Wojtek STASIAK

     Wojtek Stasiak

Stasiak family Wojtek Stasiak

The twins Wojtek and Jurek Stasiak with family.

Wojtek Stasiak

 Wojtek Stasiak    Wojtek Stasiak

Wojtek, left

Photos: Thanks to SBS and the family

DOB: 1978
HAIR: Brown BUILD: Medium EYES: Brown
CIRCUMSTANCES:
Wojtek Stasiak was last seen at Parramatta, Sydney on 2nd February 2001. He was living in the area at the time.
Reported missing to: Parramatta Police Station.

 

How a tennis star lost his way

Twin refuses to accept his missing brother could be dead.

Each year, more than 38,000 people are reported missing in Australia. Although 95 per cent are found within a week, about 2,000 people remain missing long-term. Wojtek Stasiak is one of them. His story is part of an SBS series on missing persons from multicultural backgrounds.

For more than 20 years, identical twins Wojtek and Jurek Stasiak were rarely apart.

They shared a bedroom, attended school together and, both gifted tennis players, toured the world together, competing in the same tournaments.

The Polish city of Gdansk was the twins' birthplace. Their family migrated to Australia in 1985, settling in Parramatta, in western Sydney.

At nine, they began playing tennis. Coached by their father, Bogdan, Jurek rose to number one, and Wojtek to number four, in the Australian junior rankings.

In 1996, to his family's dismay, Wojtek abruptly gave up the sport. As Jurek continued to travel and play, his brother drifted, anchorless and unhappy.

One afternoon in February 2001, he left the family home and never came back. He was 23.

The boys' mother, Eugenia, was distraught, as was Bogdan. For Jurek, it was devastating. His twin, his other half, the closest and key person in his life, had vanished. And no one knew - still no one knows what happened.

"Was he harmed in some way, or maybe coerced into something messy, like drugs?" muses Jurek, a decade-and-a-half on.

"Or did he make a decision [to disappear]? We just have no idea."

After Missing Persons posters went up around Parramatta, there was a flurry of reported sightings but, in a cruel twist for the family, they were not of the absent Wojtek, but of Jurek, his spitting image, still living locally.

At his wits' end, Jurek combed the parks where his brother used to commune with nature, and travelled to the Blue Mountains, one of Wojtek's favourite spots.

Bogdan and Eugenia searched, too, visiting NSW country towns such as Orange and Broken Hill, and showing Wojtek's photograph to locals.

In Australia, after a person has been missing for seven years, they are generally assumed to be dead. In 2008, the state coroner declared Wojtek deceased.

Jurek, though, rejects that finding. "It's an artificial line in the sand, and I think it's meaningless and wrong. How can you declare someone dead when there's no evidence? Who's to say that he might not turn up?

"What if he's alive somewhere and can't make his way back? I As far as I'm concerned, he's still out there somewhere." 

Friends could scarcely tell the Stasiak twins apart. Temperamentally, however, they were different.

To Eugenia, Wojtek was "very soft and sensitive". Bogdan regarded Jurek as "emotionally and mentally stronger". Yet Jurek thought his brother the "more logical and rational" of the two, considering himself better at writing and creative thinking.

His missing twin was also a loner.

"Like if I heard a good song or saw a great movie, I wanted to share it with him," explains Jurek, draining a latte outside a cafe in central Parramatta's main artery, Church Street.

"Whereas if there was something he liked, I didn't have to know about it."

And Wojtek had a reckless streak. "He was a risk-taker, and impulsive, while I'm more cautious and conservative," says Jurek.

Once, he recounts, he dared his brother to jump off a 10-metre diving board. "Wojtek said, 'Just watch me.' And he went up there and straight off the end of the board, without even pausing to look down."

Born on 23 April, 1978, the boys were seven when they left Poland; their little brother, Andrew, was two.

"My parents wanted to get out of a former Communist country and start a new life somewhere else," says Jurek. "They left with $20 in their pockets."

