MERIDEN — Authorities say Karin Ziolkowski set two fires in her Davis Street home using Tiki torch oil after suffocating her 8-year-old son to death last November. She reportedly drugged her son with an antihistamine before killing him.
On Friday, Ziolkowski, 41, was charged with murder and second-degree arson. She was taken into custody in North Carolina, where she was staying.
A fire marshal’s report released Monday sheds more light on the Nov. 14, 2016, fire at 13 Davis St. City officials previously refused to release the report.
Firefighters responded to calls of smoke coming from the home at about 7:20 a.m. on Nov. 14, 2016, and broke their way inside after neighbors reported Ziolkowski and her 8-year-old son, Elijah, were inside. Both were found in a rear bedroom. Ziolkowski suffered serious injuries and was hospitalized. Her son was pronounced dead at the scene.
Police said last week that Ziolkowski suffocated Elijah to death before starting the fire. The medical examiner’s office said Monday that Elijah’s official cause of death was homicidal asphyxia and acute diphenhydramine intoxication. Diphenhydramine is an antihistamine, commonly referred to as Benadryl.
After a stay at the hospital, Ziolkowski was released to a treatment facility in Connecticut, according to police and her stepmother, Vanessa McLaughlin. McLaughlin brought Ziolkowski to North Carolina in April after Ziolkowski was released from the facility. While McLaughlin provided the name of the facility, the Record-Journal couldn’t independently verify that Ziolkowski stayed there earlier this year.
Ziolkowski is still in custody in North Carolina, awaiting extradition to Connecticut to face the criminal charges. She appeared Monday before a Gaston County judge, who set bond at $1 million, assigned a public defender and explained the extradition process. She was unemotional during her closed-circuit television appearance Monday and asked when she would be meeting with a public defender.
If she doesn’t waive extradition, the state has 90 days to secure a governor’s warrant. That warrant would ensure she is brought back to Connecticut to face charges.
McLaughlin said she didn’t attend Ziolkowski’s court hearing Monday, fearing intense media scrutiny. She understood why it took nearly a year to obtain an arrest warrant.
“They wanted to have an ironclad case,” McLaughlin said. “I’ve lost my grandson and I never met him, but we Skyped. My late husband was a police officer, so I’ve dissected this story many times. I’m glad it’s over and justice will be served and hopefully Eli can find some peace.”
Meriden Deputy Police Chief Mark Walerysiak said the investigation was lengthy and depended on forensic evidence and findings from the state medical examiner.
“When it first happened the public and everyone was expecting some type of resolution quickly, but it was an extremely difficult case,” Walerysiak said. “I couldn’t be more proud of our detective division and the patience and meticulousness they displayed in that investigation. This was an exhaustive investigation. There wasn’t one day detectives weren’t working on it.”
Fire Marshal Steven Trella inspected an area where a fire started the basement and quickly ruled out any accidental source of ignition. In the basement, a pile of clothing, a cardboard box and a blue plastic lighter were collected as evidence. Upstairs in the front bedroom, there was “considerably more fire damage” and a “distinct ‘V’ pattern” by a bedroom window, according to Trella’s report. There were burn patterns on the bottom of the bed frame and there was no bedding on the bed itself, Trella said.
Fire officials said “partial outlines of the two victims were visible on the one bed” in the rear bedroom where they were found, and there was “smoke staining” in the room but no fire damage. The windows were locked shut.
Elijah’s father, Marc Ziolkowski, was collecting his son’s clothing for a wake several days after the fire and told police Karen Ziolkowski used Tiki torch oil for outside lamps, according to the report. Marc Ziolkowski told investigators he recognized a black plastic container in the room next to the bedroom as a container the oil came in .
The black plastic container was under a desk with a cut in it. Forensic technicians determined the Tiki oil was consistent with samples Trella collected at the points of origin of the two separate fires started in the house, the report continues.
Police also told Trella that Karin Ziolkowski did not attend Elijah’s wake and had a burn on her right hand. Police informed him they would be seeking a warrant to send Karin Ziolkowski’s clothing for accelerant testing.
“I am ruling this fire as incendiary in nature,” Trella wrote in the report. “There is no doubt that there were two completely separate fires that were intentionally set in the basement and first floor bedroom on this house. The use of Tiki oil as an accelerant, which was confirmed by the lab report at both locations in the basement and first floor bedroom, lead to no other reasonable conclusion.”
Karin Ziolkowski had filed for a divorce from Marc Ziolkowski last year but the lawsuit was dismissed for a lack of diligence. According to court records, she had asked for sole custody of Elijah. McLaughlin said Karin Ziolkowski wanted to move with her son to North Carolina.
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