Missing boys case shocks Russia after burnt bodies are discovered

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The Independent Online

A top Russian investigator has flown to a Siberian city to look into the deaths of five boys aged between 9 and 12, an event which has shocked a country thought to have inured itself to violent crime.

A top Russian investigator has flown to a Siberian city to look into the deaths of five boys aged between 9 and 12, an event which has shocked a country thought to have inured itself to violent crime.

The boys' parents, the public and the media - which has been transfixed by the story for the past month - had been hoping the five would turn up alive and well after what they thought might have been a schoolboy prank.

The friends - Maxim Taumanov, Safar Aliyev, Galash Mamedgasanov, Alexander Lavrenov and Dmitry Makarov - disappeared on 16 April after telling their parents they were going to play in a yard near their homes in the industrial city of Krasnoyarsk, 2,100 miles east of Moscow.

After it became clear they were missing, a search began in the local area. The hunt was later extended nationwide with thousands of police and volunteers looking for them. The police said they had probably run away from home, a claim that enraged the children's parents who said the five all enjoyed happy home lives.

On Sunday their bodies, or what was left of them, were found in a disused sewer shaft 300 metres from their homes. The corpses were so badly burnt and apparently in so many small pieces that the police have yet to confirm their identities and are conducting DNA tests. However, some of the boys' personal effects were found among the remains, including a gold chain, and an apartment key.

A bottle containing chemicals was also found on the scene which is near to what used to be a secret military chemical-testing facility.

Local police have angered the boys' parents by suggesting that they may have died in some kind of freak explosion caused by a fire, chemicals or drugs, and by insisting that the bodies show no signs of being subjected to violence.

They have also raised the possibility that the boys themselves may have been drug addicts, although people who knew them say that they didn't even smoke cigarettes.

A full kidnap and murder investigation has been opened nonetheless, and Vladimir Kolesnikov, Russia's deputy prosecutor general, has been drafted in. This suggests the authorities are considering a more complex and sinister explanation.

Various details suggest a cover-up. One witness said he saw the boys get into a black car on the day they went missing. Then the witness mysteriously withdrew the statement.

Furthermore, the homeless scrap-metal hunter who found the bodies has told the parents that the corpses were not too badly burnt when he saw them, and that all five showed obvious signs of strangulation. The parents have been kept at arm's length by the local police force, and have not even asked to identify any of their own children's belongings.

Oksana Taumanova, the mother of one of the dead, says that she is sure the boys were murdered somewhere else, and then dumped in the abandoned shaft.

"They were killed and then burnt. I'm sure of it, 100 per cent sure. There's no way they could climb into that shaft by themselves. It's too narrow and over three metres deep. It simply wouldn't have been possible," Ms Taumanova said.

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