Son's Addiction Reached Point of Murder, Suicide

By Burnett, Sara | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), May 28, 2002 | Go to article overview

Son's Addiction Reached Point of Murder, Suicide


Burnett, Sara, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Sara Burnett Daily Herald Staff Writer

As he sat with Cary police late on the night his wife and son died, Jacek Smyl, a staid, Polish-born electrician not normally prone to expressions of emotion, sobbed openly.

"Basia," he cried over and over. "Basia, Basia."

It was the name he called his wife Barbara, her Polish name.

"I can't believe he did it," he continued.

"Why?"

It was a question officers weren't able to answer that night - one they say they probably never will.

Earlier on the evening of Jan. 15, 2002, Jacek, known to most people as Jack, had returned home from work to find his wife dead in the basement of the family's Cary home, a knife protruding from her eye.

According to the coroner's report, Barbara had been stabbed 10 times in the neck and head. More than two dozen cuts and bruises covered her body.

Jack knew his wife and their only child, Maciej - whom most people called Matt - had argued earlier that morning about money Barbara believed Matt had stolen to buy heroin.

Matt had been sitting in the living room watching "The Simpsons" when Jack arrived home, police reports show.

Now, as he walked upstairs, Jack began screaming at the 20-year- old, demanding to know what had happened.

Matt said nothing as he rose slowly from the couch and began walking toward his father.

Then he turned, and Jack saw the hammer.

The two fought, and Jack, the older and stronger of the two, managed to get the hammer away from his son.

He ran to a neighbor's house and yelled for her to call 911, then ran back across the street. There, he told police, he found his 20-year-old son on the floor of an upstairs bathroom, his throat slit with his own knife.

Matt died later that night.

Toxicology tests later found the young man had used heroin in the hours leading up to his death. Interviews with his friends and co-workers revealed he may have snorted as many as 11 bags of the drug throughout the day.

Yet what happened inside the house on Ridgewood Drive that day and night still defies an explanation.

Certainly, police and others could blame the deaths on the drugs. But most people who use heroin never do what Matt did.

They could say Matt was disturbed, that he had some kind of emotional problem that led him to kill. But whether he would have turned so violent were it not for the drugs, no one will ever know.

What they do know is that for the most part, Matt Smyl was a quiet student at Cary-Grove High School who teachers said was talented at art.

They know that he and his parents lived in a nice house in a late 1980s Cary subdivision, that his father, an electrician at Gurtz Electric in Arlington Heights, was the family's main breadwinner, and that his mother stayed home to care for them, putting dinner on the table at the same time every night.

And though they're not certain why, they know that somewhere along the line, everything went terribly wrong.

A budding artist

Art was Matt's thing. He didn't play sports, wasn't on the student council, didn't sign up for the slew of activities some kids use to pad their college applications.

Instead he sketched and painted. And he was good at it, his former instructors recall, winning an award his senior year at the school's annual art show for a still-life he painted of a combat boot.

In class, Matt said little but got good grades, earning a regular spot on the school's honor roll. Outside class, he hung out with a small group of friends, his former teachers say.

After graduating from Cary-Grove in 1999, Matt went to Columbia College in Chicago to study art.

He apparently didn't stay long. School records show Matt was last enrolled at Columbia in the spring of 2000.

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