In 2011, Russia bore witness to one the most bizarre cases in the countries criminal history. A story of Black magic, the Occult and one man’s very unusual hobby.
Russian Dolls: Anatoly Moskvin
In 2011, Russia bore witness to a breaking news story involving a man named Anatoly Moskvin in what was to become one the most bizarre cases in the countries criminal history. His was a story of Black magic, the Occult and one man’s very unusual hobby. Sensationalised across the English speaking internet, the true story may not contain necrophilia nor psychopathy, but it remains no less shocking and easily among the darkest stories covered by myself to date, as terrifying as it is tragic. This is Dark Histories, where the facts are worse than fiction.
The Early Years of Anatoly Moskvin
Anatoly Moskvin was born in the Soviet Russian locality of Gorki, today known as Nizhny Novgorod, in 1966 to parents Yuri Fedorovich and Elvira Alexandrovna. His upbringing was far from easy, whilst he was in third grade, he returned home one day, covered in bruises he had received whilst being raped by an unknown man. It is unclear whether or not he told this story to his parents as a child. They had noted something was wrong in his character, however, they had known from an early age that he was intelligent and as stalwart Soviets, they simply chalked his social awkwardness and difficulty making friends up to this fact, though they did try to question him on his behaviour, he reacted aggressively and so instead they left him to his devices. Academically successful, he was always at the top of his class, but often bullied and ostracized at school, struggling to create social relationships. Instead, he squirrelled himself away and spent every penny he came across on books, whilst independently teaching himself languages.
If this upbringing had so far managed to not scar the young Moskvin, it was an incident that occurred on March 4th, 1979 that would do the job comprehensively. In later life, he referred to it as a turning point for him, igniting an interest in both the Occult and the cemeteries he would later meticulously study, almost on a level of pilgrimage.
Aged 12 and attending School 184, Moskvin was out collecting waste paper with the rest of his class. In Soviet Russia, recycling was organised by the government and schools held compulsory competitions for waste paper collection. Framed as they were in a competitive setting, the pupils would often find themselves in places they perhaps should not have been to outdo their classmates. So it was that Moskvin found himself in the yard of a stranger. The occupants of the house were not having a very usual day, however, and clocking the two dozen adult figures wearing Black Robes, holding burning candles over a coffin and singing in a foreign language, he knew that perhaps this time, he had overstepped his boundaries. As he backed out of the yard and went to take off, one of the occupants that had seen him grabbed hold of his shoulder, insisting to him that he should come and kiss the face of the dead child who lay in the coffin. The child was a young girl named Natasha Petrova, aged 11, who had grabbed for a towel as she stepped out of the bath and instead made contact with a loose electrical cable, electrifying herself and dying instantly. Today was her funeral, though, from the scene in front of him, Moskvin knew this was no ordinary funeral.
He refused to kiss the girl, however, the parents would not hear of it. He began to cry, sensing the futility of the situation, he had begged to be let go, but had won no favour and so, realising the hopelessness of the situation, he approached the body in the coffin.
“A woman, apparently the mother of the deceased, gave me a large Hungarian apple and kissed my forehead. She led me to the coffin and promised me a great deal of candy, oranges and money. She told me to kiss the deceased. I burst into tears and begged her to let go, but the sectarians insisted. Everyone again sang prayers in a language I did not understand, and one of the adults drew my head to the waxy forehead of the girl in a lace cap. I had no choice but to kiss where I was ordered.”
Moskvin kissed the lifeless girl three times on the forehead. Two copper rings were produced and he was instructed to place one onto the finger of the girl and to wear the second himself. He was then awarded a basket of fruit and a small sum of Rubles for his troubles and let free into the street, though not before he was told not to tell anyone of what had taken place for at least 40 days. On the corner of the street, Moskvin threw the fruit into the snow and then went to spend the money he had been given on a book about animals.
