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True crime. Casually done.

Running Amok: Krystian Bala, the Literary Killer

Fact and fiction often overlap in true crime. Hearsay becomes conspiracy theory, which collides with witness testimony, which puts a spin on hard evidence. And somewhere, buried deep under all those layers, is some obscure little thing called ‘truth’. In today’s case, that evasive end goal was even more fickle than usual.

After writing a violent, taboo-filled debut, a young Polish novelist found himself accused of murder. Generally, writing a book about violence doesn’t necessarily make you a criminal; I’m pretty sure Dostoyevsky never smashed anyone’s head in, and as far as we know Agatha Christie never slashed anyone up on a train. 

But for the lead detective on the case, this particular book was more than a simple work of fiction: certain details made it seem like it might be an elaborate, creative confession to a crime that went cold years ago…


Chapter 1: An Unhappy Homecoming

Once upon a time — in September 2005, to be a bit more precise— globetrotting intellectual Krystian Bala flew back to his home country of Poland to visit family. Still in his early thirties, Bala spent most of his time travelling around the world, teaching scuba diving to fund his true passion: writing philosophical fiction.

Not long after he touched down in Poland, the young novelist was accosted by a group of his biggest fans. But these readers weren’t looking for an autograph. As Bala left a pharmacy in his hometown Chojnow, he was set upon by a group of four thugs. One of them got him in a chokehold, and another twisted his arms up behind his back so hard he thought they would snap, clapping on a pair of handcuffs. 

The men then tossed him into the back of a car, and told him to lie down on the floor. As the car sped off, one of the men slipped a plastic bag over his head, and punched Krystian in the gut whenever he tried to speak. He could hear their leader speaking on the phone, saying “Hi, boss! We got the shithead! Yes, he’s still alive. So now what? At the meeting point?”

Bala knew he was being kidnapped — the men probably thought he was loaded, on account of his budding writing career. But they had severely overestimated how lucrative the writing profession is. Bala only just made enough to fund his travels, never mind paying a ransom.

The car pulled to a stop after a few minutes, and Bala heard them discuss killing him there and then, in the woods. But rather than dump him in an unmarked grave, the kidnappers continued on. The next time the car stopped, he was dragged into a building. And when the suffocating plastic bag was finally taken off, Bala found himself in a damp little concrete room. 

Over the next few hours, he was forced to strip down, beaten mercilessly, and denied food. The kidnappers told him that, if he declined to cooperate, he was a dead man. Then after enough violent theatrics to soften the writer up nicely, a new man came into the room — middle aged, balding, with a stern glare fixed on the terrified man in front of him.

The visitor sat down across from Bala at the small metal table, and introduced himself: “My name is Detective Wroblewski. I’d like to ask you a few questions…”


A Cold Morning by the River Oder

Apparently, arrests are pretty hardcore in Poland; nothing gets a suspect talking like the threat of being executed and buried in the forest. To understand why poor Krystian Bala found himself face to face with the detective that day in 2005, we first have to jump back half a decade to the year 2000. On November 13th that year, a man named Dariusz Janiszewski left the offices of his small advertising firm in the Polish city of Wroclaw (just a few hours from the Czech and German borders), to meet a client. 

Nothing seemed amiss as the receptionist watched him walk out the door at around 4pm, turning down the street towards the car park. But somewhere between the office door and the car, Dariusz went missing. His car was still in the parking lot at closing time, despite the fact he never returned to the office. Even stranger, he never returned home either. 

His wife waited for him late into the night, ringing his cell phone over and over, but Dariusz never picked up. It was unlike him to take off without telling anyone, especially since the business needed him. Even if he’d met an old friend and went off for a drink, he would at leave have text. So early the next morning, she reported him missing to the police.

It was a long four weeks before any trace of Dariusz Janiszewski was found. In December, three friends were out fishing at a remote stretch of the Oder River, not far from the city, when they saw something floating in the water. At first they thought it was part of a tree, but as they got closer, they saw sodden clothing draped over the mass. 

One of them reached out and poked at it with his fishing rod, and as it rolled over slightly they realised it was the corpse of a man. The police removed the partially-decayed remains from the water, and noted that the guy was a physical match for the missing businessman (his mother later confirmed it). Accidental death was quickly ruled out — unless Janiszewski had somehow managed to tie a noose around his own neck, then tie his hands behind his back.

