Today we have an amazing article submitted by Dakota Campbell, the co-producer of the podcast, This Week In Crime. The podcast is weekly true crime podcast focusing on crimes that happen this week in history. Find them on iTunes, Spotify, or anywhere else you find your podcasts. They are also on Instagram and Twitter.They cover this case on Joseph Palczynski on Episode 6.
There isn’t a string of trauma and abuse in Joseph’s past that made him a violent criminal. No, by all accounts he had a loving mother, perhaps too loving and too ready to jump to his defense, a snowplow parent removing any obstacle in her son’s path. He also seems to have a loving step father, someone he kept up with after his mother’s divorce during his adult life. His father, while not always present in his life, has never been accused of abusing him either. When Patsy, his mother, was asked why her son was so violent, she cited a head injury when he was 14.1Joseph had been in a bus accident and hit his head. His violent tendencies began just days later, when he tore up Patsy’s kitchen in a tornado of curses, yelling, and violence. It was so bad, Patsy had to call emergency personnel to come restrain her son, get him over to the hospital and find out just what was going on.
Joesph’s dad, Joseph Palczynski Sr., was not in his life much. Joseph, who went by Joe or Joby, went through his parents divorce when he was in elementary school, and is later cited as saying the older Palczynski meant little to him, if anything at all. But even his father noticed a change in Joby’s behavior around this time, saying to The Washington Post: “It started when he was 15. He’d get really angry sometimes and you never saw it coming.” This bus accident was not the only thing that Joby blamed his violence on. His sister passed away in a car accident when he was 17 and the doctors couldn’t get his medication right – he was taking lithium to treat bipolar disorder1. But violent Joby was. He attacked and assaulted 7 women in thirteen years, some little older then children: Amie, 16, Kimberley, 16, Sharon, 17, Michella, 17, Stacy, 17, and one unnamed Idaho girl, 15.2
But it was his last girlfriend, Tracy Whitehead, 22, who would really see what Joby was capable of.
She was just 20 when she met Joby, who was in late 20s at the time. She had a child, a son, and was a single mother. She knew Joby’s past but believed him when he said that was behind him. She had a past, too. She was 15 when she got pregnant with her son and it was down hill from there, dropping out of school and getting hooked on drugs.3 Joby was trying to get his life back on track it seems, and he’d help her get hers back, too, maybe even so much so that her son could come live with her again. When she was deep in the throws of addiction, she sent her son to live with his grandmother.
The whirlwind romance moved fast. They moved in together and Tracy got a job. She didn’t miss a single day at Dante’s Frozen Pizza, and Joby helped her get clean, and started taking her out to spend time with her son. He also began abusing her. Verbally at first, telling her how she was a bad mother, and a bad person and from a bad family. He accused her of making eyes at other men in the mall. She got a new, better job and began dressing nice to go to work, inciting his rage. He began physically abusing her. Tracy wasn’t one to take this treatment, and left Joby on multiple occasions but every time, he would come around again. But the last time, after two years with Joby, Tracy was done. In a fit of rage, he had admitted to cheating on her, and she made up a lie to get back at him – she was cheating too. When she returned home after this spat, he had destroyed her belongings, all her clothes, everything. It was too much for Tracy, who had just gotten a promotion and knew she deserved better. She couldn’t just up and leave – she had to be patient. And patient she was, combing rental ads and saving money, but she was scared and confided in a woman at work, Gloria Shenk. Gloria had also been in a bad relationship and had stayed for far too long, and was all too willing to help, letting Tracy stay with her and her husband.
Tracy went home to pack up anything she had that Joby hadn’t destroyed, but he was hot on her trail, showing up at her work and demanding to know where she was. He got home before Tracy could leave and was none to happy to find out she was trying to escape. He violently assaulted her, and then made her call work to tell them she wouldn’t be back. Gloria knew better than to think the two had just made up, and asked Tracy if she should call the police. Tracy said yes. Joby was led away in handcuffs, and Tracy was off to Gloria’s to start her new life. Joby wouldn’t get away from the law this time, she thought. Patsy was on scene before they even took Joby away. Joby was already on probation, she told Tracy, you file charges and he’s going to jail for sure. Just let me put you on a bus and send you far, far away. Florida? No. Tracy had built her life, her new life. She wasn’t going to let Joby scare her away.
Joby went to jail but spent less than 24 hours in there before Patsy posted his bail, 7,500 dollars. He went to go visit his mother when he got out, and ask her to buy him a gun. She refused, but one his neighbors didn’t mind doing the favor in her place. That woman would get 16 months in prison for her troubles and the ensuing violence that occurred because of it.4He was going to get his woman back and kill anyone who stood in his way. And those “anyone’s” were Gloria and George Shenk, who were letting Tracy Whitehead live with them. On March 7, 2000, Joby kidnapped Tracy and killed neighbor, David Meyers, who was only trying to help save Tracy.5He took three lives that day. He took Tracy to a motel where he held her captive, but she was able to free herself and get in touch with a police officer who happened to be there. Joby was not apprehended, though, and went on the run. He attempted to carjack a woman, firing a bullet that ricocheted into a passing car and killed a pregnant woman and injure her 2-year-old son. He eventually kidnapped a man and forced him to drive him back to Baltimore from where he had ended up. Tracy had returned to living with her parents but was put up in a hotel by Police once they realized he was coming for her. And come he did, to her parent’s house.
On March 27, 2000, Joby had one demand as he called police from inside the hostage’s house in the first minutes of their ordeal – bring him Tracy, and he wouldn’t hurt anyone. Police refused to allow them contact over the next four days, for fear that Josby would use a phone call to kill Tracy’s family – her mother, mother’s boyfriend, and little brother – on the phone while she listened. Joby held out for four days, firing his weapon in response to investigators and the family. Lynn Whitehead, Tracy’s mother, was getting frusturated after 4 days held captive in he own house. She devised a plan, drugging Joby with Xanax in his tea and putting him to sleep. She escaped first, out a window, with Andrew McCord, her boyfriend, following. Bradley, the couple’s twelve-year-old son, was left inside for fear that his exit would be too loud and wake up the drugged Joby. Police stormed the home, fearing for Bradley’s safety.
When the struggle was over, and Bradley was safe, Joby was not. He had been shot 27 times, putting an end to the years of violence that he had reigned on unsuspecting women who fell for his trap. Just like that, it was over, and Tracy and Patsy had to return to their lives, both victims of loving an abusive man.
- The Washington Post, 19 March, 2009 – “A Jekyl and Hide Personality”
- The Baltimore Sun, 2 July, 2009 – “A Tragic Trail of Violence”
- The Baltimore Sun, 3 July 2009 – “Breaking Point”
- The Associated Press, 18 January, 2001 – “Woman Who Bought Gun In Rampage Gets 16 Months In Prison”
- The Washington Post, 26 March, 2000 – “Killed For Kindness”