even little things could "make them kind of people snap."

Tracy knew Joby had mental problems. She knew he had gone to jail for assault. But she believed him when he said he would never hurt her.

And she believed him when he said he would never hurt her again.

When Tracy finally left him last March, Joby's pursuit of her triggered a rampage in which he killed four people and took her family hostage. His life would reach the tragic ending he had long predicted - and that his mother had spent years trying to prevent.

The day her son was arrested for beating his girlfriend, Pat Long had begged Tracy to change her story and warned police: If you charge him, you're going to read about him in the paper!

Both women knew Joe Palcyznski's temper was explosive. They knew he would do almost anything to stay out of jail. And they knew how much he hated to be alone.

But one had to leave him.

The other would never let go.

From kindness to rage

On their first date, in the summer of 1998, Joby brought Tracy home to meet his mother. His new girlfriend was 20 years old but so thin that she looked younger. Her long arms and legs made her seem taller than her 5-foot-5 frame; her brown hair fell in a cascade of gold-tinged curls. Self-conscious, nervous, Tracy could see Joby came from a prosperous household.

Pat Long's house in Chase had a swimming pool in the back yard and woods that ran down to the river. Proud of her housecleaning business, Long kept her own home immaculate. She decorated in pastel colors, collected pretty soaps and sweet-smelling candles and displayed photographs of her four grown children. Petite and blonde, "Miss Pat" was energetic and openly affectionate, a woman who believed in lots of hugs.

Tracy was starved for attention. Pregnant at 15, she had dropped out of school to care for her baby and eventually slipped into drugs. She decided her son would be better off living with his paternal grandmother while she tried to get clean.

When Joby came into her life, she was still fighting her addiction to heroin. Needing cash, she went into the Super Fresh in Middle River one day in July. As she asked the cashier where she could get a refund for medicine she was returning, she noticed a customer watching her. Later, when she waited outside for a cab to take her to Dundalk to buy drugs, the man cruised up in his sports car. He teased her for interrupting him at the register. They chatted; he got her phone number.

Then he began calling every day.

Joby was tan, good-looking, had a Mazda RX7 sports car, Jet Skis and a good job as an electrician's helper. He was so clean-cut he didn't even smoke cigarettes. He took her on picnics, sang ballads to her at karaoke bars and accompanied her to Narcotics Anonymous meetings. He drove her wherever she needed to go; with no money to buy a car, Tracy had never gotten her driver's license.

She knew he'd been in jail, but she certainly didn't hold it against him - not with the struggles she'd had.

And Joby seemed as determined as she was to get her life on track. He had never loved anyone as much, he told her. Soon, they were sharing an apartment. With his encouragement, Tracy didn't miss a day of work at Dante's Frozen Pizza for a whole year.

She had no doubt she was stepping up in the world.

When things were good, they were very good: Tracy gained weight, saved money from her job to shower her family with Christmas gifts. Before long, she'd been drug-free for six months, then a year. Joby took her on outings with her 5-year-old son, praised her spaghetti sauce, played bingo with her at North Point Flea Market. He gave her a ring and bought her a necklace with "No. 1 Mom" on it for their first Christmas.

Months later, in a fit of anger, he would rip the necklace from her neck. Tracy had discovered that along with Joby's kindness came jealousy and rage.

Sometimes without warning, he would put down her family, taunt her about her past. She learned never, ever, to tell him of even the slightest compliment from a man. He would accuse her of egging men on - even a friendly stranger who said she reminded him of his daughter. When she walked through the mall with Joby, it was easier to stare at the ground than to hear him complain that she was looking at other men.

As she continued to turn her life around, gaining confidence and starting a new job as a cashier at a discount store, Joby grew more insecure. If she fixed her hair a new way or wore a nice outfit to work, he was suspicious: Who are you trying to impress?

Sometimes he would spit on her, douse her with soda. A lie earned her a black eye and a split lip. And once, soon after they'd met, when she had slipped back into drugs, he knocked her unconscious. A few times, he threatened that if she left him he would kill her family and leave her alive to suffer.

