Daily News Investigative Series: Joe Mlyniec, Predator in Blue, Part I - The Daily News Online
It’s the afternoon of March 7 and Joe Mlyniec is sitting at his kitchen table with a pot of coffee, a gun and a plan to kill. Mlyniec stands and paces in his living room, rubbing both hands on top of his bald head. He knows sometime in the next few hours, he will kill a man with whom he has built a father-son relationship, perhaps even loved. The window to kill is closing, as his wife is 76 miles away and will be returning home.
The only question now is, does he shoot the man to protect his reputation, or shoot the man and then place one of his unregistered guns in his lifeless hand? If he can get away with murder, his double life will continue.
Mlyniec describes these details to a forensic psychiatrist in a video obtained by The Daily News.
He sends Robert “Robbie” Irvine III a text message: “Why don’t you come over here?”
“Ok, after work,” Irvine responds.
Joe Mlyniec, his body gaunt and down 30 pounds from stress, continues to pace in his living room.
Mlyniec is on his family farm in Perry. He went from a high school football player, to the Army to become one of the most respected sheriff’s deputies in Perry.
That was all now unraveling.
Mlyniec loads his .45-caliber pistol, the same one he had in the woods a few days earlier contemplating using to take his own life. Today, he hides it in the bathroom.
Irvine has some stress as well. Mlyniec has asked him to move the rest of his belongings out of his rental property. Irvine has refused. Irvine and Mlyniec often argue. Irvine usually won.
But this time, he knew something was different.
The day before, Mlyniec confided in Irvine he was being investigated for sexual abuse against a teenage boy.
The secret was out.
The man who was on the Perry Town Board, a president of the fire department, member of civic clubs and retired from the Wyoming County Sheriff’s Department, seemed to have kept his secret quiet. He led a double life as a married man and never faced charges for his sexual relationships with young men.
After all, on two occasions while he was a sheriff’s deputy and a sergeant, he threatened to shoot someone in the head if the person told, his victims told The Daily News.
Irvine enters the house.
Mlyniec offers him a cup of coffee and he refuses. He’s texted Irvine before and asked him to move his belongings out of the apartment he owns. This time, in person, he also refuses. The tension grows.
Irvine just wants to get home to his girlfriend. He’s been through a breakup with his wife, but now he’s a father, has a job at a scrap yard and he’s getting his life back on track.
Video obtained by The Daily News of Irvine’s final moments show him wearing work boots, blue work pants and a winter jacket. His shirt is tucked in neatly and two pens are in his front pocket with the caps sticking out.
Mlyniec offers Irvine coffee again. The answer is still no.
He always has coffee with Mlyniec when he visits.
Irvine is now on high-alert. Mlyniec is not himself as he goes into the bathroom and grabs the hidden pistol. It is time to execute the plan.
Irvine sees the gun and runs toward the door. Somehow, the first shot misses and strikes the kitchen wall. Before he became a cop, Mlyniec was an Army veteran who earned a Marksman Qualification Badge with Pistol Bar for a .45-caliber pistol.
Irvine’s ability to dodge the first bullet keeps him alive, but only for another minute.
It also removes the possibility of placing a gun in his hand to frame Irvine.
Mlyniec races to the door as Irvine desperately runs up the dirt and stone driveway toward the farm.
Mlyniec must be wondering how could this be happening? How could so much change?
Irvine came to this same house one year earlier and asked Mlyniec to go downtown into Perry to stand up for him in front of the justice of the peace while he got married.
Mlyniec said that was a perfect day with blue skies.
This day instead is cold and the overcast sky creates a dull reflection off the snow in the yard as Irvine runs up the driveway.
Three bullets had already lodged into his back and legs, as Mlyniec, a retired sheriff’s sergeant, pulled the trigger a fifth time from close range.
A .45-caliber bullet ripped through Irvine’s temple as he turned away. Life drained from his mind and body, both of which Mlyniec had abused for more than a decade.
