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Police reveal tale of terror

Sun Reporter

A day after ending a siege in a Dundalk rowhouse, police offered a graphic,sometimes chilling picture yesterday of the horrors endured by three hostagesterrorized by the man who called himself "Colonel Palczynski."

For four days, Joseph C. Palczynski was commandant of a filthy, suffocatingbastille, with the final word on whether his three prisoners would live ordie.

He tortured his captives with death threats and repelled his adversarieswith bullets.

Finally, one of the hostages spiked his iced tea Tuesday night with ananti-anxiety drug and slipped through a bedroom window, setting in motion theevents that ended a 97-hour hostage ordeal.

As authorities began to take stock yesterday of what they called "thesuccessful conclusion of a very horrible event," the hostages were reunitedwith friends and relatives. Dundalk's Berkshire community tried to return tosomething resembling normal life.

And the former captives -- with Baltimore County police, who for four dayshad refused to characterize their talks with Palczynski or publicly identifythe people he was holding -- provided a look behind the barricaded door at7520 Lange St.

In doing so, authorities revealed the foundation of their strategy. Theyrefused to let Palczynski speak with his estranged girlfriend, TracyWhitehead, out of fear that he would tell her: "I'm about to blow yourmother's brains out."

Hostage negotiators talked of a nightmare of near-constant threats from acaptor who demanded everything from ice cream to the chance to talk by phonewith Tracy Whitehead.

And they described how Tracy's mother, Lynn Whitehead, and stepfather, AndyMcCord, finally slipped away, leaving a 12-year-old boy inside with asuspected killer.

McCord said his escape was part of a plan designed to save the boy's lifeby having officers swarm the apartment while Palczynski was asleep.

"I love my son to death," he said, "and I'd never leave him behind. I wastrying to get us out of there."

The SWAT team that stormed the apartment found Palczynski stirring on thecouch with a .357 Magnum on his waist and other weapons nearby, police said.

"He was rising up with his arms extended. Within reach were three firearms.The officers shot and killed Mr. Palczynski," county police Chief Terrence B.Sheridan said.

The county's SWAT team commander said Palczynski was "neutralized" by aspray of 9mm bullets from MP5 automatic weapons. A preliminary autopsy reportshowed he died of gunshot wounds to the upper body and head, police said.

A negotiator who spent hours trying to understand the suspect's mind saidit's possible Palczynski sought exactly that outcome.

Lt. Mel Blizzard Jr., head of the county hostage negotiations team, said,"We felt all along the ultimate goal was suicide-by-cop."

Palczynski's death late Tuesday night brought to a close a drama thatfeatured an out-of-work electrician, one whose previous run-ins with the law-- many of them driven by mental illness -- had barely gained notice.

But when he stormed a Dundalk apartment and seized three hostages, theworld, and not just his east side cronies, came to know "Joby."

The events that led to his death began March 7, when Tracy Whiteheadaccused him of assaulting her. A court commissioner released him on $7,500bond; Tracy moved out of their home and in with friends.

Palczynski came looking for her.

Police said Palczynski abducted Whitehead, and fatally shot the couple shewas living with and a neighbor who tried to come to her aid. One night later,Palczynski emerged as a sort of suburban terrorist when he went on a crimespree that included the fatal shooting of a motorist in an attemptedcarjacking.

That night, Tracy Whitehead escaped from Palczynski at a Rosedale motel.But he slipped away and spent the next 10 days on the run. He went to Virginiaand back, and as authorities searched in vain for him in the woods and marshesnear Middle River and Chase, his image seemed to evolve from mad killer to oneof a cunning adversary to police.

Friday, he stormed into the Lange Street apartment, home of his estrangedgirlfriend's family.

McCord said he heard Palczynski banging on the door and called 911, butbefore police arrived, Palczynski fired as many as 50 rounds through the door.One grazed McCord's lip, he recalled.

"I let him in so he'd stop shooting," McCord recalled. He said Palczynskitold him that he'd come after Lynn Whitehead and the woman's other daughter,Laura.

"I've got nothing against you, but if you get in my way I'll kill you,too," McCord recalls Palczynski saying.

To the dismay of neighbors and relatives -- who seemed unwilling to acceptany explanation for the rowhouse being left unguarded by police -- Palczynskicommandeered the home. Much of the neighborhood was evacuated.

As police described the days inside the apartment, another picture emergedof Palczynski. Unpredictable and prone to severe mood swings, he seemed benton inflicting misery.

Authorities said that hostage Andy McCord spent much of the time tied up.The four people -- and a dog -- were confined to a small, stuffy, first-floorapartment. The apartment was not booby-trapped, but furniture was scattered asif to create an obstacle course.

