Video: DNA evidence

By MSNBC analyst
updated 3/22/2005 9:34:30 AM ET 2005-03-22T14:34:30
COMMENTARY

“I broke into utility room to Judge Lefkow’s house at 4:30am, to spend all day there, and in the evening to get Judge Lefkow. But Mr. Lefkow discovered me in the utility room about 9:00am.  I had no choice but to shoot him.  …I saw an older woman.  I had to shoot her too.  I followed with a second shot to the head in both cases to minimize their suffering.”

These words were contained in a rambling, multi-paged handwritten letter received by NBC news in Chicago. The letter was signed Bart A. Ross, the same name as the 57-year old man who committed suicide on Wednesday evening when stopped for a routine traffic violation by a police officer in West Allis, Wisconsin. 

Ross, a Polish immigrant whose original name was Bartilomiej Ciszewski, had filed a billion dollar law suit against doctors and a Chicago hospital that had treated him for cancer, a disease that had disfigured Ross’ face.  U.S. District Court Judge June Lefkow had dismissed Ross’ law suit last year, one in which Ross accused doctors of committing a terrorist act in their treatment of him, including damaging his face and causing him to lose his teeth. 

In the letter attributed to Ross, the writer appears to justify his murder of Judge Lefkow’s husband and mother because of the judge’s ruling against him.  Ross was described by neighbors and others as strange, paranoid, and a physically and emotionally challenged  loner; a prolific letter writer; and a recluse who had lost his home, his face and his livelihood— an apparent deadly combination in Ross’ case.

At the time of Ross’ suicide, police found a small packet around his neck with information that led them to an alleged suicide note in his van. In the letter to NBC News, Ross had indicated that he had been living in his van prior to the murders.  Ross had also listed others on a possible hit list, and suggested he had surveyed a number of his potential victims.  Also found in the van were 300 .22 caliber cartridges, the same caliber used to murder Michael Lefkow and Judge Lefkow’s 89-year old mother, with the letter writer stating, “I had .22 with a noise reducer relatively quiet and effective (it’s not too difficult to make).” 

The Lefkow crime scene investigation had developed a lot of physical evidence that can potentially help to link Ross to the brutal and senseless homicides, including a cigarette with unidentified DNA, a fingerprint on a broken window, a bloody shoe print, and spent .22 cartridges. The composite drawing of a man who was seen near the Lefkow residence on the date of the murders also greatly resembles Ross.  Police have now matched the DNA from the cigarette butt found in the Lefkow residence with that of Ross, scientifically suggesting that it was he who entered the residence and committed the two murders.  

Should Ross be the killer who sought by over 300 investigators for the Lefkow homicides— what, if anything, will we have learned from this identification? 

For one, law enforcement and the media are reminded that the obvious answer is not always the right one.  Investigators initially considered white supremacist Matthew Hale, currently in jail awaiting sentencing for plotting to kill Judge Lefkow (a man who attempted to send coded “James Bond-like” messages out of jail), to be the logical suspect in another plot against the judge. Detectives and federal agents, however, were careful not to simply limit their investigation to only hate groups. They also considered at least 600 other individuals who had appeared in court before Judge Lefkow, including Ross. They had yet to get to Ross for an interview.  

We have also learned that evil can takes many forms— it can have many excuses for its actions. It can destroy lives and families and challenge our very judicial system. Jurists like Judge Lefkow put their lives on the line every day, and sometimes, pay a terrible price for their service to their community and their country. 

Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh; abortion clinic bomber Eric Rudolph; the BTK serial killer; and now Bart Ross— All were men who took away the lives of others with their own special rationale to explain the horrific nature of their actions. They generally thought that they were the true victims of society.  Should the obvious now be the right answer (i.e., Ross committed these murders by himself), we will have yet one more example that man, capable of infinite goodness, is also capable of inhumanity that knows no limits. We can only consider the callousness of such actions and the dark side of human behavior that can drag anyone down into a terrible abyss, while we continue to hope and pray that good will eventually win out over evil. 

The West Allis police officer who was instrumental in the break in this investigation deserves to be congratulated. He went the extra mile when he saw a suspicious vehicle in the wrong place at the wrong time. This alert and conscientious officer— like the Oklahoma trooper who stopped Timothy McVeigh for a routine traffic violation, and the local cop who caught Eric Rudolph climbing into a garbage bin— may well have saved the lives of others by simply doing a good job on an otherwise normal day.  But as any officer would say, that’s their job.

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