Krystian Bala was a piece of work. After publishing a pornographic, sadistic piece of garbage called “Amok” he headed for Europe, determined not to be a suspect in the torture and murder of a victim pulled out of the Oder River, in the Southwest of Poland. But he didn’t bank on the persistence and skills of Jacek Wroblewski, a thirty-eight-year-old detective in the Wroclaw police department who would pursue the case until Bala was brought to justice.
Corpse in the Oder River
December 2000 – three fishermen at the Oder River saw a log floating near the shore. Upon further inspection they noticed the “log” had hair. They realized it was a dead body and called police. Finding the victim had been a long shot – the area where the fishermen were fishing was not a popular spot. Almost no one visited the area. It was as though the deceased was determined to speak from his watery grave.
The deceased was a mess. The police carefully removed the corpse of a man and found a noose around his neck and his hands were bound behind his back. Part of the rope, which appeared to have been cut with a knife, connected his hands to his neck, binding the man in a backward cradle, an excruciatingly painful position. The slightest wiggle would have caused the noose to tighten further, strangling him. Whoever had killed the poor man used every form of sadism he could channel. There was no doubt that the man had been murdered. The level of brutality against the corpse suggested that the perpetrator or perpetrators had a deep grievance against Janiszewski. The virtual absence of clothing on Janiszewski’s battered body indicated that he had been stripped in an attempt to humiliate him since there was no evidence of sexual abuse. His body was clothed in only a sweatshirt and underwear and it bore marks of torture.
A pathologist determined that the victim had virtually no food in his intestines which indicated that he had been starved for several days before he was killed. Initially, police thought that he had been strangled and then dumped in the river, but an examination of fluids in his lungs revealed signs of drowning, which meant the man was probably still alive when he was dropped into the water.
35-year-old businessman Dariusz Janiszewski, had been tall, with long dark hair and blue eyes. He had been reported missing by his wife nearly four weeks earlier. He was last been seen on November 13th, leaving the small advertising firm that he owned in downtown Wroclaw. When police summoned Janiszewski’s wife to see if she could identify the body she was too distraught to look and so Janiszewski’s mother did instead. She immediately recognized her son’s flowing hair and the birthmark on his chest. Not a pleasant way to look upon her son for the last time.
Scuba divers plunged into the frigid river, looking for evidence. Forensic specialists combed the forest. Dozens of associates were questioned, and Janiszewski’s business records were examined. Janiszewski and his wife, who had wed eight years earlier, had a brief period of trouble in their marriage but they had reconciled and were about to adopt a child. He had no debts or enemies, and no criminal record. On the day that Janiszewski disappeared a man had called his office looking for him. The caller made an urgent request. “Could you make three signs, quite big ones, and the third one as big as a billboard? I will not talk to you about this.” Investigators, upon checking phone records, discovered that the call to Janiszewski’s office had come from a phone booth down the street After six months, the investigation was dropped, because of “an inability to find the perpetrator or perpetrators,” as the prosecutor put it in his report.
In the afternoon in the fall of 2003, Jacek Wroblewski, a thirty-eight-year-old detective in the Wroclaw police department. Jacek is Jack in English and Wroblewski is sparrow. His colleagues called him Jack Sparrow, referencing the pirate Johnny Depp played in Pirates of the Carribean. He unlocked the safe in his office where he stored his files and removed a folder marked “Janiszewski.” The Janiszewski case was three years old and had been handed over to Wroblewski’s unit by the local police who had conducted the original investigation. The unsolved murder was the coldest of cold cases and Wroblewski was drawn to it.
Janiszewski told his employees he would be meeting the caller that afternoon. A receptionist in the building was the last known person to see Janiszewski alive. She stated that he left his car, a Peugeot in the parking lot which his family said was very unusual: although he often met with customers away from the office, he habitually took his car.Wroblewski thought the murder had been extremely organized and shrewd. The mastermind behind the murder must have studied Janiszewski’s business routine and knew how to lure him out of his office and possibly into a car. Although Janiszewski’s telephone number had not been used since his disappearance, Wroblewski knew that cell phones often bear a serial number from the manufacturer and his men contacted Janiszewski’s wife, who provided a receipt containing this information. To Wroblewski’s astonishment, he and his colleague soon found a match: a cell phone with the same serial number had been sold on Allegro, an Internet auction site, four days after Janiszewski disappeared. The seller had logged in as ChrisB, a thirty-year-old Polish intellectual named Krystian Bala.
It seemed inconceivable that a murderer who had orchestrated such a well-planned crime would have sold the victim’s cell phone on an Internet auction site. Bala could have obtained it from someone else or purchased it at a pawn shop or even found it on the street. Bala had since moved abroad and could not be easily reached but as Wroblewski checked into his background he discovered that he had recently published a novel called “Amok.” Wroblewski obtained a copy which had on the cover a surreal image of a goat, an ancient symbol of the Devil. Like the works of the French novelist Michel Houellebecq, the book was sadistic, pornographic, and creepy. The main character who narrated the story was a bored Polish intellectual who spent his time drinking and having sex with women. The story mirrored “Crime and Punishment,” in which Raskolnikov, convinced that he is a superior being who can deliver his own form of justice, murdered a wretched pawnbroker. “Wouldn’t thousands of good deeds make up for one tiny little crime?” Raskolnikov asks. If Raskolnikov is a Frankenstein’s monster of modernity then Chris, the protagonist of “Amok,” was a monster of postmodernity.