And judging by the frayed ends of the ropes, it was clear that his arms were originally tied to the noose, meaning he would have strangled himself to death the more he struggled against his captor. Not the nicest way to go.

The only clothing left on him were his underwear and a sweater, meaning he was probably stripped down to humiliate him. Similarly, the lack of food in his intestines suggested he had been starved for days before the execution. And worst of all: post-mortem analysis showed that drowning may have been the cause of death. That would mean he was tossed into the frigid waters while still alive.

Now that the missing person case had officially been upgraded to a murder, the cops began hunting for a motive. But the deceased was a pretty normal guy: mild-mannered, no enemies, no debts. And although his marriage had some rocky patches, he and his wife of 8 years had been planning to adopt a child when he went missing. On paper, it seemed like nobody in the world had reason to kill Janiszewski.

Perhaps a robbery then? People knew that the man owned his own company, so he must have had a bit of cash in his pocket. If money were the motive though, surely there would have been some activity on the man’s credit cards after he was killed. Otherwise the killers only have walked away with the handful of zlote in his pocket. But the credit cards were never used.

In fact, the only lead the police had in the whole thing was a pair of phone calls, made from the anonymous client that the murdered man was on his way to meet that day. His mother, who worked as an accounting clerk at the firm, received a call at 9:30am that morning. The guy on the other end of the line sounded official — sophisticated even.

He inquired about their rates for printing posters, and then asked to speak to Janiszewski directly. The boss was yet to arrive, so his mother passed on his mobile phone number to the caller, and left it at that. When Janiszewski made it into the office later that day, he confirmed that the same man had called him, and they’d arranged to meet later that day. 

It seemed like the businessman had managed to meet this anonymous client that day, but apparently they weren’t much interested in buying posters. There was one witness who might actually have caught a glimpse of these kidnappers on the day of the incident: the receptionist.

She never thought anything of it at the time, but as Janiszewski walked out the door and turned down the street, she saw two men come down the pavement behind him. In retrospect, she thought that they might have been intentionally tailing him. But she couldn’t give an accurate description of them, so the lead ran into a dead end.

And with it died the investigation. Whoever had killed Dariusz Janiszewski had pulled off the perfect crime: not a shred of physical evidence in sight, and no further witnesses to identify them. The family hung a wooden cross on a tree, near when the man’s body was found, and tried to move on with their lives. 

That probably would have been the closing chapter in the story, had the cold case not found its way onto the desk of a particularly determined detective, almost three years later…


Tracking the Phone

Enter our old-school cop, the guy who rocked up at the end of the fake kidnapping earlier on: Detective Jacek Wroblewski. He and his team of detectives at Wroclaw Police HQ received the Janiszewski case file in autumn 2003, still with no leads, no suspects, and no hope in heaven of ever cracking it. 

As is always the first step with these dead cases, their job began with trudging through every minor detail in the file, looking for any angle that hadn’t been explored so far. After a few long evenings spent obsessing over the case, he decided that the phone calls were the key. 

The department telecoms tech had already worked out that the calls made to the victim’s office and cell phone both came from a pay phone on the same street, less than a minute’s walk from the office itself. This meant that the kidnappers had been staking out the building since morning, probably planning on snatching Janiszewski earlier in the day. 

There weren’t any cameras facing that phone box, so Wroblewski instead focussed on the victim’s own phone. Just like his credit cards, the records showed it was never used after his disappearance. But that wasn’t the only way to trace a phone — if the detective could only find out the serial number, he would be able to check it against the ledgers of pawn shops and resale websites. 

By a stroke of luck, his widow had kept the receipt, which did indeed show the serial number. Just like that, Detective Wroblewski managed to wrench a fresh lead out of a case that seemed long past its sell-by date: the mobile phone had been sold on a website called Allegro (basically Polish eBay), four days after the victim disappeared. 

And despite pulling off an otherwise perfect crime, it appeared as if the killer had left a glaring bit of exposition right there on his seller’s profile: the username ChrisB…


A bit of digging into the background of this digital identity revealed that Chris B was the anglicised pseudonym of one Krystian Bala, a 32-year-old man from Wroclaw. But Krystian didn’t exactly seem the killing type: a slim, bespectacled philosophy graduate with a love of literature, he probably didn’t have the will or physical capability to murder the much larger victim. 

