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Damian Rzeszowski

Crime Files
Damian Rzeszowski

Jersey and the other Channel Islands are the last of the territories of the medieval Dukedom of Normandy. It’s a British Crown dependency but isn’t part of the UK or European Union. The island is traditionally seen as tranquil and peaceful. The usual bombings and battles that characterised the Second World War didn’t occur on Jersey. There was suffering but the islanders either evacuated or surrendered to the occupying Germans. And likewise, those same Germans surrendered when Allied Forces arrived off the neighbouring island of Guernsey. More recently, over a hundred people came forward over abuse they had suffered from the 1960s onwards in Jersey’s children’s homes and fostering services. But until that scandal, the worst that was levelled against the place was that it was a tax haven for the rich. For most, Jersey is an idyllic holiday island with lots of sun drenched beaches. It has nice village atmosphere - its population is below 100,000 - and the pace of life is slow. All in all, it’s a perfect place for a couple to raise children. It has a number of integrated ethnic communities. Not only are there English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh, there is also a strong Portuguese and Polish presence. In August 2011, there had not been a murder inquiry for the last seven years. But that month, five people would die and another would be in a critical condition. Jersey’s emergency services had never dealt with anything on such a scale. On one lazy summer Sunday, Jersey went from serene calm to a scene of carnage.

The Trial

" gets the sense that ultimately his decision to annihilate his family came from his belief that somehow his wife had fallen short of the standards that he had expected.... He fits that classic picture of the family annihilator who’s seeking revenge on a partner who has let him down and then also attempting to take his own life so that the criminal justice system can’t judge him, he’ll be...his own judge as it were.” Professor David Wilson - CriminologistSome said Damian had killed in cold blood. But the frenzied nature of the attacks suggested otherwise. The Polish community feel embarrassed and concerned that one man’s actions will mean they’re all judged. But mainly people feel sympathy for the victims’ families. Scores of floral tributes are left at the crime scene. A charity appeal raises £15,000 to pay for the funerals.The funerals, involving children as they do, mean few people remain dry-eyed. And it’s not just the Polish community that attends the Catholic service. Everyone on the island is reeling from the slayings.Damian Rzeszowski, 31, stands trial at Jersey’s Royal Court almost a year after the killings. He’s since been transferred to Broadmoor, the UK’s maximum security prison hospital. His extensive psychiatric assessment proves the most controversial part of the complex ten day trial. Experts contradict each other as to whether the killer was sane at the time of the stabbings.At his early pre-trial hearings, he’d submitted a plea of manslaughter which indicated some acceptance of responsibility for his actions.Detective Superintendent Stewart Gull wants him to stand trial for murder.The judge and two Jurats (elected lay jurors) hear how Rzeszowski claimed to have heard voices in his head on the day he stabbed his wife. The weeks beforehand had been filled with rows with his wife. There had been periods of depression and heavy drinking. And of course, there was his suicide attempt.The court also hears that Rzeszowski’s already disintegrating marriage had been further strained when Izabela had admitted to a two-month affair. His subsequent drinking had resulted in a one night stand.The prosecution said he’d changed his story repeatedly casting doubt on his credibility. They characterise Rzeszowski as a ‘pressure cooker who lacks a safety valve.’ Rzeszowski spends most of the trial staring at the floor.Almost unbelievably, Damian Rzeszowski is controversially cleared of the murders. As he is found not guilty of murder, Rzeszowski shows no emotion. He pleads guilty to manslaughter instead. His defence had successfully argued that his depression had caused an onset of psychotic symptoms, diminishing his responsibility.The verdict is met with a mixture of disbelief and anger by the victims’ families.On 29 October 2012, Damian Rzeszowski was sentenced to 30 years in prison. It took the Jurats two hours to consider their verdict.“The horror and brutality of these killings is hard to believe.” Judge Sir Michael BirtRzeszowski was transferred back to the UK. He is currently serving his sentence in Her Majesty’s maximum security prison Full Sutton.His daughter’s classmates still grieve for the friend he took away. They have created a garden outside their classroom in Kinga’s memory. In it there is a blossom tree that blooms with what was her favourite colour - pink.

