No body means no investigation. Russian judiciary prosecutes for murders that may not have happened
Former traffic cop Mikhail Saplinov was sentenced to life in prison for murdering two young women. The trial was held in the Belgorod region in February. The defendant pleaded guilty. However, he refused to share where he buried the victims…or could not do that. The 2015 trial of Vladimir Koen hailing from Vladivostok made the headlines. He was given a 9-year custodial sentence for murdering his ex-girlfriend that had gone missing in 2011. Her body has never been found. The CrimeRussia tells a story of two murder convicts who could be innocent.
Mikhail Saplinov’s caseTraffic cop and serial killer
Former traffic cop Mikhail Saplinov was sentenced to life in prison for murdering two young women. The trial was held in the Belgorod region in February 2018. He was convicted of murder, rape, and violence against Stary Oskol residents Natalya Malakhova and Ekaterina Kuzmina. The defendant was convicted without the most important evidence, namely the women’s bodies.
Missing person #1
18-year-old Ekaterina Kuzmina left her apartment and went missing in the evening of December 26, 2014. The Stary Oskol resident worked as an exotic dancer at a night club. The young woman had moved to the town from war-torn Lugansk in the summer of 2014.
Ekaterina had called and exchanged messages on the social media with various acquaintances the night before. Traffic cop Mikhail Saplinov was one of those acquaintances. He had met her when pulling over her acquaintances’ car. He invited her to visit him at his home that night. They spoke over the phone at about 2 AM that night, according to the call history. However, Ekaterina spoke with bouncer Andrey K. over the phone at about 4 AM. When Ekaterina was put on the missing persons list, both Mikhail and Andrey claimed Ekaterina did not show up at their places. The police believed them back then; there were no signs she visited either apartment.
Ekaterina’s mother Alena Kuzmina decided to start her own investigation while local residents and volunteers were looking for her daughter.
“He was drunk that night and could get angry with Ekaterina; he is very jealous and could have hit her. He could put too much force into the blow, get scarred, and disguise his crime. Mikhail’s future father-in-law’s car was parked outside. He used it to take her body to the Fedoseevsky forest where Mikhail’s father works as a forest ranger. The rumor has it he has influential acquaintances in the local MIA Directorate,” Alena claimed based on her guesses.
According to Alena, guard Andrey “likes to spend time in clubs and does not have attachments or principles. He could help sell Ekaterina to human traffickers.” But there were more men who were after Ekaterina who also ended up being suspects. Alena also wanted one Ishkhan P. checked for involvement in her daughter’s disappearance. He is a criminal and his family is very influential and also has connections to the MIA and prosecutors, Alena believes.
Whatever the case, Alena’s suspicions have never been confirmed. Ekaterina has never been found. However, Mikhail had to resign after the story and his alleged involvement were highly publicized.
Missing person #2
25-year-old waitress Natalya Malakhova went missing in Stary Oskol overnight into November 17, 2016. She and her friend Andrey Bobryshev visited Mikhail Saplinov that night. They drank. Bobryshev left home at about 3 AM. Mikhail and Natalya then had sex. Natalya called a taxi at about 7 AM using her cellphone. She then left for her taxi never to be seen again.
Pictures with captions that read “Mikhail, where is Ekaterina?” began appearing on the social media after the second woman went missing. The pictures were spread by Alena, according to Mikhail’s father.
Mikhail was arrested on suspicion of murdering the two women. He pleaded guilty. Mikhail invited Ekaterina to his place in December 2014, according to the record of questioning. He wanted to have sex with her. The woman arrived at his place at 2 AM, allegedly not knowing about his intentions.
“I approached her and started making passes at her. I tried to hug and kiss her. However, Ekaterina pushed me away and hit me in the groin with her right knee. I then lost control due to intense pain,” Saplinov told during questioning.
The suspect suffocated Ekaterina and dumped her body in a trash container. However, Mikhail changed his account of what happened when taken to the crime scene. He does not remember how he suffocated Ekaterina. Mikhail took the body outside at 5 AM, mere 20 to 30 minutes after the murder, according to the case file. No one saw anything.