After a spell in Canberra, the Stasiaks put down roots in Parramatta. Bogdan found a part-time job teaching PE. Eugenia worked as a nurse.

The twins quickly learnt English. They attended Parramatta Public School, then Arthur Phillip High School, preceded by a brief stint at St Patrick's Marist College.

A fellow student at St Patrick's, Dan Palmer, describes them as "strong, tough guys, but also fairly quiet and quite religious".

He recalls a fight outside the science labs one lunchtime between Wojtek and another boy, in which the former, caught off guard, was floored by a punch that split his eye.

As Palmer tells it: "Wojtek groped at his eye and started yelling: 'I'm ruined, I'm ruined!' I think he was so embarrassed at losing face, and that upset him more than being hit."

For the most part, the brothers stayed out of trouble. They also kept mainly to themselves. "Culturally, they were quite different," says Palmer. "The mix of the school was Anglo-Australians, a lot of Lebanese and a pocket of new arrivals from China and Asia, and everyone pretty much stuck to their own group."

At the same time, with their heavy accents and serious dispositions,  the twins already pursuing tennis careers found themselves the butt of jibes and bullying. It was "pretty full on", relates Michael Ekmekjian, another contemporary.

"They seemed a lot more mature than the rest of us," observes Ekmekjian.

"We were into having fun and mucking around, while they were very focused and driven, I guess because of their upbringing and the professionalism of their chosen sport. Academically, they were very smart, very intelligent."

Although the Stasiaks could look after themselves, they tired of being picked on incessantly.

Arthur Phillip was more congenial. One friend, Shadi Kanj, remembers arm wrestling contests with the pair, who were both "really nice guys". Wojtek played chess with another friend during lunch breaks.

Jurek says he and his brother "hung out together all the time... We had our fights, sure, but we got on well. We were very close."

Ekmekjian recollects seeing the twins play tennis at a weekend school camp in Vision Valley, a bushland retreat in Sydney's north-west.

"They were remarkable, just outstanding. It was like watching two pros go at it. The way they moved, the way they struck the ball it was like watching the Australian Open."

Other students, similarly impressed, bombarded the pair with questions, and Ekmekjian recalls an impatient Wojtek exclaiming: "Look, he's number 1 and I'm number 4, that's just how it is, OK? We're trying to practise here!'"  

The twins played soccer and basketball from a young age. Tennis, though, was something else. "As soon as I saw a tennis racket, I wanted to pick it up," recounts Jurek. "I felt a strange attraction to the game, and then it became a passion to play it the very best I could."

Wojtek underwent the same epiphany. And the pair were good at tennis, really good. The sport came to dominate their lives as, under their father's watchful eye, they toured the world, playing and excelling at junior events.

In 1995, at almost 17, they joined the professional tour, competing on the satellite circuit and, as they climbed the world rankings, gaining entry to increasingly high-profile tournaments. (Wojtek reached number 701 in the world, Jurek 213.) 

Playing at that level requires hard work and dedication. The training and competition schedule was gruelling. "But it was what we wanted," states Jurek. "We made some great results, and we got to travel the world and see a lot of different places."

With Bogdan coaching the boys full-time, Eugenia bankrolled the trio's travel and other expenses, sometimes by working double shifts.

Bogdan was tough. Says Jurek: "He demanded a lot of us. In his experience, you needed to be pushed, and we were pushed. He wanted us to play our best. And if you didn't win, you felt his dissatisfaction."

Eugenia worried about the strain on the boys. But her husband insisted: "If they want to be champions, they have to be strong."

In Jurek's eyes, Wojtek was the better player. "I never felt quite as good as he was. I felt I had to work a little harder to get somewhere. He had a great game. He really was very talented."

There was also life outside tennis, Jurek stresses. At weekends, when the twins were not on the road, "we'd go to the beach, and listen to music, and hang out with friends". 

By 1995, according to his brother, Wojtek "was beginning to hate tennis... He was still making great results, but the highs and lows of winning and losing were too much for him. No matter what he achieved, he felt it wasn't good enough."