After the event, he began having strange dreams of the dead girl, who would visit him nightly. Natasha had come to him, she explained, to insist that he learn Black magic from her. He refused this outright, though Natasha was anything if not persistent. She visited him in his dreams every night until he eventually went back to her village, which stopped the visitations for a time. Shortly after he returned home, however, the dreams started again. He told his parents about Natasha and finally, they decided to seek medical advice for their troubled son, the doctor, however, concluded that Moskvin was merely transitioning into puberty and prescribed him a course of Valerian, a herbal sedative commonly taken to aid in sleep and relaxation.
After a year of these nightly visits, Natasha finally drew weary of moskvins rebuttals. Instead, she tried a different tack, suggesting a course of action that Moskvin could take to pass this burden onto another. He carried out a simple ceremony that she had described to him, using a tooth he obtained from a classmate as a magical component in the ritual. This ended in success and Natasha never visited him again, though her presence in his life would have a profound effect on him as an adult. He would visit the site of her grave at Krasnaya Etna whenever he was in the Leninsky district of Nizhny Novgorod. This event too opened his eyes to the strange world of the occult, which he would soon find a deep interest in. The whole affair also kickstarted his interest in cemeteries, which he said attracted him “like a magnet”.
As a university student, Moskvin studied in the Philological faculty of Moscow State University. He had, since a young age been interested in languages and from his independent studies now spoke a staggering thirteen different languages. Taking advantage of the freedom of student life, Moskvin joined the society of Luciferians, a theistic branch of Luciferianism, that embraced many concepts of the Left-Hand Path. he took part in rituals involving dead animals, passed a test to become a black magic user and vowed celibacy and abstinence from drinking and smoking. Now he found that he regretted his earlier shunning of Natasha, though he still found the story of her visits to be useful,
“In the era of Perestroika, I decided to study magic. Knowledgeable people did not refuse to teach me after I told them the story of my marriage to Natasha.”
In contrast to this occult path in his life, by day, Moskvin wrote his thesis for the department of German and Celtic Philology and upon graduation, begun teaching Celtology at Nizhny Novgorod University. He published two Russian to English dictionaries, as well as a dictionary of foreign words and a dictionary of school phraseology aimed at school age children. His colleagues found him to be kind, punctual and a genius. This came at a certain social price however, and many regarded him to be somewhat eccentric, whilst others found him straight difficult to get along with. Following several disagreements with some of the staff at the university, he left this position, instead focusing on writing and tutoring. His mother later explained how he enjoyed communicating with children, he was popular as a tutor, teaching predominantly languages, though he also tutored various other subjects from History to Literature.
In 2003, Moskvin met Yulia Grehnova, a young woman whom he much admired. Yulia was spiritual and concerned with Indian religions and the pair entered into a non-sexual relationship, with Yulia playing a role somewhat akin to a muse to Moskvin, whilst he continued to write. The relationship satisfied Moskvins need for socialisation, whilst allowing him to maintain his vows of celibacy and Yulia was happy enough with the arrangement, having suggested it herself. Yulia wanted a child, however, and it didn’t take much convincing for moskvin to agree, as had wanted a child of his own for many years already. Given the non-sexual nature of their relationship, Moskvin applied for adoption of a young girl in 2003. Their application was rejected however on the grounds that Moskvin s earnings were too low. By this point his income was erratic and he was living hand-to-mouth on the paycheques he received from journalistic work he published in several local papers. Outside of this small wage, he lived at home with his parents, who propped him up financially. His parents didn’t hold the same enthusiasm for his plans to adopt, which lead to tensions in the family, leading to Moskvin threatening:
“I told my mother that I would be engaged in black magic, and get in touch with the spirits of the dead”
Used to his eccentric behaviour, she merely told him to do as he pleased. In the end, it all fell to nothing, as his relationship with Yulia eventually evaporated and the imminent need for a child appeared to fall into the background. Instead, Moskvin turned his attention to a new adventure on the roads of Nizhny Novgorod.
