Western Standard
email print

Geography of a Murder

When Ted Mieczkowski was found beaten to death 10 years ago, no one thought to investigate the retired professor's links to international arms smugglers. That may be about to change

Candis McLean - July 11, 2005

Zbigniew Mieczkowski couldn't sleep. He had just returned to Winnipeg from a two-month tour of Poland and Ukraine and he had jet lag. But the 71-year-old geography professor travelled often--to more than 100 countries over his career--and had developed his own surefire remedy for jet lag: a little bit of exercise and a couple of doses of valium seemed to do the trick. It was the early evening of July 19, 1995, when Mieczkowski downed a couple of pills, hopped on his bicycle and rode seven blocks from his home near the Red River to a party at the home of a collezague.

After a little wine, and feeling the effects of the alcohol combined with the sedatives and jet lag, Mieczkowski climbed back on his bicycle and began "wobbling" down the street toward his home at around nine o'clock, recalls the party's host, Jacek Fabrykowski. It was the last time he would see Mieczkowski alive.

The next morning, Mieczkowski's wife, Ludmila Ilina, awoke to prepare for a business trip. The living room couch where Mieczkowski often slept was empty. According to her courtroom testimony, she went to her husband's bedroom--the two had separate sleeping quarters--and saw that his bed was undisturbed. Finding the front door unlocked, she went outside. There, she discovered Mieczkowski's body on the driveway. He had been brutally beaten, a forensic autopsy would later show, between 17 and 19 times with at least two blunt objects. He had been dragged outside and left to die with his bicycle on top of him. Ilina called 9-1-1.

Today, Ilina, 66, is serving a life sentence in Edmonton's Prison for Women for the murder of her husband. From the start, she has protested her innocence. Now she may be on the verge of finally proving it. But while a new investigation may answer once and for all the question of Ilina's innocence, it is guaranteed to raise a whole host of further questions about the life--and death--of her deceased husband. A scrutiny of Mieczkowski's murder has turned up evidence that, in addition to an interest in geography, the professor may have been involved with international arms smuggling, leading some to wonder if the killing was politically motivated, or the result of a deal gone wrong.

On Jan. 24, following a precedent-setting review of three high-profile murder cases in which convictions were obtained before the perfection of DNA-based evidence, the Manitoba Department of Justice began a process that could see several decades-old murder cases reopened. After "post-conviction reviews" of the three cases raised the possibility that there had been miscarriages of justice, the province invited Manitoba defence lawyers to review old files and bring forward other cases where they believed DNA evidence might exonerate clients.

"I knew Ludmila and believed she was innocent," says Muriel Smith, who served as Manitoba's deputy premier in the eighties.

In 2003, Smith hired a Victoria-based private investigator, Leanne Jones, to investigate the case against Ilina. (Jones provided files that assisted in the preparation of this story). After reviewing the transcripts of Ilina's trial, Jones stumbled onto what she believes may be a critical detail uninvestigated by police. A strand of white hair and a drop of blood found on the outside steps near Mieczkowski's body belonged neither to him nor Ilina. In addition, fibres found in the blood did not match any material within the house. The unmatched samples were brought up briefly at Ilina's 1997 murder trial, but were dismissed by RCMP DNA expert Jim Cadieux, who claimed they likely came from contamination at the laboratory--the result of a "cough or sneeze around the object" in the lab. Fifty white hairs recovered from the victim's body did not belong to either of the home's residents, but Jones says genetic comparisons were never conducted to see if those hairs and the hair on the step were a match. "Because there was not much DNA [comparison] done in 1995, this possible match appears never to have been performed," Jones says.

But with the Manitoba Justice Department now offering to revisit old cases in which further DNA examination might have made a difference, Ilina's case may get a second look. After hearing of the offer, Ilina immediately submitted to the minister's Criminal Conviction Review Group a 472-page manuscript laying out the case for her innocence. In 2004, she convinced the Toronto-based Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted to review her case; if lawyers from the non-profit group conclude she has been wrongly convicted, they would act on her behalf.

More articles by Candis McLean