Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Killer Escapes Prison Through Open Door

ST. PETERSBURG -- Convicted murderer Sergei Datsishin was back in custody Friday, two weeks after he became the first prisoner ever to escape from one of Russia's most fabled prisons.

Datsishin, who had served five months of his 15-year sentence, simply walked out the door of Kresty prison, a complex of 100-year-old brick red buildings on the bank of the Neva River.

According to Kresty warden Stepan Demchuk, Datsishin, 22, shared a cell with eight other convicts. Among them was Viktor Smirnov, serving a six-month term for refusal to pay alimony. Smirnov and Datsishin looked so alike they were difficult to tell apart.

On Jan. 6, Smirnov's six-month term ended. After lunch a guard came to free him. "Smirnov," the guard called out. Datsishin -- having traded his leather jacket for Smirnov's prison smock -- answered "me." The other men in the cell were apparently asleep.

Guards led Datsishin through two checkpoints, were he was asked and successfully answered questions about his birthday, address and other statistics. At the front gate he parted politely with the guard, who wished him well.

Hours later Smirnov awoke and, by his account, remembered he was supposed to be released, and demanded this. He succeeded, and a city-wide search for Datsishin was launched.

"Of course this was our fault," said Alexander Kulakov, of the militia's prison service. "And the guilty will be punished. Such glaring mistakes are unforgivable."

On Thursday Datsishin was arrested. He is charged with jailbreaking and is awaiting a trial that could add several years to his 15-year sentence.

According to Alexander Stukanov, head of the public prosecutor's office criminal trial department, Datsishin was the leader of a three-man burglary ring and was convicted of murder for stabbing a victim 10 times with a knife.

Although the prosecution had sought the death penalty, in September 1993 the St. Petersburg city court sentenced Datsishin to 15 years in jail.

When opened Kresty was a model prison, but is now a chamber of horrors inmates are now crammed eight to a cell, and fight and kill each other, say activists.