MOSCOW – Russian investigators have opened a murder case after two fishermen were rescued following three months lost in a remote forest amid fears the pair could have eaten a companion to stay alive, officials said Wednesday.
Four men disappeared in August on a river-fishing expedition to the vast Yakutia region in the Russian Far East, one of the remotest places in the world.
Rescuers finally found two of the men this month by the Sutam River, some 250 km from the nearest town of Neryungri, but without two companions.
The men claimed their group had split up and said the others were likely still alive, as they were used to living in the open.
However, a murder probe was opened after a team of top investigators from the regional capital of Yakutsk found fragments of a corpse close to the place where the pair were found.
“Investigators carried out an examination of two areas. Fragments of a human corpse with signs of a violent death were discovered and removed,” the Yakutia branch of Russia’s Investigative Committee said. “A criminal case into suspected murder has been opened.”
According to a report on the lifenews.ru website, the men have fled the hospital where they were being treated for severe frostbite and are on the run.
Russia has no article in the criminal code for cannibalism, but the state RIA Novosti news agency said the initial theory was that the two men had eaten one companion. It was not clear what happened to the fourth man.
“What we found were chopped human bones, fragments of a skull and a bloodstained chunk of ice,” an investigator told the Komsomolskaya Pravda tabloid daily. “It’s clear that this person did not die of his own accord.”
Local news site Sakhapress.ru said their expedition had been aimed at gold prospecting and not fishing, as claimed.
Two of the four are local inhabitants of the Russian Far East, and the others are from the region of Saratov in central Russia who were visiting the area.
The human remains have yet to be identified.
The wife of one of the men who remains missing, Andrei Kurochkin, said she had not yet given up hope for her husband. “The police said that they had found human remains. But I believe that Andrei is alive. I am hoping other hunters have found him and he is not alone,” Olga Kurochkina told the newspaper.
The rescued pair, reportedly ages 37 and 35, have denied any wrongdoing and said they had managed to survive as the winter set in a wooden hut by foraging for wild foods.
The wife of one of the men, named as Alexei Gorulenko, denied he could have eaten human flesh. “The information on the Internet that my husband is a cannibal and was looking for gold is not true,” she told local news site wolsk.ru. “I have spoken to my husband, and he is shocked by the disinformation.”
The Yakutia investigators said DNA and forensic testing has been ordered, and they are working urgently to uncover what happened. Investigators want to take the two for questioning to Yakutsk, which lies some 600 km to the north.
Yakutia, also known as the Sakha Republic after its indigenous Turkic inhabitants, is a vast region only slightly smaller than India and best known as the coldest inhabited location on Earth.