Bala hardly fit the profile of your average gangster or robber either. He was highly educated, graduating near the top of his class at the University of Wroclaw, and was even once set to get his PhD. Bala was forced to quit the academic path in ‘97, since he didn’t have the funds to support himself, his high school girlfriend-turned-wife Stasia, and newborn son Kacper. 

The detective thought there must be some explanation — a simple case of mistaken identity. Perhaps Bala picked up the phone from the street, and saw a chance to make a bit of beer money by selling it on. After all, who would be stupid enough to kill a man and sell his phone online using their real name? Certainly not someone with Bala’s IQ.

Wroblewski prepared to contact Bala for a statement, which was a little difficult seeing as he was already living overseas in Asia by this point, after separating from his wife some years ago. In the meantime, they kept gathering details on his character, just in case he turned out to be a genuine suspect.

That’s when Detective Wroblewski made a discovery that changed his mind on the man entirely — something that suggested there was a secret dark side to this highly-educated philosopher. As I mentioned before, Bala actually belonged to a group of detestable egomaniacs, famous for their moral depravity: he was a writer…


Running Amok

That’s right, earlier that same year Krystian Bala fulfilled a lifelong dream, and became a published author. The novel, written in his native Polish, was titled Amok, and it served as a bit of a manifesto for the niche postmodernist views he developed in the Wroclaw uni philosophy department. 

Running amok
The book amok

I don’t just mean some obnoxious views on art — Amok goes a little further than that. The book about one man’s descent into a spree of increasing depravity: sex, violence, drugs, (all that good stuff), in the belief that he’s above morality. That little blurb doesn’t exactly pique my interest, but it was very interesting to Detective Wroblewski.

He had just discovered that a man adjacent to this violent murder case has written extensively on violent murder. Hoping it might provide a bit of a character reference for his current #1 suspect, the detective decided to switch out the case file for a copy. It wouldn’t have been an easy book to get ahold of; since Poland is a pretty conservative Catholic country, this sort of taboo, anti-church stuff (with a devilish goat’s head on the front cover, no less) wasn’t stocked in many mainstream stores. 

The detective managed to find one, probably tucked away on a top shelf among the porn magazines, and started combing through it to see exactly what kind of mind he was dealing with. His colleagues thought the detective had gone a bit mad, or a bit soft, or both. Was he really hoping to solve a murder case by reading a book like some kind of posh boy?

Most of us insufferable literature grads would agree: characters don’t represent their writers. But the more he read, the more adamant Detective Wroblewski became — inside the pages of Amok were some clues that Krystian Bala might be more like his sadistic antihero than he let on in everyday life.

Here’s a brief little synopsis of what the book is all about: a hedonistic translator called Chris travels between Mexico and Paris, sleeping with women, drinking with his group of nihilistic mates, and fantasising about sexual violence. 

When I say ‘sexual violence’ I’m not talking soft, 50 Shades of Grey level stuff; Amok features a passage where the narrator fantasises about sexually assaulting his own mother. Now might be a good time to mention that Bala gave a signed copy to his parents when it was published — that must have been a very uncomfortable Christmas.  

In the end, the antihero eventually murders Mary, one of his girlfriends. And this is the part that really set the Detective’s alarm bells ringing: when he does this, he ties a noose around her neck…


Bala himself was certain that his book would one day be seen as a great work of literature, but honestly, it just sounds like standard shock-porn dross. That kind of thing hardly raises an eyebrow in many places these days, but in conservative Poland, it was still pretty scandalous. 

Predictably, it didn’t sell very well, and received mixed reviews at best from the press. Even Bala’s mates and old professors though it was a bit rubbish. What’s more, it didn’t do the intelligent, funny, popular guy that they had known all those years justice. Where they saw a good mate who wouldn’t hurt a fly, the few people who read Amok saw a twisted monster.

On Bala’s personal website, where he also published excerpts from the book and chatted in the persona of his characters, people left comments calling him a misogynistic psycho (bear in mind this was three years before Twitter, so online abuse hadn’t quite been fully normalised yet). 

