Working Girls, Murder and a Powerful Papa

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My introduction to the criminal world of the "intimate services" business started with two murders.Early one August morning, at a cemetery in the resort town of Sochi, a worker noticed a large object rolled up in a tablecloth. He was curious, so he unwrapped it and stepped back in horror. It was the body of a naked woman, disfigured with brown and black burn marks.

Investigators eventually determined that the body was that of Lidia Levchenko, or Lyalya, about age 40, a popular Sochi call girl. In looking for a possible motive for the murder, investigators questioned Lyalyas acquaintances: Was she competing with anyone? What did she do with her money, which she earned through her beat at the Zhemchuzhina Hotel and five-star haunts around Sochi? Investigators were amazed to learn that Lyalya actually had no property, no bank account. She didnt even have her own apartment; she had rented a kind of hut attached to a run-down house.

Investigators began to consider whether Lyalya had "talked," whether she knew too much. It appeared that she had run afoul of one of the bosses of the call-girl business. Investigators further discovered that Lyalya had been trying to make it on her own, without using a "firm." Maybe this desire for independence had been her undoing.

Then a second murder occurred. The victim was Alexander Galkin, 30, "temporarily unemployed," the owner of a shady "love business." Galkins business had no office, just a cellphone. People would call the number and say, "Im bored tonight ." In response, they would hear a female voice purr, "Why should you be bored? Our girls will lift your spirits. Which do you prefer: brunette or blonde?"

Because Galkin was trying to expand his range of services, he had a tense relationship with another "temporarily unemployed" type, 30-year-old Andrei Tsoi, known as a "boss of intimate services." One day, Galkin met a person in his entryway who pulled a gun on him. The first shot was fatal.

Investigators might not have linked these two murders had there not been yet a third murder. One night, firemen in Sochi were called to a burning apartment. There they found the body of a man named Likhotkin, known to police as someone linked to the call-girl business. Not far from the apartment, a man stood by his car, a Zhiguli, stripped to the waist, obviously drunk, watching the blaze with a dazed expression. Investigators who appeared at the scene found a bloody T-shirt in the mans car, along with a mask. In the drunk mans back pocket, they found Likhotkins passport and military ID. When police slapped handcuffs on the owner of the Zhiguli, he shouted, "Dont touch me! Im Andrei Tsoi," meaning that he was the son of Vladimir Tsoi, a well-known judge in Sochi.

Tsois impudence, exacerbated by alcohol, amazed even the most cynical investigators. "Whats with the mask?" they asked. "I dont know," he answered carelessly. "Its not mine. Maybe someone lost it."

"How did you get the dead mans documents?"

"How do I know?" Tsoi smiled. "You probably planted them."

Two young women, also tipsy, were standing by the car, which contained a television, VCR and other items belonging to the victim. "Im in the process of moving," Tsoi explained to investigators. As for the bloody T-shirt and dark stains on his pants, Tsoi said with a snort, "I bumped my nose, and thats my own blood." He seemed sure that his daddy would step in to save him.

Tsois lady friends, neophyte prostitutes from Kuban, gave evidence against Tsoi. They said there had been two other men with Tsoi: a man from the Caucasus and a Moldovan named Vitaly. Those two had managed to flee the scene before police arrived. The women said that the three men had left them in the car and gone to the apartment of Likhotkin, a competitor of Tsoi in the call-girl business. Vitaly Kravchenko was apprehended three days later, but the man from the Caucasus fled to Georgia. Tsoi said that while "the other two" killed Likhotkin, he merely took the television and VCR, because Likhotkin owed him money.

But Tsoi suddenly retracted his confession. This happened after he had a conversation with his father, who was allowed to appear during the investigation and talk to his son. Investigators explained the situation to the father that his son, covered in blood, had been apprehended at the scene of the crime and Tsoi senior nodded, saying he trusted the investigators objectivity, and left.

After the fathers departure, an interesting thing happened. An investigative group set out to search the apartment of the suspect. Andrei had given investigators the address at which he was legally registered. But when the group showed up at the apartment, they found it was the home of Andreis father, Vladimir Tsoi, and, as the home of a judge, it enjoyed immunity from searches. Investigators then learned that Andrei actually lived with his "girls," and frequently moved from apartment to apartment. This visit clearly bothered Tsoi senior, and he began to complain that the law was being violated and that the investigative unit shouldnt be allowed to continue working on the case.

After this run-in, the following happened in the regional prosecutors office: With 300 pages already compiled on the case, a directive was issued that the case be transferred to Krasnodar, to the territorial prosecutors office. The case was transferred, and Andrei Tsoi and Kravchenko were sent from the Sochi jail to an Armavir prison. But on the 20th day after his initial arrest, Tsoi was celebrating his freedom, strolling the streets of Sochi. He had been released after agreeing not to return to Sochi and remain there.

And the reason for his release? Tsoi "suddenly" contracted tuberculosis. And he was released so that he wouldnt infect his fellow prison inmates. And then strange things started happening to the witnesses statements in the case they started to change. Witnesses became confused about details, and when they appeared for further questioning, their faces bore expressions of mortal terror. Why were they afraid? Of whom? Of Andrei? Of his brawny friends?

How did the case play out? Kravchenko was sentenced to 15 years and Andrei Tsoi was found guilty of merely concealing the fact of the murder. Tsoi got five years, but he avoided prison. His father stepped in, and the case was appealed. Kravchenko is awaiting his appeal in prison, while Tsoi, the son of a judge, roams free. Even for todays corruption-filled Russia, this situation is unique: A man is apprehended at the scene of the crime then released to walk the streets and terrify witnesses.

They say that Andrei Tsoi is back in business. Some sources say he is trying to control the entire city. I called the number of Tsois business, pretending to be a client. Then I asked the woman on the phone what she knew about Andrei Tsoi. There was a deathly silence on the line. I repeated, "Do you know the name?" "All too well," was the response. Then I heard a dial tone.

What struck me most about this account was something an investigator told me. In visiting the hovel once inhabited by Lyalya the murdered prostitute he entered a damp, dark room with beat-up furniture and a shabby sofa. Here, to this sofa, the aging Lyalya came to rest after working in glamorous five-star hotels and dreaming of saving up enough money some day for her retirement.

Igor Gamayunov writes for Literaturnaya Gazeta. He contributed this essay to The Moscow Times.