It was in late 2019 when a retired Chicago police detective got an email about a murder case he’d investigated three decades earlier.
The ex-cop, Michael Fleming, had always suspected that Jan Krol strangled his ex-wife Jadwiga Krol, then burned her body in the trunk of her car. But he never was able to persuade prosecutors there was enough of a case to charge him.
Now Krol, his only suspect, was dead. Krol’s daughter notified Fleming that her father had killed himself in Poland.
Based on that news, the Chicago Police Department closed the case last summer.
The murder was cleared “exceptionally” — a classification the department uses when a suspect dies or the police decide there are too many barriers to prosecute a case that they can’t overcome, such as uncooperative witnesses.
Last year, more than 130 murder cases in Chicago were cleared exceptionally. The Krol case was among the oldest.
Fleming won’t talk about the case.
Not long after the killing, he was quoted in a 1990 Chicago Tribune story with the headline, “Murder probe turns into a game of cat and mouse.” In it, he defended his aggressive pursuit of Krol, confirming he was a suspect and saying, “I like to work mysteries. And I hate to see anyone get away with anything.”
But former police Supt. Richard Brzeczek, who, as an attorney, represented Krol, says Fleming went too far.
He says the detective unsuccessfully tried to get Krol to take a lie-detector test even though he knew he was represented by a lawyer and that the police harassed his former client by pulling him over for traffic stops.
“He had no evidence whatsoever,” Brzeczek says of Fleming.
And he says he doesn’t think the case should have been closed.
Hundreds of pages of newly obtained records from the investigation into the killing document the police department’s reasoning that Krol was the killer. According to those police reports, Krol:
- Beat his ex-wife for eight years, shot at her during an argument and threatened to kill her in front of cops responding to a domestic violence call.
- Told an acquaintance he took her Chevrolet Cavalier days before the killing.
- Was holding a slip-knotted clothesline when detectives came to his home. Jadwiga Krol was strangled, her autopsy found.
- Had once worked as a janitor at a building in the quiet part of the city where his ex-wife’s gasoline-soaked body was found ablaze in the trunk of her Chevy.
- Was driving a van that reeked of gasoline, according to an acquaintance.
- Had scratches on his neck and chest that he said were from running into a door — though the police said witnesses told them he didn’t have those marks before his ex-wife’s killing.
Jadwiga and Jan Krol had a complicated relationship. They got married in 1974 in Poland and divorced in 1978. He moved to Chicago in 1980. She followed in 1985. The next year, their children Jusef and Kinga joined them.
Though they no longer were married, they lived in the same home in the 5500 block of North Central Avenue in Jefferson Park.
Jadwiga Krol operated a nail salon out of their house, often working 12 hours a day. A customer said she was “one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.”
According to the police, Krol was an angry drunk who’d lost his janitorial job at Superior Coffee in Bucktown — near the place where the burning Chevy was found — because he slept on the job.
He was jealous of Jadwiga Krol’s relationship with a musician and furious about a trip they took to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, earlier in 1989. Krol said he thought she stole cash from him to pay for it.
On April 6, 1989, Jadwiga Krol told the police her car was stolen while she was in a bar. Krol confided to a friend he was the one who took the car, according to a police report.
Krol told the police the last time he’d seen his ex-wife was before he dropped his kids at church on the morning of April 9. He said he took some packages to a storage facility while the children were in church for more than an hour. The police said they couldn’t confirm his trip to the storage facility.
At 5:50 a.m. on April 10, firefighters answered a call about a car on fire in the 2300 block of North Lister Avenue and found Jadwiga Krol’s burning body inside the unlocked trunk. She was 35.
Detectives arrested the 49-year-old Krol late that day, writing in a report that they expected charges within 24 hours. But he was freed when prosecutors said they needed more evidence.
On April 13, 1989, Krol met detectives at a restaurant. They said he told them he didn’t kill his ex-wife and threw suspicion on her boyfriend. Then, he clammed up, saying his lawyer told him not to say anything.
The boyfriend took a lie-detector test and was deemed to have told the truth when he said he didn’t know about the killing.
The police learned that Jadwiga Krol had taken out a $150,000 life insurance policy on herself, with her children as the beneficiaries, because, she told her insurance agent, “I have a very bad feeling something bad will happen to me.”
The insurance policy was paid out.
In May 1989, Krol’s 14-year-old daughter was hospitalized with severe burns she said she suffered in a cooking accident. She said she didn’t want to go back home, though, because she was afraid of her father, according to a police report.
On July 18, 1989, detectives again asked prosecutors to charge Krol with murder and again were told no.
On April 20, 1991, Krol, who was a licensed pilot, was flying passengers in a single-engine airplane on a sightseeing tour when the plane had engine problems and crashed near Gurnee. Everyone survived.
Fleming visited the injured Krol in the hospital. According to a police report, “Krol stated that after the plane crash he only talked to God about the murder of his wife. Krol was then asked if God told him to talk to [detectives] about the murder of his wife and he responded ‘no.’ “
Later that year, Krol was convicted in federal court in Chicago of making and selling fake immigration documents.
Krol and his children were going to be deported.
So Fleming tried a final time to get the kids to talk about their father’s possible involvement in their mother’s killing, but they refused, according to a police report.
They were deported in 1992.
According to police reports, Krol’s daughter now lives in Great Britain. She told the police she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder over her mother’s death and that her brother has spent most of his life in prison in Poland.
An FBI agent assigned to Warsaw helped confirm that Krol had killed himself in 2013 in the mountain town of Zakopane in southern Poland — closing the police department’s book on the family’s sad saga.