All rights reserved "Northerners" №2 2023. Author Vladimir Zavodovskiy. Photos in this article except where indicated are from Oleg Arkhipov's archive.
If Sherlock Holmes were our contemporary, he would certainly be interested in the tragedy that happened at the Kholat Syakhl pass. Where the best investigators of the country turned out to be powerless, elementary observation and the latest forensic techniques could become the key to understanding what happened, says historian and researcher Oleg Arkhipov, author of the three-volume bestseller "Criminal Trap".
In a narrow circle of philologists, our interlocutor is known as a great connoisseur of English and French literature, painting, the history of the Napoleonic wars, Russian classics and the Soviet detective story. For everyone else, he is a successful Tyumen writer and head of the interregional Society for the Memory of the Igor Dyatlov Group. By the way, this public organization is the only one that has permission to bear the name of the leader of the dead skiers-tourists. So the family decided.
— I grew up in a family that revered Russian classics, and, for example, I read the complete works of Alexander Ostrovsky in the fifth or sixth grade, including his correspondence, — says Oleg Nikolaevich. — By the way, I really like the letters of writers, and in second-hand bookshops I always look for the latest volumes of collected works of their works - it is in them that the correspondence of the authors is given. I admired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle from an early age. Not everyone knows, but some forensic examinations were introduced to real life through the fictitious character of Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle delights as a storyteller - and readers, above all, are impressed by his works, told from Watson's point of view. And he is a serious historian of the First World War. As a result, all my life I carried the desire to become a storyteller and historian ...
- The history of the Dyatlov group has acquired such a mass of fables and fantastic hypotheses that it has become a legend.
– I approach this case as a historical phenomenon. In order to correctly understand the essence of what happened in the Northern Urals in 1959, it is necessary to study not only the materials of the investigation, but also to know the realities of that era. Yes, the Khrushchev thaw has already begun, but too little time has passed since Stalin's death. And the specialists who investigated the death of the Dyatlov group at the initial stage were people of Stalinist regime, they acted in the paradigm of the conditions of that time. This is exactly what I was interested in as a historian. I tried to understand and imagine how law enforcement agencies worked, what decisions they made and in connection with what, what IvdelLAG was like at that time. After all, no one except specialists pays attention to the fact that the tragedy occurred on the territory of a huge network of NKVD camps - the group's route went through, the hikers interacted with people. One of the later versions, with which I categorically disagree, assumed an attack by fugitive prisoners, the other - in general, reprisals by the guards.
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– Is it possible to find a grain of truth in an event sixty years ago, when all traces were erased, the witnesses passed away, and the evidence was lost?
– I took the path of studying the results of forensic research, because just the disputes about the nature of the injuries of the last four (the group was found in two parts in different places with an interval of several months), found in a ravine in May 1959, subsequently caused a lot of controversy and insinuations up to delusional versions. In 2014, I turned to the Sverdlovsk Regional Bureau of Forensic Medical Examination (SOBSME), whose specialists worked on the case at the scene of the tragedy. So, the expert of the bureau, Boris Alekseevich Vozrozhdenniy, performed an autopsy of all nine dead, and Georgy Vladimirovich Gants performed a histological examination. It was interesting how former colleagues, now veterans, characterized these specialists in order to understand whether they could be mistaken or overlook something. I even found Dilyara Rostovtseva, the last living witness to the autopsy procedure. Based on the results of this work, I published the monograph "Forensic Experts in the Case of the Dyatlov Group", which contains the opinion of all SME veterans without exception. They claim that those who performed the autopsy are high-class professionals, but they had to work in very difficult conditions and pressure on them cannot be ruled out. I even managed to make an interesting find - acts of commission forensic medical examinations carried out in 2000 by specialists of the bureau without exhumation actions based on autopsies performed by Vozrozhdenniy. They are still clasified.
– What is your opinion - why is the case still classified?
– Then all serious matters were immediately kept secret, this is a priori.
– That is, this is not a unique solution specifically for the case of the Dyatlov group?
