Originally published on 11/17/12.
October 30, 2012. As Tuesday evening wore down, Elzbieta M. Plackowska, 40, told her seven-year-old son Justin and the little girl she was babysitting, five-year-old Olivia Dworakowski, that it was time to get ready for bed. It’s still not clear what happened next. Maybe they didn’t listen, and she over-reacted; or she was convinced that they were in the power of demons, and she had to free them; or she was depressed by her husband’s long absences and her dead-end job and her father’s death, and she snapped. These are among the explanations Plackowska gave police in a case that’s yet to be unraveled.
Whatever her motivation, hours later police would find this Naperville, Illinois, apartment awash in blood, the two children dead of dozens of stab wounds. They immediately arrested Plackowska and charged her as the sole suspect.
An Ordinary Day Takes a Violent Turn
As she often did, Elzbieta Plackowska was babysitting Olivia Dworakowski at the Olive Tree Apartments in Naperville, a prosperous city just west of Chicago. Elzbieta and husband Artur Plackowska lived in the complex on the 800 block of Quin Court, near Bailey and Washington, with their son, Justin; their college-aged son lived nearby.
Justin and Olivia were separate by a two-year age gap and went to different schools — Justin was in the third grade at Scott School in District 203, and Olivia had just started kindergarten at Brookdale Elementary in District 204 — where she’d gotten lost on her first day and charmed the police officers who’d found her — but they enjoyed playing together and they shared a Tae Kwon Do class. When Elzbieta wasn’t working as a house cleaner, she’d often watch Olivia while her mother, Marta Dworakowski, was working the evening shift as a nurse at a dialysis lab.
Early in the day, Elzbieta took the kids with her when she went to confession at Naperville’s Saint Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church. In the privacy of the confession, did she drop any hint of the turmoil that would overtake her?
She might have argued with her husband that afternoon. She’d moved to the United States from Poland on a tourist visa 12 years ago and stayed, but now she wanted to return to her homeland. Elzbieta was disappointed by her job cleaning houses, and dismayed that her husband, a long-haul truck driver, was so often away from home. Her father had recently died, leaving her feeling more alone and more disconnected from the land of her birth. Artur didn’t want to return to Poland, and this had been upsetting his wife. He’d recall later that Elzbieta told him that she loved him that day. Neighbors later reported that the couple argued sometimes — but that their relationship didn’t seem abusive, and that Elzbieta had a warm, close relationship with young Justin.
After some television time, Elzbieta told Justin and Olivia to get ready for bed. The kids went into the master bedroom, but they kept playing, horsing around and jumping on the bed.
Police say that when Elzbieta entered the bedroom, she told the children to kneel and to pray. She promised Justin and Olivia that they would go to heaven that night.
Authorities allege that Elzbieta then stabbed her son 100 or so times, even as he told her that he loved her. Olivia begged her to stop, but Elzbieta allegedly stabbed the little witness about 50 times too. When police arrived hours later, they found the children’s bodies covered in stab wounds, and their throats slit; the family’s two small dogs had also been stabbed to death.
A Trip to Church, and Another Confession
Authorities report that Elzbieta Plackowska fled the scene and drove to Saint Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church. But the church was locked and no one was there. Elzbieta left several messages on the church’s voicemail, saying that she’d done “something bad” and needed help. Then she apparently threw her cell phone out the window of her SUV.
She next drove to her 20-year-old son’s home on Violet Circle, and found him at a neighbor’s place. The young man called the police, reporting that his mother was covered in blood and that she said she’d been robbed.
Police already knew about the dead children; now they had either a witness or a potential suspect.
At 10:30 that night, Marta Dworakowski had finished her shift and returned to Quin Court to pick up her daughter. The place was locked and no one answered when she knocked. The Plackowska family’s SUV was gone too. Panicked, Dworakowski called the police, who discovered the children’s lifeless, mutilated bodies. Justin was in a pool of blood on the floor, near the two dead dogs; Olivia was on the blood-soaked bed.
Police chief Bob Marshall said it was the most horrifying crime scene he’d seen in his 30 years as a cop.
Cops on the scene found a knife in the bathroom sink; the blade was bent by the force of the attack. Once they caught up with Elzbieta, they confiscated another knife they found in her SUV.
When authorities interviewed Elzbieta, she was still covered in blood. First she told them that a burglar broke in and attacked the children. Then she modified this with some details: a “stalker” had sneaked in when she was outside on her apartment’s balcony, smoking a cigarette. Next came a stranger explanation: She had killed the children to save their souls, because she’d heard demonic voices and was convinced that evil had taken over their bodies and only death could release them. Then she backed up to a more prosaic complaint, saying that the children had been disobeying her. Finally came the explanation that, for now, authorities and the press seem to be taking as the most likely one: She was trying to hurt her husband, Artur, just as she said he was hurting her.
Which defense will the trial take? Is this the story of a highly religious woman who killed in a fit of madness? Or of an unhappy wife and mother pushed to the brink?
Prosecuting That Mother
Elzbieta M. Plackowska has been charged with 2 counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of her son and the girl she was babysitting.
Judge John Kinsella denied bail at her November 1, 2012 hearing. She’s in jail awaiting trial — and she’s on suicide watch.
Her attorney, Senior Assistant Public Defender Mike Mara, has requested a substitute for Judge Kinsella, and has specifically requested that Judge George Bakalis not be assigned. Mara did not explain his request (nor is he required to), but both judges have dealt with child-murder cases in the past. Bakalis presided over the trial of Naperville’s Marilyn Lemak. She’d claimed an insanity defense, but Lemak was found guilty of drugging and smothering her three children in 1999.
The case will go to DuPage County Judge Robert Kleeman. Mara has also requested an interpreter for his client (Plackowska speaks passable English but is more comfortable in Polish), which Kleeman granted.
Prosecutors led by DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin anticipate a possible insanity defense and have requested that Plackowska see psychiatrist Alexander Obolsky. The defense is expected to bring in an outside specialist as well.
Sources on following page.