Joe Mlyniec was a hell of a cop, a friend said after the murder. A farmer, leader of the Perry Fire Department and a town board member, his life was one to aspire to. That’s how he liked to be seen. For 60 years he kept an iron-clad public façade. Behind the doors of his milk house, and in the bed he shared with his wife, Catherine, he carried on coerced and transactional relationships with men, some of whom may have been too young, or too afraid, to consent.
The Daily News has spent six months investigating Mlyniec’s other life, and how he used his position of public trust in the community to take advantage of vulnerable teenagers, grooming them for future relationships. While most were of age to consent to sexual contact by the time he moved on them, several interviewed said Mlyniec’s partners shared broken-home backgrounds, faced legal trouble, or needed money, food and shelter.
Using his two rental homes and the farm where he raised pigs, sheep and goats, Mlyniec gave the guise of farm work, or a place to stay, to lure victims into romantic relationships that some of whom say may never have happened, had they been better off.
JOSEPH S. MLYNIEC WALKS INTO THE SMALL INTERROGATION ROOM at the Wyoming County Jail as he has so many times during his distinguished 29-year career in law enforcement.
He sees the familiar face of a deputy who offers water as he tries to sit down, his back to the wall. Mlyniec was always on the other side of the table. “No Joe, you have to sit over there,” the deputy said.
Mlyniec shuffles around the table and looks up, making brief eye contact with a video camera. The former smoke-filled interrogation room with a single light still has the same look and feel. But the single light is replaced by a camera pointing directly at him, shining much brighter.
He realizes this is his one shot, a four-hour window to let the forensic psychiatrist and his lawyer know everything about his life in an attempt to beat a murder charge.
If he wins the trial? He could be a free man after four years. But a trial would draw more attention, and possibly more victims. It would raise the question: How much did the Wyoming County Sheriff’s Department and others in law enforcement know about what was happening on his farm in Perry during his three decades in uniform?
When Mlyniec was on his knees in his driveway in handcuffs, the body of his victim he shot execution-style lay 20 yards away. He stood and stammered, “ … My life is done.”
As he begins to tell his story in the interrogation room, he calmly moves his coffee cup from his left hand to his right hand.
“They referred to me as Sergeant Death,” Mlyniec said, explaining his nickname, given after responding to so many fatal calls while on the force.
He lifts the sleeve of his jail-issued shirt, exposing a military tattoo to his lawyer and a forensic psychiatrist. For nearly 3 1/2 hours, he explains why his life is done. But this is selfish, his life is not done. The life of Robbie Irvine III, a husband, father and victim, is done; a man Mlyniec met six times when he was 12, when he responded to six domestic violence calls to Irvine’s house in 1997.
ON MARCH 7, 2018, THE RESPONSE WILL NOW COME FROM MLYNIEC’S FORMER CO-WORKERS.
The phone rang at the 911 dispatch center in Wyoming County. There was calm in 911 dispatcher Matt Rajk’s voice. He knew who was calling. Instead of giving his address for the emergency like Rajk requested, all he heard was, “This is Joe Mlyniec.” Usually that means someone known to the department is calling something in, like a car accident the person witnessed. Not this call.
“Send a whole bunch of units, I just shot and killed somebody at my house,” Mlyniec said, equally as calm.
The conversation went back and forth. “What Joe? Send a whole bunch of units, I just shot and killed someone at my house.”
“You heard me. I just shot and killed somebody at my house.”
“Whhh .. Were they breaking in or something Joe?”
“No, no, I just shot and killed them.”
“Where is the g-g- ... where’s the gun?”
Deputy Bradley McGinnis got the dispatch shortly after 5:42 p.m. March 7, ordering him to respond to the home of Joseph S. Mlyniec, a former co-worker and sergeant with the Wyoming County Sheriff’s Office.