– No, more like a rule. Although the case was unique. Therefore, we, with many experts, believe that the so-called "Case without a number" (the criminal case on the death of nine hikers of the Dyatlov group, which is stored in the archive, contrary to investigative practice, does not have a number. - ed. note) is incomplete, there are signs that some of the materials removed from it. I talked a lot with Yuri Yudin, who returned early from the trek due to illness and was the only survivor from the Dyatlov group. He said that after the tragedy, before flying home, he and an accompanying specialist received a large medical container with the internal organs of the first five dead, allocated for further study, in the morgue of the central hospital of IvdelLAG, where an autopsy was performed. Arriving by helicopter in Sverdlovsk, they handed over the container to the SME bureau, which is confirmed by a receipt for its admission. I even managed to identify the recipient of the samples by the handwriting - a certain P.G. Chashchikhina, whose initials, unfortunately, could not be deciphered. But the head of this forensic chemical department at that moment was Anna Yakovlevna Deminova, who is still remembered as a highly qualified specialist. Employees of the SME managed to carry out the necessary research, but as soon as it became known about its results, KGB officers came and seized not only the results, but also the samples of the organs. Yudin said shortly before his death: "Look for these results!"
– And this will allow to unravel the half-century mystery of the group's death, or do you have your own version?
– On sheets 381-383 "Case without a number" in the protocol of interrogation of the forensic expert Vozrozhdenniy dated May 28, 1959, to the question of the investigator Lev Ivanov: "As a result of which the dead hikers (Dubinina, Thibeaux-Brignolle, Zolotaryov) could receive such injuries?", he answered, that they are similar to injuries received from a shock wave ...
– And what prevents you from making an unambiguous conclusion about the causes of the death of the group?
– In the materials of the "case" there is not a single decision on the conduct of forensic medical examinations, although they were carried out - each act of examining the corpses of dead hikers begins with indications of these decisions - dated March 3, March 7 and May 7. In addition, there are no results of forensic chemical and histological examinations of the first five hikers. And it is completely unknown whether a forensic chemical examination was carried out on the four members of the group found in May. That is, we know that there were the results of examinations, and we know from words what the results were. But the documentary data was withdrawn from the case, everything is at the level of assumptions and memories of the participants.
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– Could this be an initial attempt to destroy the evidence of the tragedy?
– The pressure on the forensic experts Boris Vozrozhdenny and Georgy Gants was unequivocally exerted. So, for some reason, Vozrozhdenny does not make a detailed description of rib fractures in Dubinina and Zolotaryov. Gantz makes a superficial and "screen" histological examination of the last four. Most likely, after conducting an examination on the first five, Georgy Vladimirovich draws certain conclusions for himself. It is unlikely that the head of the SOBSME, Professor P.V. Ustinov would have accepted a similar result as a histology for the last four. And another very important point concerns the prosecutor Vasiliy Ivanovich Tempalov: he was interrogated in this case as a witness on April 18, 1959, and after that he had to leave the number of persons participating in the investigation. This is a requirement of the law, failure to comply with which is a serious violation*.
*In accordance with the Code of Criminal Procedure of the RSFSR of 1923 (in force at that time), participation in the case of an investigator is excluded if he took part in this case as a witness. Thus, Article 122 reads: "The investigator is subject to challenge in the cases specified in Articles 43 and 45." These articles list the grounds that prevent the judge from participating in the case. They also apply to the investigator. Moreover, upon the occurrence of such grounds, he is obliged to remove himself.
But on May 6, 1959, Tempalov conducts an inspection of the discovered corpses on the ground (the last four) and draws up a protocol. It is curious, but such a violation of the requirements of the Code of Criminal Procedure remained unnoticed and unpunished both in the Prosecutor's Office of the RSFSR and in the Prosecutor's Office of the USSR.
– And there are a lot of such mistakes in the case?
– There were quite enough. Take the group's tent found at the site of the tragedy. There is evidence that it was studied somewhere and by someone even before entering the Sverdlovsk NICL. In the "Case without a number" there is a copy of the conclusion of the members of the route-qualification commission of the Presidium of the All-Union Tourism Section Kirill Bardin and Evgeniy Shuleshko, who took part in the search operation. There are the following lines: "According to the conclusion of the experts, the tent was torn open from the inside with a knife with several blows." It is interesting that this conclusion was prepared in March, and the expert study of the tent was entrusted to expert Genrietta Churkina only on April 3, 1959 ...