Testimony in Natalya’s murder investigation is questionable, too. Mikhail was accused of not only murder, but rape due to phone footage. Mikhail took advantage of the fact that Natalya was drunk, the prosecution and victims insists. The horrific footage that not everyone was able to watch to the end shows the woman with her hands tied behind her back with duct tape and a hat on her head, according to jury. The transcript bof what was said on the footage does not contain calls for help; Mikhail’s acquaintance asked questions, spoke, and asked what to do.
Mikhail did not need much time to figure out what to do with the body this time around, according to the case file. He simply threw it from a window of his apartment at the first floor. He then rammed fence with his car, drove through the lawn, loaded the body in the car, and took it to the Fedoseevka village where he dumped it in a construction trash container.
There is another question regarding the investigation. Alena testified a lot, guessing who could murder her daughter. For example, Alena speculated how Mikhail could get rid of Ekaterina’s body, according to an October 2016 police report that was drawn up a month prior to disappearance of Natalya. Her guesses is pretty much exactly what Mikhail would say to investigators after being arrested in November.
Mikhail Saplinov in court
“He was forced to plead guilty to the two murders. However, what he wrote when confessing has never been confirmed. The bodies of the women he allegedly murdered have never been found! Mikhail took his confession back when he got his own attorney instead a free one. He said police officer beat him for a day, would not give him water or food or use toilet. That is why he agreed to plead guilty,” Mikhail’s father Yury Saplinov said.
Mikhail’s attorney Denis Khomyakov said he is going to appeal the conviction.
The idea of closing an investigation if a victim’s body was not found goes back to 17th century, when the Campden Wonder occurred. It later became a legal precedent in the Anglo-Saxon law. One William Harrison went to collect rent and went missing with the money. His blood-stained clothing was later found. However, the body was not found. Three locals – a mother and her two sons – were arrested on suspicion of murder. They were forced to plead guilty. They were sentenced to death by hanging. However, the ‘murder victim’ returned home in 1662. He said had been abducted by pirates who sold him into slavery in Turkey.
Viktor Koen’s case
Crime series aficionados
Vladivostok resident Viktor Koen was sentenced to 9 years and 2 months in high-security prison in the summer of 2016. The 27-year-old man was convicted of murdering his ex-girlfriend Galina Kolyadzinskaya.
Viktor and Galina dated for 5 years. They were an extravagant couple. Their mutual friends said Galina was empty-headed, while Viktor was more serious and did not like his girlfriend’s enthusiasm for night clubs. The couple’s preferred pastime was to watch crime series at home.
Galina Kolyadzinskaya and Viktor Koen
Galina’s mother described her daughter as an artistic person; she studied to be a designer. She said she was explosive, too. Galina had suffered five concussions. Galina had a side job as a model and would go to Beijing to make money. Viktor sold construction materials, hired taxi drivers for a taxi company, and sold tires.
Koen proposed to Galina, but she turned him down. The two argued more and more as the time went on. Viktor met Tatyana in the summer of 2011. 26-year-old Galina went missing a week after that.
Galina told her friends and family she was tired of the relationship and wanted to leave the town. Galina had long thought of moving to some Asian country to pursue modeling or escort career, Galina’s mother Elena Kolyadzinskaya said.
One way or the other, in November 2011 Galina’s parent went to the police and said their daughter had gone missing.
Police fails to find the young girl, finds suspect instead
Viktor moved in with Tatyana several days after Galina went missing. The two got married in 2012.
There was no progress in search for Galina. Galina’s father went to the police to file another missing person report in May 2014. A criminal investigation was suddenly launched a month afterwards.
Viktor Koen was summoned for questioning in June 2014. He became a suspect but was not arrested. He was summoned to investigators again in July. He pleaded guilty. There is an hour-long footage of Koen’s July 23 questioning on YouTube. Koen and Head of the MIA Directorate in the Primorsky region field investigation unit No. 4 Dmitry Mun can be seeing sitting at a police station. It is worth mentioning that the police station is known as ‘torture house at Karbysheva Street’ among local residents.