Before dispatching law enforcement, Rajk, who would later testify that he recognized Mlyniec’s voice as soon as he heard it over the phone, asked one more time for confirmation from Mlyniec that the man he’d shot was dead.
“They’re dead,” Mlyniec responded. “I shot him in the head.”
McGinnis raced toward Mlyniec’s home on Route 246 in Perry at speeds topping 107 mph. After turning from Route 20A, left onto Route 246, McGinnis gunned the engine for a final, half-mile sprint to Mlyniec’s home. At one point, he steered his cruiser with a knee, leaving his hands free to reach into the backseat to retrieve an AR-15-style rifle, cock it and turn off its safety.
McGinnis, along with Deputy John Button, arrived at the scene to find Mlyniec, dressed in a thin, white thermal underwear shirt, blue jeans and a ball cap, kneeling with hands behind his head in the middle of his driveway.
Mlyniec again told the deputies that he’d just killed someone, this time giving the deceased a name: Robert Irvine.
“Do you know what this is about?” Mlyniec asked, sounding on the edge of tears. “Somebody accused me of sexual abuse and turned me in… He’s part of the – whatever. So I don’t really care anymore. My life is done.”
Mlyniec, now 61, would go on to be charged and eventually plead guilty to murdering Irvine. But his life – the rest of which will likely play out within the confines of a state prison – was, and remains, far from over.
“He’s dead,” McGinnis told his fellow deputies, after jogging over to Irvine’s lifeless body and checking it for a pulse. “It’s Robert Irvine. He’s dead. He’s got a bullet through his head.”
Apart from the self-evident consequences, Irvine’s execution-style murder in Mlyniec’s driveway yielded the first public inkling of what investigators have since described as Mlyniec’s secret “double life.”
In the days, weeks and months following Irvine’s death, investigators would come to learn more about the nature of this double life as well as Mlyniec’s sexual relationships with young men and boys and the lengths to which he’d go to keep it all secret.
In his efforts to establish sexual relationships with younger men and teen boys, Mlyniec would offer legal help to those facing criminal charges or pay individuals to work on his farm. According to interviews with The Daily News, some of Mlyniec’s victims and others said Mlyniec used his position as a sheriff’s deputy to help keep those he was in sexual relationships with out of legal trouble and under his control.
In addition to his farmhouse, Mlyniec owned two other properties — a cottage on Hamline Road near Silver Lake and one on Page Road in Perry — which he would rent out to past or current sexual partners, sometimes at below market rates. In exchange, these individuals engaged in sexual relations with Mlyniec. When coercion did not work, Mlyniec would use outright threats of violence against those who spoke out about what went on at his farm to maintain control.
Little did Mlyniec know his double life was going to end as the result of the first investigated complaint.
A complaint that would expose more than 15 alleged relationships Mlyniec had with teens and men he met through his job at the Wyoming County Sheriff’s Department.
Shawna Crandall, who said she’d been a friend of Robbie’s ever since kindergarten, said Robbie would only talk about his relationship with Mlyniec with his closest friends.
Crandall, who’s incarcerated in the Wyoming County Jail for allegedly violating the terms of her probation for burglary and criminal possession of a controlled substance convictions from 2015, said Robbie was between 15 and 17 years old when he first told her about a sexual encounter with Mlyniec.
“I was in shock, my heart sank,” said Crandall, who said she urged Robbie to tell someone. “I wish he would have went to the district attorney. He’d probably still be here.”
There is only one man who watched, from behind bars, while his son went through this with Mlyniec. And now, his son is dead.
Robert Irvine Jr., answers the knock at his apartment in the rural town of Rushford in Allegany County. A Daily News reporter says he wants to talk about the relationship between Joe Mlyniec and his late son. Irvine’s father almost seemed like he expected the visit. He invites the reporter in to sit down at his kitchen table.
(NEXT: Irvine’s father, Irvine’s girlfriend and residents of Perry speak out about relationships and Mlyniec.)
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