The Proposal

Dr. Gregory Konrath seemed like a good catch to his girlfriend. After she recorded the surgeon plotting to kill his ex-wife, police thought so, too.

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On paper, Gregory Konrath looked like Mr. Right, a take-charge guy with a list of bona fides that made him hard for Joannah Bierzychudek to ignore. Stable: prosperous doctor, a surgeon. Check. Active: mountain climber, one who had traveled the world and mastered the Seven Summits. Check. Creative: author, a self-taught, self-published writer of a political thriller set in the Middle East. Double-check. In the realm of online dating among a pool of 40-somethings looking for that second or third chance at love, Konrath was swipe-right–worthy.

After dating Konrath for four months, Bierzychudek, a quiet nurse, moved into his home in Peru, Indiana. But on a June 2014 vacation in Puerto Rico, almost a year into their relationship, she realized that twice-married Gregory Konrath—doctor, climber, author—could be much more.

In fact, the rooftop bar of their resort hotel was just the kind of place where one might propose marriage. From a white outdoor sectional, Konrath ordered Bierzychudek a fruity concoction and got himself another rum and Diet Coke. They talked about plans for the week, the beautiful weather, how nice it was to relax in the warm ocean breeze. But then Konrath grew cold, twisting the conversation and spilling the black details of a plot—some of the pieces already in place—to kill his ex-wife, Ana.

Bierzychudek had heard bits of the scheme the night before but chalked up such talk to an empty boast by a man who’d had his fill at the bar. Or, she rationalized, perhaps he was kidding—a sick joke from one who had nursed a healthy dislike of an ex. In December 2008, Konrath and Ana had jointly filed for divorce. According to court documents, he failed to appear at a divorce hearing, and the judge used his prior year’s income of $1.7 million in setting maintenance and support. Behind on support payments, he owed her more than $1.3 million. If it was all a joke, Konrath wasn’t laughing.

My God. He’s serious.

As Konrath lost himself in the plan, Bierzychudek tried to weigh the words against the man she had come to love. It dawned on her that he was asking her to be his alibi. Had she been a fool? Fearing that no one would believe what was happening, Bierzychudek fumbled in her pocket for her iPhone, found her “Voice Memos” app, and tapped the red button to record.

Ana’s death would look like a suicide, Konrath bragged. In her home, he had already planted hollow-point bullets; they matched ammunition he had acquired for an untraceable gun. At the appointed time, he would sneak into the house, past the former couple’s sleeping children, and shoot Ana. Konrath confessed to studying possible forensic outcomes but was confident that “hollow-points bounce around in your brain” and would do the trick. Once his ex-wife was dead, Konrath planned to press her lifeless hand against the gun and the remaining bullets to make it appear as if she had taken her own life. Text messages—already prewritten by Konrath to send to Ana’s grieving loved ones—would hopefully bolster the appearance of her suicide.

Konrath detailed other facets of the scheme as Bierzychudek continued recording. He planned to kill Ana on a night when he wasn’t on call and could leave his cellphone at home. He would wear latex gloves and an extra layer of clothing, and then ditch those in a Dumpster. He would wash up at a gas station on his return home.

“She has a million-dollar insurance policy,” he said. “I’m the beneficiary.” Whatever happened, he knew he would be the “number one, two, and three suspect.” But Konrath was positive that he could handle getting caught if the murder took place in the Lafayette home he had shared with Ana, but not in the Chicago area, where she and the children were moving soon. “I could suck up 30 years of jail time in Indiana. I’m not going to do Cook County … I can do the time … I’m a tough guy.”

Bierzychudek said little, but enough to keep Konrath talking.

“What do you think of it morally?” she asked.

“I think it’s justice.”

“Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Konrath asked: Is God going to strike her down? Give her a disease and kill her?

Church bells rang out in the distance. Bierzychudek felt sick, left the table, and locked herself in a nearby bathroom. She tapped her iPhone to stop the recording and allowed herself to exhale.

Then someone began banging on the door.

More: The Chilling Transcript of Dr. Gregory Konrath’s Alleged Murder Plot

Bierzychudek cracked the door back home in Peru and peered out.

