Over the weekend RuNet was stunned by the news of a gruesome murder that took place in Moscow. A local chef, Alexey Kabanov, has allegedly strangled and dismembered his wife [ru] and mother of three small children, Irina Cherska. He was, according to the authorities, in the process of getting rid of her body-parts when he was detained. Kabanov confessed to the crime, prompting a massive wave of online outrage.
Although hundreds of domestic murders happen in Russia every year, this one seems to have struck particularly close to home for Russian netizens. For one, Kabanov and his wife were tightly integrated into the protest-minded Russophone Facebook community. The cliquishness of this group was exemplified by a dour tweet [ru] from the journalist Oleg Kashin:
Бля, чувак, который жену убил и расчленил, подписан на меня в фб, и 146 общих друзей вплоть до Алины Гребневой((
F*ck, the guy who killed and dismembered his wife is following me on Facebook, and we have 146 friends in common, up to and including [Echo Moskvy correspondent] Alina Grebneva((
While Irina's Facebook account has already been removed, possibly at the request of her relatives, Kabanov's account [ru] has over a thousand friends (although their number has diminished since the news first came out). It was this group of people, as well as their networks, that Kabanov entreated to help find his wife, who, he claimed, had walked out of their apartment following an argument. It was also this group that is most scandalized, now that it appears that he in fact murdered her, and was only pretending to search.
On January 6, 2013 Kabanov made the following status update [ru]:
Друзья! Пропала Ира, моя жена. Вышла из дома 3-го утром и не вернулась. Полиция ее ищет. Но пока нет никаких результатов. В полиции говорят, что вернется и все будет нормально. Но чем больше проходит времени, тем меньше я в верю в это нормально. [...] Если все-таки среди наших общих знакомых есть кто-то, кто знает что с ней, то просто скажите, что она жива.
Friends! My wife Ira has disappeared. Walked out of the house on the morning of the 3rd and hasn't come back. The police are looking for her. But there are no results yet. The police is is saying that she will come back and everything will be alright. But as more time passes I believe less and less in this “alright.” [...] If one of our common acquaintances knows what's happened to her, then just say she's alive.
This request mobilized a number of people who devoted both time and resources to look for Irina, using the comments section of the status update as a sort of clearing house for information. There were earnest theories [ru] that Irina could have gone to visit her parents in Ukraine, volunteers offering to drive [ru] around Irina's favorite restaurants and bars, and other suggestions. Several people, for instance, offered their help in contacting psychics and witches, explaining that [ru]:
При всем распространенном скепсисе нельзя исключать ситуацию, что Ире требуется какая-то помощь, в этом случае важно не терять времени, а этот способ ее отыскать самый быстрый.
With all the usual skepticism we shouldn't discount the situation that Ira needs some kind of help, in this case it's important not to lose time, and this way of finding her is the fastest.
Others were more constructive. Gennady Chichkanov, reportedly a colleague of Irina's, offered [ru] to pressure his contacts at the newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda to publicize the disappearance. Other newspaper affiliated Facebook users also volunteered their publications. Since the search was apparently to no avail because no one had seen Irina exit the apartment building, one user, Alexander Belousov, pressured Kabanov to open up a criminal investigation instead of sticking with the usual “missing persons” bulletin. He explained [ru] that such an investigation would be more efficient and would have access to more resources:
Алексей! Вам надо как можно быстрее писать заявление в Следственный комитет с просьбой о возбуждении уголовного дела. Вы только попусту теряете время и упускаете возможность просмотреть записи с камер метро и по ходу её движения.
Alexey! You should as soon as possible file a statement with the Investigative Committee, and request they initiate a criminal case. You are wasting time and are missing the opportunity to look at subway camera recordings and [other CCTV] along her movement.
Of course, at this point Irina was already dead and dismembered, and no cameras would be able find her. This is perhaps one of the reasons that Kabanov held off involving the police beyond his first filing with the local precinct. The hands off approach was strange. Additionally, Kabanov only spoke of his wife in the past tense, and claimed that she took her passport with her [ru] when she left. Irina was a Ukrainian citizen with no registration in Russia, and had apparently usually left her passport at home. Some Facebook users also accused [ru] Kabanov of deleting comments which were suspicious of his involvement in Irina's disappearance.
Kabanov later posted three more status updates on how the “search” was proceeding. In one of them [ru], on January 8, he asked if anyone could help him take his kids to school. Presumably, this is how he was able to procure a car from a friend of the family, which he later allegedly used to start getting rid of the evidence. It was the trunk of this car that was found to contain some of Irina's body-parts after the police finally questioned Kabanov.
Kabanov's last update [ru] was on Friday, soon after which he was arrested. It now has just under 2,000 comments. Many are from angry Facebook friends who were fooled by his pretense. More common is hateful vitriol of the “You die in hell!” sort. Nevertheless, some comments provide precious nuggets of information. For example, Irina's colleague Chichkanov, who appears to be in contact with the investigation, claimed [ru] that Kabanov's background as a chef and butcher played a part in how the crime played out:
Про труп. Он его очень профессионально и быстро расчленял – на баранах рука набита была
About the body. He dismembered it very professionally and quickly – he was a practiced hand at it from the sheep [carcasses that he broke down as part of his work]
Chichkanov also hinted [ru] at the fact that the police were aware of Kabanov's Facebook posts, were closely tracking the online situation, and even tried to use it to build their case:
[...] Чтоб вы знали теперь – даже заметки в КП писались так, как следователям было надо и некоторые мои комменты здесь тоже по просьбе следователей – мы его драконили и психически шатали. [...]
[...] So that you know – even the notes in K[omsomolskaya] P[ravda] were written the way the criminal investigators wanted to, and some of my comments here were also at the request of the investigators – we were hounding him and psychologically perturbing him. [...]
In the end, it is this interactive, social network aspect of the story that makes it somewhat unique. Thousands of people watched the narrative unfold in real time, participated in it, interacted with the alleged criminal, saw it turn tragic, and then reacted to it — all without leaving their computer chairs.
Watch this space, we'll be taking an in-depth look with more stories on the “Russian Facebook of Horrors” in the next few days.