Searching for answers
By Susan Frick Carlman firstname.lastname@example.org November 3, 2012 6:58PM
Marilyn Lemak | Courtesy Photo~Illinois Department of Corrections
Updated: December 5, 2012 6:23AM
No one is attempting to find reason in the killings of two young children in north Naperville Tuesday night. However, a local mental health professional offered some insight into what could have been going on in the mind of the accused murderer.
It is an issue that impacts not just Naperville, of course. According to a 2010 study by the American Anthropological Association, there are more than 200 cases each year in the U.S. in which mothers kill their children.
Attention has been focused on Naperville in the last few days after the grisly tragedy on the 800 block of Quin Court late Tuesday night.
Elzbieta Plackowska, who lives in the Olive Tree Apartments near Bailey Road and Washington Street, is being held without bond in the DuPage County Jail after authorities said she admitted to fatally stabbing her 7-year-old son, Justin Plackowski, and 5-year-old Olivia Dworakowski, whom she was babysitting.
Investigators were told that Plackowska and her husband were having marital problems, and that she felt he did not appreciate her efforts to be a good wife and mother.
“She told detectives that by killing Justin, she would make her husband hurt as he had made her hurt in the relationship,” DuPage County State’s Attorney Robert Berlin said in a press conference following Plackowska’s appearance in bond court Thursday morning.
Licensed counselor and addictions specialist Paula Brown thinks there likely was much more at work than an undervalued spouse.
Although there has been no report of the couple’s marriage being strained by infidelity, sometimes an affair is a contributing factor, she said.
“When people are betrayed by their partners, they’re going to go through some depression,” said Brown, who until about six years ago had a practice in Naperville in addition to her current Hinsdale location.
Numerous reports said severe depression was a factor when Marilyn Lemak drugged and smothered her three young children in their downtown Naperville home in 1999. Lemak, whose marriage was disintegrating at the time of the murders, is serving a life sentence with no possibility of parole.
Brown sees parallels in the two shocking crimes.
“Both stories are a cautionary tale here,” she said. “I believe that people who are in these kind of situations, they need to go and talk to their physicians. They need medication and some kind of therapy, but a lot of people try to manage these things by themselves.”
Lemak appeared in a French television documentary in the spring called “Mal de Mere,” which translates as “Mother’s Sickness.” The hourlong documentary featured Lemak and several other women who have killed or injured their children.
At the time of its release, Lemak’s attorney said that his client was angry about the documentary, claiming the producers told her that the documentary would be on mental health and postpartum depression, not on the killing of children.
Reporters for Sun-Times Media have repeatedly sought interviews with Lemak since her imprisonment on April 9, 2002. Lemak has declined all of those requests.
Often there is something relatively treatable contributing to feelings of overwhelming depression. Brown’s first suggestion for people not feeling well is frequently to have their thyroid levels checked.
“If you suffer from any thyroid condition, oftentimes it will mimic the symptoms of depression and general anxiety disorder,” she said.
She surmised that if Justin bore a physical resemblance to his father, the apparent target of Plackowska’s fury, that could have contributed to the boy being stabbed some 100 times.
And if Plackowska was abusing alcohol or other drugs on the night of her alleged crimes, the resulting altered state also could have driven her actions, Brown said. If not, “then we’re talking about a psychotic break,” she said.
Officials said Plackowska is not a U.S. citizen. She came from her native Poland a dozen years ago on a vacation visa, they said, and has remained here ever since. If she was suffering from mental illness — and Brown is certain she was — the culture in which she grew up could have dissuaded her from getting help. Residents of Poland and Russia typically show far greater sensitivity to seeking help, Brown said, than those of other European countries. It’s far different from South America, she said, where many people see their therapists several times each week.
“It’s just considered the norm. When you get into the areas like Poland, there still is a stigma about therapy and mental illness,” she said. “I think the thinking in the general population is that it’s something that can be willed away. In mental illness, there is a chemical imbalance that is going on; my body doesn’t feel well, and that will affect the way I think.”