‘Silence of the Lambs’ killer skinned student alive & used her flesh as suit
WHEN the remains of a 23-year-old missing student were found wrapped around a boat propeller – it would reveal a twisted killing like a real-life Silence of the Lambs.
Katarzyna Zowanda was beaten, tortured and skinned alive after vanishing in November 1998 – before a bodysuit made from her flesh was found in the Vistula river.
Police believe the skin was prepared so that it could be worn by the twisted killer – in chilling echoes of the Hannibal Lecter movie and its main villain Buffalo Bill.
The case remained a mystery until nineteen years later when 52-year-old Robert Janczewski was arrested – despite having been a person of interest in the case since 1999.
The case attracted the best cold case investigators from around the world who were able to establish how Katarzyna had died & create a psychological profile on her “sadistic killer”.
To this day, Janczewski has denied responsibility for the student’s murder and remains in custody after prosecutors requested his trial take place behind closed doors.
Katarzyna Zowanda’s mum grew suspicious when the student from Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, failed to show up for a doctor’s appointment.
Her mother attempted to file a missing person’s report at her local police station but was reportedly told to wait for her daughter to show up.
Nearly two months later, a tugboat named the Elk was brought to a standstill when something became stuck in its propeller – a common problem that was often the result of trapped tree branches.
When the latch was pulled opened and a putrid smell rose up from the hole, the crew made a horrifying discovery – human skin.
They initially thought it could be some sort of rubber band before spotting a human ear while testing revealed the remains belonged to Katarzyna.
The skin appeared to have been taken from her torso and chest, while her head, legs and arms had all been removed.
On January 14, 1999, police combed the river and found the victim’s right leg – none of Katarzyna’s remains were ever found.
Cops first believed that the student’s body had been thrown into the water and destroyed by the propeller.
But after the remains were examined, it was determined that the skin had been removed from her body on purpose and formed into a bodysuit – in chilling echoes of the horror movie, Silence of the Lambs.
Polish police brought in experts from the FBI as well as some of the world’s best cold case detectives in order to catch the perpetrator.
A team dubbed the ‘X-Files’, a cold case unit with the Polish Police, were also draughted in and exhumed the victim’s body in 2012.
They determined that Katarzyna had died from blood loss after being tortured by the killer who cut her skin “with extreme precision”.
The team discovered that killer had used a sharp tool to cut from the neck to the armpit and then groin before she bled to death.
They also believe she would have been alive during the horror ordeal.
The case was given the name ‘Leather’ with many of the terrifying details remaining a secret – due to the high-profile nature of the case.
The case was closed a year later and wouldn’t spark media interest until 2017 when a suspect was arrested.
Detectives were able to create a psych profile that suggested the ‘sadistic’ killer would have likely known the victim and had a history of harassing women.
The way that the student has been beaten with ‘great force’ also made investigators believe that he could have been a martial arts expert.
Expert Duarte Nuno Vieira said in a 2012 report on the case: “The 23-year-old student was beaten first, then her neck, armpits, and groin were cut with a knife, and she died from blood loss.
“The victim was probably alive when she was skinned. The right limb over the ankle joint had to be strapped to something until finally, between December 7 and 14, 1998, the perpetrator choked the victim with the chain. Before that, he had been giving her drugs.
“Stab wounds, chop wounds, and lacerations were also discovered. He also probably sexually abused her when she was dead.”
In May 1999, another twisted killer, Vladimir W, was suspected in the murder case after killing his own father and using the skin from his scalp to create a macabre mask.
However, he had no connection to Katarzyna and there was no evidence that suggested his involvement.
The murder remained a cold case for nearly 20 years before Robert Janczewski was detained in October 2017 – despite having been a person of interest in the case since 1999.
The arrested was prompted by a mysterious letter sent by a friend of the suspect – its contents currently a closely guarded secret.
When cops raided his home bloodstains on his bathroom mirror were matched to the 23-year-old student.
Janczewski had a history of harassing women and was a martial arts expert.
He had also been fired from the Cracow Institute of Zoology after a number of rabbits in his care mysteriously died overnight – the lab was known for its work dissecting animals.
It is also believed that Janczewski visited the student’s grave on multiple occasions – despite to this day claiming he never knew Katarzyna.
He was charged with aggravated murder and is being held in prison after police requested a closed trial.
Katarzyna’s mother was unable to hold back tears as her daughter’s accused killer stood before a judge on February 7, 2021.
The heartbroken mum has never been able to bury her daughter’s remains and is still waiting for her killer to be bought to justice.
Details of the court case are unclear after proceedings were carried out in private – the latest hearing on March 29.
The Krakow court press office states that nearly 500 files have been collected so far.
Janczewski has now spent five years behind bars while cops gathered more evidence.
His father spoke to a local paper, Krakow Naszemiasto, in January this year, claiming his son was innocent.
He said: “I am afraid that my wife and I will not live to see justice and the moment when my son will regain his freedom.”
Łukasz Chojniak, the defendant’s attorney, also told the Polish paper that he was unable to comment on the case but only stated that the trial was pending.