Early on, a counselor told her the relationship didn't sound healthy, that she should get out of it. And Tracy did leave - five, maybe six times. But Joby always found her, promised to reform and pleaded with her to come back. She did: She had no better place to go, and Joby was different from anyone she'd ever met.

"He built my self-esteem up a lot and he made me feel good about myself and he cleaned and cooked and he was just like the kind of guy you could spend the rest of your life with," she says. "If only he didn't have those moods."

Part of the problem, she learned, was Joby's concern about his appearance. Accustomed to telling people he was younger than he was - most of his previous girlfriends were in high school when he dated them - Joby's lies were becoming less believeable as he aged. He had told Tracy he was 25 a few months before he turned 30. He talked about getting cosmetic surgery for the wrinkles under his eyes. And last year he had refused to attend his own birthday party when, even with the help of hair plugs, he couldn't cover his bald spot.

Tracy had seen the photographs Joby kept of previous girlfriends, knew many of them by name. She also learned she wasn't the only woman he had picked up at the supermarket. When one such woman called, saying he'd given her his number, Tracy left. Joby cried, begged her to return, swore he hadn't done anything wrong. After that, though, she checked receipts in his pockets, questioned him if he went to the supermarket at odd hours.

One night last February, during an argument, Joby told her he had cheated on her. She stormed out of their apartment, after declaring that she, too, had cheated on him. Later she called from a bar to taunt him with another story she'd made up: She'd met this guy, someone who also loved kids, who had a good job and three cars and was much younger than Joby.

When she finally returned home that night, she found her shirts, dresses, underwear slashed to bits all over the apartment. Joby had even cut up her tennis shoes.

She decided to leave - for good.

Tracy had just been promoted to assistant manager at work. She had also been drug-free for a year and a half - an achievement Joby was always taking credit for. Finally, she could afford to live on her own. Just as Joby feared, she had built up her confidence - and outgrown their abusive relationship.

For the next three weeks Tracy saved her paychecks and combed rental notices until she found an apartment she could afford. When she realized the place would not be ready for a week, she confided to her manager at work, Gloria Shenk, that she worried Joby would flip if he discovered she was leaving.

Shenk was also concerned. She had remained in a bad relationship too long, she told Tracy, and didn't want her to make the same mistake. Why don't you stay with me this week? the 50-year-old woman advised. Tracy walked home to pack while Joby was at work. That, she recalls, was when the nightmare began.

She was in the apartment only a short while when the phone rang: It was the store, calling to alert her that Joby was looking for her. She could hear his voice in the background. He was right around the corner, a minute away.

Grabbing two bags, leaving the door open, she hid underneath the front steps. A split second later, as she crouched there, shaking, he came toward the steps screaming her name: Tracy, Tracy!

Where are you going? he demanded as he found her cowering.

Got my own place.

Where at?

Tracy didn't want to tell him, and quickly changed her story. She was staying with Gloria, she said.

Get in the car, he ordered. We'll go ask Gloria if it's true. She rode in the back, her hand on the door handle, prepared to jump out when the car slowed. Joby stopped in front of his mother's house in suburban Chase.

Sometimes when there was trouble, Joby asked his mother to "referee." Over the past few months she had suggested that Joby and Tracy let a therapist help them work through their problems. This time, however, she wasn't there to assist. Joby dragged Tracy inside by her long hair.

Locking the doors, he hit her in the face, kicked her in the ribs, and beat her, screaming: You're not going nowhere! He told her to call work and say she wouldn't be back that day.

On the other end of the phone, Gloria Shenk wasn't fooled: Are you OK?


Want me to call the police?


When the officers arrived, Tracy ran outside.

He's going to kill me!

She was in the back of a police car giving her statement when Joby's mother drove up. Miss Pat asked to speak to Tracy privately. Joby was already on probation for beating an earlier girlfriend. New assault charges would violate the terms of Joby's probation, possibly sending him back to jail.

Why don't you just forget him? Long pleaded. I'll put you ... on the bus and you can go to Florida and relive your life. ... Just don't charge him because he's got 10 years over his head.

