CHICAGO (AP) — A northern Illinois police officer whose shooting death led to a massive manhunt in September killed himself, carefully staging the scene to look like a homicide after years of stealing money from his department’s youth program, officials said Tuesday.
Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz’s death set off a large manhunt, with hundreds of officers searching houses, cabins and even boats on area lakes. Helicopters with heat-sensing scanners and K-9 units scoured the area for days. Around 50 suburban Chicago police departments and sheriff’s offices assisted, racking up more than $300,000 in overtime and other costs, according to an analysis that the Daily Herald newspaper published in early October.
The U.S. Army veteran affectionately known as “G.I. Joe,” radioed on Sept. 1 that he was chasing three suspicious men on foot. Backup officers later found his body 50 yards from his squad car.
Authorities said in October that the officer, 52, was shot with his own weapon. Authorities released only the vague description of three suspects that Gliniewicz had radioed in. They tracked down three men captured on a home security video system, but all were cleared and no one was ever arrested.
Gliniewicz was struck by two rounds, one that hit his ballistic vest with the force of a “sledgehammer” and another that pierced his upper chest, Lake County Major Crimes Task Force Commander George Filenko said earlier in the investigation.
The officer’s death also became part of the national discussion about excessive force by police and he was held up as a hero who died doing his job in a dangerous environment.
Authorities said Gliniewicz felt that auditors were close to discovering that he’d been embezzling money from a youth program he oversaw.
Lake County Major Crimes Task Force Commander George Filenko says the Village of Fox Lake was conducting an internal audit that Gliniewicz believed would lead to him.
Filenko said the investigation into the embezzlement “strongly indicates” at least two other people were involved, but he refused to provide details.
An outpouring of grief swept Fox Lake, a community of 10,000 residents located about 50 miles north of Chicago. Signs with the officer’s picture hung in storefront windows and flags flew at half-staff in honor of the 30-year police veteran.
The tattooed officer with a shaved head was described by those who knew him as tough when needed, but also as sweet and a role model to youngsters aspiring to go into law enforcement.
More than 100 investigators stayed on the case for weeks, though questions arose in mid-September, and investigators began to concede that they could not rule out suicide or an accident.
One hint came when Lake County Coroner Dr. Thomas Rudd announced that Gliniewicz was killed by a “single devastating” shot to his chest. That prompted an angry response from Filenko, who said the release of such details put “the entire case at risk.”
Gliniewicz’s family had dismissed the suggestion of suicide. His son D.J. Gliniewicz said his father “never once” thought of taking his own life, and described how his dad spoke excitedly about what he planned to do after retiring.
Gliniewicz had four children.