Twenty-four hours earlier, she had escaped Puerto Rico, leaving Konrath behind and, hopefully, unaware of what she had done. That night at the bar, he had become belligerent and followed Bierzychudek to the bathroom, but he soon gave up. She slipped back to their room while he spent the rest of the evening drinking with new friends. When the surgeon finally stumbled into bed, he didn’t seem to notice Bierzychudek, who lay next to him, eyes wide. She counted the minutes until morning, when she withdrew money from their joint account and snuck off to the airport to catch the next flight out. Before departure, she emailed copies of the recording to several law-enforcement agencies. Back in Peru, she hastily packed her belongings.

“Did he really think people were going to believe that both his ex-girlfriend and ex-wife were going to commit suicide?”

But at some point during Bierzychudek’s transit, Konrath had discovered her absence, and now, a police officer was knocking on the front door. Sensing that something was off, Bierzychudek would not let the officer in until the woman produced a badge. Once inside, the officer explained that Konrath had called Peru police from Puerto Rico, expressing grave concern that his girlfriend was suicidal.

Suicidal? Like Ana? Bierzychudek’s mind raced. She unloaded her bizarre story to the officer: the vacation, the murder plot, the recording, the secret flight home. Bierzychudek asked the authorities to search the home for evidence and then was taken to the station, where she provided a sworn statement and played the recording.

While Bierzychudek talked to the detectives, police obtained a warrant. At Konrath’s house, they found a .38-caliber revolver loaded with hollow-point ammunition. The gun was discovered on a shelf, stored in a plastic bag and covered with latex gloves. Next to the gun was another bag containing scrubs, sweatpants, and other gear.

The police questioned Bierzychudek until 4 a.m. and then took her to a safe house. She fell asleep relieved—finally, the authorities knew the whole story. Surely they now had enough evidence to lock up Konrath for a long time.

 

The morning his girlfriend disappeared from Puerto Rico, Konrath could not figure out what had happened. The couple had been texting throughout the day, but she never showed up back at the hotel. Later, he discovered that Bierzychudek had cleaned out their bank account—about $30,000, by his estimate.

When Konrath returned home to Indiana the next day, most of Bierzychudek’s stuff was in boxes. A police officer called him and asked if he would consent to questioning about an alleged plan to kill his ex-wife. Konrath knew he had mentioned something—he had shared the dark fantasy before with buddies while drinking, just to blow off steam—but alcohol had dulled his memory of that night in Puerto Rico. He refused to answer questions without first consulting legal counsel.

Dr. Gregory KonrathOn Monday, Konrath went to work at Dukes Memorial Hospital in Peru as usual. But after his shift on Tuesday, police arrested him in a Kroger parking lot on the charge of attempted murder, a felony carrying a maximum of 40 years in prison. He was taken to the Miami County Jail, and his bond was set at $250,000.

The case arrived that day on the desk of Miami County Prosecutor Bruce Embrey, who called in a few detectives, investigators, and fellow lawyers to listen to Bierzychudek’s recording. They were shocked by what they heard: a carefully planned murder plot narrated by the alleged criminal. Murder and attempted murder were not common cases in Miami County. And in his nearly 40 years of experience, first as a judge and then as prosecutor, Embrey had never heard anything like this. The recording chilled him. The next day, he filed an attempted-murder charge against Konrath for taking “a substantial step toward the commission of said crime of Murder.”

On August 4, after spending almost a month in jail, Konrath posted a $20,000 bond and was released. The authorities required him to surrender his passport and served him a no-contact order for Ana and Bierzychudek. He quickly broke both orders, going to lengths to get in touch with each woman.

Back at the home he had shared with Bierzychudek, Konrath sent her an email asking if she missed him and if she wanted to talk. She didn’t respond. In addition, Bierzychudek received three pieces of mail from Konrath at her new P.O. box, though she had not given him the address.

Konrath then called a private investigator named Dale Seward to try to find her. He provided Bierzychudek’s name, phone number, friends’ phone numbers, and kids’ phone numbers, but he needed the woman’s location. The interaction struck Seward as odd. If Konrath had all of her contact information, why wouldn’t he just call her and ask her himself? Seward eventually received an envelope from Konrath with a $150 check and a note requesting the investigator hold off cashing the payment. “I thought, Hell, the guy calls himself an M.D., and he can’t afford $150?” says Seward. A few days later, while scrolling through Facebook, Seward read a news story about a nearby surgeon charged with attempted murder. The name sounded familiar. Seward contacted local media and the police.