One of his female friends even had a confrontation with him in the comments section, saying that the narrator’s twisted thoughts must have come from his own mind, so Bala himself was clearly quite depraved. In his typical, condescending way, he said that all these accusations were ridiculous: 

“A simple reader will find interesting only a few violent scenes with a graphic description of people having sex. But if someone really looks, he will see that these scenes are intended to awaken the reader and […] show how fucked up and impoverished and hypocritical this world is.”

But Detective Wroblewski was no simple reader, and he went one further than the rest of the critics — he not only suspected that Bala was just as depraved as his characters, but also that the events in Amok weren’t actually as fictional as he claimed. He made the novel compulsory reading for all the detectives in his team, turning his squad of hard-boiled Slavic cops into a soft-boiled book club.

Each detective was assigned chapters to analyse for any similarities between the lives of the main character and Krystian Bala. Now, it definitely is true that authors do often insert their own lives into their work. That’s why my debut follows the adventures of a top content writer who cyber bullies serial killers so much, the FBI hire him as their top profiler.

But not all author insertions are as straightforwardly honest as mine. And just because a guy wrote about a sadistic, nihilistic murderer, doesn’t make him one. With that disclaimer out of the way, here are the reasons that this particular writer probably was a sadistic, nihilistic murderer…


On the surface level, Chris and Krystian were much the same person. They both were separated from their wives, drank too much, and had some minor brushes with the law. In the book, Chris and his mate get drunk and steal an idol of St Anthony from a church. Lo and behold, Bala’s criminal record revealed he and his friend had been arrested for the exact same thing after a night of drinking years ago. So far, nothing particularly incriminating, unless we’re just charging him with blasphemy.

But some details in the novel went beyond all that, and seemed to reference the murder of Dariusz Janiszewski directly. For example, the noose around the neck mirrored what happened to the real-life murdered man. In the novel, Chris talks about how he struggled to tie the knot — was this perhaps drawn from Bala’s personal experience with Janiszewski? 

That might seem like a bit of a leap, until you hear this: it was later discovered that Bala’s search history on Polish eBay included a police manual, titled Accidental, Suicidal, or Criminal Hanging. Sounds like a real page turner. Bala never ended up purchasing the book, but it at least proves he was in the market for that information. 

Another little detail was flagged up by Wroclaw’s finest literary detectives: there are actually two murders mentioned in Amok. The narrator Chris claims to have killed a man before, due to a fit of jealous rage. Bala’s business was going under at the time, while the victim’s was thriving. Could that have been enough to make him murderously jealous?

Wroblewski knew that this all seemed pretty thin. When all your colleagues are off beating down gangsters and raiding drug dens, weekly book reports don’t do much for your reputation. And everything so far could be explained away by the fact that the details of the case were public. Bala could easily have lifted the details right off the front page of the Wroclaw papers. But there was one key detail in the book that convinced the detective he was on the right track. In the murder scene, Bala wrote:

“I tightened the noose around her neck, holding her down with one hand. With my other hand, I stabbed the knife below her left breast.”

The murder weapon he’s talking about is a ceremonial Japanese knife. Bala then has his character sell that same knife a few days after the killing… on an internet auction site. If you’ll recall, the fact that the murdered man’s phone was sold after his death was only discovered years later, after Bala’s novel was published. That meant there was no way he could’ve borrowed that little detail from the police reports — he must have borrowed it from real life. 

To Wroblewski and his men, it was now clear that Amok wasn’t just a work of imagination, but one big, extended, cryptic murder confession…


The Absurd Matter

Which brings us back to 2005. By then, Krystian and his wife were fully separated (thanks to his dual love of drinking and brothel-diving), his business was bust, and he was off galavanting around Japan, Korean, and America, publishing the odd travel article to make ends meet. This meant that the police couldn’t risk letting word get out about their suspicions, or Bala might never return to Poland, and live a life on the lam instead. 

They had to wait for him to return home wilfully. It was a matter of watching and waiting, made worthwhile when Bala made a routine trip back at the end of summer that year. Within a week of his arrival, Detective Wroblewski and his team intercepted the author as he walked out of the pharmacy in Chojnow. 

Pharmacy In Chojnow
Pharmacy In Chojnow. Credit chojnow.pl

You’ve already heard Bala’s side of the story, but to hear Wroblewski tell it, it was a perfectly civil arrest. Bala was picked up on the street, and peacefully taken to Wroclaw Police HQ for questioning. If you’re not sure who to believe, now would be a good time to mention that Bala was well known for making up tall tales.

