Mass grave may hold Beria's sex victims

MOSCOW - Building workers digging a ditch in the centre of the city on Friday unearthed a common grave near the mansion once occupied by Stalin's secret police chief, Lavrenti Beria, writes Helen Womack. Since Beria was notorious for carrying out interrogation and torture in his own home, it is reasonable to assume that the bones are the remains of his personal victims.

The mansion on Moscow's Kachalova Street is a pleasant pastel building housing the Tunisian Embassy. But Russians cannot pass it without shuddering, for it is believed that Beria lured young women there, had sex with them, then had them murdered in the basement.

The workers had been digging for several hours when they came upon a pile of human bones, including two children's skulls covered with lime or chlorine.

At first they thought they had stumbled on an old cemetery. But their leader, Vyacheslav Terekhov, said: 'This grave is only 45 to 50 years old. The bones were heaped in a disorderly fashion and covered with some strange substance. The skulls had white teeth in good condition. There were no traces of clothes, shoes, jewellery or pieces of coffins. The corpses had been buried naked.'

Mass graves are discovered from time to time in the former Soviet Union, grim testament to the nightmare rule of Stalin.

Like Stalin, Beria came from the republic of Georgia where he ran the Cheka, the forerunner of the KGB, in the 1930s, before arriving in Moscow as security chief. In 1953, Stalin's successors decided that Beria represented a danger to them and had him shot as an 'imperialist agent'.