Konrath also texted a woman he knew who worked at Unity Healthcare, according to police documents. He wanted her to call Bierzychudek and pretend to represent a lender who needed an address to send a  refund for a loan overpayment. The woman contacted the police.

Konrath called the pharmacy where Bierzychudek filled her prescriptions. He used his status as a doctor to order her Phentermine, a weight-loss drug that can cause mood swings and depression. When Bierzychudek received an automated call that a prescription in her name had been filled, one she never ordered, she called the cops. “Did he really think people were going to believe that both his ex-girlfriend and ex-wife were going to commit suicide?” Bierzychudek says.

Konrath even pressed his daughter to reach out to Bierzychudek on his behalf, asking the teenager to arrange a dinner date for the couple.

These acts, along with messages he relayed to Ana through his kids, finally led to Konrath’s arrest for breaking the no-contact orders. Eight days after his initial release, he was back in jail to await trial on three new charges: stalking Ana Konrath, stalking Bierzychudek, and issuing an invalid prescription.

About that time, police heard from an employee at a Kokomo Walgreens who had information that suggested Konrath had been plotting to leave the country prior to his arrest. The employee said that earlier in the month, when Konrath was out on bond, the surgeon had come into the store to purchase passport photos, as well as smaller pictures. Later, police reviewed the store’s surveillance footage, which showed Konrath measuring something from his wallet—a driver’s license, it appeared.

If Konrath tried to flee the country, police thought he might head to Mexico. Around the same time as the Walgreens tip, they discovered that their suspect was currently married to a Mexican national. Though the couple was separated, he had apparently given her up to $250,000 to start a business. The lead was enough to obtain another search warrant, and police seized Konrath’s iPhones and MacBook. Forensics conducted on his phone revealed he had reset its settings around July 4 (the day Bierzychudek fled Puerto Rico). After that date, he had looked up ways to locate people using various websites. They found several queries for “how to search for people” and “how to find people through forwarding mail” and for flights to Mexico.

Data recovered before July 4 recorded searches for “gun” and “handgun.” One text message Konrath received said: “Exactly. Did you ever end up getting yourself a handgun?” An iPhone 4 revealed a text conversation from June 30–July 1 in which Konrath told someone that he had talked to Bierzychudek about the murder plan. An examination of Konrath’s laptop uncovered queries for “guns,” “gun brokers,” and “Ana Konrath.” In addition, the electronic examination showed Konrath had searched for ways to hide money in a divorce, information on gun shows, and details on interpreting gunshot wounds.

Eventually, investigators got their hands on physical evidence. In the process of moving to Chicago, Ana had stumbled upon bullets in her nightstand—items she had never seen before. They matched the type found in Konrath’s gun.

 

The mounting evidence suggested to Embrey, the Miami County prosecutor, that the Konrath case would be open-and-shut. Still, with the trial set months away in January, Embrey began to get organized. When preparing for any trial, he usually researched previous cases to look for precedents. A fairly recent attempted-murder case caught his eye: Mark E. Collier v. State of Indiana. He started reading.

On the afternoon of April 24, 2003, Mark Collier had left his house and gone to his neighbor Charles Cameron. Collier was upset. He and his wife, Nancy, had separated the month before, and she had filed a no-contact order. Collier was worried he would lose his house in the divorce. He talked about killing her and himself. At some point, he left Cameron’s house.

Around 5:30 p.m., Collier returned and told him, “Tonight’s the night.” Collier asked Cameron to take care of his pets. He gave him spare keys to his house and pickup. Then Collier went into his bedroom to pray. Cameron heard him say, “God, forgive me for what I’m gonna do.”

Nancy was working a night shift at the hospital in Angola. Collier collected an ice pick, a box cutter, and a pair of binoculars. He told Cameron, “I’m gonna stab her in the effin’ heart twice. I’m gonna cut her effin’ throat.” At 9 p.m., he set out in his pickup for Angola. Cameron called the police.

