Mon, Feb 12, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Mass grave found with bodies of 30 Russian women

LURED Police say girls were tricked into visiting an apartment where a gang raped them and killed any who refused to become prostitutes

THE OBSERVER , MOSCOW

For four years girls and young women disappeared from their homes in the drab industrial Russian town of Nizhny Tagil. Their parents called the police and pasted up posters.

But in the end it was a stray dog that tracked them down. The decomposing bodies of 30 females aged from 13 to 25 were found in a mass grave in woodland near the village of Levikha, 65km away.

The discovery sent a ripple of horror through a country inured to brutal tales.

Prosecutors in the town on the eastern flank of the Urals, the crinkle of mountains separating the European and Asian parts of Russia, have now charged eight men aged between 25 and 46 with murder.

POLICE CRITICIZED

But it has revealed a catalogue of errors on the part of Nizhny Tagil police who failed to link a string of missing persons reports from 2002 to 2005.

It is thought a gang led by two brothers used a handsome young man to lure the girls to an apartment where they were raped and beaten.

Those who refused to become prostitutes at the gang's massage parlor ended up in the Levikha grave.

The scale of the horror has reminded rich Muscovites of the brutal life out in the provinces, where low pay and lack of work can drive ordinary people to shocking crimes.

"In four years in Nizhny Tagila, a city of 400,000, girls were going missing left, right and center and nobody raised the alarm," one newspaper wrote.

"Tens of girls and young women missing? And nobody gave a damn?" the paper said.

Mark Kustovsky, the factory worker who reportedly acted as the bait, wooed the women with presents and visits to cafes.

His wife said the ringleaders forced him to put bodies in the grave, telling him: "If you don't bury them, you'll be lying there yourself."

But the police say he was a willing gang member.

"The girls who didn't agree to work in the brothel were taken to the forest and there killed and buried," prosecutor Nail Rizvanov said.

The gang told the girls they were going for a picnic, feeding them kebabs before they were murdered.

It is not clear how they were killed, but some had crushed skulls.

So far, 15 bodies have been identified in a process complicated by wild animals disturbing the remains.

One of the girls is thought to be Yelena Chudinova, 15, daughter of one of the gang leaders.

The grave was close to a bus stop and dachas.

Towards the end of their spree the gang gave up burying the bodies, just throwing branches over them instead.

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