The Crimes

"There was a chilling gothic clarity about the method by which he killed his victims." Professor David Wilson - CriminologistIt’s a beautiful afternoon in August 2011. A family is having a barbeque. In just fifteen minutes, this picture postcard family moment will be turned into a scene from a slaughterhouse...Damian and Izabela have been married for six years. The once romantic lovers have grown increasingly apart due to the pressures of family. Damian’s work colleagues notice a change in his behaviour. The 30 year old was quieter, less communicative. The previous month, unbeknownst to many, he had attempted suicide. He couldn’t face Izabela’s revelation that she had had a two month affair. The couple thought a trip home might heal the rifts in their marriage. It hadn’t.Damian drives the family home, all the way from Poland to St Malo. It’s an exhausting 23 hour trip. He drives them onto the very early Sunday morning ferry. When it docks in St Helier, it’s just 8am. He drives everyone straight home.The date is 14 August 2011.It’s a Sunday. All over the island families decide to enjoy the warm weather with a barbecue. Damian and Izabela decide the same. Izabela invites her best friend Marta and her five year old daughter Julia to join the family.At around 12:30 Izabela and her father Marek set off to pick up Marta and Julia. Damian is left to look after the two children. Marta’s husband Craig is looking after his other daughter and her friends after a sleepover so he doesn’t come along.When Izabela returns, she finds her children have been left alone. Damian is nowhere to be found. When minutes later he walks through the door, he can’t, or won’t explain where he’s been. Izabela is furious with him. Nearby neighbours hear their raised voices.Nevertheless, they have their barbecue. Damian drinks some whiskey. The barbecue finishes.All of the children are in the front room of the flat. Kacper is sitting on a chair at the dining room table playing with some toys. Kinga is painting. Julia is close by. Izabela supervises them.Damian takes two kitchen knives. First he stabs Izabela’s father.“Instrumentally, by killing the only other adult man first, he is removing immediately the one person who physically might have been able to have overcome him and prevent the family annihilation.” Professor David Wilson - CriminologistMarek is watching TV. The violence comes so suddenly that he barely moves. Finally, after a frenzied attack, Damian plunges the knife into Marek’s spinal cord. It severs it. Damian leaves the knife in Marek’s back. Armed with the other knife, he moves on.But remarkably, the 56 year old Marek is still alive. Unable to walk because of his wounds, he crawls into the hallway. He is trying to reach and protect the children in the living room.As 18 month old Kacper plays with his car toys, Damian stabs him five times in the chest. Kacper slumps forward, still seated. Damian stabs him another eight times in the back. Kacper falls to the floor. He is dead.Damian’s six year old daughter is painting. Kinga is stabbed 16 times. The first three wounds are to her front, the rest in her back.Next is Julia. She’s stabbed several times but survives and manages to move to the hallway. Damian sees her efforts and administers the last of 16 stab wounds.“His wife would’ve viewed those other murders taking place and have been powerless to have done anything to prevent those murders so there’s a way in which she is being punished even in the order of the victims that has been chosen. It prolonged her pain, not only her pain physically but her pain psychologically.” Professor David Wilson - CriminologistIzabela leaves a bloody palm print on the wall next to the door of the living room. This indicates she is first stabbed either there or in the hallway. She sustains three fatal stab wounds to the chest. She still has enough life to run through the flat trying to escape. She goes through both bedrooms and seeks safety in the bathroom. She uses Marek’s phone to ring 997. This is a Polish emergency number. It doesn’t connect.Unanswered, she drops the phone. She tries to flee the flat. At around this time, Marta is attacked and killed.At 14:58, a 999 call is made. A witness reports Damian chasing Izabela down the street attacking her. She’s shouting and screaming for help. Witnesses think he’s hitting her. In fact, every time his hand lands on her, it holds the knife and she receives more stab wounds to her back.A witness shouts at and approaches Damian. He points the knife at them. They stop. Damian walks back in the flat, closes the door, and starts to use the knife on himself. In just fifteen minutes, Damian has stabbed his wife, daughter, son, father-in law, his wife’s best friend and her daughter to death.Damian now stabs himself repeatedly in the chest, puncturing and collapsing one lung.He attempts to cut his wrists. He is either overcome by his actions, or suffering from blood loss because he slumps to the floor and sprawls face down in the back room.

The Investigation

“At least five people have died and another is in a critical condition after a knife attack.” Local news reportOnce all the casualties are cleared from the scene, the police investigation takes precedence. Their first priority is to preserve the scene and the evidence. The first moments are always the most vital.“It’s often referred to as the golden hour in police speak...You only get one chance at a crime scene.” Detective Superintendent Stewart Gull - States of Jersey PoliceThe police have begun the first of 50 forensic examinations. They’re so thorough that its two days before two of the bodies are even moved. The police quickly establish that Damian is a lone assailant.The surrounding area is put into lock down. But before the press can broadcast the incident, Facebook and Twitter carry the first reports. Social media explodes with speculation. A phone call is made to Jersey policewoman DC Karen Sykes. Like many islanders, she’s barbecuing. The family liaison officer is told to return to the office. The only information she’s given is that there’s been an incident and that it involves knives and possibly children.On her arrival at the hospital she is greeted by chaos. It is in shut down. Only professionals are allowed in. Karen is asked to assist the doctor. In the first room, they pronounce life extinct on four victims. With that done, their injuries are documented. Next, they try to identify the bodies. None have identification.One of the victim’s mobile keeps ringing and receiving messages. A colleague of Karen’s establishes it’s a relative. They call them in order to establish who might have been at the crime scene. The phone caller is Craig De La Hay. He is trying to locate his wife Marta and his daughter Julia. They should have been home at 6 o’clock that evening. He is very worried. He has been checking Facebook. He knows there’s been an incident at Victoria Crescent and knows that’s where Marta and Julia were going. The police wait for Damian to regain consciousness. They need him awake to both arrest and question him.But he’s been heavily sedated due to the severity of his self inflicted injuries.On Monday, he comes round. He is arrested on suspicion of six murders. He is kept under guard in the hospital for the next ten days.It is the start of a year of investigation for the States of Jersey Police. Experts from the Devon and Cornwall police force are seconded in. Hundreds of witness statements will be taken.

