Serial sex offender who escaped during 2018 trial is back in custody — and will be for a loooong time

Joseph Kopacz | CCSO

If Joseph Kopacz lives to the age of 82, he might get out of prison. But he’s 56 now, and 82 is a long way away. Maybe that’s just as well.

You may remember Kopacz, a repeat burglar, home invader, and sex offender who disappeared from the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in November 2018 while a jury considered allegations that he sexually assaulted a Lakeview man during a home invasion.

The jury convicted him while he was on the run, and the judge sentenced him to 56 years in prison. But nobody knew where he was.

That changed in late March when an FBI task force arrested him in New York City, authorities said. He waived extradition, and Cook County deputies brought him back to Chicago in April. Now, he’s settling into what may be his “forever home” — the Pinckneyville Correctional Center. Projected parole date: November 29, 2046.

Kopacz’s final adventure began in October 2016 when he allegedly broke into an apartment in the 3800 block of North Kenmore and crawled into bed with a 23-year-old man who lived there and tried to sexually assault him. They had never met before — at least not to the victim’s knowledge.

The victim woke up. He, his roommates, and a roofing contractor who was working nearby tackled Kopacz in the victim’s backyard, where Kopacz allegedly begged them, “Let me go. I’m a good person. I just have a problem. I’ll go to jail for the rest of my life,” according to prosecutors.

Police say they recovered a phone from Kopacz that contained photos of the Kenmore victim and several other young men sleeping as well as a “prostate massager” and lubricant. The victim and his roommates told police that a strange man had been found in their apartment on previous occasions but had escaped each time.

In the months before going to trial, Kopacz gave prosecutors a computer disc containing a collection of images of the victim sleeping in the victim’s home on different dates and in different rooms of the house. He claimed that he had been in a consensual relationship with the victim for nine or ten months before he was chased out of the home and tackled in the backyard.

But the victim denied Kopacz’s claims, and the state argued that the disc full of images indicates that Kopacz had been in the victim’s home repeatedly before being caught. Prosecutors filed a motion seeking a court order for Kopacz to surrender the devices he used to take the images so forensics technicians could examine them.

Cook County Judge Thaddeus Wilson let prosecutors tell jurors about a string of similar crimes that Kopacz allegedly committed since 1990:

  • In 2004, a then-23-year-old man who fell asleep on a couch at a friend’s Lakeview home awoke to find Kopacz standing over him with the victim’s pants down and Kopacz fondling him, according to prosecutors. Nobody in the apartment knew Kopacz, who was chased from the home and detained by the victim and his friends. Kopacz was convicted of home invasion and criminal sexual abuse. He served four years of a 90-month sentence, according to court records.
  • In February 1992, an Eau Claire, Wisconsin man awoke to find his legs tied together, tape over his mouth, and Kopacz fondling him, prosecutors say. Kopacz fled, then allegedly called the victim to tell him what he had done.
  • The next day, another Eau Claire man awoke in his apartment to find Kopacz, a complete stranger, tickling his feet, according to court records.
  • In September 1991, a Wisconsin man allegedly awoke to find Kopacz standing over him, asking if he could get into bed with him. Kopacz addressed the victim by name even though the victim had never met Kopacz before, prosecutors say. Kopacz fled but he was later caught and admitted to bringing rope with the intention of tying the victim up, according to prosecutors.
  • In July 1990, yet another Eau Claire man woke up to find Kopacz fondling him. The victim and his roommates chased Kopacz and cops later tracked Kopacz down based on a license plate number that the victim gave them, according to Wilson’s order.

The case went to a jury trial and, on November 8, 2018, as the jury deliberated for a little over an hour, Kopacz walked out of the courthouse. He never returned.

“When the jury walked out to deliver our final verdict of guilty on all charges, we saw an empty chair where Joseph Kopacz had previously sat,” one of the jurors told CWBChicago days later.

Judge Wilson met with jurors privately after they returned their verdict.

“He told us that Kopacz was ‘in the wind,’ that he’d somehow slipped his friends and lawyers during deliberation, saying he needed a snack or something. After that, no one knew where he was.”

The juror said Wilson explained that Kopacz’s lawyers and friends who were watching his trial lost track of him during deliberation, “like the lawyers thought he was with his friends and his friends thought he was with the lawyer or something.”

When the jurors pressed Wilson for information, the judge said that from his own experience, Kopacz was “either long gone or still in the building, hanging from the rafters,” the juror said.

As it turned out, it was the former. Kopacz was long gone.

In March 2019, a CWBChicago investigation found Kopacz rolled his assets into a Delaware corporation that was created one week before he escaped — and the company listed a street address that came back to a wood flooring store in San Jose, California. Kopacz worked as a flooring and cabinetry contractor in Chicago.

After he escaped, Kopacz transferred ownership of his Uptown condo on the 4000 block of North Clarendon from his name to “Kopy Holdings LLC Series A.” And, he assigned power of attorney for the property to the man who posted his bail in the Lakeview sexual assault and home invasion case. The company also listed Kopacz’s home on apartment rental sites under the headline “Joe’s Apartment.”

Details about how the FBI came to locate Kopaz weren’t immediately available. Paperwork completed after he was arrested in New York shows he gave authorities a home address in San Jose.

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com