Krystian Bala was the author of an obscure book just a few years ago but now his novel, Amok, is pretty widely known for aiding in his murder conviction. At the core of this mystery is the unsettling question of whether our words are damning, or can be damning, and where the lines should be drawn.
Krystian Bala became obsessed with his own first book during and after his 2007 trial and conviction. When journalists visited him in prison soon after his conviction he would show them a worn, heavily annotated copy of Amok. He’d been scouring it, combing over every line. Sometimes he would read passages aloud for the other prisoners. “I can defend every single sentence,” he told Elizabeth Day soon after his 25-year sentencing.
He says he’s a writer and philosopher who’s been wrongly persecuted for his words and ideas. He claims he’s been convicted of a murder he didn’t commit because he published disturbing thoughts. “Of course, the book is brutal, vulgar, the dirtiest I could write,” Bala insists. “But that’s how art must be provocative. Just because I write a murder, doesn’t mean I did it in real life.” If Bala were innocent of murdering Dariusz Janiszewski, this would be a terribly grave injustice. The very measure of free speech would be compromised, and justice itself would be a mockery. However, if he tortured and murdered a man and then wrote about it, that’s quite another tale.
Thankfully, for the sake of free speech and justice, the book alone isn’t the sole evidence against Bala. The contents of it are quite creepy considering that there’s proof that Bala does have a connection with Janiszewski. To this day Bala maintains he’s never heard of or met the murder victim, but police found a file on Bala’s computer of collected information about Jansizweksi, and his in possessions he had a pen with printed with Jansizweski’s advertising firm’s name.
Bala had reason to be interested in the small business owner because he’d been on a date with Bala’s ex-wife. According to Bala’s ex, Stasia, it was just a single date, and she cut it off Jansizweksi because he was still married. Still, just one date may have been enough to ignite Bala’s jealousy. According to court testimony from Stasia and other friends of Bala, Bala had threatened men before for merely talking to Stasia.
When it first came out, Amok sold dismally. It’s a nihilistic work about mayhem and murder seen from coldly intellectual eyes. It’s partly inspired by Crime and Punishment, only with a much darker and meaningless conclusion. There are other novels in classic literature with similar themes as Amok, like The Stranger and A Clockwork Orange, that deal with compulsions for murder and violence, especially when it seems possible to get away with it. In tone and subject Amok is also similar to the works of Michel Houellebecq, which have been called psychopathic, disturbing, and sexist. Artist forays into the dark side of human consciousness aren’t crimes themselves, or even indications that the creator is dangerous. This type of expression is a part of the human experience and can help us confront our fears, anger, and other complicated feelings. However, its a bit naive to say that artistic content is always divorced from real life actions. Just because most people who write about crime aren’t capable of committing horrible acts themselves doesn’t mean that sometimes people don’t commit crimes and then write about it. It’s a bit bold to actually publish the work, but it’s not outside the realm of behavior, especially from someone with psychopathic and narcisstic traits.
Bala wrote Amok during a dark time in his life. He’d recently split up from his wife Stasia, and had run his cleaning business into the ground. He started traveling abroad, teaching English and scuba diving in various countries. Outside of Poland, he’d go by “Chris,” a more Westernized version of his name. By the time he was 30, his life had taken quite a few turns. He raised a bit of undergraduate havoc while studying philosophy, playing around with his own identity and the meaning of language by creating what he called “mytho-creations” about himself. It’s not really a new or ingenious concept to spin exaggerations or made-up stories about yourself to increase your social worth, but it often backfires when people find it difficult to trust what you say. Bala relished the idea that he could recreate himself with words, that he could make a mockery of language while manipulating how others saw him.
Three years after his murder, Dariusz Janiszewski’s cell phone had still not been found. The case was cold when detective Jacek Wroblewski decided to take another look. For several days he revered the details of Janiszewski’s case, searching for an overlooked detail. Eventually, he realized that Janiszewski’s cell phone was still missing. Searching for the phone’s serial number led to a transaction on Allegro, an auction site like eBay, where the phone had been sold days after Janiszewski’s murder by someone named ChrisB[7.] The account was registered to Krystian Bala.
From there Wroblewski discovered Bala’s book. Knowing that Bala, for whatever reason, had had his hands on Janiszewski’s phone days after his murder, the details in the Amok were chilling. In the book, protagonist Chris, who has many of the same biographical details as Krystian Bala, murders a young woman named Mary, one of his many lovers. She is tortured and her hands and feet are tied behind her back and linked to a noose around her neck, which is exactly how Janiszewski’s body was found in the Oder River. He had signs of torture and abuse, and had no food in his stomach, which was evidence he had been starved for several days. Bala later argued that he got these details from news reports, but Wroblewski says there were things in the novel that were never released to the public, details that only someone involved in the murder would know. In the book Chris even sells a knife used in the torture and murder on Allegro, eerily echoing his sale of the cell phone.
In 2006 Bala confessed to committing the murder to the police, but he later recanted his confession, claiming he was “unwell” at the time. False confessions are shockingly not uncommon, so that could be the case. Bala also claimed to have been subjected to extreme police brutality, perhaps as an aim to make his false confession seem more likely. “It is ridiculous what’s going on here,” he’s said of his conviction. “That I should be in jail just because someone drew the wrong conclusion from an innocent work of fiction.” The problem with words is that they are so easy to manipulate and so hard to pin down. They do matter, though, and how they intersect with other evidence matters. Krystian Bala seems to be caught in a web of his own words. It was something he thought he could contain, but it spun out beyond him.
In Amok, Chris gets away with the murder, leaving him to believe that “Murder leaves no stain.” In reality, murder does leave a stain that lingers in the lives of anyone who loved or even briefly knew the victim, whether or not the murderer is ever caught and punished.
In 2003, soon after the publication of Amok, and years before he would become a suspect in Janiszewki’s December 2000 Bala was asked by an interviewer about his book: “Some authors write only to release their Mr. Hyde, the dark side of their psyche—do you agree?”
“I know what you are driving at, but I won’t comment,” Bala responded. “It might turn out that Krystian Bala is the creation of Chris, not the other way around,” he joked.
Bala is currently working on a follow-up book called De Liryk. A film starring Jim Carrey called True Crimes based on David Grann’s New Yorker article about the case will be out later this year. A movie version of Amok also appears to be in the works. As of right now, Amok had not been translated into English, but it has become a bestseller in Poland and many other countries.
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