His twin, who had started to read the Bible, also branded tennis "evil".

In late 1996, the pair competed at a tournament in Uzbekistan. Wojtek lost a match and, relates Jurek, "he took it really badly and got really drunk".

Back home, the 18-year-old announced he was quitting. Jurek was flabbergasted. "I couldn't understand it. I was like, 'You've put all this effort into it and now you're walking away?'"

He admits: "But it's a hard game, especially if your whole family's involved. I think he felt under a lot of pressure. He felt he couldn't meet dad's expectations."

Wojtek told Eugenia: "Dad can kill me if he wants, but I'm never playing tennis again." 

In the Stasiaks' three-bedroom unit in Parramatta, resentment clouded the atmosphere. Bogdan, in particular, was at a loss to comprehend Wojtek's decision.

Wojtek, meanwhile, was struggling to adjust to life after tennis. After finishing his HSC at Granville TAFE, he hung around at home, playing guitar and devouring books about philosophy and Eastern religions.

Depression began to grip. Yet Jurek says his twin was "still a sociable person ... He had friends, he had a girlfriend. He was great to have around. He was a funny guy, he made you laugh."

In 1999, Wojtek won a tennis scholarship to study economics at Texas State University.

Despite his antipathy to the sport, the move initially went well. However, within a year he was back home, "too sick by this time to concentrate on anything", in Eugenia's view.

In Sydney, he resumed his aimless existence. He had a brief stint as a delivery driver for Domino's Pizza. His relations with Bogdan and Jurek deteriorated, as did his mental health. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, he was prescribed anti-psychotic drugs.

Most days he would disappear on long walks, listening to music or religious CDs on his Discman. He meditated in Parramatta Park, "talking loudly to himself and talking to trees", as Jurek describes it.

Wojtek's obsessive reading perturbed Bogdan, who feared that "his brain would explode... It was like he was searching for some kind of meaning of life."

Periodically, Wojtek would stop taking his medication. In 2000, his family had him admitted to a psychiatric facility, Cumberland Hospital. He was discharged after a few days.

Although the family was Roman Catholic, Bogdan and Jurek had recently become Born Again Christians. They both "put a lot of pressure" on Wojtek, as Eugenia later told police, and argued with him frequently about religion.

Bogdan acknowledges that he "tried to force my views on to him [Wojtek] about Christianity... He wouldn't listen."

Wojtek's father also refused to accept he was mentally ill, considering him "possessed by the devil", according to Eugenia, a former psychiatric nurse. Bogdan and Jurek were apparently convinced, moreover, that Wojtek's doctors were "from the devil".

Alarmingly, Wojtek began to talk about suicide.

His mother said: "He was asking me to kill him. He also asked how he could kill himself, because life had no sense any more."

Once, he stood in the middle of the road, arms outstretched, yelling: "Come on, come on, kill me."

To Jurek, Wojtek would often say that he needed to "depart" or "go to another place". And he declared: "I should just go to the Gap" the Gap, with its towering cliffs, being a notorious Sydney suicide location.

On 30 January, 2001, Wojtek met up with a friend, John Sotiropoulos, and told him: "In three days' time, something is going to happen. It will be the end of the world."

Two days later, the twins had a heated row about religion. Wojtek railed at his brother: "Your Christian belief is bullshit, and Christianity is bullshit."

Jurek was deeply hurt. The pair still shared a bedroom, and that night, Jurek recollects, Wojtek was exceptionally restless, constantly "tossing and turning and cursing God".

The next day, Eugenia saw Wojtek at home at around lunchtime. He seemed "very depressed and down". He declined to tell her his plans for the day, and rebuffed her suggestion that they do something together.

At 2.15pm, in Westfield Parramatta, Wojtek withdrew $100 from his ANZ account. (His bank account has not been touched since.) At about 5pm, he called home from a public phone box. Jurek answered.