In 1995 Bala married his high-school sweetheart, Stanislawa, or Stasia, as he called her. Stasia dropped out of high school and worked as a secretary. Bala’s mother opposed the marriage believing Stasia was ill-suited for her son. “I thought he should at least wait until he had finished his studies,” she said. Bala insisted that he wanted to take care of Stasia and in 1997 their son Kacper was born. That year Bala graduated from the university with the highest possible marks. He left school to open his cleaning business.He was not a good businessman. Whenever money came in instead of investing it in his company he spent it. By 2000 he had filed for bankruptcy. His marriage also collapsed. “The basic problem was women,” his wife later said. “I knew that he was having an affair.”
Stasia did some stepping out of her own. She met Janiszewski at Crazy Horse. “I had ordered French fries, and I asked a man next to the bar whether the French fries were ready,” Stasia recalled. “That man was Dariusz.” They spent the entire night talking and Janiszewski gave her his phone number. They went on a date and checked into a motel but before anything happened Janiszewski admitted that he was married and she left. “Since I know what it’s like to be a wife whose husband betrays her, I didn’t want to do that to another woman,” Stasia said. When she learned that Janiszewski had disappeared, Stasia asked Bala if he had anything to do with it and of course he said no. She did not pursue the matter believing that Bala, for all his tumultuous behavior, was incapable of murder.
The years 1999 and 2000, during which time his business and his marriage collapsed and Janiszewski was murdered, had been especially troubled. A friend recalled that Bala once “started to behave vulgarly and wanted to take his clothes off and show his manliness.” The family babysitter described him as increasingly drunk and out of control. She said he constantly berated his wife, Stasia, shouting at her that “she slept around and cheated on him.” After Bala and his wife separated he remained possessive of her.“He continuously controlled Stasia, and checked her phones.” At a New Year’s Eve party in 2000 just weeks after Janiszewski’s body was found, Bala thought a bartender was making advances toward his wife and “went crazy.” Bala screamed that he would take care of the bartender and that he had “already dealt with such a guy.”
Wroblewski had one last person to question: Stasia. But she steadfastly refused to coöperate. Wroblewski and his men approached Stasia again, this time showing her sections of “Amok,” which was published after she and Bala had split up and which she had never looked at closely. According to Polish authorities, Stasia examined passages and was so disturbed by the character’s similarities to her that she finally agreed to talk. The novel did not qualify as evidence. There was only one piece of concrete evidence linking Bala to the victim and that was the cell phone. In February, 2002, the Polish television program “997,” which, like “America’s Most Wanted,” solicited the public’s help in solving crimes. It aired a segment devoted to Janiszewski’s murder. Afterward the show posted on its Web site the latest news about the progress of the investigation and asked for tips. Wroblewski and his men carefully analyzed the responses. Hundreds of people visited the Web site from places as far away as Japan, South Korea, and the United States. Yet the police didn’t turn up a single fruitful lead. They featured the case on America’s most popular crime documentary show, America’s Most Wanted but didn’t receive any viable leads.
When police arrested him, Bala wrote a statement describing his arrest on September 5, 2005 to the court:
It was approximately 2:30 P.M., after leaving a drugstore at Legnicka Street, in Chojnow, I was attacked by three men. One of them twisted my arms behind my back; another squeezed my throat so that I could not speak, and could barely breathe. Meanwhile, the third one handcuffed me. They forced[me] into a dark-green vehicle and slipped a black plastic bag over his head. I couldn’t see anything. They ordered me to lie face down on the floor.” Bala said that his assailants beat him, shouting, “You fucking prick! You motherfucker! Hi, boss! We got the shithead! Yes, he’s still alive. So now what? At the meeting point? And what about the money? Will we get it today?”
The men shoved him out of the car and into a building. “I didn’t hear a door, but because there was no wind or sun I assumed that we had entered,” The men threatened to kill him if he didn’t coöperate, then led him upstairs into a small room, where they stripped him, deprived him of food, beat him, and began to interrogate him. Only then did [I]realize that [I] was in police custody and had been brought in for questioning by a man called Jack Sparrow.
“None of it happened,” Wroblewski told the court. “We used standard procedures and followed the letter of the law.” I’m inclined to believe Wroblewski. In fact the manner in which Bala claimed to have been treated sounded exactly like what he did to poor Janiszewski. One hypothesis for the murder was that Bala had murdered Janiszewski after beginning a homosexual affair with him. Still, the theory seemed dubious. Wroblewski had thoroughly investigated Janiszewski’s background and there was no indication that he was gay. It was more likely that Bala’s own confession that he had “already dealt with such a guy,” in a jealous rage about his ex-wife was true.