Tracy refused, and Joby was arrested. But a day later, he was out on $7,500 bail, thanks to his mother. Pat Long came to see Tracy again.

During the past two years, the women had developed a close and complicated relationship. Miss Pat was the sweetest woman Tracy had ever met, routinely dropping by their apartment with food and supplies. When Tracy had turned 21, Miss Pat threw her a party. They shared the kinship of women who love an abusive man; Pat often argued with Joby on Tracy's behalf - and Tracy looked up to her as a kind of role model.

Now, Miss Pat was desperate. Joseph isn't doing real well, she said.

It had taken courage for Tracy to come this far - and now she would only go forward. She refused again to change her story.

I have no sympathy for him at all, she told Miss Pat.

A protective mother

Her son was facing serious time in jail, and this time Pat Long didn't know how to help.

Of all the women in Joe Palczynski's life, none had struggled harder to give him a future. Over the years, the 56-year-old woman wrote judges begging for leniency. She pleaded with prison wardens. She asked the girls Joe abused - and their parents - not to file charges, not to set his life back one more time.

Long knew what it was to come from behind. After becoming pregnant in high school, she dropped out to marry Joseph Palczynski Sr., a construction worker. They had two daughters and two sons. When Joseph, their third child, was 5, Long left her husband. She eventually married again: John Long was a budget analyst with Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.

One of the marriage's first challenges was finding the right school for Joseph. He failed early grades at several schools before the Longs found a special education program that would work for a child later diagnosed as having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. But his behavior continued to get him into trouble.

When he was 15, Joseph was charged with stealing a friend's gun. Then, in 1985, after his older sister Karen died in a car accident, the 16-year-old fell into a depression and spent most of the summer being treated in the Walter P. Carter Center psychiatric hospital. He had threatened to kill both his stepfather and his biological father, according to mental health reports.

By then, he had also acquired the habit of telling people he was "going to die by the bullet."

His grieving mother knew she had her hands full with Joseph - she never used his nickname "Joby" - and would do anything not to lose another child. Determined to show her son there were plenty of reasons to live, she helped him buy cars, motorcycles and Jet Skis, made sure he had cash. She drove girls from the neighborhood to visit him when he was in jail, brought him a book on electronics so he could learn a skill. She even set aside money to help him when he was released.

But she also criticized the way he treated women.

Pat Long says she grew up in a home where her father beat her mother. She says she was the victim of abuse herself. That kind of damage you can't repair, she told her son.

If you touch her, you might as well leave her, she remembers saying.

But she spit at me, Mom!

So? You're a man. Walk away.

So why don't they walk away?

She knew her son's violent outbursts firsthand. Once, when she washed his jeans and forgot to remove a special black address book from the pocket, he threw a heavy statue of a seahorse past her and hit the living room wall.

"He said, 'I ought to set the house on fire while I'm at it.' I didn't know what to do. He said 'Don't you call anybody, don't you dare.' ... After it was all over, he goes, 'I would never hurt you, don't you know that?'$"

Long says her son was a fun-loving guy. "But at times he got angry. You know why? I carried him angry," she says, referring to her pregnancy during her troubled marriage. "I knew that went into Joseph. It was hate. Hate. I had hate inside me."

Long considered her son's anger uncontrollable, a result of mental illness or perhaps the head injury he received in a minor school bus accident at age 14. Although never condoning his behavior, she believed the girls he dated, girls who said they loved him, should have known better than to provoke his rage.

Joseph treated his girlfriends well, was kind and generous to their children, helped them overcome their problems, she says. But he also chose to date girls who were young - girls who were compassionate enough, or naive enough, or down and out enough not to judge him by his past. The more they blossomed, the more jealous and possessive he became.

"Joseph always thought he could help the poor [ones]," Long says. "He had to relate to that poor stuff, those nothing girls, because he wanted to feel special. ... Tracy had nothing until she met Joseph. He made her into someone new, into a nice young lady. He didn't want someone else to have Tracy."

Long once saw him hit the young woman, but she felt there was little she could do except urge her son to get medication and keep her own lines of communication open.

