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A man believed to be a prominent Russian historian has been pulled out of a river in St. Petersburg with a backpack containing the severed body parts of a young woman and has been charged with murder.
The Russian Investigative Committee said a 63-year-old man was rescued from the Moika River near the city center early on Saturday with a woman’s arms and a gun in the backpack. Authorities said he has been hospitalized with hypothermia.
Local media identified the man as Oleg Sokolov, a historian at St. Petersburg State University who was once awarded France’s Order of Legion d’Honneur for his research into military leader Napoleon Bonaparte.
The state-run TASS news agency quoted police sources as saying the alleged victim may be a postgraduate student of Sokolov’s named Anastasia Yeshchenko from Russia’s Krasnodar region. She reportedly was a co-author of Sokolov’s in joint research on Napoleon’s French military rule.
The Fontanka news outlet quoted police sources as saying they suspect the man may have been drunk and fallen into the river while attempting to dispose of the backpack.
Further apparent confirmation of the suspect’s identity came from Aleksandr Pochuyev, who says he is Sokolov’s attorney and claims that his client has “signed a plea-bargain deal” in the matter.
“If such a heinous crime, which my client has confessed to, did take place, it was committed under the influence of strong factors — possibly pathologic intoxication or temporary insanity,” Pochuyev said.
“The verdict has not been passed yet, and until that moment a person is forbidden to be considered guilty” under Russia’s Criminal Code, Pochuyev added.
Pochuyev told investigators that Sokolov planned to dispose of the corpse and then commit suicide in public, dressed as Napoleon, AFP reported.
Police said that, during a search of the suspect’s apartment, they discovered the body of a dismembered 24-year-old woman and a cutting saw possibly used in the incident.
Sokolov was awarded the Order of Legion d’Honneur, France’s highest civilian decoration, in 2003 by France’s then-President Jacques Chirac for his studies on Napoleon.
In 1976, Sokolov founded the first military-historical reconstruction group in the Soviet Union, and he now heads the All-Russian Military Historical Movement, which conducts reenactments of military battles from the Napoleonic Wars.
TASS reported that divers searching the river for clues overnight discovered remains from another, unidentified individual. It was unclear whether those remains might be related to Sokolov’s case.