True Crime Tales with Cosette | The grim case of Katarzyna Zowada

Hello everyone!

Amidst all the true crime tales I've read and watched, today's case is particularly unsettling. I'm referring to the incredibly twisted case of Katarzyna Zowada and how she met with a fate worse than death! So sit back as I recount her tragic story.

Katarzyna Zowada
Katarzyna Zowada

Watch the YouTube video on my channel - The Shocking Truth About Katarzyna Zowada's Tragic Fate

During the late 1990s, Katarzyna Zowada was a pretty, blonde 23-year-old student at Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland. According to her acquaintances, Zowada was pleasant, however sad and withdrawn. 

Katarzyna had been attending University, where she studied religion. This was a change in her original plans as she had started her University life studying psychology, but that all changed after her father died. She had been suffering from depression since her father died in 1996. As a result, she had been visiting a psychiatrist and would frequently meet with her mother during those sessions.

Katarzyna failed to meet her mother at the Psychiatric Clinic in Nowa Huta, where she was being treated for depression, on the 12th of November, 1998. She never showed up for the appointment. Her mother attempted to submit a missing person's report at the local police station later that day but was urged to wait. 

They told her that because of her age, she was likely with friends or forgot about her appointment and was probably fine. Katarzyna's mother began searching for her daughter but with no luck. There was little she could do. Her daughter appeared to have vanished without a trace.

Some wondered if she had vanished of her own volition to get away from everyone. Others worried that she would take dramatic measures since she was depressed. Nearly two months later, a finding would be made that would not only horrify the country of Poland but would also spark a two-decade investigation.

Miroslaw M., a tugboat operator, opened a hatch on the Los, a barge pusher on the Vistula River, on a cold winter morning on the 6th of January, 1999, to remove what had been trapped in the propeller since the previous evening. He anticipated seeing a tyre or a tree branch, but what he found was unexpected. He was wondering what the thing was. The object found was pale and sack-like, and then he detected a horrible odour and recognised a human ear.

Elk tugboat
The crew of the Elk pusher tug found the human remains.

It was confirmed to be human skin after a thorough inspection. Katarzyna Zowada was identified through DNA testing. The coroner indicated that the remains had been in the water for 2 or 3 weeks before being discovered. Unlike every other "discovered body" story, the sailor who discovered Katarzyna didn't find her body. He only discovered her skin. In other terms, she was likely skinned alive!

We can't begin to understand how dreadful and painful Katarzyna's final moments were. Her right leg and clothing were also rescued from the river on the 14th of January. The human leg got stuck in the grate collecting waste from the Vistula River. The rest of her body, including her skull and limbs, was never found.

Authorities uncovered something terrible when they examined the young girl's bones. They discovered her skin had been prepared in such a way that it could be worn as a suit, similar to what Leatherface did in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It has also been suggested that the killer might have been inspired by the movie The Silence of the Lambs.

a sketch of the human skin suit
A sketch of the human skin suit

Ed Gein, an American serial killer and body-snatcher, also accomplished this terrible operation, although he used to do it using stolen bodies. The case of Katarzyna Zowada was different. It is still regarded as one of the most heinous killings in Polish history. Despite how horrifying the murder was, the story never made international headlines.

The Forensic Medicine Unit in Kraków received a man's corpse with a dismembered and scalped head in May 1999. The killer, Vladimir W., was revealed to be the victim's son, originating from the Caucasus. Before his arrest, he was observed wearing a skin mask extracted from his father's head.

Initially, authorities accused Vladimir of murdering Katarzyna, but no evidence was uncovered to corroborate this theory. He was charged with murdering his father and sentenced to 25 years. Later he was moved to a Russian prison at his request.

The inquiry was formally dropped a year later since the perpetrator had not been found, but law enforcement officers involved in the case continued to pursue credible leads.

The prosecutor's office reopened the inquiry in 2012 due to breakthroughs in forensic research and collaboration with experts. For example, foreign specialists from Spain and Portugal were reached, who commented on the torture inflicted on the victim. FBI specialists also supported the police officers from the X-Files (cold case unit) in Kraków who investigated the case of the "skin". A second autopsy of the victim's remains was requested.