On July 18th, 2005, Moskvin hit the road for the first time as part of a new research venture he had organised, financially assisted by Oleg Riabov, a well known Nizhny Novgorod based historian. The pair planned to publish a book entitled “Nizhny Novgorod Necropolis” and for Moskvins part, he was to journey across the region documenting cemeteries and unearthing local history along the way.
For three years, Moskvin walked travelled across Nizhny Novgorod. He averaged over 30km per day, most of it undertaken on foot due to the rural nature of many of the areas he visited, the buses would often leave only once per day and rarely held convenient schedules and many of the roads he travelled too were in various states of disrepair. As he walked he read books,
“My legs walked on the roads, my eyes walked on the lines.” He stated.
In general, he arrived in the cemeteries by the evening and he would spend the remaining daylight hours scraping the moss from old headstones with a chisel, writing the owners names, dates of life and death and any other information he could muster into a notebook with a pencil. He slept where he could, though often times his bed was in the stone entrances of the cemetery, a haystack in a field, sawdust piles or at lucky times, he would find a cemetery with a lodge and use that for shelter. One night, in a Muslim cemetery in Sergachsky, he slept inside a coffin that had been kept in preparation for a future burial. The next morning he was awoken by two very surprised gravediggers, who fortunately for Moskvin were already drunk and were as startled as himself, which allowed for the situation to be smoothed over with a level of joviality.
He never had problems from police, he noted, as they never toured the graveyards, only the lazy officials who drove their cars to secluded areas to sleep rather than patrol. On the occasions he was stopped and searched, he always showed them his academic research materials and passport and was allowed to continue on his way. He was not always so fortunate with civilians, however, and in 2006, whilst documenting a cemetery in Buturlinsky, he was approached by a group of a dozen drunk men who were out celebrating a wedding, who accused him of robbery. He pleaded with the men to be taken to police rather than beaten and when they arrived at the station, the officials smoothed the situation and drove him to the edge of town, warning him not to return. On another occasion in September of 2006, he was visiting a cemetery in Pavlovo when he was mistaken for a priest by a trio of two drunk guys and a drunk woman who were mourning by the grave of their recently deceased daughter. When they asked him to sing with them, he declined, explaining he was no priest and turned to leave. The men beat him and robbed him of his money and watch, however, the next day, Moskvin re-visited the gravesite, noted the name on the headstone and reported the affair to police, who followed up the lead and promptly arrested the men.
Outside of the difficulties the research threw up with drunk locals, the sheer exhaustion of it all took its toll on Moskvin. In 2006 he noted that the weather was unusually rainy throughout the summer and in 2007, it was unusually hot, leading him to drink from puddles.
It was safe to say that the work was exhausting and Moskvin attributed the exertion of the years he spent trekking across rural landscapes to research the graveyards for greying his hair and thinning his hairline.
It wasn’t all struggle however, he noted also the general hospitality of many people who brought him food and drove him between various rural villages free of charge.
In the end, it was all for a good cause, he would remind himself. Many records had been lost during the Soviet regime and Moskvin did not find the reports from newspapers to be trustworthy. Even before the Soviets, he noted that handwriting and the generally poor condition of old documents made the information extracted from them for from trustworthy. It was far better, he insisted to get out on the roads and do the work for yourself. Between 2005 and 2007, Moskvin visited 752 cemeteries in 35 districts, uncovering the pasts of over 1000 people that had been thought to be lost to time. Quite aside from the research work for his upcoming book, this pilgrimage held a second, rather more disturbing advantage for Moskvin. One that would overshadow any of his previous works of writing.