During telephone conversations with Palczynski, negotiators frequentlyheard the hostages begging for their lives. Nine times, Palczynski fired outthe window, usually at a police armored personnel carrier.

The shots were designed to teach police a lesson, Baltimore County policeCapt. David Roby said yesterday, adding: "He was trying to show, in his mind,he was in charge."

James McGee, a police psychologist and hostage negotiator, said: "Hereferred to himself as Colonel Palczynski. And the colonel was issuingorders."

Negotiators spent hours trying to keep the volatile captor calm.

He could be docile at times, they said. But, McGee added, "Just like that,his rage would go off the charts."

He said he did not want to go to jail or to a mental institution. Heconstantly set deadlines, whether for the delivery of ice cream or, moreoften, for the chance to speak with Tracy Whitehead.

"Produce Tracy in 15 minutes, or I'm going to shoot someone," was onethreat.

Had he gotten his wish, McGee said, Palczynski almost certainly would havetold her: "You have caused this. You have caused me to murder those fourpeople.

"Now I want you to listen because I'm about to blow your mother's brainsout."

At another point in the negotiations, Palczynski said he was hanging up,and he told negotiators that if the phone rang, "You will hear three shots."

Negotiators enlisted the help of a devout Jehovah's Witness, 54-year-oldWilliam L. Terrell. The Virginia man was allegedly abducted by Palczynski anddrove him home to eastern Baltimore County.

Also included was Palczynski's lawyer, David Henninger, who said his rolewas to cool the suspect down when he got mad at other negotiators.

"I'd say, 'Joe, there's a way out of this,'" Henninger said yesterday. "I'dsay, 'We can get you out here to a federal court.' He'd been in a federalhospital and he liked it. The hospital was OK with him."

Palczynski told Henninger, "Dave, I don't want to go to jail for the restof my life," and "I'd rather die. Either I'm going to kill myself orsurrender, and I'm too tired to decide what to do."

While many complained that he seemed to be manipulating television newscoverage of the incident, police said yesterday that Palczynski foundtelevision "entertaining."

Negotiators agreed to Palczynski's requests for food, and gave him Frenchtoast and sausage for breakfast, burgers for lunch. But they would not give into his demand to speak to Tracy Whitehead.

McGee said they were certain that he would use the conversation as revenge,by forcing her to hear her mother's execution.

He said she agreed with their theory. "She had no intention of having anycontact with him whatsoever," he said.

But even the hostages -- perhaps afflicted with a touch of the so-called"Stockholm syndrome," in which captives feel sympathy for their captors --were urging police to let Palczynski talk to Tracy Whitehead, police saidyesterday.

"At one point they were screaming out the windows, begging us to put him intouch with Tracy. That was his primary demand," McGee said. "They would beg usto put Tracy on the phone because they believed Joby."

While police continually preached that patience was the key to ending thecrisis, by Monday hostage Lynn Whitehead apparently realized she might berunning out of time.

After Palczynski threatened again to kill her, she ground up two Xanaxtablets and put them in his drink, McCord said.

Palczynski fell asleep.

Whitehead climbed out a front bedroom window. Several minutes later, McCordfollowed, leaving his 12-year-old son, Bradley McCord, sleeping on the kitchenfloor. Minutes later, police rushed in and killed Palczynski.

Only in death was Palczynski's voice heard publicly. While holding hishostages, he'd twice called the WJZ-TV newsroom. But officials at Channel 13,wary of upsetting a delicate and potentially violent situation, decided not tobroadcast the calls until the crisis was resolved.

With the hostages' safe release, the station played a tape of Palczynskisaying he never meant to kill anyone, and complaining that police wouldn't lethim talk to his girlfriend:

"I've been begging for them to just allow me to talk to Tracy and I willsurrender peacefully. I won't kill anybody else. I won't hurt anybody else."

McGee said that during negotiations Palczynski called him vile names,threatening him and his family. Still, he said, he would like to attend thefuneral. He said he stood at the alleged killer's body.

"I didn't like him very much," McGee said, "but I prayed for his soul."

Reflecting on the fact that the hostages escaped, but Palczynski waskilled, McGee said, "In my opinion the bases were loaded, it was the bottom ofthe ninth and we hit a triple. We all wanted to hit a home run. We wanted tosave Mr. Palczynski. He didn't allow us to do that."

Yesterday, as residents of Berkshire picked through the damage caused bydays of shooting and police maneuvers, Lynn Whitehead and Andy McCord returnedto their home. She carried some belongings in a laundry basket. He carried afamily photo.

"I've been through everything," he said. "I'm happy to be alive."

Sun staff writers Lynn Anderson, Laura Barnhardt, Tim Craig, Dan Thanh Dang, Joan Jacobson, Dennis O'Brien, Kate Shatzkin, Neal Thompson and William F. Zorzi Jr. contributed to this article.

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