Murder of Katarzyna Zowada

The murder of Katarzyna Zowada occurred at the end of 1998 in Kracow, Poland. The victim was a 23-year-old female student, who was attending Jagiellonian University.

Murder of Katarzyna Zowada
DateBetween 12 November 1998 and 6 January 1999
TypeMurder, dismemberment and skinning
SuspectsRobert Janczewski
Chargesmurder with particular cruelty

Investigators and experts from other countries were called to assist in solving the crime, including the FBI.[2] Police made the first arrest in 2017. 19 years later, after discovering new evidence.[3] As of September 2019, the suspect remains in custody while investigators continue to gather evidence.

Disappearance and discovery of remainsEdit

In 1998, Katarzyna Zowada began studying religion at Jagiellonian University, located in nearby Kraków. According to friends, she was a nice, although "sad and withdrawn" person. She had suffered from depression since the death of her father in 1996. During her time at the university, she changed her field of study twice. After her first semester as a psychology student, she briefly attended a history course before settling on religious studies.[4]

On 12 November 1998, Katarzyna was due to meet her mother at the Psychiatric Clinic in Nowa Huta, where she had been treated for her depression. She never made it to the appointment. Later that day, Katarzyna's mother attempted to file a missing person's report at the local police station but was told to wait.[3]

On 6 January 1999, while on the Vistula, the crew of the Elk pusher tug found a piece of foreign matter on the ship. After examination, it was discovered to be human skin. DNA tests indicated it belonged to Katarzyna. On 14 January, Katarzyna's right leg was also recovered from the river.[5]


In May 1999, the Forensic Medicine Unit in Kraków received a corpse of a man with a severed and scalped head. The killer, Vladimir W., turned out to be the son of the victim, originally from the Caucasus. Prior to the arrest, he was seen in a mask made of skin pulled from the head of his own father. Initially, investigators suspected that Vladimir committed Katarzyna's murder, however, no evidence was found to support it. He was later charged with his father's murder and sentenced to 25 years in prison. After a few years, he was transferred to a prison in Russia at his own request.[6]

A year later, the investigation was formally dropped because the perpetrator had not been discovered, but police officers involved in the case continued investigating credible leads.[5]

In 2012, thanks to advances in the field of forensic research and cooperation with experts, the prosecutor's office resumed the investigation. A team of police officers from the "X-Files" (cold case unit) was brought in. The exhumation and additional autopsy of Katarzyna's remains were ordered.[7]

Experts from the 3D Expertise Laboratory of the Wrocław Medical University created a model of injuries inflicted on the victim. They concluded that the attacker had used a sharp tool to wound his victim on her neck, armpit and groin, to inflict pain and cause her to bleed to death.[3]

In 2014, an FBI representative for Europe created a psychological profile of the suspect, pointing to his sadistic tendencies.[8]

In 2016, investigators consulted with University of Coimbra professor Duarte Nuno Vieira, a Portuguese specialist in forensics and UN expert in the field of signs of torture on the human body. He confirmed that Katarzyna was tortured before her death and that the perpetrator was probably trained in martial arts, specifically one particular, undisclosed variation.[3]

The arrest of the suspectEdit

On 4 October 2017, 19 years after the murder, police arrested 52-year old Robert J. in Cracow's Kazimierz district. Investigators searched his apartment and found blood in the bathroom. As a result, the bath and frame were secured for further testing. He was a person of interest in 1999 but had not been arrested.[9]

Robert J. fit the psychological profile as he was trained in martial arts, knew the victim, visited the victim's grave and had a history of harassing women. He had previously worked in a dissecting lab, where he dealt with human corpses. He also worked at the Cracow Institute of Zoology, where he could observe the process of preparing animal skins. His employment was terminated the day after he killed all of the institute's rabbits during his shift. Robert J. couldn't explain his actions.[6]

The police detained him after a letter from the suspect's friend. The contents of the letter are a closely guarded secret of the investigation.[3]

Robert J. was charged with aggravated murder with particular cruelty. He maintains that he did not know Katarzyna Zowada.

The Court of Appeal agreed to extend his detention until 6 September 2018 while investigators gathered evidence.[9] In December Robert J. complained of harassment from the prison guards. The claims were investigated and found to be groundless.[10]

As of September 2019, Robert J. has not yet been released. Investigators requested a closed trial.[11]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Redakcja (13 January 2012). "Kraków: Policjanci z archiwum X na tropie makabrycznej zbrodni sprzed lat". Kraków Nasze Miasto (in Polish). Retrieved 20 September 2019.
  2. ^ Redakcja (14 October 2016). "Kraków. Morderstwo studentki UJ sprzed 18 lat [NOWE FAKTY]". Kraków Nasze Miasto (in Polish). Retrieved 12 September 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Zbrodnia sprzed 19 lat: Eksperci pogrążyli Roberta J." (in Polish). Retrieved 12 September 2019.
  4. ^ Redakcja (13 January 2012). "Kraków: Policjanci z archiwum X na tropie makabrycznej zbrodni sprzed lat". Kraków Nasze Miasto (in Polish). Retrieved 12 September 2019.
  5. ^ a b "SPRAWA ZABÓJSTWA 23-LETNIEJ STUDENTKI Z 1998 R." [THE CASE OF THE MURDER OF A 23-YEAR-OLD STUDENT IN 1998] (in Polish). 14 October 2016. Retrieved 30 September 2020.
  6. ^ a b "Płaszcz z ludzkiej skóry w Wiśle. Reporterzy odkrywają nieznane fakty o zbrodni sprzed lat". Retrieved 12 September 2019.
  7. ^ "Zamordowana i obdarta ze skóry. Śledczy szukają szczątków 23-letniej studentki - Polsat News" (in Polish). Retrieved 12 September 2019.
  8. ^ "Zamordowana i obdarta ze skóry. Śledczy szukają szczątków 23-letniej studentki - Polsat News" (in Polish). Retrieved 4 December 2019.
  9. ^ a b Banasik, Marcin (13 November 2018). "Kraków. Przełom ws. brutalnego zabójstwa sprzed 20 lat". Dziennik Polski (in Polish). Retrieved 12 September 2019.
  10. ^ Staszewski, Bartosz; McDougall, Zoey; Trajkovska, Angjela; Bullen, Lee (8 December 2018). "Silence Of Lambs-Style Killer Wears Woman Victims Skin". ViralTab. Retrieved 10 December 2019.
  11. ^ "Kraków: Śledczy chcą utajnienia procesu ws. wstrząsającego zabójstwa studentki Katarzyny Z. Chodzi o zbrodnię sprzed lat". Do rzeczy (in Polish). 10 September 2019. Retrieved 20 September 2019.