– Which of these inconsistencies do you draw conclusions?
– Through a serious analysis of the "Criminal Case Without a Number", the conclusion is clear that there was another Case File, the real one, in which many procedural actions were carried out, and we have no information about them. Let me emphasize that we do not yet have.
– In your research, you come to the conclusion that a rocket crashed at the site of the death of the group. What, then, is the uniqueness of this tragedy, besides trying to hide it? In those days, in the USSR, during missile tests, catastrophes and more terrible things happened, with mass deaths of people. They, of course, were also classified, but, as they say now, without fanaticism, more for order.
Igor Dyatlov came up with the idea for the route along the Northern Urals in early 1959. He invited the most experienced guys from the hiking section of the sports club of the Ural Polytechnic Institute.
– The uniqueness of this case, first of all, in the time of action. The inertia of the thinking of the Stalin era was superimposed on the top-secrecy of the missile program of the initial period of the Cold War. The scene of action is also unusual: perhaps the most remote, hard-to-reach point of the IvdelLAG is the Kholat Syakhyl Pass, which in Mansi means Mountain of the Dead. (By the way, the searchers that arrived at the scene of the tragedy did not know about this, and they heard the ominous name of the mountain much later. It's worth mentioning that nearby there is a mountain with a Mansi name "Crying of a Child" - ed. note). And this case is also unique in the absurdity of what happened: nine strong, well-trained hikers died under completely normal weather conditions. But the most unusual side of this story is that ... there was no mystery about the death of the Dyatlov group in 1959! In Sverdlovsk, they perfectly understood what had happened. I spoke with people in Ivdel and everyone said: since a huge number of military men were involved in search operations, including the commander of the Ural Military District, Marshal Lelyushenko, it's obvious ...
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– A large-scale incident as the fall of a rocket should have left both traces and witnesses.
– And they are. Many saw flashes over the mountains, including servicemen in Ivdel, leaving the Dzerzhinsky Palace of Culture after a movie show. Eduard Stepanovich Hodorchenko, who worked in the Talinskaya exploration party, who at that moment was in the neighboring taiga area, also spoke about the outbreak over the mountain. We assume that there were many such testimonies in the Case Without a Number, but they were seized. Although there are indirect confirmations, including a handwritten memorandum from the prosecutor Ivdel Vasiliy Ivanovich Tempalov, which I found in a private archive, which caused a lot of hype after its publication. It says that the death of a group of hikers was known as early as February 16*. But the tent, from which the search officially started, was discovered only on the 26th! This note is so sensational that handwriting and scientific and technical expertise had to be done to prove its authenticity. In addition, the former deputy head of the investigative unit of the Sverdlovsk regional prosecutor's office, Evgeniy Fyodorovich Okishev, who was part of the investigation team of this tragedy, mentioned the accident at the "mailbox", which, in connection with the death of the Dyatlov group, was dealt with by his colleagues from Moscow. There is no need to explain to an adult reader what a "mailbox" is - this is a military facility.
– Why hide the cause of death until now? Of the possible perpetrators of the tragedy, if anyone is alive, he is already under a hundred years old. Even that country is long gone!
– It remains a mystery to me too. Moreover, we do not seek to bring anyone to justice and pay monetary compensation. Bringing charges against the dead is dishonest and counterproductive. I repeat, the people of that era worked under a rigid authoritarian system, against which it was extremely dangerous. In those years, they were no longer shot for disobedience, but one could easily "leave for Mozhay*". It is important for us to establish the truth and put an end to the orgy of dirty versions and assumptions. This is what I am authorized to do as the head of the interregional group, the only one entitled to bear the name of Igor Dyatlov - we have been given permission for this from his sister Tatyana Alekseevna Perminova. In addition, our community includes Irina Nikolaevna Rashevskaya, nee Doroshenko, the sister of the deceased Yuri Doroshenko.