Not long after Bala was released, the telecommunications expert on the Janiszewski case was able to determine the number on the caller’s card. Once the police had that information officials traced all the telephone numbers dialled with that same card. Over a three-month period thirty-two calls had been made. They included calls to Bala’s parents, his girlfriend, his friends, and a business associate. “The truth was becoming clearer and clearer,” Wroblewski said.
Spectators flooded into the courtroom in Wroclaw on February 22, 2007, the first day of Bala’s trial. Everyone’s attention was directed toward a zoolike cage near the center of the courtroom. It was almost nine feet high and twenty feet long with thick metal bars. Standing in the middle of it, wearing a suit and peering out calmly through his spectacles, was Krystian Bala. He faced up to twenty-five years in prison. Bala noted that no one had seen him kidnap Janiszewski, kill him, or dump his body. In early September, the case went to the jury. Bala never took the stand, but in a statement he said, “I do believe the court will make the right decision and absolve me of all the charges.”
The prosecution introduced files from Bala’s computer, which Wroblewski and the police had seized during a raid of his parents’ house. In one file, which had to be accessed with the password “amok,” Bala catalogued sexual encounters with more than seventy women. The prosecution also presented e-mails in which Bala sounded unmistakably like Chris, using the same vulgar or arcane words, such as “joy juices” and “Madame Melancholy.” In an angry e-mail to Stasia, Bala wrote, “Life is not only screwing, darling”, which echoed Chris’s exclamation “Fucking is not the end of the world, Mary.” A psychologist testified that “every author puts some part of his personality into his artistic creation,” and that Chris and the defendant shared “sadistic” qualities.
As the presiding judge, Judge Hojenska, read the verdict, Bala stood perfectly straight and still. Then came the one unmistakable word: “Guilty.” Bala’s statement to the court was, “I’d like to say that I never met Dariusz, and there is not a single witness who would confirm that I did so.” Bala’s father appeared in the courtroom for the first time. He read the novel and though he had trouble understanding parts of it he thought it was an important work of literature. “You can read it ten, twenty times, and each time discover something new in it,” he said. On his copy, Bala wrote an inscription to both his parents. It said, “Thank you for your . . . forgiveness of all my sins.” “
He met with an interviewer in an effort to explain himself. Bala told the interviewer I am being sentenced to prison for twenty-five years for writing a book—a book!” he said. “It is ridiculous. It is bullshit. Excuse my language, but that is what it is. Look, I wrote a novel, a crazy novel. Is the book vulgar? Yes. Is it obscene? Yes. Is it bawdy? Yes. Is it offensive? Yes. I intended it to be. This was a work of provocation.” He added, “I wrote, for instance, that it would be easier for Christ to come out of a woman’s womb than for me. I mean, for the narrator to fuck her. You see, this is supposed to offend.” When asked about the evidence against him, such as the cell phone and the calling card, he sounded evasive and, at times, conspiratorial. “The calling card is not mine,” he said. “Someone is trying to set me up. I don’t know who yet, but someone is out to destroy me. Don’t you see what they are doing? They are constructing this reality and forcing me to live inside it.” He explained that he started a new book before he was arrested, but that the police had seized his computer, which contained his only copy. He was trying to get the files back. The authorities found in the computer evidence that Bala was collecting information on Stasia’s new boyfriend, Harry.
Single, 34 years old, his mom died when he was 8,” Bala had written. “Apparently works at the railway company, probably as a train driver but I’m not sure.” Wroblewski and the authorities suspected that Harry might be Bala’s next target. After Bala had learned that Harry visited an Internet chat room, he had posted a message at the site, under an assumed name, saying, “Sorry to bother you but I’m looking for Harry. Does anyone know him from Chojnow?” Bala insisted that, no matter what happened, he would finish his second obscene novel “De Liryk.” He glanced at the guards,then leaned forward and whispered to the interviewer, “This book is going to be even more shocking.”
In 2009, Polish film producer Beata Pisula was sent an article by a friend about Mr. Bala. The friend felt his trial could make for an interesting film project. Pisula stated, “I told him I did not want to make a movie leaning towards whether he was guilty or not guilty but leaving it for the audience to decide.” Polish American screenwriter Richard Karpala came on board to write the script and Ms. Pisula began the process of getting financing for the film. Then in 2010, she read an article that Brett Ratner, a Hollywood producer and director was also planning on making a movie about Bala. He was basing his film on a 2008 investigative piece entitled “True Crime,” which ran in the New Yorker. The article also stated that Polish film director Roman Polanski would be involved in the project although Polanski never confirmed whether this was true. Perhaps the real life slaughter of Polanski’s wife Sharon Tate by Charles Manson’s Family in the 1960s was more than enough bloodshed for the director.
Pistula’s lawyer sent a letter to Ratner’s people, detailing their legal rights to make the film and though they never heard a direct response back, the project, entitled “True Crime” after the New Yorker piece, was taken off the IMDB database. Oscar winner Christoph Waltz had been cast as Wroblewski in Ratner’s film.