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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Single White Female

I was skeptical yesterday when I read a report on the yellow web site Life.ru that authorities in the Moscow region had arrested a female serial killer who browsed the social networking site Odnoklassniki (a Russian version of Facebook) for victims who looked just like her.
 
The web site, after all, is dedicated to sensationalism and typically skimpy on sourcing. So I rang up Yulia Zhukova, a spokeswoman for the Moscow region branch of the Investigative Committee, to see if there was anything to the story.
 
Indeed, Ms. Zhukova said, investigators have plenty of evidence that 46-year-old Yulia Pecheneva knifed a woman to death (stabbing her more than 40 times) in December, hacked off her limbs and stashed the remains on the balcony of the victim's apartment. Pecheneva, Zhukova said, wanted to get the deed to the woman's flat and sell it or rent it out for her own financial gain.
 
A person who kills for property deeds is known in Russian as a "chyorny rieltor," or "black realtor."
 
Zhukova said she could neither confirm nor deny that Pecheneva was suspected of killing anyone else or searching for victims on social networking sites. But the pictures published by Life.ru, assuming they are genuine, certainly lend credence to the theory that the suspected murderer sought out a doppelgänger as a victim.
 
So, according to Life.ru, a young couple rented out the apartment in December from a realtor named Svetlana Sokolova in the Moscow region town of Odintsovo. Shortly after they moved in, however, they made a ghastly discovery on the balcony: severed human remains.
 
Naturally they went to police, whose forensics experts determined that the victim was, in fact, 46-year-old Svetlana Sokolova. The confused tenants explained to police that they had just spoken to Ms. Sokolova the other day, and that they could not imagine how her remains ended up on the terrace.
 
As it turns out, Pecheneva spent almost all of her time browsing popular social networking sites such as Vkontakte.ru and Odnoklassniki.ru looking for women similar in appearance to her, unidentified investigators told Life.ru. She would then strike up virtual friendships based on common interests (with Sokolova it was dogs), the report said. She managed to get an invite to Sokolova's place and killed her shortly after her arrival one December day, Life.ru reported.
 
Sokolova's remains were discovered that same month, and Pecheneva was arrested last month, Zhukova said. She's been charged with aggravated murder, punishable by up to life in prison.
 
Curiously, this wasn't the first case of a murder victim being discovered by a tenant on an apartment balcony. Last April in Yekaterniburg, police arrested a local man who bashed his mother's head in with a hammer, placed her corpse on the balcony and then rented the place out to the tenant who eventually found the body.