When Joseph punched a hole in her living room wall last year, Long blamed herself. She apologized for making him snap at a time when he was grieving the death of his stepfather, John Long. In 1997, after surviving surgery and treatment for melanoma, Pat Long had decided to leave her husband. She filed for divorce. Last December, he killed himself.

Now, less than three months later, her son was facing new charges. Long dreaded the likelihood that he would return to jail, a place where he said he had been sexually assaulted. She was certain he would do almost anything not to go back. It was impossible not to feel despair.

On March 6, when Joseph dropped by, Pat told him how she felt.

She said she felt like dying.

He asked if she wanted to buy a gun. Together, he said, they could "join John and Karen." Long refused to kill herself. But her son felt otherwise.

I'm going to die, he told her. I can't live no more. I'm going to have to die.

Later that day, Joby persuaded one of his mother's neighbors to buy him a 12-gauge shotgun and a .22-caliber rifle. He needed them, he told her, for target practice.

The rampage begins

On March 7, Tracy Whitehead had completed her first day as an assistant store manager at D. E. Jones and paid a visit to the tanning salon. She was walking back to Gloria Shenk's apartment in Bowley's Quarters when a car pulled up beside her. It was Joby in his mother's Plymouth Voyager.

Tracy, I love you. Please, can we talk? Joby said.

I'm through with you, she replied. Leave me alone.

Tracy knew Joby was furious she had gotten him locked up. But when she'd left before, he had never followed through on threats to harm her or her family. As long as they weren't alone together, she wasn't afraid of him.

Less than two hours later, Tracy was watching "Walker, Texas Ranger" with Gloria and George Shenk when Joby, armed with two guns, entered through the unlocked sliding glass door.

Tracy, you are coming with me!

Stunned, Tracy froze, then dropped to the ground. She was looking down when Joby shot Gloria. She didn't see him shoot George, either. But the screams of two children visiting the couple filled her head as she crawled toward the door.

Don't touch the doorknob! he yelled.

Joby dragged her barefoot, by the hair, into the cold night, where her screams attracted a neighbor. When David Meyers tried to stop Joby, he was shot , too. Oh, my God! she heard the man say before Joby shoved her into his mother's van and drove off.

He ordered her to put on combat boots and a black jacket and cap. Then he parked the van and took her into the woods, where he punched her in the nose and told her to lie on the ground. He held a gun to the back of her head.

I should kill you right now.

Tracy begged Joby to let her live long enough to tell her son she loved him. Instead, he began to describe the tortures he planned: He would blow away her arms and legs and leave her to live in a wheelchair. He would pull out her teeth, one by one.

Please kill me. Please just kill me, she pleaded.

He told her to get up, then hit her in the chest with the rifle. Hands over her head, gasping for air, Tracy walked on through the mud and brush.

Are you going to kill me?

Hurry up!

Finally they stumbled upon a vacant camper. Shaking, freezing and thirsty, Tracy collapsed inside on a blue blanket. Joby pulled down her pants.

At daylight, when he woke her, his anger was gone. He fashioned a bed under a tree with the blanket.

Come on, let's pray, Tracy told him. Ask God to forgive you for what you've done.

Joby told her he loved her so much because she was down-to-earth, the kind of girl he didn't have to impress. He said he always did want to marry her, though he had never really come out and asked.

Now, on that blanket, under the tree, it was time. He had brought the wedding band that matched the ring he had given her.

"He put the ring on my finger," Tracy recalls. "He said he knew it wasn't good timing, and it ain't never going to happen, but he wanted to ask me anyway, and I said yes, that I would, and I cried ..."

Then he took off his necklace with the golden baby ring that had been intended for their first child and put it around her neck. And he asked Tracy to tell his mom that he loved her.

On the blanket they had sex again. Numb, certain he would soon kill her, Tracy prayed silently, over and over: Please, God, I'm not ready to go. Please, God, spare my life.

Joby said he was afraid to go back to jail. He would rather be dead.

You wouldn't have gotten much time and I would've visited you, Tracy told him. But now you done killed three people - and it's over.