“It was just a rant. There’s some truth in there, but a lot of BS.”

Just after 10:40 p.m., police officers arrived at the hospital and spotted Collier’s truck in the parking lot, backed up near the emergency-room exit, the only option available to anyone leaving the hospital after 10 p.m. Collier was inside the truck, asleep. The officers arrested him and found an ice pick, a box cutter, a pair of binoculars, and an open container of beer. Collier was charged with attempted murder. In February 2005, the Steuben County Superior Court convicted him and sentenced him to 25 years in prison, followed by five years of probation. Collier appealed.

In the Indiana Court of Appeals decision, Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote, “To establish attempted murder, the State must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that (1) the defendant acted with the specific intent to kill; and (2) the defendant engaged in conduct constituting a substantial step toward commission of the crime of murder.” In a previous case, the Indiana Court of Appeals had decided that a “substantial step” is any “overt act beyond mere preparation and in furtherance of intent to commit an offense.”

During the appeal, Collier’s lawyer did not dispute the facts: Collier was found in the parking lot of Nancy’s workplace  with the ice pick, the box cutter, and the binoculars. He had indeed told people he was going to stab her in the heart and cut her throat. But his lawyers argued that the evidence was insufficient to constitute a “substantial step.” Instead, his conduct was “mere preparation.”

The judge said that to be deemed an attempt, “the defendant’s conduct must be strongly corroborative of the defendant’s criminal purpose.” The attempted-murder statute lists seven factors that determine intent. The decision stated Collier’s conduct met the standard for three of the benchmarks, but the court determined it could not say “his conduct was strongly corroborative of his stated intent.”

Then there were the weapons. In the decision, the judge said that due to the nature of the ice pick and box cutter, coupled with the distance between Collier and Nancy at the time of his arrest, the items were “virtually useless to Collier in terms of attempted murder.” In different circumstances with different weapons, the judge admitted, the ruling could have been different. But in Collier’s case, he was cleared of wrongdoing—“he never took a substantial step toward commission of the crime of murder,” the judge said.

The decision floored Embrey. This case set a precedent, one that could prevent him from successfully convicting Konrath: Unless a person is actively engaging in attempted murder and holding the weapon within a distance that could be dangerous to the victim, there is no crime. And by those standards, no matter how threatening he seemed, Konrath would be counted innocent, the prosecutor reasoned.

If his office continued to pursue the attempted-murder charge, he thought, there was a good chance the case would be dismissed. And even if they could get Konrath to trial, a guilty verdict would surely be overturned by the appellate court, just like the Collier case. Embrey believed Konrath intended to kill Ana. He felt it in the way Konrath talked with such calculation and bravado in the recording and how the evidence pieced together. Still, there was a gulf between Embrey’s conviction and getting one in court.

In December 2014, as part of a deal, Embrey dropped the attempted-murder charge, and Konrath pleaded guilty to stalking both Ana Konrath and Bierzychudek while out on bail. At the trial this past January, Konrath was sentenced to 10 years: one year in prison (minus the time he had already served in jail), one year with community corrections (monitored home detention), and eight years’ probation. The court ordered him to have no contact with Ana Konrath or Bierzychudek and banned him from being within 50 or 20 miles of their locations, respectively. When released, he would be required to wear a tracking device to enforce the order.

Konrath returned to jail with an early-release date in April 2015. What at one point had been a possible 40-year sentence had turned into a few months behind bars.

 

“Hard cases make bad law.” That’s what Embrey’s mentor used to say, and the prosecutor thought the maxim fit Konrath’s case.

The Indiana attempted-murder statute is fairly vague. Different juries across the state’s counties can, and have, come to different conclusions about what warrants a conviction. But in the last decade, several Indiana Court of Appeals decisions have significantly narrowed the definition of attempted murder, and those precedents place tight boundaries on how county courts now interpret the statute.

Embrey understands the complications surrounding “attempt.” After all, a person making a verbal threat in an emotional state should not necessarily be charged with a Class A felony and get 25 years behind bars. But he also believes a gap exists in the law—one that could be addressed by legislation. To be associated with attempted murder, a person must be actively trying to carry out the murder and be close enough to the victim that the weapon could be dangerous. As it stands, anything short of that would not be punishable by law.

