Russian historian Anatoly Moskvin searched cemeteries for the bodies of young women and girls so that he could store them in his apartment like a collection of ghoulish dolls.
On a cold, gray morning last weekend, a group of about 30 relatives and neighbors waited for the funeral of a 65-year-old woman outside a five-story building on Lenin Prospect in the Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod. Some of them discussed the latest news in low voices: “Our Rima Stesheva would be too old for that maniac! He dragged home only the corpses of young women,” one of the women at the funeral said, referring to the deceased. “They said he placed musical boxes inside the mummies, set them up around his living room and had tea, while they were singing for him,” another woman said, citing a recent article from a local newspaper. Soul-troubling details settled over the crowd, like wet snow, as more pedestrians joined the discussion in the courtyard: “He dug them out at night and turned the remains into pretty dolls”; “He collected clothes of dead women”; “His apartment was packed with the mummies he made out of dead bodies.” The moment the coffin showed up from the doorway, the gloomy-faced crowd quieted and boarded a bus to follow the deceased one to the cemetery.
Some Nizhny Novgorod papers nicknamed the villain of the story “The Lord of the Mummies”; others opted for “Perfumer,” after the Patrick Suskind novel Perfume. The thriller began on Nov. 3, a day before President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s official visit to Nizhny Novgorod, Russia's fourth-largest city and a center of military research and production that stayed closed to foreigners during most of the Soviet era. The reporters working on the Perfumer story were told not to make any noise on the story before the leaders left the city. But a news site named Criminal Chronicle could not contain itself: it ran a short brief saying that center “E," the Interior Ministry’s department for fighting extremist crime, had discovered 29 mummified corpses of women and girls between the ages of 15 and 26 in a three-room apartment that belonged to Anatoly Moskvin, a 45-year-old scientist.
Moskvin was described as multilingual (he spoke 13 languages) and a historian, a professional traveler, journalist, and magician. Moskvin, it turns out, was well known among local historians as a strange and lonely expert on cemeteries, a "necropolyst," as he proudly referred in his articles to his own specialty. For decades Moskvin’s byline appeared often in most of Nizhny Novgorod’s newspapers. Even today, when the historian is in custody, accused of the desecration of more than 150 graves in the region, his “Great Walks Around Cemeteries” and “What the Dead Said” documentary series of features about famous deceased citizens, written in an old-fashioned style, continue to be published in a weekly newspaper. “All his life he was obsessed with walking around hundreds of cemeteries, studying and documenting the graves. There is nobody like him in Russia. He had researched over 750 cemeteries all over Nizhny Novgorod region, being paid miserable kopeks for his priceless unique work,” said Alexei Yesin, the editor of Necrologies, a weekly paper that publishes obituaries and stories about cemeteries and famous dead people. Moskvin wrote regularly for Necrologies. Yesin hopes the investigation will “dig out the truth” and let his reporter go free.
Anatoly Moskvin and one of the 29 bodies he dressed up as dolls to keep in his apartment.
Not many echoed Yesin’s praise of Moskvin’s research after the investigators working on the scene released a video of what they discovered inside the historian’s apartment. In the clip, the camera moves along the corridor, which is cluttered with wedding dresses and bright, colorful clothes, and enters a small room. At first sight, the little figures of girls mounted on top of the bundles of old books and papers, or half-lying on the couches, could be taken for big, soft stuffed dolls. The camera zooms in to their faces, which are wrapped in light beige fabric, and settles on the painted eyes. The girl figure on the couch wears a knitted hat with a pinned rose and a lilac sweater; her legs, covered by white tights, are elegantly crossed. The camera moves down to the feet; the girl is wearing white shoes. The next “doll” in the corner has long, curled, blonde hair and wears a silk wedding dress with a veil running down to the floor. She could be 10 or 12 years old. “These dolls are made of mummified human remains,” the voiceover on the video says.
The police report says that Moskvin compiled up-to-date information about the life of each of the women he brought home, and printed off from a computer detailed “instructions for producing” the “dolls” out of human remains. The police officers who shot the video said they each drank a few shots of Vodka when they got home.