Vyatskiye Polyany, Kirov Orbast – Russia.
Alexander Komin sought out people who would not be missed: alcoholic, homeless, and forgotten. He lured them with the promises of work, shelter, and drink. Deep under the hard, icy ground of the former Soviet Union, Komin was building a colony of slaves.
Lead up to Crime
Vyatskiye Polyany is located in Kirov Oblast, Russia, almost 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) east of Moscow. The industrial town is situated along the banks of the Vyatka River, and in 1997 it supported nearly 45,000 inhabitants. The town’s economy revolved around the Molot factory, which produced military machinery.
In 1971, when Alexander Komin (Александр Комин) was on the verge of adulthood, and about to enter into the army, he was convicted for hooliganism after being involved in a street fight and sentenced to three years in prison. During his sentence, Komin worked in a garment factory colony, a job he enjoyed. He met a fellow prisoner named Bigley, who was convicted for holding homeless people in his basement, forcing them to make wooden toys.
On release, Komin became a qualified tailor, but he found work difficult to come by in Vyatskiye Polyany after many of the garment factories closed. Instead, he gained employment as a labourer, security guard, and electrician.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 saw abject poverty sweep the country, but many people were able to gain property rights. Some of those people were allowed to own garages. Komin took ownership of garage number 198, tucked away amongst a series of dilapidated garages lining a dirt track, resembling a row of modern day storage sheds. A small wicket gate, cut into the main rusted cream painted door, allowed access to the garage.
Komin drew the assistance of accomplice Alexander Mikheyev, a local security guard and friend. For four years they dug the shaft and excavated the rooms. A trapdoor was cut into the wooden floor of the cramped garage, and a 12 metre (40 foot) shaft was dug, squared off, and lined with bricks. Three doors sealed the bunker, one a large metal door stolen from a military base. A metal ladder clung to one wall of the shaft, allowing access to the underground chambers.
Komin’s plans were ambitious and entrepreneurial. His goal was to build an underground factory and fill it with female slaves, who would work for his profit and submit for his pleasure. His plans were even greater, with his ultimate aim of establishing an underground city completely colonised by slaves.
The two room subterranean factory was fitted with sewing machines and overlockers. A three-bunk bedroom was built for his slaves, along with a toilet and kitchen. He provided bedding and a television, and lined the walls with wallpaper and pornographic photographs. Electrical wire webbed its way across the brick walls and through the tunnels and rooms.
“Of course, such a crazy idea would not come to a normal man,” Komin said. “But still, I think I am normal.”
With his factory complete, all Alexander Komin needed was the slaves to populate it, so he could begin production.
Alexander Komin had an eye on his neighbour, Vera Tolpayeva, 33, who appeared to be a perfect victim. On January 13, 1995, Komin engaged Tolpayeva in a round of heavy drinking for the Old New Year holiday, celebrated by members of the Russian Orthodox Church. She was invited to the garage, where her vodka was laced with the sedative clonidine. After she woke in the bunker, Komin would soon discover Tolpayeva was not a suitable slave, as she had no desire to learn how to sew.
Komin used Vera Tolpayeva to secure more captives, with each successful mission gaining her more favours and freedoms. She contacted her tailor friend, Tatyana Melnikova, and gave her details on the location of the garage so they could meet. Losing her way, Komin went out to find Melnikova. He met Nikolai Malykh, also a tailor, who happened to be Tatyana Melnikova’s boyfriend. The pair was invited back to the garage where they drank with Komin, only to wake in the bunker.
Nikolai Malykh had served time for robbery, and ranked higher in the criminal hierarchy than Komin. Threatened by the presence of a stronger male, Komin drugged Nikolai Malykh, and with Alexander Mikheyev’s help, dumped him in a snow-covered field in the countryside, where he would become lost under the drifts. His body would be found a week later, but police suspected he drank too much moonshine vodka, wandered off, and froze to death.
Tatyana Melnikova was forced to make gowns, boxer shorts and pants, which Komin sold at local markets. As his business grew, Komin decided he needed more physical labour to expand his bunker.
On March 21, 1995, he used his traditional methods of offering employment and alcohol to take alcoholic Yevgeny Shishov captive, with Komin believing Shishov would be easy to control and could dig extra rooms in the underground prison. Komin had made a mistake.
There was no chance of the slaves reaching the metal door and attempting to escape; 220 volts electrified the ladder leading up the shaft to the exit. However, Shishov was a qualified electrician and former paratrooper. He could easily disable the homemade security system. He was strapped to a chair and bound in electrical wires. The two female captives were given a switch each and told to flick them. Tatyana Melnikova refused, but Vera Tolpayeva was threatened; soon to suffer the same fate if she did not comply because of her expendable position and her refusal to complete manual labour. She pressed a switch and sent a jolt of electricity, killing Shishov. His body was removed with the aid of a winch and dumped in a field.
Komin and Vera Tolpayeva set out to find a new slave.
Tatyana Kozikova had worked as a cook in Ulyanovsk. She had spent two years in prison, and on July 21, 1995, she was to appear at the District Court of Vyatskiye Polyany. She did not attend court and had not been seen for a week. Instead she had met Komin and Tolpayeva at a train station, who offered her alcohol and employment. She was drugged and set to work in the factory.