No. You would've married somebody else and gone on with your life.

At nightfall, Tracy convinced Joby to leave the woods to find food. They were drinking from a hose behind a house in Chase when the owner drove up. After Joby pulled out his gun, the man ran to the street and began waving down cars for help.

Joby pushed Tracy into the homeowner's car. Later, he ditched it and stole another. They stopped at a drive-through window at a McDonald's, then went to the El-Rich Motel on Pulaski Highway.

The clerk didn't recognize Joby when he paid $40 for the room. It was just after 11 p.m. when they turned on the television. On the news were pictures of the people he had killed. Tracy put down her head and cried. Joby smiled, then grew fearful: We've got to get out of here!

The guns were in the car. As they walked toward it, Joby stopped abruptly: A police cruiser was in the parking lot.

No, Tracy! he cried as she ran toward the police car. Then he bolted in the opposite direction.

'You can do this'

Pat Long was beside herself. Police and FBI agents were everywhere, looking for her son. Where was he?

Long didn't like to think of him out in the woods by himself; she knew how much he hated to be alone. She couldn't fathom the pain and destruction her child had caused in his murderous rampage. She could, however, imagine the degree of his desperation. And she shivered at the thought of what he might do next.

She went on television to beg her son to surrender: "When you hurt people, you hurt me. You can't do this to me anymore!" She also left a message on her answering machine:

"Joseph, this is Mom. Please don't do anything wrong anymore, please. I don't want you killed. I don't want to see you die, and I know you said you'd kill yourself before you'd get back. ... Turn yourself in. Please, Joseph, please."

Hundreds of law enforcement officers with bloodhounds and a robot searched woods and storm drains in what would become Baltimore County's most extensive manhunt. Police advisers were trying to predict Palczynski's next move, and citizens flooded a special hotline with sightings of the fugitive. People were buying baseball bats and extra ammunition for their guns. Some parents kept their children home from area schools. The search was making national and international news. And the longer it went on, the more it acquired the mythic sheen of the hunt for Eric Rudolph, the anti-abortion bombing suspect who since 1998 had eluded capture with his survivalist skills.

But those who knew Joby knew better. Despite his public persona as a rugged guy, Palczynski's camping experience was basically confined to sleeping in a tent in the woods on his mother's property. He was less likely to hide in the great outdoors than in the bushes of suburban ranchers. He knew how to track people, how to accost them unexpectedly.

With Palczynski on the loose, police offered protection to several families who worried he might come after them. Among them was Gary Osborne. In 1996, Palczynski was convicted of beating Osborne's daughter, Michella, but only after months of harassing her father. Trying to force the Osbornes to drop their charges, he had persuaded friends to file false reports resulting in Gary Osborne's arrest.

Now Michella's father predicted what Palczynski might do next: When Joby can't get the girl he wants, he told police, he goes after the parents.

Waiting for the end

For nine days after Tracy escaped, Palczynski eluded police.

At first, the young woman went with her family to stay at her aunt's home in East Baltimore. She checked and double-checked the doors to make sure they were locked. Crying in her sleep, she would be awakened by her mother and momentarily imagine Joby was in the room.

Three days after her escape, on March 11, she learned Joby had stolen guns in Virginia and forced a man to drive him back to Baltimore. Police asked her to write Joby a letter, an appeal they would make public.

"You told me you never loved anyone like you love me," she wrote. "If you really love me, show me by turning yourself in."

Police placed Tracy under 24-hour guard at the Holiday Inn in Timonium. There was little to occupy the time except to watch the constant television coverage of the search.

Each time Tracy saw the televised faces of Gloria and George Shenk, she cried. They had been like parents to her. They had offered her refuge in their home, encouraged and applauded her for taking action, for leaving Joby and that abusive relationship behind. Tracy sent a card to the funeral home for their services. It was she who should have died, she told the officers protecting her, not them.

Suddenly one day, police told her they were cutting off her contact with the outside world: No more TV or radio, no more phone calls to family and friends. The replaying of events, they said, was upsetting her. She would be better off this way.

