Warning: This article contains images that some readers may find disturbing.
A grown man playing with dolls is an eccentric, if not totally bizarre sight. But a grown man creating his own dolls out of mummified girls? Horrific, to say the very least.
The story of a man who did just that is one permanently and lamentably ingrained in my brain, and one that's sure to stick with you, too. (Consider that a warning.)
In 2011, authorities in Nizhny Novgorod — Russia's fourth-largest city, about 250 miles east of Moscow — were deep into an investigation of the desecration of graves at several cemeteries in the area. At the time, they thought the grotesque acts had been committed by extremist organizations.
"We decided to beef up our police units and set up ... groups composed of our most experienced detectives who specialize in extremist crimes," Gen. Valery Gribakin, Russian Interior Ministry spokesman, told CNN.
But, oh, how wrong they were.
Their investigation eventually led them to Anatoly Moskvin, a highly educated Russian historian who spoke 13 or so languages. Once regarded by many as a "genius," that label was changed to "monster" after authorities discovered what he had been hiding in his apartment.
Moskvin was an expert on historical cemeteries in Russia. In fact, he had been commissioned to summarize and list the dead buried inside more than 700 cemeteries, personally examining 752 of them over the course of his research. He would often sleep on grave sites and is rumored to have slumbered in an actual coffin once or twice.
Published in most of Nizhny Novgorod’s newspapers, Moskvin referred to himself proudly as a "necropolyst" in the documentary-style features he wrote about its deceased citizens ("Great Walks Around Cemeteries" and "What the Dead Said"). His byline appeared in print for decades, as his voice was as unique as his stories.
"All his life he was obsessed with walking around hundreds of cemeteries, studying and documenting the graves," Alexei Yesin, editor of the weekly newspaper Necrologies, told The Daily Beast in 2011. "There is nobody like him in Russia."
Indeed, there's nobody quite like him anywhere: As it turns out, Moskvin had been using his knowledge of cemeteries and corpses to source the bodies he would ultimately turn into mummified, life-size dolls.
Yep, you read that correctly.
Referred to in local Russian newspapers as "The Lord of the Mummies" or "Perfumer" (after Patrick Suskind's novel, Perfume), the details of Moskvin's little hobby are soul-troubling, to say the least.
To this day, the exact way in which authorities discovered Moskvin's secret remains a mystery. Some papers said he was detained at a cemetery with a bag of body parts. Others said investigators found the bodies in his home when they came to question him; yet another claims Moskvin's own parents discovered the corpses when they returned from a holiday. Regardless, the eventually truth came out — and when it did, it was anything but pretty.
Investigators working on the case would later release footage from the scene at Moskvin's house, where they found the corpses of 29 young girls between the ages of 10 and 25, all of whom had died years earlier.
At first glance, one might not have even realized that the bodies were, well, bodies, as they looked like actual dolls. Moskvin is said to have dug up each of the bodies from a local cemetery and taken them home, where he mummified each of them using a mixture of salt and baking soda and stuffed them with cloth when they were dry. Once preserved, he dressed the corpses up in stockings, bright women's clothing, and shoes, and applied lipstick to their faces. He deemed them his "girls" and would throw parties for them.
Moskvin also placed music boxes inside the rib cages of some "special" dolls. According to RT, a mummified corpse began playing a song called "Bear enjoys his honey" when cops moved it.
"It took us some time to figure out that the mechanism inside reacts to touching," one of the policemen working the scene told the tabloid Lifenews.
One Russian website claims Moskvin was motivated to create the "dolls" by the fact that he couldn't have children of his own, nor could he adopt one due to his low income and parents' disapproval. Moskvin himself offered a variety of excuses for the bizarre ritual upon his 2011 arrest, from "waiting for science to find ways to make the girls live again" to "wanting to get better at mummification." And during the trial, he reportedly accused the parents of the girls he had mummified of "[abandoning] them in the cold."
"I brought them home to warm them up," he said.
Moskvin was eventually diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and a judge consequentially deemed him unfit to stand trial. He's currently in a psychiatric facility in Russia, where he will likely remain for the rest of his days.
"There is very little chance he will leave this clinic," Prosecutor Konstantin Zhilyakov told The Daily Mail.