Between 2006-2010, after his research into cemeteries, Moskvin wrote for various papers, including the Nizhny Gorodosky Rabochy, where he wrote twice monthly pieces on cemeteries and history and the Nizhny Novgorod Worker, writing on various historical subjects. Never one to shy away from the taboo, he wrote an article concerning the Mongol-Tatar invasions of Russia between the 13th and 15th Centuries, which accused the invaders of raping thousands of women. This drew both criticisms from the public, as he found himself accused of extremist activity against the Tatar people, as well as interest to the E Division of the MVD, the Russian department of internal affairs anti-terror outfit.
In 2008, Moskvin published a book on the history of the Swastika as a solar symbol up until the 19th Century. This drew attention upon him once again, this time he came under fire and was accused of being a fascist, once again pricking the ears of the authorities.
After the 2011 Domodedovo International airport terror bombings in 2011, Moskvin visited a Muslim cemetery and painted tombstones, along with affixing newspaper reports to headstones containing names of the deceased. This had followed a flurry of anti-muslim activity in the area and desecration of Muslim graves around the region and prompted the “E” Division, who had been following him for some time now, to take action. On the 2nd November 2011, they raided Moskvins apartment. Rather than extremist materials, however, they found something far more disturbing. Inside the Moskvin apartment officials found 29 human-sized dolls, dressed in women’s clothing and painted with crude makeup. Some of them had music boxes embedded into their chests allowing them to “speak”. The scene of these dolls, propped up around Moskvins room and stored in the garage would be quite strange enough, however, the dolls held a darker secret. As the E division began searching and clearing the apartment, they noticed the dolls made a rattling sound when they were picked up and shook. They opened one up and found that stored inside each one was the mummified remains of a human body. Moskvin had been collecting more than just history from the Graveyards of Nizhny Novgorod.
As the E division tore apart the apartment, they found more and more dolls, 29 in total, all dressed in outfits of paper and cloth and arranged throughout the rooms. They carried each one out of the house to be placed on the back of a truck in front of gathering crowds of journalists and locals, who watched on in curious disbelief of the stories they heard filtering into the streets through whispers and gossip. The story was too much for papers to resist, and by the next day, it blew up nationally, with headlines dubbing Moskvin “The Puppeteer”.
Following the arrest, his father was hospitalised, suffering a heart attack, his mother was also hospitalised for a period, blaming her poor health on the shock of their son’s arrest. Despite living with the dolls for so long, they held fast to the story that they had no idea what was inside the macabre effigies. They appeared like crude Paper Mache dolls and in the past, Moskvin had held an interest in Russian Dolls, so his parents just assumed it was an extension of that interest. A friend of his parents spoke of their shock in a later interview,
“The dolls didn’t turn up suddenly, Moskvin had built up the collection over ten years. All of them were kept in his room. There was only one in the parent’s rooms, which he named “Masha”. His parents had no idea, When friends visited, they often remarked on them as works of art, calling them puppets. They just never thought they might contain mummified humans. The only concern his mother had was that at times he would talk to them, “Are you a child? She would say, Why do you play with them?”
On one New Years Eve, Moskvin introduced ‘Masha’ to his aunt, after sitting her at the family table. “This is Masha,” he said, “do not be afraid of her.”
All of the dolls were found to contain the mummified remains of young girls who had suffered tragic and often violent deaths. Though there are several whose names and details were never released, the reported ages of the deceased range anywhere between 3 and 30 years old. Moskvin stuffed the mummified remains with cloths and rags, dressed them in clothes he found in the trash and made their faces up with makeup and paint. He knew all of their names, their histories and the circumstances of all of their deaths. He dug up the first body on May 9th 2003 following the disagreement with his parents over adoption, instead deciding on resurrecting the deceased with his black magic.
“The coffin was covered with crimson synthetic matter. With a chisel, I hollowed out a hole in the lid of the coffin at the head of the bed and through it, I pulled out what was left of the body. It was in very poor condition. The girl was dressed in a white blouse, black skirt, old tights and shoes.”
“The child had long hair. Then I decided for the first time to try to mummify it. I moved the body to a remote corner of the cemetery, and buried it in the abandoned grave of some grandmother.”
