Murder Most Russian

Murder Most Russian: True Crime and Punishment in Late Imperial Russia

Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 328
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    Murder Most Russian
    Book Description:

    How a society defines crimes and prosecutes criminals illuminates its cultural values, social norms, and political expectations. In Murder Most Russian, Louise McReynolds uses a fascinating series of murders and subsequent trials that took place in the wake of the 1864 legal reforms enacted by Tsar Alexander II to understand the impact of these reforms on Russian society before the Revolution of 1917. For the first time in Russian history, the accused were placed in the hands of juries of common citizens in courtrooms that were open to the press. Drawing on a wide array of sources, McReynolds reconstructs murders that gripped Russian society, from the case of Andrei Gilevich, who advertised for a personal secretary and beheaded the respondent as a way of perpetrating insurance fraud, to the beating death of Marianna Time at the hands of two young aristocrats who hoped to steal her diamond earrings.

    As McReynolds shows, newspapers covered such trials extensively, transforming the courtroom into the most public site in Russia for deliberation about legality and justice. To understand the cultural and social consequences of murder in late imperial Russia, she analyzes the discussions that arose among the emergent professional criminologists, defense attorneys, and expert forensic witnesses about what made a defendant's behavior "criminal." She also deftly connects real criminal trials to the burgeoning literary genre of crime fiction and fruitfully compares the Russian case to examples of crimes both from Western Europe and the United States in this period.

    Murder Most Russian will appeal not only to readers interested in Russian culture and true crime but also to historians who study criminology, urbanization, the role of the social sciences in forging the modern state, evolving notions of the self and the psyche, the instability of gender norms, and sensationalism in the modern media.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6590-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Note on Dates and Names
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)

    The man delivering water heard only a dog bark when he knocked at a first-floor apartment in the Iakovlev house in Gusev Lane on June 4, 1867. The blinds were drawn, suggesting that all were still asleep. This surprised the dvornik (janitor), because the people who lived there tended to be early risers. He roused the owner of the building, who brought a locksmith. Ultimately they got in through an open fortuchka, a small window in the back. The scene inside shocked every sensibility: In the bedroom, next to each other, lay the bloodied corpses of Colonel Vasilii Ashmarenkov and...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Law and Order
    (pp. 15-46)

    Drunken ne’er-do-well Alexei Volokhov was last seen about 2 a.m. on August 17, 1866, lurching along the streets of the Sadovskaia settlement not far from Moscow with another fellow in similar condition. Five days later his brother Terentyi found Alexei’s corpse in the cellar of the latter’s house, chopped in two, the upper half stuffed into a bag. The pieces of the torso lay partially covered with rocks under the muddy water that had flooded the space. Suspicion fell quickly upon his wife, Mavra, known to be unhappy in her marriage vocally. Their five-year-old son Grigorii told an investigator that...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Criminology: Social Crime, Individual Criminal
    (pp. 47-78)

    A correspondent for Peterburgskaia gazeta reported being “overcome with horror” at the sight of the body of thirteen-year-old Sarra Bekker, sprawled in a chair, her legs akimbo, lying in the pawn shop where she worked at 57 Nevskii Prospect. ¹ With no sign of forced entry and valuables still in display cases, local authorities interpreted from the position of the body, wounds to the head, and the rag stuffed in her mouth that the killer had attempted to rape her. The atrocity of her murder brought the chief procurator of the judicial palace (and future minister of justice). N. V....

  8. CHAPTER THREE The Jurors
    (pp. 79-112)

    On the evening of May 11, 1894, a student from St. Petersburg’s Technological Institute escorted a woman into room twenty-one of the Evropa Hotel, overlooking the Fontanka canal. They dined quietly. In the morning, he rang for tea. Suddenly that afternoon, two shots rang out, and a woman, bloodied, ran from the room crying out, “Help me! I’ve committed a crime and wounded myself. Quickly, call a doctor and the police. I’ll explain everything to the doctor.” Then she fell to the floor weeping, “I’ve killed him and myself!” As the maid helped her to a chair, she moaned, “No...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Murder as One of the Middlebrow Arts
    (pp. 113-140)

    There was not a moment to lose. He pulled the axe out, swung it up with both hands, hardly conscious of what he was doing, and almost mechanically, without putting any force behind it, let the butt-end fall on her head. His strength seemed to have deserted him, but as soon as the axe descended it all returned to him. The old woman was, as usual, bare-headed. Her thin fair hair, just turning grey, and thick with grease, was plaited into a rat’s tail and fastened into a knot above her nape with a fragment of horn comb. Because she...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Russia’s Postrevolutionary Modern Men
    (pp. 141-170)

    “The body of a man was found in his apartment this morning, brutally stabbed, his head cut off and scalped. Discovered in the bed where he had suffered so horribly, the dagger used to stab him was lying next to his head, a terrible sight: the skull was visible where the skin had been torn away, his eyelids were sliced, and his lips, nose, and ears had been cut off. Blood had collected in a pool. … A puzzle. Under what circumstances had this Fedorov been so badly disfigured? Was this even Fedorov? The most likely answer to the riddle...

  11. CHAPTER SIX The “Diva of Death”: Maria Tarnovskaia and the Degenerate Slavic Soul
    (pp. 171-200)

    She sat sphinxlike in her cell in the Venetian prison. Drawing a portrait of her for readers in the popular daily Odesskii listok, I. Aleksandrovskii described her as “very tall, long and thin, in the decadent fashion. Her face and nose are also long, with lusterless, unexpressive eyes.” This inability to read her expression enhanced her mystery: “Her face never changes, her countenance remains perpetually calm, with no traces of passion or self-reflection. With such a face, it is impossible to guess her intentions, to know her secret thoughts.”¹ Others concurred with him that “she is no beauty,” searching instead...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Crime Fiction Steps into Action
    (pp. 201-234)

    Suddenly we heard a nervous knock at the door.

    “Come in!” cried Putilin.

    In the doorway stood the senior agent on duty, pale and quivering.

    “Sir, there has been a horrible crime,” he said.

    “What’s going on?” Putilin asked anxiously.

    “We have just been informed that in three different areas of the city three corpses have been found.”

    “What’s so terrible about that, my friend?” smiled Putilin.

    “You didn’t let me finish, sir. All three bodies have been found without their heads.”

    “What? Without their heads?” Putilin jumped up.

    “Yes. Their heads have all been cut off. Judging by the...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT True Crime and the Troubled Gendering of Modernity
    (pp. 235-264)

    “We continue our coverage of the story, as told to us by that hundred-mouthed goddess, Gossip, reporting now the details of the last moments before the murder. … Not for a minute did she suspect that two killers stood before her, that she had been sentenced to death. She turned to Dolmatov, smiling, and asked him to sit while she called a friend to join them. Something whistled through the air and hit with a dull thud. Baron Geismar had landed the first blow on the back of their victim’s head. His spiral bludgeon whistled again and again. The stupefied...

  14. Conclusion
    (pp. 265-270)

    “Seconds passed … Rasputin had already reached the gates when I stopped, bit my left hand as hard as I could to make myself concentrate, and with one shot (the third one), hit him in the back. He stopped and this time, taking careful aim from the same spot, I fired for the fourth time. I apparently hit him in the head, for he keeled over face first in the snow, his head twitching. I ran up to him and kicked him in the temple with all my might. He lay there, his arms stretched out in front of him,...

  15. Index
    (pp. 271-274)