In April 2006, a 32-year-old Nizhny Tagil woman had a falling out with her husband and decided to let her hair down for a weekend. She struck up an acquaintance with Chudinov, Kustovsky, and the rest of the guys at the Caspi, the basement bar favored by the town's criminal underclass that we stumbled on our first night in town. The woman proceeded to party with the crew for two days. When she returned to her husband, she covered for her infidelity by claiming she had been kidnapped and raped by a gang of men. Her husband demanded that she file a police report, so she did--against her new friends, Kustovsky and Chudinov. Kustovsky's name was then cross-referenced with other investigations. When it came up in relation to Irina's disappearance--roughly two-and-a-half years after he first came to the police station with her family--he was asked to come in for questioning.
This time the cops were less friendly. Kustovsky was initially reluctant to talk, the prosecutor Nizamov told Marina, but after what was likely a severe beating, he gave away the whole crew, recounting the gory details of the sex-slave operation.
Chudinov was hauled in next. He denied everything at first, but after being presented with overwhelming evidence and allegedly being beaten by the police, he caved. (Months later, Chudinov and Kustovsky would complain to the prosecutor about the constant beatings they endured in jail from fellow inmates. They didn't think they'd make it to the trial alive.) In his videotaped confession, as described by Marina, he sits stone cold and emotionless, taking slow drags from a cigarette as he discusses his "business." He weighs each question and gives detailed answers.
As reported in Komsomolskaya Pravda and corroborated by Marina's reports of Chudinov's confession, the first thing he said he did to the girls once Kustovsky and other recruiters delivered them was try to break them. He threatened them with death. If that failed, he savagely beat and raped them. Those who continued to resist were killed. Many of the girls were beaten for hours. The mercy kill could be days later. If all of this left Chudinov too tired to dig a hole, he simply covered the girls with sticks and brush, leaving the fresh corpses to the animals. Two of the girls he killed were forced to first write letters to their parents saying not to worry, they had run away to Moscow.
A successful escape could bring down the operation, and runaway attempts were not tolerated. Nizamov recounts the story of Masha, a teenage survivor of Chudinov's sex-slave ring who made it as far as the street below the brothel before she was dragged back upstairs. She was then forced to wear an iron pot on her head, which Chudinov banged repeatedly with a metal stick for hours, rendering her permanently deaf.
"Kuzmin, she got lucky," Chudinov calmly told police. "The other girls took a long time to die. We broke their legs and arms before finishing them off."
The operation worked smoothly for five years: Girls kept going missing and the bodies kept piling up. In a statement, Nizhny Tagil's lead prosecutor for the case said that 15 murders had been linked to Chudinov's crew through admission and evidence. But sources close to the police say the real number of bodies could be as high as 50. The problem main problem was identification. By the time forensic experts arrived at the scene, many of the body parts were picked apart and scattered by wolves, rats and birds.
As the horrific details and wide scope of the crime became public, the story failed to register more than a blip on the local scandal wire. Tatyana Sudakova, the editor of the Yekaterinburg edition of Komsomolskaya Pravda, told The eXile, "When I went Nizhny Tagil right after we published the material, I thought that people would be up in arms, demanding accountability, grieving for their daughters. But it was the complete opposite. People acted as if nothing happened. I began to think that there was some conspiracy I wasn't in on. I know that many men and officials have used prostitutes themselves. It wasn't in their interest to speak up because they themselves could get in trouble for something."