Two more days passed before Tracy was awakened at 3 a.m. by a phone call from the FBI. The agents quizzed her about the health of her mother, her mother's boyfriend and her young stepbrother.

"What's wrong?" she cried. They wouldn't say.

The next morning, two counselors came to tell her Palczynski had taken her family hostage.

On Friday evening, March 17, he had stormed the house on Lange Street where Tracy's mother lived with her boyfriend and his son. Immediately, Joby had reached police on the phone.

"Give me Tracy, I'll give you the hostages," he ordered. "If you don't have her here in 25 minutes, they'll die."

Later, he demanded Tracy be brought to the phone. But police would not allow it. They feared he would torture Tracy by using the occasion to kill her mother.

For four days, the hostages contended with Palczynski's threats and suffered his mood swings. Negotiators tried to soothe him, flattering him by marveling at his skills as an outdoorsman and meeting his requests for food.

When he asked for pizza, not just any pizza would do. It had to come from his favorite place on Eastern Avenue. The more Palczynski felt in control, negotiators advised, the less volatile he was.

At the Holiday Inn, Tracy cried and slept. She played Yahtzee with an officer to keep her mind off the uncertainty of what was happening. And she waited.

In the end, the hostages plotted their own escape. Tracy's mother, Lynn Whitehead, spiked Palczynski's iced tea with crushed tablets of Xanax, an anti-anxiety drug. When he fell asleep, she and her boyfriend, Andy McCord, escaped through a window, leaving his 12-year-old son Bradley behind. A SWAT team burst in and shot Palczynski while other officers rescued the boy.

Late on the night of March 21, an officer interrupted Tracy's Yahtzee game with the news: Her family was safe.

And Joby?

Joby was dead.

Relief and regrets

When the bulletin flashed across her television screen, 28-year-old Amie Gearhart couldn't stop reading it: Joseph Palczynski is dead. Joseph Palczynski is dead. Joseph Palczynski is dead.

Perhaps now the memories of the beating he had given her 13 years ago would fade. Perhaps now his ghost would vanish.

Gearhart could finally post her whereabouts on a Web site that helps people find their high school classmates. While Joby was alive, she had feared he would see her name and seek revenge; her charges had sent him to jail for the first time.

Gary Osborne, the 47-year-old man whose determination had put Joby in jail the second time, felt nothing but relief.

There were other victims, too. When she heard Joby was on the loose, 21-year-old Lisa Andersen had asked her mother if she could sleep in the same bed with her. At 17, she had followed Joby's orders and filed false charges against Osborne, a man she had never met, because she was terrified of what Joby would do to her and her family if she didn't.

Stacy Culotta had also suffered consequences from dating Joby. During their brief relationship, the 17-year-old girl was stalked, threatened and harassed by her boyfriend and his friends. As Stacy and her parents watched the final chapters of Joby's story unfold, they couldn't help but feel for Tracy Whitehead. Why couldn't this man have been stopped long ago? Why had this young woman endured such a nightmare? Why were four other victims forced to pay the final price for Joby's unchecked violence?

These questions continue to haunt lawyer Stephen E. Bailey, assistant state's attorney of Baltimore County, chief of the family violence unit and the last attorney to prosecute Palczynski.

"The scary thing about Joseph Palczynski is that the system worked fairly well," he says. "He was prosecuted on a number of occasions. He went to prison. He went to mental health facilities. ... He was placed on probation and ordered to stay away from people and he did comply with it. He was ordered into treatment which he complied with."

In 1996, Bailey represented Michella Osborne in her battery case before Judge John G. Turnbull II. In that case, Palczynski pleaded guilty and received a suspended sentence of 10 years. Bailey was also able to show that Palczynski had engineered a campaign of witness intimidation against his former girlfriend and her father, winning another conviction with a suspended sentence.

"Would I have liked to walk in and say, 'I want 10 years?' I would have loved to," Bailey says. "Joseph Palcyznski deserved 10 years back then."

