- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2000

DUNDALK, Md. A quadruple-murder suspect held three persons hostage for a third day yesterday and repeatedly fired at police in SWAT gear from a window in a small house he's been holed up in since Friday.

The story may not have a happy ending. Joseph Palczynski, 31, who has a long police record, has told friends and relatives he would shoot himself or make police shoot him rather than go back to prison.

The unemployed electrician had been on the run since March 7, when police say he kidnapped his girlfriend Tracy Whitehead and killed the couple she was staying with and a neighbor.

A fourth person was killed and a boy was shot in the cheek the next day by stray bullets as Palczynski carjacked a vehicle, police said.

Miss Whitehead escaped unharmed.

Palczynski has a record of attacking or abducting his girlfriends that goes back to 1988. Yet on Saturday, he demanded Miss Whitehead be brought to his side. Police declined that request.

Palczynski needs medication to control his anger, and police said he didn't have it two weeks ago when he went into hiding. Authorities have not delivered any medication to him during the standoff.

He fired five bursts of gunfire between 8:45 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. yesterday. The last burst was directed at an armored vehicle commanded by an officer with a bullhorn who asked that Palczynski resume talking to police negotiators.

"Joby, we need you to pick up the phone," a voice said over the loudspeaker, using Palczynski's nickname. "Come on, Joby, pick up the phone."

Palczynski responded by shooting out the tires of the armored carrier.

The vehicle moved away from the house in the 700 block of Lange Street.

More shots were fired later in the day. An estimated six shots were fired during the evening from the front window of the apartment, police said.

Those shots appeared to be indiscriminate, and no one was hurt. Police did not return fire, a police spokesman said.

Palczynski was on the phone with police when the firing broke out, the spokesman said.

The house is owned by Lyn Whitehead, the mother of Palczynski's ex-girlfriend. She was taken hostage about 8:30 p.m., along with her boyfriend Andy McCord and 12-year-old Brad McCord when Palczynski, armed with three weapons, burst into the house.

Police did not return fire yesterday when Palczynski fired at the armored vehicle. In fact, shortly afterward, a police bomb squad robot served lunch to Palczynski and his captives.

"Our main strategy is patience, patience, patience," police spokesman Bill Toohey said.

One man in the crowd of onlookers yesterday wasn't sure patience would pay off with a man like Palczynski.

Ken Revis, 36, of Dundalk told The Washington Times he served time with Palczynski in the same cell block in 1995. He once saw Palczynski beating an inmate who had been teasing him. "It took about 10 [guards] to get him [Palczynski] down."

"[Palczynski] seemed like a nice guy until he snapped," his old cellblock mate said. "He's a real nut, man …"

Last night police evacuated 11 persons from the neighborhood. They were escorted to Berkshire Elementary School.

It was the first time since the standoff began that police allowed anyone out of the blue-collar suburb east of Baltimore. No one has been allowed in.

Police set up a hot line for residents trapped in their homes who needed help. Residents being kept away were offered shelter at a nearby school, where Monday classes were canceled.

Kelly Rye has not been home since she went food shopping Friday evening. She has been talking to television reporters to let her 3-year-old daughter know she is all right.

"My husband says she cries and she kisses the TV," Mrs. Rye said.

Hundreds of police officers have been tracking Palczynski since the first three killings March 7 and the fourth killing of an elderly driver whose vehicle Palczynski carjacked the following day.

Police believe he hopped a freight train and fled to Virginia on March 10, where he stole guns and forced a Woodford, Va., man to drive him back to Baltimore County.

Knowing Palczynski was a survivalist-style outdoorsman, capable of going to ground for days, police officials said scores of officers searched several forested parks in Baltimore County for more than a week with no luck.

The two-week, two-state manhunt ended Friday when Palczynski broke into a house, tied up the occupants and stole two long guns and a handgun.

He then shot his way into the Whitehead home.

Palczynski has a history of mental illness and convictions for assault and battery.

Days before the shootings, he was charged with assaulting Miss Whitehead and was released on $7,500 bond.

Police have declined to characterize their negotiations with Palczynski in any way but confirmed that a psychiatrist was helping negotiators. Police have said Palczynski has bipolar disorder, often called manic-depression, which causes extreme mood swings.

Throughout the ordeal, friends and relatives have called television stations to urge Palczynski to surrender.

Steven Forsythe; his sister, Jennifer Forsythe; and her children Brittany, 6, and Justin, 3, live across the street from the Whitehead house. Mr. Forsythe said he met Palczynski and Tracy in a bar.

Palczynski tried to sell him a bulletproof vest once, he recalled.

"They were happy, They seemed like a nice couple… . I never thought he would do all this for [Tracy]."

Mr. Forsythe and his sister were trying to get out of their house all yesterday morning. The children were frightened from the gunfire and they were running out of food.

"I have never heard gunshouts before, and I never want to hear them again," Jennifer Forsythe said.

Ron Messman, who said he has been a friend of Palczynski's since high school, said Palczynski was upset about a week before the killings. But Mr. Messman, who had had a falling out with Palczynski, didn't want to hear about it.

"I pretty much sent him on his way. Joe, if you're listening … you need to clear your mind, put down your weapons, and let the hostages go," Mr. Messman said. "It's time to end this, Buddy."

Palczynski has been in a similar situation before. In 1992, he kept police in Idaho at bay for 16 hours after a domestic violence complaint by a girlfriend. He was finally forced out with tear gas.

As many as 75 people living near the Whitehead house have sought food, clothing or a place to sleep from the Red Cross at nearby Berkshire Elementary School.

Mrs. Rye has tried to keep a sense of humor getting into a spirited debate with men from her shelter over who snored the loudest and calling her husband to tell him, "I'm sleeping with the neighbors, Hon."

But sometimes the shelter's residents cannot hide their own fears.

"There's times when one of us are talking to our kids and we're breaking up," Mrs. Rye said. "And you know how they feel because they're without their kids, too."

For some residents, being trapped inside their homes was too much to handle. Anna Day, who lives within view of the house where the hostages were being held, made a run for it Sunday with her two children.

"I've been there since Friday," Mrs. Day said. "I don't have anything. I need formula. I need bottle liners. I need diapers."

"I'm scared to leave the kids. We've been sleeping on the floor," she said.

Red Cross worker Joy Mandel said the agency's hot line has received a steady stream of calls from people like Mrs. Day who are trapped in their houses and scared.

Those at the shelter yesterday were pacing in and out of the school, chatting to pass time and wearing blue sweat suits provided by the Red Cross.

The surrounding neighborhood was eerily silent, with few residents venturing from their homes.

The gathering behind police tape was half carnival, half media horde.

Bystanders, some from as far as Essex, gathered to take in the scene or "to check out what I was watching on television," one woman said.

Teens gathered in the parking lot at 1105 North Point Road, blasting a car stereo and shouting when armored vehicles drove by.

Photographers scrambled for a better angle each time a police officer quickened his pace to a jog or faster. Hungry journalists got a free meal from AFM Process Agency Inc., which got matching donations for the food Anton Marx Sr. bought: burgers from McDonald's, pastry from Dunkin' Donuts, coffee from 7-Eleven and bottled water from a Giant Food grocery store.

• This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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