* Russian idiom, sent someone far away as a form of punishment, exile. Read more →
* The date on the document was explained by experts and Kuryakov publicly announced their conclusion. Tempalov was preoccupied with the tragedy that took place in February so when he wrote the note in April instead of IV he signed II. In the note there are assignments that took place in April 1959. (note by dyatlovpass.com) Read more →
– The Dyatlov Pass incident has been frequent topic for all sorts of psychics, writers and filmmakers. You can cripple their industry with your truth-seeking.
– At different times, different personalities, including unscrupulous ones, made money on this tragedy and tried to make money. Their hypotheses and assumptions are sometimes mind boggling. For many, establishing the truth about the group's demise will be a disappointment.
– What will be considered the last point after which you can consider your historical research completed?
– Initiation of a new criminal case by the Investigative Committee of Russia on the fact of the death of nine hikers and we really hope for a historical and archival examination...
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– To find out the truth after so many decades is good for self-affirmation, but is it worth the time and effort spent? It is more cost-effective and easier to write on crime topics that are closer in time.
– So after all, it was the work on the case of the death of the Dyatlov group that allowed me to develop my own research style. At the suggestion of readers, I devoted a number of studies to the criminal events of the 1990s in Tyumen. I started working on the book Crime Trap in 2015 and have no regrets about it. It was the right choice. And it's not that she became a bestseller. It was important for me to make a social drawing of that time. This is not about gang warfare, but about time. That is why there are so many photographs and newspaper clippings in the book. By the way, contrary to popular belief, I do not consider the era of the "dashing nineties" something wild and terrible. Time as time is neither good nor bad, but a turning point. The Soviet ideology ceased to exist and the foundation of the state was born, which became the Russian Federation. I am glad and even happy that I lived at that time - without any equivocation.
– How criminal was Tyumen in the 1990s to dedicate books to it? The racketeers really shook the stalls. Of course, there were also contract killings, but not as eerily revealing as in other cities. Everyone knew who was who and for whose money.
– I cannot call the Tyumen criminal events of the 1990s "opera showdowns" because that would be disrespectful to their victims. But we really did not have such industrial wars as in Yekaterinburg. The most important thing, I emphasize this in my books, is that Tyumen has always been controlled by the security forces. Representatives of the criminals of those years and people who walked on the brink of the law state this. We had no threats, let alone attempts on law enforcement officers. It was considered wild even for the criminals themselves. "Red" City...
– Most of your criminal chronicle is devoted to the famous Tyumen group of athletes "Ten", one of its leaders, Igor Rure, nicknamed Mammoth, the fate of the gang and its individual representatives. Why did she attract you so much?
– The fact that these guys destroyed themselves. The origin of the group is very interesting - on the basis of photo studio No. 10 (hence the name of the group), well-known, young, keen on sports guys gathered and began to do business, as it was understood in those days. As for the leaders of the Ten, I look at them not as an author, but partly as a psychologist: in life they were like brothers and lie side by side in the cemetery. The tragedy of the "Tens" is that time and chance made completely law-abiding, well-mannered guys businessmen, and according to the laws of that time - automatically bandits. And when a trivial situation arose - the division of oil money, Russian roulette began. It was important and interesting for me to show a typical story of that time on the life history of these guys - how good guys become bad, how friendship against the backdrop of big money turns into hatred and murder. That's why I called my work "Criminal trap". There are many myths about the Ten, some of which I tried to debunk...
– In your book, between the lines one feels sympathy for individual characters. Are they close to you?
– All my youth was spent in the 1990s. I am not at all nostalgic for those times and always quote the words of one well-known person in Tyumen: "The nineties are a time of missed opportunities." When people could make huge fortunes at once and immediately lose all the money. They were businessmen of fortune. Unfortunately, for the most part, society did not take advantage of the opportunities that opened up, spending energy on criminal showdowns. And yet I am grateful to the time that I managed to survive it, and tried to convey the spirit of that era. People come up to me at book sales and thank me for reminding them of those times. Some even get nostalgic.
– And someone finally finished reading the old detective story and found out how it all ended.
The article continues about other books of Oleg Arkhipov that are not related to the Dyatlov case. You can read the article to the end in the attached PDF "Northerners" №2 2023.