But had he taken the case to trial, he fears he would have lost. As in many domestic violence cases, there were no 911 calls, no witnesses to the abuse of Michella. And in the witness-intimidation case, the woman who informed against Palczynski would have made a weak witness because she herself was guilty of perjury.

The prosecutor didn't want to risk having Palcyznski acquitted. At least his guilty pleas might force him to leave the Osbornes alone. And at best, he figured the convictions would send Palczynski back to jail for violating his probation on an earlier charge.

And they did: He served 20 months of a three-year sentence.

Palczynski's attorney, David Henninger, says his client was merely one of many men who have "difficulties in relationships with women." And whenever the man appeared in court, Henninger says, there were always several girls eager to testify that he was the nicest guy in the world.

Over the years, Henninger argued repeatedly that mental illness caused his client's violent behavior. Palczynski was treated by many mental health professionals who gave him diagnoses ranging from paranoid schizophrenia to personality disorder. Some believed he needed medication, others didn't. No one therapist treated him repeatedly over time. Mark Komrad, senior psychiatrist at Sheppard Pratt, calls this confusion typical of the public mental health system, which sends patients "in and out [of health care] from one provider to another," making accurate clinical diagnoses elusive.

In the end, it appears no one could have foretold the rampage on the basis of Palczynski's mental health - or criminal - records. But for a dozen years, young women and their families warned that he would kill someone.

"We're not going to be able to stop people like Joe Palczynski in the sense that we're going to be able to predict who they are and prevent them from doing something like this," Bailey says. "We obviously hope he is the exception in that he did not respond to jail, to probation, to counseling - to all those things."

A survivor's resolve

Tracy Whitehead is working hard, learning how to drive, determined to keep her life moving forward. September will mark her second anniversary off drugs, she says.

She continues to wear the necklace Joby gave her in the woods as well as the ring - but not the wedding band.

No man will ever mistreat her again, she vows.

When she cleaned out the apartment she and Joby had shared, she took the karaoke machine and the camcorder. Her son wanted the Michael Myers "Halloween" mask and a photo of Joby posing behind a cut-out of a soldier shooting a bazooka. She left behind Joby's prized collection of porcelain wizards and dragons and a family picture with the note: I love u Miss Pat.

Pat Long has struggled with her grief, her guilt about the lives her son took and her memories of his bullet-ridden body. But there have also been moments of comfort when she has sensed her son's presence, such as the time Joseph's birth date turned up as the winning lottery numbers.

On a recent day, Tracy dropped by Pat's house unexpectedly. Before Joby died, she had seen Miss Pat almost constantly for two years. She'd been thinking about her a lot, wondering how she was doing.

Pat had been worried, too, hoping the trauma of all this wouldn't send Tracy back to drugs. They were both going through hell - and she didn't blame Tracy for it. Joseph knew his time was coming, Pat told her.

The young woman gave Miss Pat her new phone number. Pat showed Tracy her son's death certificate and his last letter, written March 17 in the house where he hid before seizing his hostages on Lange Street:

Dear Mom:

It's 3:15 p.m. and I just broke into another person's house. I've got a .357 Magnum and a Ruger 10-22 and a few other guns (I'm sure you don't want to hear that Mom). Please don't be upset with me considering I made the choice, yeah, I had sooo much to look forward to - I know. I've been sleeping in the woods and it's been cold - especially when it rained and I was all wet. Mom, I didn't mean to shoot Gloria and George, if only they kept sitting down I wouldn't have shot them. I feel bad for these family's. The other guy surprised me and out of reaction I shot him ...

Mom, when Dad killed himself, something inside me changed. Then when Tracy left - that's all it took. Well I'm sure someone will write a book, make a movie about me. Mom, please tell the family I'm sorry about this mess. I really am (underlined).

I know living without me in your life will be difficult but try to live it ... I don't mean to hurt you. Please forgive me . . . . I know a lot of people who love me are disappointed. I'm sorry. Well, I love all of you.

Love, Joseph 007

The two women stood there together with the letter. When one began crying, so did the other. Then Pat Long hugged Tracy Whitehead so hard she could feel both their hearts beating.