The victims were shackled to walls and chained around the ankle while they worked 16 hour shifts. They were beaten with a rubber hose, and raped on Komin’s whim. As punishment they were made to rub themselves with their own excrement. The captives made dance costumes, gowns, and robes for priests. They also created highly detailed religious tapestries and vestments for the church.
The two Tatyana’s made a plan. They locked Komin in a room, but before they could escape, he broke free. After this attack, Komin enforced new security measures. He rigged up a red light to flash, signalling he was about to descend into the bunker. The prisoners locked themselves into a wire collar and waited for Komin to enact his torture. As retribution for the escape attempt, Komin and Mikheyev tattooed the women’s faces, carving the word “раб” (slave) on their foreheads. The women chose tattooing over the other option of having their mouths sliced from ear to ear — a form of torture known as a “Glasgow smile.”
While scouting for a new slave Vera Tolpayeva went missing. Komin was concerned she would go to the police but they never arrived. He took to scouting on his own.
Tatyana Nazimova was ill, suffering from leukaemia and mental illness. Komin approached her at a train station. He now had three slave women, all with the name Tatyana. Tatyana Nazimova would prove to be an unsuccessful slave. She was too ill to work, had no work ethic, but she was attractive. She was taken as a sex slave, used predominantly by Mikheyev. After a year, he grew tired of her, and illness was wasting her body. Komin forced her to drink brake fluid, from which she took days to die.
Komin offered to feed his captives Tatyana Nazimova’s body. Instead, he decided to dump Nazimova on the doorstep of the local morgue as a twisted joke. He placed her body on a sled, but was almost caught by a passer-by. Her emaciated corpse was found in a field near the garage. Police believe she suffered a similar fate as the others, and her death was the result of drinking moonshine vodka.
Alexander Komin found Vera Tolpayeva again, at a train station sometime in January 1997. He offered her money if she returned to work for him, finding new markets to sell his garments and sourcing new slaves. She reappeared at the garage a few days later with 23 year-old, blonde haired, Irina Ganushina.
Tolpayeva would soon suffer a similar fate as Nikolai Malykh and Tatyana Nazimova, after she demanded weekly payments from Komin. But, it was Komin who gave her an ultimatum; she decided to drink antifreeze rather than have it forcibly injected into her veins. Her death would take only a few hours, dying with both Tatyana’s watching on.
The new captive surprised Komin, and he fell in love with Irina Ganushina. He proposed and bought her a wedding dress. She complied with his wishes after he made threats against her two-year-old child.
On July 21, 1997, in the heat of summer, Irina Ganushina was taken back to Komin’s apartment. She was allowed out so they could plan their wedding, but when she was left briefly unattended she made her escape. She ran to the local police station to report the horrific crimes, but police were sceptical of her claims. When she listed the names of her fellow captives the police demanded the location of the underground factory.
Komin was arrested near his garage. Even while apprehended he enacted a final plan and directed a rescuing police officer down the electrified staircase. The officer didn’t take the bait.
The two Tatyana’s were removed from the underground chamber. Their eyes covered by black armbands as authorities were worried the women would be blinded by the harsh daylight that they had not witnessed in over two years. Tatyana Melnikova, 37, and Tatyana Kozikova, 38, had survived, but their faces were tattooed and they had aged dramatically, far beyond their years.
Komin was initially silent upon his arrest, but soon made full confessions and escorted police officials to the scenes of his crimes. The Kirov regional court convicted Alexander Komin on four counts of murder, three counts of illegal detention, illegal entrepreneurship, and use of slave labour.
On June 11, 1999, Alexander Komin was sentenced to life in prison.
Alexander Mikheyev was convicted for the same crimes as Komin and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
On June 15, 1999, Alexander Komin committed suicide in prison, four days after learning of his sentence. He severed his femoral artery, while detained in a holding cell, and bled to death. Komin was buried in the same cemetery as his victims, much to the horror of their relatives.
Tatyana Melnikova and Tatyana Kozikova sought compensation through a civil suit, for the moral damage caused to them under Komin’s reign. The court decided to grant them ownership of the garage, and the underground prison, as compensation.
Tatyana Melnikova and Tatyana Kozikova moved in with each other after their release, sharing a one-room apartment owned by Melnikova’s mother. Both women lived in desperate poverty, with Melnikova scavenging through garbage to find food, because she could not secure her identification papers to obtain welfare.
A public donation fund was established to raise US$400 to remove their facial tattoos. In the demoralised new Russia, not one ruble was donated to remove the markings of their captivity. Tatyana Melnikova died in poverty, still wearing Komin’s branding.
In 2009, the Molot factory became unprofitable, and closed in 2010. Its closure saw workers unpaid for months, causing more residents to flee the declining town of Vyatskiye Polyany.
The gruesome events played out by Alexander Komin featured in a documentary series called Criminal Russia, screened on Russian television. The episode featuring Alexander Komin was watched by millions, including Victor Mokhov, who rather than become horrified by what he saw, he would instead become inspired.