“To properly mummify the body you need soda and salt in various proportions. I bought these substances in the store, I found old stockings in the garbage dump and made bags from them, pouring soda and salt into them and tied them to the remains. I changed these bags once a week. If people paid attention to me, I said that I was there to feed the birds.”
“On July 25, 2003, I wrapped the body in different clothes and carried it back to my home in my backpack. Within two days, I restored the body: I stuffed rags inside then I sewed the body with threads and made a wax mask on her face and then covered it with nail polish, which I found in the trash. After that, I put on her clothes, which I also found in the trash.”
Some of the dolls had buttons for eyes, whilst others had masks made from soft toys.
Whilst in custody awaiting trial, Moskvin co-operated with police investigations, detailing the various cemeteries the bodies had been removed from as well as supplying the names of the girls he had exhumed. On the 12th May, he gave an interview to Russian journalists explaining how and why he had collected his dolls.
“The thing is, I’m practising black magic. I wanted to revive them, I felt sorry for these children, who could still live and live. I kept them so that when science learns to fight cancer, it can later revitalize them, genetics are developing now very rapidly. I felt sorry for all these children.”
“I am an expert in Celtic studies and studying Celtic culture, I noticed that the Druids had a tradition of communicating with the spirits of the deceased by sleeping on graves. When I studied the culture of the peoples of Siberia, specifically, the culture of the ancient Yakuts, there, too, I found a similar practice. I also began to sleep on the graves of children who liked me. The spirits of the deceased children came to me.”
“Accordingly, I checked whether it was demons that came, or whether it was spirits. I collected all the information I could. Then, if possible, I checked this information. I was convinced that the spirits of the dead children really came to me.”
“At first I slept on the graves, then I adjusted because it was not convenient to sleep there. Instead, I carried the bodies where it would be convenient for me to sleep on them.
“I began to dry them and bring them home. This was done very cleverly and slowly, one at a time, so nobody knew about it.”
“I studied the theory, the technology of mummification from all available books. I studied the ancient Egyptian scripts. I went to Moscow especially to study the whole thing.”
The journalists went on to ask him what he did with them whilst he kept them in his home,
“I talked with them. We had a hierarchy, our own language, we had, respectively, our songs, we had our own holidays, we had our own inner peace.”
“My parents saw almost nothing of this, and I did not let anyone else into this world. As a rule, my parents left the house for summer, leaving in April, and returning in October. At this time we were engaged in this world.”
“I guess I really explored all that I could explore in this area of black magic. To be honest, I had my favourite children. I planned to keep my beloved children home in any case. Those that I liked less, I planned to take them to the garage, and they lived there in the garage.”
I did not disfigure them, did not dismember them. I applied all of my work gently, affectionately, politely, I even tried not to swear in front of these children”
“The fact is that I suffered very much from loneliness, especially during the summer period when my parents were not there, and when they took the cat.
“I sat them down, they had holes drilled under their eyes, I showed cartoons to them, I played children’s songs, I myself sang songs to them. Ordinary children’s songs, that I would sing when I have a live daughter. After that, we ate together, or rather I ate, I just offered them food, as it is in the Celtic or Yakut tradition.”
“I have been studying child psychology for about 10 years, preparing for the upbringing of a child. I have experience of communicating with living children from my tutoring. What I would do with living children I would do with these. I treated them as if they were alive, they were just temporarily dead”
Moskvin spoke of how he held birthday parties for the children and celebrated special events with them. When a journalist asked if he knew that what he had done was illegal he replied,
“Yes, I realized that it was illegal. But at the time when the heroes of our science, Dubinin, Chetverikov, when they were experimenting with fruit flies somewhere in their closet, they also knew that it was illegal under the laws of Stalin’s time. It was just then that genetics was banned. Now cloning is prohibited.”
