Date: 2002-10-22

Boston Globe, The (MA)
Author: Jessica Van Sack, Globe Correspondent

A Westfield man who murdered his wife and their two children before committing suicide may have been depressed at the prospect of helping his wife fight a debilitating, chronic illness on little more than his military pension, authorities said yesterday.

An autopsy will be performed on Richard Kolenda, a 49-year-old former Air Force major, to determine whether he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the stabbings early Sunday, local police said.

Kolenda used his cellphone to call 911 and told a dispatcher he had killed his family, then hung up.

Police entering the newly-renovated two-story home on Allen Avenue found a stream of blood that led from the kitchen to the basement, where the bodies of Kolenda's wife, Gienia, 50, daughter Yana, 11, and son Anatoli, also 11, were stacked atop one another on the concrete floor. All three had numerous stab wounds.

At about 5 a.m., Kolenda walked several blocks to the Westfield City Hall and shot himself in the head with a small caliber gun outside the building. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Although evidence suggested that all three victims put up a struggle, they probably died quickly, said State Police Lieutenant Detective Peter Higgins. Blood trails indicated that Kolenda stabbed them in the kitchen and then carried them to the cellar.

"I've been doing this for 18 years, and this is the worst one I've ever been through," Higgins said. "The viciousness. The mere fact that there were two kids. And the setting was horrendous."

Kolenda's sister-in-law, Jolanta M. Kolenda, said he had not told any relatives about his wife's illness or any economic trouble. State Police would not name or describe the illness, but said the information was gleaned from interviews with friends and family members. Kolenda had a $2,000-a-month pension and was not working, authorities said.

Kolenda had no criminal or civil matters pending against him, according to Westfield District Court and local police.

"It's just so bizarre," said Westfield Police Captain Michael Avonti. "There's no reason at all for it to happen. No prior problems; good family; excellent neighborhood."

Kolenda's financial troubles stemmed from a franchise deal he made eight years ago. He filed a highly publicized suit against GNC, a vitamin store chain, that he felt had unfairly closed a store he owned. He invested his life savings in a GNC store in Jacksonville, Fla., in April 1994. GNC closed the store Dec. 9, 1999.

"These dates roll off Kolenda's tongue with accuracy and speed. He spends every day playing them over and over in his head," according to a Florida Times-Union article on Kolenda published last year.

The lawsuit is unresolved.

Richard Kolenda was born in Poland and came to the United States in 1964. His father, Wladyslow J. Kolenda, said his son and daughter-in-law, also a Polish immigrant, met in Chicopee in the mid-70s. They married after dating for a year and traveled during Kolenda's Air Force career.

Kolenda went to college in Western Massachusetts and eventually earned his master's degree, his father said. While living in Jacksonville, Kolenda developed a reputation for caring for stray and sick cats. He invested thousands of dollars in veterinary visits, and owned a number of cats at the time of the killings.

His wife worked as a housekeeper.

In the early 1990s, the Kolendas decided they wanted children. Determined to adopt a child whom they could rescue out of poverty, they traveled to Russia in 1998, returning with Yana and Anatoli, both 7 years old at the time and unrelated.

Their grandfather said Yana was an avid gymnast and Anatoli enjoyed football. Both were fifth-graders at the Holy Trinity School.

Kolenda's father said the family will delay the funeral until relatives from Poland arrive in the United States next week.

Richard Kolenda, his daughter, Yana, and son, Anatoli, played with kittens in this June 2001 photo taken in Jacksonville, Fla., before the family moved to Massachusetts.


The Kolenda family's deaths

I'm Richard Kolenda's sister. It's been 12 years since that horrific day . There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about and ask why? I've read many articles about what had happened and this is the first time I've read this article . Just want to let you know your facts are all wrong. My father or any one else on our family never spoke to the media because to tell you the truth we were all numb for years! I truly hope nothing like this happens to you . I wouldn't wish anything like this to happen to anyone. I would just like to say if you ever have to write a story like this make sure you get the facts straight . It's hard enough having to go on with ones life.

Re: The Kolenda family's deaths

Mary, thank you for your comment. One reason we document these cases is for future research. We can't independently verify the facts, but we attempt to only use reputable published sources. The article above was published in the Boston Globe on Oct 22, 2002. The author was: Jessica Van Sack listed as a Globe Correspondent.

Pound Pup Legacy