One section of the Collier decision, which prompted Embrey to drop Konrath’s attempted-murder charge, says: “The Indiana Supreme Court has recognized that deciding what constitutes an attempt has always been a burden upon the common law, challenging even the most respected judges.” In other words, the appeals court acknowledges that deciding what counts as attempted murder is not easy.

In the textbook Essential Criminal Law, originally published in 2013, law students are given a brief summary of the Collier case with a question at the end: “Is Collier guilty of attempted murder?” The author of the book, University of Illinois at Chicago professor Matthew Lippman, says the question is only meant to be an exercise to generate discussion—having students answer this definitively is too difficult.

Across the country, there is no standard rule for defining attempt—different states have different specifications. Lippman understands the thinking behind Embrey’s decision in the Konrath case. “We don’t really know whether he would have carried this out,” he says. “That’s what they are really saying. Because he didn’t come close enough for us to be certain, and we don’t want to convict someone if they have the intent, but they don’t have the act.” But even though precedent refines law, and the Collier case has similarities to the Konrath case, he says, no two cases are the same. Small details can make the difference between a few months in jail with community service and 25 years in prison.

Several other cases expose Indiana’s ambiguity regarding “attempt.” In 2007, a man named David Calvert packed his Jeep with guns and ski masks and told people he was going to rob a liquor store. While driving to the store, Calvert was stopped by police. They found the guns and masks, and he was arrested and charged with attempted robbery. A jury convicted him of attempted robbery with a deadly weapon and possession of firearms as a serious, violent felon. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed this verdict, saying Calvert’s actions did not constitute a “substantial step.” In a 1984 case, Charles Hampton was convicted of attempted robbery after a woman called the police and said she had seen a man (Hampton) sneaking around the Pizza Hut next door. Police found Hampton passed out between bushes with a gun. A jury convicted him of attempted robbery. The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the verdict.

These gray areas beg a philosophical question, says Lippman: Should a prosecutor, when the law is somewhat uncertain, go ahead with charges in the interest of justice? In order to clarify Indiana’s statute, Lippman believes, cases such as Konrath’s should always go ahead. Even if a verdict ends up overturned, a decision by the Indiana Supreme Court or the appellate court could help shape the law even further for future cases. Otherwise, the Indiana General Assembly would have to pass a law to close what could be considered a loophole.

Lippman thinks most judges would view Konrath’s actions as an attempt, and if the case would have been in Illinois, the outcome could have been different. “Clearly we would all say this guy should be charged with something more than stalking and is dangerous,” says Lippman.

If the case had gone to court, Konrath’s past would not have done him any favors. In March 1998, the doctor was charged with a DUI in Riverside County, California. He was convicted and spent two days in jail and 36 months on probation. In 2011, he was charged with obtaining property by trick or deception after writing $160,000 in bad checks to the Firelake Grand Casino in Shawnee, Oklahoma. The charge was dismissed in 2012 after he paid off his debt.

Bierzychudek claims that Konrath was a violent drunk. Once, he punched a wall. In the past, she says, he hurt her. And at least one of Konrath’s fellow climbing enthusiasts says the surgeon displayed volatile behavior on past trips.

Konrath had hired guides from a company owned by Guy Cotter, now CEO of Adventure Consultants Ltd., on at least three different occasions. All three trips were marked by incidents, ranging from a tantrum when an avalanche that claimed the lives of six people stalled Konrath’s attempt of Mount Tasman to erratic behavior that guides worried endangered lives on an Everest attempt. Cotter says when he removed Konrath from the Everest trip, the doctor became enraged. Later, Konrath tried to have Cotter ousted from the International Federation of Mountain Guides Associations and lobbied to have the company’s doctor punished, saying she abandoned him with an altitude illness and left him to die. Cotter says Konrath’s claims were “eventually proven unfounded.”

But even if Konrath said and did some terrible things, would he really have killed Ana Konrath? The recording certainly seemed incriminating to Embrey. In one part, Bierzychudek suggested to Konrath that killing Ana, the mother of his children, would be hard for him. He responded that it would be harder “not fuckin’ puttin’ six bullets” in her head and spitting on her. But saying awful things, even being a terrible person, doesn’t make someone a criminal.