His friends testified that he loved turning his everyday life into fiction. Apparently he often came to them with stories about flings that never happened, or made-up accomplishments. He loved to brag about how he was above a normal existence, and “capable of anything.” Eventually it was impossible to tell which of his boasts were fake and which true. While most people call it ‘being an irritating bullshitter’, this philosophy grad preferred ‘mytho-creativity’. Take a second to roll your eyes.

What this basically meant was that Krystian enjoyed making up little stories, and seeing how many people he could convince to believe them. After his arrest in 2005, he put those powers to work on a gargantuan scale… 


After being released from custody, Bala started spinning a story to counter the one the police had worked on for the past two years. He sent out letters to academic institutions, and typed up posts on his personal blog, complaining about how he was being persecuted by the establishment simply for writing a blasphemous novel. 

Since Poland was still under a repressive communist regime a little over a decade prior, its artists were no stranger to iron-fisted censorship. That’s maybe at least partly why the creative community rallied around Bala. 

His American girlfriend Denise Rinehart took his cause global, setting up a defence committee to fight for his freedom. They named the case Sprawa Absurd (the Absurd Matter) and carpet bombed the justice department with letters defending his right to artistic expression.

The cops tried to explain “No, this isn’t some literary witch hunt, people — he literally killed a guy!” But the tide was turning for Detective Wroblewski, two years of hard work going down the drain. His original plan hinged on getting a confession, but the interview at the station hadn’t gone as well as he’d hoped.

To prove he really had nothing to hide, Bala had consented to a polygraph test. Wroblewski quizzed him on the victim (he said he never knew him), the day of the kidnapping (he was working), and the phone (he couldn’t remember where he got it). 

Although the results were inconclusive, Wroblewski sensed Bala was hiding the truth; his breathing seemed to slow during certain questions, as if he was trying to cheat the test. As a qualified scuba instructor, he would be well aware of how to pull that off. 

For now, it was Bala 1 – Wroblewski 0. The only things the writer was charged with that day was selling a stolen phone, and an unrelated bribery charge from years ago. He was released after the 48 window to add further charges expired. From there, Bala and his buddies managed to control the narrative. He himself wrote to his supporters:

“They have ruined my family life. We will never talk loud at home again. We will never use the internet freely again. We will never make any phone calls not thinking about who is listening. […] Every single bark of our little dog alerts us and we don’t know what or who to expect. It’s a terror! Quiet Terror!”

But while he was busy playing the persecuted genius, Wroblewski went back to the drawing board, more determined than ever to scrape away all the layers of fiction and reveal the truth of what Bala really did to Dariusz Janiszewski all those years ago. 

And no matter how good a storyteller Krystian Bala was, the cold, hard facts told a far more compelling narrative…


The Final Missing Pieces

After Bala was released from custody, the department telecoms tech made another key discovery: the calls made to the murdered man’s office and mobile were made not using coins, but a prepaid phone card. By digging around in the card issuer’s records, they managed to get its number, and the call logs attached. In the weeks surrounding the murder, the same card was used to make dozens of calls, all of them to Bala’s friends, business, wife, and family.

Piles upon piles of circumstantial evidence are great, but they wouldn’t amount to much without the last piece of the puzzle: a motive. And what motive could Bala possibly have for killing a man he had no dealings with in the past? The brutality of it suggested the killer had an axe to grind — Janiszewski had been tortured and humiliated, meaning his killer got pleasure out watching the suffering.  

The detective had a criminal profiler do an analysis of the fictional killer Chris. They suggested that this character — a flagrant homophobe — might have been driven to murder and mayhem by his own repressed homosexuality. That gave rise to the theory that the real-life suspect and victim had been having a secret relationship which turned sour, but there was no evidence to back this up.

They were generally on the right track. Wroblewski kept returning time and time again to the very last line of the novel — a cryptic answer to an even more cryptic riddle: “This was the one killed by blind jealousy.” Whenever jealousy comes up in a murder case, you usually have to start looking towards romantic partners. To hear Bala tell it, he had plenty of those, but there was only one he ever spent more than a few weeks or months with: his estranged wife, Stasia. 

