A Fox Lake, 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.
FOX 32 broke the story via social media late Tuesday night. Prior to the official announcement, sources also confirmed to FOX 32 News that L. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz was under investigation for embezzling funds from the Police Explorer program.
Lake County Major Crimes Task Force Commander George Filenko, who led the two-month investigation into the Sept. 1 death of Gliniewicz, said the popular officer embezzled thousands of dollars from the Fox Lake Police Explorer program for seven years. He said Gliniewicz spent the money on things like mortgage payments, travel expenses, gym memberships and adult websites.
"We have determined this staged suicide was the end result of extensive criminal acts that Gliniewicz had been committing in fact he was under increasing levels of personal stress from scrutiny of his management of the Fox Lake Police Explorer program," Filenko said at a news conference announcing the investigation's findings.
"Gliniewicz committed the ultimate betrayal," he added.
On the day he died, Gliniewicz radioed in that he was chasing three suspicious men in a swampy area near Fox Lake, which is north of Chicago. Backup officers later found the Army veteran's body about 50 yards from his squad car.
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.
Authorities said in October that Gliniewicz, 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 took elaborate steps to try to make it look like he died in a struggle, including shooting himself twice in the torso.
He 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.
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 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.