 

The real victim in all of this is Konrath, according to Konrath.

In a jailhouse interview before his April release, he said he was pretty drunk that night in Puerto Rico; he had thrown back six or seven drinks and didn’t remember many details, but he figured the recording sounded pretty bad. “It was just a rant,” he said. “There’s some truth in there, but a lot of BS.” Konrath was unaware of the recording until his arrest. “I mean, if I was with a buddy getting drunk, and we were talking about our exes, we would start saying some stupid things like that,” he said. “But sober? No.”

He remembered that Bierzychudek told him she was switching rooms because he was being a jerk. Then, he said, she withdrew all the money from their joint checking account and flew home. He claimed she had stolen money from him before and in the end turned out to be just like his ex-wife, exploiting him for his money.

Konrath mugWhile she was staying in the safe house, Bierzychudek did meet Konrath at his workplace the day before his arrest. “I didn’t really say anything,” she recalled in a separate interview. “He said, ‘What are you doing here?’ I said, ‘I just really miss you,’ because I did so much—and I still miss the Greg I thought I knew.” The couple kissed, and then Konrath left. Shortly thereafter, he reappeared, seemingly from nowhere: “I don’t know where he came from, which direction, [but] then he grabbed me. It really scared me. Then he kissed me again and said, ‘I’ll see you later.’”

Konrath left the meeting confused. One minute he felt like he was in a great relationship, and the next minute he was being charged with attempted murder. So, when he was released from jail, he didn’t consider the things he was doing as stalking. He said he just missed Bierzychudek.

Konrath said he bought the .38 years ago for self-protection and that the bullets were in Ana’s house because he left them there by accident after he moved—in his drunken rage, the ammunition just became part of the story. Sometimes when he drinks, he said, he exaggerates. The suspicious clothes found by the police were merely climbing gear.

As for his Mexican wife, he said he met her in Cabo during a few wild months after his divorce from Ana was finalized. Ultimately, the union didn’t work out, and he was in the process of filing for divorce. He didn’t know what his future plans were. He hoped to get his old job back at Dukes Memorial Hospital but would need to get his medical license reinstated first; after his August arrest, the deputy attorney general had petitioned to have it suspended.

He would be released on April 14. And even though he wasn’t allowed within 20 miles of Ana, and two of their kids were under that no-contact order, too (the oldest was a legal adult), he wanted to find a way to spend time with his children. Despite the restrictions, Konrath seemed to believe the relationship with his ex-wife is repairable. When asked who might speak on his behalf for this story, he suggested Ana. “I mean, my ex-wife knows me best … I think she’d give a favorable spin.”

 

Living a life without boundaries can be a good quality—unless you’re a stalker. In Konrath’s case, even a little freedom proved to be too much.

Not long after his release, the surgeon— still under a court order to stay away from his ex-wife and ex-girlfriend—drove from Peru to Lafayette, where he once lived with Ana, and removed his monitoring device on April 29. Police tracked the anklet to the intersection of Highway 38 and I-65 that evening, but Konrath was nowhere to be found. The FBI and U.S. Marshal Service were alerted, and a day later, police arrested Konrath during a routine traffic stop on I-40 just outside of Flagstaff, Arizona.

Embrey won’t re-charge Konrath with attempted murder, but this time the prosecutor is pushing to change the eight years originally slated for community corrections into jail time. Embrey hopes that sentence, coupled with the new charge for tampering with a tracking device and fleeing, will put Konrath behind bars for a little more than 10 years.

Bierzychudek, who lives in hiding, is working to rebuild her life. In the testimony she gave at Konrath’s first sentencing, she said, “You cost me my family, my job, my sense of security, my home. You’ve shaken everything I once knew.”

Ana Konrath, who currently lives in the Chicago area with her three children, declined to be interviewed for this story.

At press time, Konrath was awaiting extradition in an Arizona jail. Embrey’s new charge has been filed, and a court date for Konrath’s hearing will be set once he is back in Miami County.

If nothing else, the doctor is guilty of hubris. “He’s a brilliant guy—obviously a very high IQ,” says Embrey. “He may have been a very good surgeon. But he’s shown he’s not a very good criminal.”

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