Experts from the Wroclaw Medical University's 3D Expertise Laboratory built a model of the victim's injuries. Investigators later discovered that the assailant used a sharp object to inflict wounds on his victim's neck, armpit, and groin. An FBI representative for Europe prepared a psychological profile of the suspect in 2014, highlighting his sadistic inclinations.

The killer was a male who enjoyed harassing women and was likely to have a criminal record. Judging by the wounds on the remains, he likely knew self-defence and could have used this knowledge to incapacitate his victim. It was determined that Katarzyna was first beaten and then stabbed. The victim was tortured before her murder, and the offender was most likely trained in martial arts, notably one specific, undisclosed version. 

Her declared cause of death was blood loss, but it was also determined that she had her organs removed while still alive. It was presumed that she passed out and succumbed to blood loss shortly after. Her skin was removed after she died and re-sewed to construct the suit that was subsequently discovered by the tugboat.

The prosecutor's office discontinued the proceedings several times due to the failure to detect the perpetrator of the crime. After discovering new evidence, police made the first arrest in October 2017. Robert Janczewski, 52, was detained in Kraków's Kazimierz area on suspicion of being the murderer who tortured and skinned Katarzyna before using her skin to construct a suit. Finally, in the autumn of 2017, Robert Janczewski, a resident of Kraków, was placed behind bars. 

Robert Janczewski's arrest
Robert Janczewski's arrest

During the investigation, the accused categorically denied the allegations and pleaded not guilty. Janczewski argued that he did not know Katarzyna.

The police spent 19 years attempting to apprehend the murderer. Ultimately, Janczewski made their job simpler by visiting Katarzyna's grave, where a camera was installed and recorded him.

When investigators examined his flat, they discovered traces of the victim's blood and hair. As a result, the bath and frame were secured in preparation for future testing. This is a crucial clue because the suspect maintains that he did not know Katarzyna. In 1999, he was already under police investigation but had not been detained.

Because he was trained in martial arts, knew the victim, visited the victim's cemetery, and had a history of harassing women, Janczewski fit the psychological profile. He used to work in a dissecting lab, where he had to deal with human bodies. The accused also worked at the Kraków Institute of Zoology, where he saw the preparation of animal skins. His job was terminated the day after he slaughtered all of the institute's rabbits during his shift. Janczewski was unable to explain his behaviour.

The cops arrested him after receiving a letter from the suspect's friend. The contents of the letter are a well-kept investigative secret. Janczewski was arrested and charged with aggravated murder with particular cruelty. He insists that he never met Katarzyna Zowada. He also says that the letter does not exist and that the police made it up to obtain a warrant to arrest him.

While investigators gathered evidence, the Court of Appeal agreed to extend his imprisonment until the 6th of September, 2018. When Robert Janczewski was still awaiting trial, he made headlines after saying that jail guards harassed and ridiculed him, infuriating officers and prosecutors.

After being obliged to investigate the claims and discovering them to be false, they have now stated that they are adding "lying to police" by "falsely accusing the prison guards" to the counts he faces. Investigators requested a closed trial. 

Janczewski was charged with killing the student with particular cruelty, motivated by sadistic and fetishistic sexual preference disorders. There was talk of numerous sexual perversions in the form of necrosadism and necrophilic fetishism. The National Prosecutor's Office investigator also enumerated the injuries suffered by the tortured victim and indicated that she must have been deprived of liberty and kept in a closed room. This is indicated by injuries on the leg. Her right leg above the ankle must have been strapped to something. Then, between the 7th and the 14th of December, 1998, Janczewski strangled the victim with a chain. He had previously given her medication. He also broke her femur and pelvis by hitting her with a barbell and a bodybuilding plate. There were also stabs, cuts and laceration wounds.

In front of the Kraków court, Robert Janczewski, accused of the heinous murder, declared his innocence. He stated: "I understand the charge against me. I plead not guilty. I am innocent". In 2020, the perpetrator was sentenced to life in prison.

If you're from Poland and know of any additional information, please feel free to share it in the comments below.

Were you aware of this gruesome case? Leave a comment below!

Until next time, ciao!



I'm a vegan with a passion for sustainability and clean, cruelty-free products. I mainly write lifestyle, wellness and self-care articles. Since I'm a true crime enthusiast, sometimes I also write about true crime and post videos on my two YouTube channels.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment! If you ask a question I will answer it asap. – Cosette

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