Wroblewski decided to focus again on the wife, who had up to this point refused to cooperate with the investigation. He wanted to paint a picture of what their relationship looked like at the time of the murder. Interviews with Bala’s buds revealed that these were some of the most tumultuous in their marriage. 

At that time, Bala was on the verge of losing the small industrial cleaning business he founded after dropping out of university, and his alcoholism was worse than ever. One of Stasia’s friends called him an “authoritarian type” for the way he aggressively dominated her life. 

This led to their separation earlier in the year, but that wasn’t enough to put him off. Bala would go drinking for days on end, and show up at Stasia’s door, shouting abuse and demanding to look through her phone. There’s that blind jealousy that he wrote about. 

Then, on New Years Eve 2000, Stasia and Krystian ended up at the same party, thrown by one of their shared friends. Things took a turn late in the night, when Bala tried to swing for a barman who he accused of trying to chat up his wife. One witness heard him tell the barman “I’ve already dealt with such a guy.” Nobody knew what it meant, apart from Bala himself: Janiszewski’s body had been found just two weeks prior.

Following the trail, they started questioning the other partygoers from that evening. One of them was a woman named Malgorzata Drozdzal, a long-time friend of Stasia. As it turned out, she should have been indicted on firearms charges, because she had been holding on to the smoking gun this entire time. 

Her testimony made up the crucial missing chapter in the murder manuscript that the police had been drafting all these years…


Jumping back again very slightly, to a night in the autumn of 2000, we’re heading to a Wroclaw nightclub called the Crazy Horse. That was where Malgorzata and Stasia went for a night out together, to help her forget about the separation from her domineering husband. After a few drinks, the two women ended up getting separated.

When Malgo eventually found her friend, she saw her chatting with a man at the bar — a tall guy, with dark hair and blue eyes. Stasia’s handsome new friend went by the name Dariusz. He and Stasia exchanged numbers before closing time, and agreed to go on a date together later that week.

There was the piece the police had been searching for all along — the thread that finally connected the suspect and victim, who had otherwise never crossed paths. The cops brought this new information to Stasia. Now, facing the prospect that her ex-husband (the father of her child) was almost definitely guilty, she finally opened up.

Yes, she and Dariusz Janiszewski had gone on a date together that week. Afterwards, they even checked into a hotel, but when she found out he was married, she ducked out for the sake of her conscience (or perhaps this was also a little bit of a fiction, to spare the murdered man’s widow the heartbreak). Even though nothing came of it, Bala somehow still caught wind of the aborted affair. 

A couple of weeks after the date, he knocked on Stasia’s door drunk and screaming, as per. He told her that he knew everything — he had hired a PI to follow her, and they reported every detail, down to the exact room number she and Janiszewski checked into. When the man went missing later that year, Stasia asked Bala if he knew anything about it, and he said no.

For years, there was no reason to think otherwise. Sure, Bala was a dick, but surely not a murderer-dick. Now though, the case against him becoming increasingly clear, Stasia’s illusions of the man she once loved were well and truly shattered. Same with all those furious literati who came out to defend Bala to the death after his arrest.

There were more than a few red faces, when Bala’s house was raided, and he was finally charged with the abduction and murder of Dariusz Janiszewski…


The Trial 

Sat in a caged-off section in a Wroclaw courtroom on February 22nd, 2007, our philosopher-turned-murderer waited nervously for his trial to begin. The story of a postmodern killer openly boasting about his crimes through his work was too good to ignore, so the place was packed as the trial kicked off.

Bala himself looked more like a university professor about to start a lecture, than a killer facing 25 years behind bars. The prosecution’s goal was to display that this Krystian Bala was pretty much one and the same with his fictional counterpart: a hedonistic sadist, who got off on his own philosophically-justified immorality. 

On the other hand, the defence argued that all of the evidence against him was circumstantial (which was true but, there sure was a lot of it). All of the signs pointed to Bala hovering around the victim in the days surrounding his disappearance, and he had no justification for any of it; the evidence gleaned from Amok was really just the cherry on the cake.

When the accused got his chance to question each of the witnesses himself, he was about as irritating as you’d imagine. One ex-girlfriend testified that he once got drunk, and threatened to commit suicide by jumping off the balcony. His response: “Could we just say that this is a matter of semantics—a misuse of the word ‘suicide’?” No Krystian: this is a courtroom, not an undergrad seminar.

