I-Team Report: Questions Don't Die

February 1, 2012 8:34:45 PM PST
Questions don't die at the Cook County morgue in the case of a Chicago Catholic priest who was stabbed more than 20 times. His death was ruled a suicide.

The I-Team has been told that the body of Father Waclaw Jamroz is going to be exhumed so a full autopsy can be done. The exhumation will come two and a half years after the Cook County medical examiner chose not to do a full examination.

Without a complete autopsy, questions about the priest's death have festered - questions that some experts and his family say are disturbing and unanswered.

With a popular inspirational show on Polish TV, Father Waclaw was widely known outside his Our Lady of the Snows parish near Midway Airport.

On Thursday October 8, 2009, Waclaw was planning a trip to Poland to see his family and he was scheduled to celebrate the morning Mass, then preside at a funeral.

When the usually on-time pastor didn't show up, police were called to the rectory across the street. He was found on the bathroom floor with more than 20 knife wounds in the stomach, cuts on his wrists and bruises on his body. It was described by sheriff's investigators as a "slow, very violent death."

Despite the numerous wounds and bruising, and even though there was no suicide note, the Cook County medical examiner quickly determined that Father Waclaw stabbed himself to death.

"Did the stab wounds really cause this man's death? We don't know that, because no autopsy was done. It was simply an external examination," said Dr. John Pless, forensic pathologist.

Dr. Pless has conducted 7,000 autopsies in his career, was chief forensic officer in Indianapolis for nearly 20 years and is now chairman emeritus at Indiana University Medical School.

At the I-Team's request, Dr. Pless reviewed the case of Father Waclaw.

"There are injuries on both sides. These are multiple injuries clustered together. They could represent rage, not simply on the part of the person self inflicting them but rage provided by another person so that needs to be considered," Dr. Fless said.

At the time, sheriff's investigators said it was obviously a suicide because there was no trail of blood, the priest was found in a locked bathroom and some friends reported he had been acting strangely of late.

But since 2009, citing privacy reasons, Cook County Medical Examiner Dr. Nancy Jones has refused to answer any of the I-Team's questions about the case or explain why there wasn't a complete autopsy on Father Waclaw's body.

Similarly, Dr. Jones has refused I-Team questions about the latest crisis in her office: bodies haphazardly piled in an overcrowded morgue.

Without answers in Chicago, Father Waclaw's family in Poland has remained in disbelief that it was a suicide.

"Two days before when my brother died, he told me he was worried about, I don't know what, about something [that] happened," said Jozef Jamroz, Father Waclaw's brother.

The priests body has been buried in Poland. Relatives have been working to have the remains exhumed for a private autopsy. A Polish community newspaper in Chicago that has also followed the case began collecting signatures to send to Polish authorities supporting exhumation.

"We never expected that in three weeks we got about 1,280 letters from Illinois, Chicago and from different states," said Adam Ocytko, Kurier newspaper president.

In Poland, Jamroz' relatives say the body will be exhumed early next month and a full autopsy performed - something that should have been done at the Cook County medical examiner's office, according to Dr. Pless.

"That's the main thing, because you've got at least 90 to 95 percent of the answers after you've done a complete autopsy," said Dr. Pless.

Dr. Pless says autopsies should always be performed on persons with authority such as public officials, police or church pastors. He says many jurisdictions autopsy all suicides and cases where there is trauma. It was the Cook County sheriff's department that did the police work on the case. They say the suicide finding was consistent with their investigation.

Statement From Cook County Sheriff regarding the October 2009 priest death investigation:

"After a thorough investigation this case was cleared and closed, the manner of death was determined by the Medical Examiner's Office to be a suicide, which was consistent with our investigation. After the investigation the Sheriff's Office met with Father Waclaw Jamroz's family, the Polish Consulate and the Chicago Archdiocese to review the findings.

Father's body was found in a small bathroom in his residence, he was lying (inside the bathroom) against the closed bathroom door. To gain entrance to the bathroom investigators had to take the door off its hinges. As with any scene with puncture wounds there was a large amount of blood on the floor. There were neither foot prints in the bathroom nor the room adjacent to the bathroom that would have been left by someone fleeing a bloody scene after a struggle. The rest of the residence was not disturbed in any way; not a spec of blood anywhere, nothing stolen, none of the doors/windows were broken and the doors were locked. The house was secured; there were no signs of forced entry."