Alumni Spotlight Archive
Joseph R. Kozenczak
Joseph R. Kozenczak: Military Man, Law Enforcement Official & History Maker
Joseph R. Kozenczak has committed his life to the pursuit of justice and serving others in need – first as a U.S. soldier and later as a police officer and detective in the Chicago area. His career accomplishments in law enforcement span decades and are most notably highlighted by the investigation and arrest of one of the most notorious serial killers in United States history, John Wayne Gacy.
Kozenczak’s road to serving others began at age 18, when he graduated from the Military Police Academy in Augusta, Ga., and against the wishes of his mother, entered the military. He was called to serve in the Korean War shortly thereafter as a military policeman. After his time spent in service to his country, he decided to pursue a career in law enforcement at Triton College in 1967. At that time, the school was in its infancy, having graduated its first class that same year. Kozenczak supplemented his experience in law enforcement by earning an A.S. in Police Science Administration, which he completed at Triton in fall 1970. He later went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts from DePaul University and a Master of Public Administration degree from Roosevelt University, both in Chicago. He is also a proud graduate of the Reid College of Detection of Deception and the FBI Academy-126th Session.
Following his education, Kozenczak went on to serve the city of Des Plaines, Ill., as a police officer and detective for close to three decades and was appointed chief of police in 1985. The highlight of his career came in 1978 when a call came in to his office about a high school boy that went missing after working a shift at a local pharmacy. This would be the catalyst that spurred the 10-day investigation and arrest of John Wayne Gacy, who was ultimately responsible for the deaths of 33 teenage boys and young men from 1972 to 1978 – considered to be the largest amount of deaths at the hand of one person in United States history.
The investigative work of Kozenczak and his team didn’t go unnoticed. In fact, their work – including the use of polygraph, psychics, surveillance, criminal profiling and interrogation – served as a prototype for future cases. In addition, Kozenczak received invitations to lecture at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., and to serve on a United States Department of Justice Taskforce charged with developing guidelines for the pursuit of serial murderers. Today, he is sought after, both nationally and internationally, as an expert in missing persons cases and serial murder investigations and has authored numerous articles on topics in law enforcement that have been published in the United States, England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. He also co-authored a book titled, The Chicago Killer: The Hunt for Serial Killer John Wayne Gacy, that details the story of Gacy’s capture. His story was also featured on the North American television mini-series, To Catch a Killer.
His work has been recognized on a local and national scale through the awarding of many distinct honors, including the Distinguished Service Award from the Illinois Law Enforcement Commission, the Law Enforcement Excellence Award from the Cook County (Illinois) State’s Attorney’s Office, the Award of Professionalism from the Montana Sherriff’s Association, and being named one of the Top Ten Law Enforcement Officers in the U.S. by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and Parade magazine.
Kozenczak currently serves as director of Northstar Investigations, a private investigation firm where he specializes in missing persons cases, and also teaches as an adjunct instructor in law enforcement and related social justice topics at various institutions. He volunteers his time in service to his community as one of the founding board members of LifeSpan, one of the first domestic violence shelters in Des Plaines, and serves on the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee for Maine Township High School District 207 in the same community. Kozenczak also dedicates his time to educate youth interested in law enforcement at the K-12 and higher education levels as a guest lecturer at schools across Illinois and Michigan.
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