4 Bodies Lie in an Apartment for Years

Moscow, Russia - The door to apartment 28 at 21 Ulitsa Artyukhinoi, where a police officer found the skeletal remains Tuesday evening.

A police officer tracking down people delinquent on their utility bills made a gruesome discovery when he broke into an apartment in southeast Moscow and found the skeletal remains of four family members who apparently died over a 10-year period.

Neighbors said Wednesday they had not noticed anything out of the ordinary.

The police officer, acting on a request from local building administrators, visited the apartment at 21 Ulitsa Artyukhinoi, near the Pechatniki metro station, on Tuesday evening to find out why the occupants had not paid their utility bills for two years, police spokeswoman Tatyana Korolyova said.

When no one answered the door, the officer broke in and found the four bodies dressed in nightwear, Korolyova said.

She identified the deceased as Timofei Komarov; his wife, Anna Komarova; their daughter Alla Ivkina; and their granddaughter Anna. Komarov owned the apartment.

Sergei Marchenko, a spokesman for the city prosecutor's office, said there were intervals of up to five years between the deaths and that the last death apparently occurred two years ago.

Aside from the condition of the bodies, evidence indicating that the deaths took place years ago included food in the refrigerator from 2003, a 1997 calendar and ruble notes that are now out of circulation, Marchenko said.

Interfax, citing a source close to the investigation, said the first death occurred a decade ago. "It turns out that the oldest member of the family, a grandfather born in 1912, died about 10 years ago," the source said. "Five years later, his wife, who was born in 1914, died. The deaths of the other family members, a daughter born in 1942 and a granddaughter born in 1971, also came at different times."

The source said investigators found a large amount of religious literature, primarily Russian Orthodox, and several icons in the apartment.

The source cautioned that investigators had no information linking the family to a cult.

But RIA-Novosti, citing a source close to the investigation, suggested that the family members might have died of poisoning in a cult ritual. "Investigators removed from the crime scene two bottles containing a dark substance that have been sent in for analysis," the source said.

The City Prosecutor's Office said it had opened a murder investigation but that it was a technicality needed to determine the causes of death. It said autopsy results were not expected until at least Thursday.

A duty officer at the Tekstilshchiki district precinct declined to discuss the case.

How the bodies went undiscovered for so long was unclear.

Neighbors in the brown-brick five-story building said the family in apartment 28 on the fourth floor kept to themselves. White police tape on the door had two official stamps and the handwritten words, "Sealed 08.06.05."

A woman who opened the door at apartment 27 said she had last seen the daughter and granddaughter two to three years ago, while she had not seen the grandmother for 15 years.

"The grandmother retired 15 years ago and never left the apartment," said the woman, who refused to give her name. "They didn't talk to anyone, it would just be a 'hello' and then they would enter the apartment."

Vera Shelenkova, a 58-year-old neighbor, said she could not remember the last time she saw any members of the family. "I heard that they were very religious people," she said, standing near the building's entrance.

Shelenkova said an acquaintance in the building had befriended the family and told her that the family had stored a lot of books in the hall outside the door and in nearby windows. The acquaintance said the family had said that some books should not be kept in the apartment and refused to explain why, Shelenkova said.

Alexander Kinli, head of the forensic medicine department at the Russian Post-Graduate Medical Academy, said he was surprised that the smell of decaying bodies had not tipped off neighbors that something was amiss.

"Assuming a normal room temperature, the bodies would start to decompose in four or five days," Kinli said. "The smell would be absolutely horrifying."

He conceded that an open window could have diminished the stench and that a particularly thick door could have helped keep it out of the stairwell.

"But with four bodies in one apartment, the smell would still be a nightmare," he said.

The neighbor in apartment 27 said she had not smelled anything suspicious.

Shelenkova said, "There are always strange odors coming out of the basement, so it is tough to differentiate one from another."

The state of the bodies was unclear. Marchenko of the city prosecutor's office described them as mummified, while Kinli said that probably only skeletons with small remnants of flesh remained.

As to whether bureaucratic delays at the local building administration, or DEZ, prevented the bodies from being discovered earlier, Irina Kudryukova, a specialist at the real estate firm Bulvarnoye Koltso, said two years was not an outrageously long time for DEZ to follow up on a nonpayment case.

"Typically, the machine starts rolling after six months of no payments, but there are all sorts of cases," Kudryukova said.

According to the new Housing Code, a six-month delinquency in utility payments can lead to eviction. Under the Civil Code, no resident can be evicted by the government without being provided with other housing.

The DEZ office in the Komarov family's district could not be reached for comment Wednesday. The office is located across the street from the apartment where the bodies were found.

Forgotten bodies, usually of pensioners with no family or friends, are occasionally found in Moscow apartments.