Cab Driver Convicted of Killing 6 Passengers

A local gypsy cab driver has been sentenced to life in prison for killing six of his passengers with a sawed-off shotgun.

Alexander Yelistratov, 54, admitted to killing just one passenger but was convicted Thursday by the Moscow City Court of a spate of murders from April 2005 to January 2007, court spokeswoman Marina Malygina said.

According to prosecutors, Yelistratov, originally from Ulyanovsk, worked nights to supplement his income, picking up fares near the Skhodnenskaya metro station in northwestern Moscow. Driving an old Lada, Yelistratov would slowly pull up next to a potential client, all the while gauging what kind of money and valuables a mugging would yield, Malygina said.

After agreeing on a price, Yelistratov would chauffeur the passengers to their destination. When they went to hand over the money, however, Yelistratov pull a shotgun he bought at Cherkizovsky Market out from under his seat and aim it at them, Malygina said.

If passengers did not immediately cooperate and hand over their wallet, handbag or briefcase, Yelistratov would shoot them and dump the bodies on the side of the road, Malygina said.

Yelistratov's first victim survived such an attack, Malygina said.

In April 2005, Timofei Topolev-Soldunov, expensive briefcase in hand, flagged Yelistratov down near Zelyony Prospekt, near the Perovo metro station. They agreed on a price and drove off toward Tverskaya Ulitsa.

Yelistratov stopped the car somewhere along the way and ordered Topolev-Soldunov to hand over the briefcase at gunpoint, prosecutors said. The passenger scrambled out of the car and made his escape, leaving behind more than 34,000 rubles.

Others were not so lucky.

Leila Ioanesyan hailed Yelistratov's cab in October 2005 while carrying around 40,000 rubles in earnings from the cafe she worked at. When she entered the car, Yelistratov immediately shoved the gun into her chest and demanded that she hand over any cash. She refused, and Yelistratov pulled the trigger, killing her instantly, and then leaned over to open the passenger door and dumped the body on the side of the road, prosecutors said.

Marina Tretyakova fell victim to Yelistratov after she refused to take a proper taxi to see her brother, who lived near the Skhodnenskaya metro station.

Yelistratov also killed karate instructor Artak Petrosyan and left his body on Prospekt Mira, prosecutors said.

His last victim, Andrei Zhukov, managed to alert policemen while he was in the throes of death.

Yelistratov picked Zhukov up on Jan. 15, 2007. After refusing to hand over any cash, the driver shot him in the stomach. But Zhukov noticed a police car in an adjacent lane and, bleeding profusely, threw himself from the cab and onto the road.

Zhukov died of his injuries, while police chased and eventually caught Yelistratov.

During sentencing Thursday, Judge Dmitry Monekin said that, given Yelistratov's violent tendencies, "it is impossible to give a lighter sentence," Malygina said.