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Police make arrest in fatal Colchester stabbing of Norwich artist

October 31, 2018

Colchester — State police say a 38-year-old man fatally stabbed another man in the parking lot of the apartment building at 55 Renee Drive on Tuesday night in an altercation witnesses told police stemmed from the victim’s jealousy after his wife gave the accused man a ride home from work.

Elmar Baker of 55 Renee Drive, Apt. 4, Colchester, was charged with murder. He was arraigned Wednesday in Norwich Superior Court, where his bond was reduced from 1 million and the case transferred to New London Superior Court Part A, where major crimes are prosecuted. He is scheduled to appear in court there on Nov. 19.

State police said the autopsy on the victim was scheduled for Thursday and police would not identify the victim, who had sustained a stab wound to the chest and one to the upper back.

Friends and colleagues identified the victim as “Jo-Jo” Kolodnicki Jr., a local self-taught artist active in the Norwich arts scene and a popular mail carrier in downtown Norwich. Kolodnicki painted a fantastical, animated painting of noted African-American artist Ellis Ruley that is hanging this fall in the Slater Memorial Museum in an exhibit of Ruley’s work.

Police said they found the victim unresponsive with stab wounds about 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Colchester apartment complex. After emergency responders attempted to revive him, he was pronounced dead at the scene.

According to a state police report filed with the court, the victim’s wife, also unidentified, told police her husband was “jealous and controlling,” police wrote, and described him as verbally abusive but never physically abusive.

The woman told police she had picked up Baker at his home that morning and the two drove to work together cleaning a house that had sustained flood damage. After driving to a concession stand to meet their boss and be paid, the woman drove Baker to his apartment at 55 Renee Drive sometime between 7 and 7:30 p.m.

The victim drove up behind his wife’s car, and when the parties got out of the cars, she told police her husband yelled at her. Baker approached, and she said the victim pushed him and the two began to push each other.

The woman went inside Baker’s apartment to get Baker’s fiancée. When she went back outside, her husband was on the ground unresponsive and not breathing. She told police she heard Baker somewhere nearby talking to someone.

Baker told police the victim struck him, and he put up his hands “into a fighting stance,” police wrote. Baker said the victim swung a knife and struck his left hand. Baker told police the victim struck him hard in the jaw and “everything went black,” police wrote. The next thing he remembered, he was standing outside his apartment door, his clothes bloody and his hand bleeding.

Police arrested Baker shortly after midnight and initially held him on a $2 million bond pending his arraignment.

Kolodnicki’s death shocked friends and acquaintances in Norwich.

Roberta Vincent, who is active in many local civic groups and the arts community, said she has known him for years. She admired the Kolodnicki’s painting of Ruley and offered to buy it. Instead, he gave it to her. Vincent loaned it to the Slater Museum for the current exhibit of Ruley’s work.

In the painting, made from a photo of Ruley seated with his signature pipe in his mouth, Kolodnicki depicted Ruley in a faded blue haze, seemingly floating in a speckled yellow field. Asked to explain the work, Kolodnicki provided a narrative for the Slater exhibit.

“A common trait among many artists is a sense of sadness, almost as if they observe too much or feel too much,” Kolodnicki wrote in the narrative. “Many have discovered a successful way to deal with this feeling by expressing themselves through art. I get a feeling of this blue, that I wanted to reflect in the actual artist. The pose seems to be a contradiction to the blue, with the smiling face.

“For the background I chose to use brighter colors, depicting the visions of the artist’s mind. In the paintings I have seen of Mr. Ruley, his work addresses themes from the Bible, and of creation all around, animals, trees, and grass.”

Like Ruley, Kolodnicki was a self-taught artist and favored painting colorful wild animals.

“He was an exceptional young man,” Vincent said of Kolodnicki. “He had a smile that just captivated you. Everyone that saw him loved him. A very personable young man. ... What a loss. What a loss. To his family first, and then to the artist community.”

Vincent was in contact with family members throughout the day Wednesday and said they were not ready to talk to the media about Kolodnicki.

Kolodnicki was the U.S. mail carrier for portions of downtown Norwich, including the Norwich Arts Center, where his artwork sometimes was exhibited in the gallery. Susan Scott Kenney, president of the Norwich Arts Center Gallery, said he often would stop in while delivering the mail and talk to the volunteer artists who staff the gallery during the day.

“We’re all very sad,” Scott Kenney said. “He was very personable and had beautiful artwork and was well liked by the artists at the gallery.”

Elanah Sherman, a local arts advocate, organized a lighthearted exhibit of Abraham Lincoln-themed works several years ago in Norwich. She recalled Kolodnicki submitted a detailed pencil drawing of Lincoln — “detailed, expressive, dignified,” Sherman said — and the portrait won top prize in the popular vote at the exhibit.

“I remember very clearly his reaction when he learned he won first prize,” Sherman said. “There was no hubris, no arrogance. He was surprised and absolutely delighted and appreciative.”

c.bessette@theday.com