The Russian Navy Murders

There was a murder ring operating at the Admiralty in St Petersburg... Rather like the infamous “kill squad” of US army soldiers implicated in the Maywand District murders in Afghanistan in 2010, Russian naval cadets were going out and killing people – local citizens – purely for the fun of it and then boasting about it to their fellow servicemen. Besides five murders in St Petersburg alone (this is the tale of the attempted sixth murder, which went wrong and led to their capture), two cadets went AWOL in October 2001 and went on a killing spree in Estonia and Latvia, which led to seven deaths there of innocent people, culminating in the fatal shooting of a Latvian policeman in May 2002.

On the night of 10/11 October 2001, walking home from my place of work (the Marble Palace) on the Palace Embankment to my flat near the English Embankment, I was hit in the face by two unknown assailants, sending me backwards and knocking my head on the pavement, rendering me unconscious. The event happened outside 26 Palace Embankment – the former palace of Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich and now the House of Scholars – directly opposite the River Neva from the Peter and Paul Fortress. This was to be the first step in another Russian navy murder. But although the spot was deserted and dark at the time (10:30 pm), an ex-member of Russia’s parachute regiment now working in the government, Valery Groshev, happened to be driving past and witnessed the assault.

Still in his car, Valery Groshev shouted at the attackers as they prepared to render the killing blow. The two of them split and Groshev set off in pursuit of the larger assailant as he ran through the streets and lanes. Groshev stopped once to try and apprehend him, failed, got back into his car and continued the chase, before finally cornering him near the French Consulate. There, he single-handedly captured him and handed him over to the policeman on duty at the consulate. This policeman summoned a patrol group, who found me, took me to their station, called an ambulance and dispatched me to hospital to be stitched back together again. I was hospitalised for sixteen days with a fractured skull and other injuries.

The attacker apprehended by Valery Groshev turned out to be a third-year naval engineering student at the Admiralty, which led the police to his accomplice, also with the navy. The case was handed over to the Naval Prosecutor’s Office, who successfully prosecuted my two assailants – despite heavy pressure and provocations from the Admiralty. Over a period of four months, I was obliged to regulary attend the Naval Prosecutor’s Office, face-to-face meetings with my assailants and then every day of the trial, which treated the whole incident as a “barrack incident” between three servicemen.

The trial was held at a special military court of the Baltic Fleet on Ploschad Truda and began on Christmas Eve 2001. The criminal court case came to an end on 11 January 2002, when the two accused were found guilty and sentenced to five and three years of hard labour at a penal colony. Several of their fellow servicemen – who sat behind me at the trial and wrote a collective letter against me – were threatened with sentences of five years for perjury.

All good detective stories have a twist in the tale and this one had two. The Admiralty was anxious to absolve itself of any blame for its AWOL cadets and pressed heavily for me to lodge my own claim for personal damages against them (rather than sue the Russian navy, which would have brought to light all the other murders, including those on foreign soil). One of the investigators told me that they had once had another case involving a civilian – though not a foreigner – who had successfully sued a naval official for invaliding his daughter through careless driving.

When Valery Groshev gave his evidence at the court hearings, having travelled specially from Moscow, his appearance caused a sensation among the lawyers and other courtroom officials. Because he and the only other civilian to be involved with this particular navy court were the one and the same person. And he just happened to be passing in his car at that exact second on the night of 10 October 2001 – to prevent me from becoming the sixth victim of the Russian navy murders.

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