The jury were about as impressed by Bala’s defence as the book reviewers were by his novel: 1.5 stars, would not recommend. So in the end, he was found guilty, and sentenced to the maximum punishment available under the law: the full 25 years.  

That meant he would have plenty of time to ponder over the semantics of it all from the comfort of a Wroclaw prison cell…


The Difficult Second Novel 

When The New Yorker’s David Grann went to visit Bala at that dismal, Soviet-era prison back in 2008, he found that the writer’s massive ego had only grown bigger after his conviction. Still obsessed with his own novel, he was even in the habit of reading it out loud to his cellmates (which is definitely how you get shanked). 

Worst of all, he still refused to accept the objective reality of what he had done. In his own eyes, Bala remained a tortured genius, targeted by the state for refusing to abide by their Christian morals:

“I am being sentenced to prison for twenty-five years for writing a book—a book! […] Don’t you see what they are doing? They are constructing this reality and forcing me to live inside it.”

Just like his protagonist Chris says “I’m a good liar, because I believe in the lies myself.” As for what really happened back in 2000, that’s one story he’s not willing to tell.

That means we’ll never know the full details of what happened to Dariusz Janiszewski in his final days. Such as, where exactly did Bala take him to after the kidnapping? How long was he held and tortured for before being tossed in the river? Who was the second man that the receptionist saw tailing the victim outside the office? 

Maybe Bala will drop some hints for us in the big sequel to Amok, which he’s tentatively titled De Liryk. Apparently he’s been working on it since before going to prison, and has vowed to finish it from behind bars. 13 years on, and it still hasn’t been published.

I’m guessing the early reviews from his cell mates were… unfavourable.



More important than his plans for another mediocre novel, were Bala’s plans for another above-average murder. Judging by some cryptic documents on his computer, it seems like he had his next big piece of inspiration lined up, once again targeting a romantic rival. One short text file on his PC read: “Single, 34 years old, his mom died when he was 8.” 

These details matched up perfectly to Stasia’s new boyfriend, who she began seeing not long before Bala’s arrest. Chat room logs showed he had been asking around about this man online, perhaps preparing to draw him in as the second victim. We’ll never know for sure, but it’s definitely a good thing our Krys was caught when he was.

And that’s pretty much the story so far for Bala, the philosopher-killer who ran Amok, finally brought to justice by the work by the unorthodox approach of a determined cop. After winning an appeal and being re-convicted in 2008, he has now resigned himself to serving his 25 years in full. 

The story of how he got himself in that mess turned out to be far more strange and satisfying than anything he ever wrote himself. In fact, the most irritating thing is that this whole affair actually helped Bala’s prospects as an artist, rather than hindered them.

Amok would likely have been forgotten within a few years, but after the news broke, Polish bookstores managed to shift tens of thousands of copies as readers combed through the pages for clues. So Simon, if you’re ever looking for a way to give the CasCrim viewing figures a shot in the arm… I’m not saying kill someone… maybe just a bit of light maiming? 

Keep it up your sleeve, that’s all I’m saying.


Dismembered Appendices 

1. In 2002, a Polish crime-stoppers TV Show called 997 ran a segment on the Janiszewski murder, appealing for information. The landing page for that crime on the show’s website logged hits from some strange destinations in the weeks and months that followed: Korea, America, Japan. When Wroblewski took a look at Bala’s passport stamps, the dates lined up perfectly. Seems like someone was a bit anxious to keep tabs on the case.

2. Krystian’s novel wasn’t even the most disturbing document that Wroblewski had to read for the investigation. On the killer’s laptop, the police found a Word document which was basically a diary of his sexual conquests with seventy-odd women. These included prostitutes, his own cousin, and the elderly mother of a friend. According to The New Yorker, it featured such beautiful phrases as “joy juices” and “old ass, hard-core action”. Thank Christ this one was never published…

3. Some reports mention that Bala actually cracked under the pressure during one of the police interviews, in April 2006. He reportedly confessed to the killing, then retracted the statement and suffered a ‘fainting spell’ like some Victorian damsel. A doctor confirmed he was most likely bullshitting. Ah, the old ‘spill your guts then play dead’ gambit — smooth stuff Krys.

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