"I'm sorry about our fight," Wojtek told him. "That's OK, I'm sorry too," his twin replied. Wojtek said he had met up with some old schoolfriends, adding: "Don't worry about me, I'll be home soon."

"When I hung up, I just felt like something's wrong," Jurek recalls.

"He didn't sound himself. And then that was it. He never came home."

Wojtek never stayed out all night.  When he failed to return that day, his family were immediately anxious. They tried calling him, only to discover he had left his mobile at home, along with his wallet. All he had taken, it seemed, were his keys, ATM card and Discman.

At 5.30pm the next day, 3 February, Eugenia and Jurek reported Wojtek missing at Parramatta station. His mother was especially worried, telling police he "would always ring me and tell me what he was doing, or when he would be home".

The Stasiaks also called around friends and relatives, none of whom had seen Wojtek. They posted flyers around Parramatta. They even hired a private investigator. The only thing the latter established was that Wojtek had often haunted the grounds of Macarthur Girls High, a local school where the twins had formerly played tennis.

According to staff, he would usually be there at dusk, singing and meditating. The last time they had glimpsed him was on 31 January.

A week before he disappeared, Wojtek was reportedly seen entering Parramatta railway station, carrying bags. Jurek, though, could not identify anything missing among his brother's belongings.

Jurek visited the Gap, "just to have a look". Meanwhile, his parents became convinced that Wojtek had joined the Church of Scientology. The church insisted he was not a member.

A family friend thought she had spotted Wojtek entering a house in Harris Park, near Parramatta, but police could find nobody in that street who recognised him from a photo.

Michael Ekmekjian, who knew Wojtek at St Patrick's, came across a Missing Persons poster on the railway bridge at Parramatta.

"I read the name, and I saw the face, and I was like, 'Wow, that's one of the twins from school,'" he recounts.

"I wondered how his brother would be coping, remembering how close they were as children."

In 2007, an article in the 'Parramatta Sun' prompted a reader to inform police he thought he had seen Wojtek in the psychiatric unit at Liverpool Hospital, in western Sydney.

It proved to be another false lead.

In 2009, Eugenia died of cancer. She and Bogdan had split some years earlier. "She never came to terms with it [Wojtek's disappearance], and she never got any answers," says Jurek.

Eugenia told police before her death that she believed Wojtek had probably taken his own life.

Bogdan, for his part, speculated that their son had been kidnapped by a cult or killed by drug dealers Wojtek had once boasted, he said, that "he could buy the unit we were living in for cash".

When his elder brother vanished, Andrew Stasiak was 18. Without any evidence to the contrary, he likes to think Wojtek is still alive.

Jurek wonders if his twin's rashness was his undoing.

"If someone said, 'Hey, I bet you can't do this,' he probably went, 'Yeah, I bet I can.' And he was stubborn. Once he'd decided to do something, there was nothing you could do to change his mind."

He regrets that he and Wojtek "didn't really connect" in the latter days. Not only was Jurek frequently overseas, competing in tournaments, but his brother "did become distant at the end, and I couldn't understand what was going on in his head".

After Wojtek went missing, Jurek stopped playing tennis. He later resumed, but "there were times when I absolutely hated the sport", he reveals.

"I mean, why play this wicked game that does this to humans? The sad thing is that, without tennis, he [Wojtek] felt like a failure. He felt like he no longer had any place in the world."

Over time, Jurek has "found ways to dull the pain". He writes poems and lyrics about his twin, and named his own son Wesley, in Wojtek's memory.

"You never stop thinking about him. It's a huge loss. He was the key person in my life. Losing a brother who's the same age is not in the natural course of things.

"And you don't know whether you really have lost him. Personally, I don't feel that he's gone. I feel like maybe he found a group of people he connected with, and gave promises not to contact his family again.

"It would be good for us to know that he's alright. And if he's not alright, what help does he need?"

Helped by his religious faith and pragmatic nature, Jurek has reconciled himself to Wojtek's absence. He asks: "What other choice do we have but to live on?"

If you have any information regarding a missing person, please contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.