Two weeks ago there was an item in the news that caught a lot of writers' attention. It was a story out of Poland about an author who was arrested after a murder he'd written about in a novel turned out to have eerie similarities to a real crime.
I chose not to write about it at the time because I figured the whole story would come out shortly.
Sure enough, London's Guardian did a lengthy piece on the case on Sunday.
Like many tragedies, the story started with an unhappy marriage. In 1999, after three years of marriage, Krystian Bala and his wife, Stanislawa, separated. The couple had one son, Kaspar. By 2000, Stanislawa had begun dating an advertising company director named Dariusz Janiszewski. In early November, Janiszewski went missing.
Four weeks later, fishermen on the banks of the River Odra in Wroclaw, Poland found:
[t]he bloated, semi-naked body of Janiszewski . . . The corpse bore livid bruises from repeated beatings and a series of knife wounds. Over the subsequent days, the police pathologist would find that Janiszewski had been denied food and water for three days before his death.
The first police officers on the scene were struck by the strange way the victim had been tied up: his feet had been bound together, bent backwards and attached to a noose around his neck with a single piece of rope. Trussed up like a human's cat's cradle, Dariusz Janiszewski would have strangled himself had he flexed his legs too suddenly. No one knows whether he suffocated in this way before being thrown in the Odra or whether he drowned there.
No leads turned up, and the first police investigation stalled in May 2001. A year later in 2002, a cold case review indicated that Janiszewski's mobile phone had never been found.
The police tracked the SIM card from the cell phone through the service provider. The phone had been purchased in an Internet auction three days after Janiszewski disappeared, but weeks before the body was found.
The phone had been sold by Krystian Bala, using the username "ChrisB7." The police traced ChrisB7 to his blog where they found "a series of demented personal ramblings that would, three years later, be published as Amok," Bala's novel.
"Bala was arrested one mild evening in September 2005 . . . Although he denied ever meeting the murder victim, a search of his bedroom revealed a stash of computer files containing information on Janiszewski and a pen bearing the logo of Janiszewski's advertising firm, Investor. A telephone card recovered in the search was later shown to have been used on the day of Janiszewski's disappearance to make calls to the victim's mother and his place of work. The same card had registered calls to Bala's family and friends."
According to the Associated Press, "[i]n 2003, a Polish TV show on unsolved crimes broadcast a segment on Janiszewski's murder. Soon after the clip aired, the program's Web site dedicated to the case received hits from computers in Singapore, South Korea and Japan. Prosecutors say Bala was visiting those countries on the dates of the Web site hits."
The evidence was all circumstantial. But the most dramatic piece of evidence against Bala was his novel published in 2003. In the book, a man named Chris ties a woman up by binding her hands behind her back and then using the same rope to create a noose around her neck. Chris stabbed her with a Japanese-made knife. He later sold the knife on the same Internet site that Bala had used to sell the mobile phone.
During his trial, Bala was diagnosed as a narcissist. Testimony from people who knew him described him as a compulsive liar and aggressive drunk who was very jealous. His name was placed on a police register for domestic violence during his marriage to Stanislawa.
"When the couple eventually separated in 1999, Bala became obsessed with tracking his wife's new partners, sending her abusive emails and text messages. At a New Year's Eve party the same year, Bala verbally threatened a barman he thought had been flirting with Stanislawa. Two witnesses heard Bala warn him off with the words: 'I've already taken out a guy like you with a rope'."
On September 5, Bala was found guilty by a Polish court.