Video: Viktor Koen admits to murdering his ex-girlfriend
Viktor told Mun that he spoke with Galina over the phone on November 14. She “insulted him and extorted money to leave the town to start a new life.” He came home and saw her laying drunk on a bed. He then began choking her and continued doing so for several minutes. He then took the body to the bathroom. He then went out to buy a mincing machine. He also bought three plastic buckets. In another shop, he bought a 20 cm knife. He then went back home and dismembered the body. He then packed body parts into the buckets and took them to a forest on a car. He returned there several days later to cover the buckets with tires and set them on fire.
Koen tried to persuade Mun to let him go and stop the investigation at the end of the questioning.
“Can we talk like men? You have worked here for a long time, and I am sure you have seen more indisposed people. Yet you managed to get confessions out of them,” Koen said.
“Do you see I am eager to live?” a question followed.
“No doubt,” Mun said.
“I do understand the car is already being examined, but I also know you can stop it at this stage. There are guys who want to hang me,” Koen gestured towards the wall behind which there was another room.
“Let’s not say that. Do you want me to forget about what you have told me and let you go home? Why would I do this?” Mun asked.
“I will insult you if I offer you some sort of reward. I will offer you control over my life.”
“Why would I do the wrong thing?”
“You will give small individual a small change. I will owe you for the rest of my life. You will be able to trust such a person with your life,” Koen said.
“I do not want to share my life with you. Stop it.” Mun said dismissively.
Testimony on pain of death
Five days after his arrest, Koen told the Public Supervisory Committee he was tortured into pleading guilty. Police officers also threated him and his wife, he claimed. The video was shot after he had been tortured, he said. He also told medical expert he had been beaten by police officers and cellmates. There are records that prove he have suffered “bruises of head soft tissues and face, multiple scratches, bruises on the left side of his chest, concussion, and a split eardrum” while at jail.
Police officers denied forcing Koen into pleading guilty. Many of those questioned at the police station say it is a ‘torture house’. There are also former police officers who worked there who say the same thing. The same people have been accused of torture for years. Mun is one of them. However, they have never been investigated.
He learned it all from House, M. D.
The investigation is based on confessions. Investigators have never found Galina’s body. Experts did not find anything at the forest where Koen allegedly burned the body. Koen’s phone was active several times near the forest during the night after Galina was allegedly murdered, according to the call history. This goes against testimony; Koen said he burned the body several days after the alleged murder.
“The fact the body has never been found does not mean the crime was not committed. Koen liked TV series, including House M. D., according to witnesses. This means he could know how to dismember a body,” Judge Verkhoturova emphasized in the verdict.
Koen was sentenced to 9 years and 2 months in prison despite having stated he had been forced to confess.
The public kept its eye on both the trial and its aftermath. Some people created social media communities dedicated to finding Galina. They publish photos of women looking like her. There is a movement in support of Viktor. There are thousands who support him. Regular social media user are carefully reading through the case file and finding discrepancies.
Tatyana has eagerly defended her husband at first. However, she suddenly decided to divorce him in the summer of 2016. She married another man and refrained from talking to the media. She also deleted her social media accounts. She appeared on a number of popular shows prior to the divorce, including the Battle of Extrasensory whose participates claimed Galina is alive.
Galina’s mother did not agree with the ruling either. She believes Galina is alive. Koen’s attorney said he will appeal the decision in either the Russian Supreme Court or European Court.
The CrimeRussia does not mean to persuade anyone either Viktor Koen or Mikhail Saplinos are innocent. The author does not mean to place the court decisions in question. The stories raise questions only due to the fact the investigations were not transparent. The police launched both investigations years after the fact. Even if there was evidence, it had been gone by then. This means innocent people may have been wrongly convicted of crimes they did not commit, while real criminals are still at large.
The corridors of the Main MIA Directorate for St. Petersburg and Leningrad region are empty. Employees of the department have no free time - they are busy with reports. Inspectors of the Main Directorate of Internal Security of the MIA arrived in the northern capital with a check. CrimeRussia tried to find out whether there will be any resignations.