“from the very beginning I knew that I was committing a crime, but I was so sorry for the children that, unfortunately, cloning is prohibited in our country. It will be allowed sooner or later. I just wanted some material for future cloning. So that these children could live for a second time.
“I was very sorry for these children. Naturally, every time I dug a grave, I levelled it, so that nothing could be seen, so as not to disturb those who are relatives. The fact is that for 10 years, this was kept secret. So I knew that none of the relatives of the deceased would ever know about this. I did everything neatly.
“I was not arrested in a cemetery. The MVD came to me on quite another matter and accidentally found the dolls. Nobody knew what I made these dolls from, even my parents did not know. “
Terrifyingly, when asked why he did it all, he remarked that he wanted a child, a daughter of his own that he could share all of his knowledge with. The dolls were, for Moskvin, a twisted surrogate.
“The children that I liked, I dried, resurrected, and brought to my home.”
In May of 2012, the trial of Anatoly Moskvin began. Though he faced five years imprisonment, he was quickly deemed as insane and exempt from any criminal liability. A psychological evaluation diagnosed him with Paranoid Schizophrenia and on the 27th September 2013, he was sentenced instead to “compulsory medical measures”, essentially imprisoning him in a psychiatric clinic where his case is reviewed on a 6 monthly basis and could see him locked away for the rest of his life. During the trial, families of the girls he had mummified shouted out to the judge to imprison him for life, whilst others shouted for the Death penalty. Eventually, neither prosecution nor defence appealed the outcome.
He was ordered to pay compensation of around 75,000 USD for moral damages to the families of each child, though interestingly, the father of one of Moskvins dolls rejected any compensation.
“I would not take anything from Moskvin, after all, he treated my daughter better than I had during her life. He dressed her, put her to bed, read her fairy tales and showed her cartoons.”
This split in opinion seen at the trial is one that echoes throughout Russia and remains until this day, shaping the current events surrounding Moskvins incarceration.
In June of 2015, Moskvins usual hearing was to take place to extend his stay in the psychiatric hospital for a further six months, however, on this occasion, things went a little differently. As the hearing was about to begin, the judge assumed all would go as it had previously, but this time, Moskvin had a new Lawyer. Violetta Volkova, the same human rights lawyer who shot to international fame when she defended the feminist punk band Pussy Riot, openly speaking out against the Russian regime and judicial system.
It had been reported that Moskvin had been beaten regularly by both guards and other patients, placed in isolation and not given freedom to leave his room, though his family may visit him daily. His mother claims he is fed up to 15 tablets a day, including many sedatives, leaving him unable to write, often dribbling on himself and sleeping for large portions of the day.
Volkova gave new demands for Moskvin, insisting that he be transferred to an independent clinic in Moscow for re-examination, expressing distrust for the psychiatric doctors in Moskvins current institution. Alongside Violetta, Moskvin has spent the last two years pressing for release and to continue his treatment at home as an outpatient. In 2018, this edged closer to reality, as the case for release gained the backing of his current doctors. The hearing is due to take place on September 27th, That’s in four days time for anyone listening to the podcast on its day of release.
Whoever hired Volkova, did so in some secrecy, though some have speculated it to be a TV station, hoping to profit from the back of his release, whilst others have put forward theories of an arts group in Moscow or a human rights group.
Despite this and knowing full well of the poor treatment he has been given during his incarceration, his own parents do not wish for him to be released, fearing he would simply repeat his crimes.
On the flipside, he appears to have met a future bride, an anonymous 25-year-old lady who studied at the same Philological faculty he graduated from so many years ago.
The fate of Moskvins future is still up in the air, and his previous court hearings have suffered from several postponements, in fact, the hearing due in four days has itself already been rescheduled from its original date of the 12th September, but it appears the tale of Anatoly Moskvin may soon turn a new page. If he is to be released, Moskvin has expressed interest in returning to work, translating written works in Moscow and marrying his mystery bride. At least this time, his wife will be alive.