First Responders

“Victoria crescent incident. Avoid the area.” Tweet from Andre Thorpe, Jersey Resident One of the first emergency responders is Acting Inspector Mark Coxshall. He attempts to establish command and control. The sprawling and chaotic nature of the crime scene means it’s not clear who has done what. One witness, Martyn Maguire, is on his way to see his daughter’s new flat. She phones Martyn to say she thinks there’s been a stabbing. As he goes up to her flat, he notices medical staff doing compressions in order to keep a victim breathing. Being an off duty fire man, he offers help. The victim he attends to is making gurgling noises. He checks for a pulse and assesses the number and severity of the wounds. He finds nine stab wounds, most are probably fatal. He also finds the knife still stuck in the victim’s back. The knife is causing massive internal injuries. But removing it will create catastrophic bleeding. Martyn checks again for a pulse. The decision to leave the knife in or out has become academic. The man is dead. The male victim was Izabela’s father, Marek. Mark Coxshall hears the first death declared. This is now a murder enquiry. Martyn moves onto help the next victim. Baby Kacpar is not even two years old. He has been stabbed thirteen times. There is blood everywhere. He states the horrifically obvious. “I think the baby’s gone.” Mark realises he’s still not accounted for the attacker. Until he does, everyone, including the emergency staff attending, is in mortal danger. Martyn searches for survivors. In the small back bedroom he sees a man face down. This time, there’s movement. He races to rescue him. Covered in blood and stab wounds, he looks like the other victims. In fact, it’s Damian Rzeszowski. Martyn turns him over. Damian is half naked from the chest down. He’s still conscious and is moaning. As Damian moves, Martyn notices that Damian has slit his wrists. They do not look like defensive wounds. Martyn realises he may be attending to the killer. He asks Damian if there’s anybody else in the house. When he’s told there are six others, Martyn tells the policeman to continue searching for survivors. Four victims are taken to hospitals. All the survivors are female. Baby Kacper and his grandfather Marek are already dead. The only other survivor is the perpetrator. Damian is in a critical condition. Professionally, the emergency services treat him like the rest and do their very best to save his life. They dress his multiple self inflicted wounds. They chair lift him out and Martyn conveys his suspicion that Damian is the attacker to the police. Only Rzeszowski will survive.

The Key Figures

Damian Rzeszowski was born in Nowy Sacz, southern Poland in 1980. He did a brief spell in the army and then met Izabela Gartska. They had a whirlwind romance. But as their relationship developed, Rzeszowski’s career faltered.With few work options in his homeland, he went to Jersey. There he found work as a foreman’s assistant. By the time he had a family, he was living in a terraced house on a quiet leafy Victoria Crescent on the outskirts of the capital St Helier. Colleagues and neighbours described him as a hard working man and a loving father. He worked and saved in the hope of being able to buy a house for his family back in Poland.But in July 2011, the pressures of work and family overcame him. On 19 July, he attempted suicide. His overdose meant a night in the hospital.Izabela Gartstka fell in love and was willing to leave her homeland for Damian. In 2004, a few months after Damian departed for Jersey, she followed. Damian appeared to be an ideal man to marry. He seemed very concerned that he would find enough work to be able to support her. She was sure he would make a devoted father. And Jersey seemed an ideal place to raise a family.The pair were married in Jersey in 2005. Kinga, their daughter was born shortly after. Three years later, they had their second child, Kacper. Izabela was a loving mother and a supportive wife. A family dinner was ready when Damian came home. She baked her own bread and entertained the children. Their teacher described the pair as ‘little angels’. They had their mother’s blonde hair and blue eyes. Kinga loved art and photos show her dressed a little pink princess.Izabela loved Jersey, loved how happy her children were and couldn’t imagine returning to Poland. But her marriage was failing. And after her husband’s attempted suicide, she realised how much strain he was under. She determined to do her best for him.Marek Gartstka followed his daughter and new son in law to live in their new home in Jersey’s capital. The bespectacled, bearded man may have been 56 but he kept himself in shape so that he was able to play with his grandchildren.Marta de le Haye was a 34 year old mother who first met Izabela through their shared need for babysitting. They soon became best friends and would go to the cinema or clubbing together.