The criminal case can not be trusted
Leonid Proshkin, prominent lawyer and former criminal investigation prosecutor joined our investigation
All rights belong to Komsomolskaya Pravda. Authors Nikolay Varsegov and Natalya Varsegova
For the first time 55 years after the tragedy, Evgeniy Okishev is holding a copy of the case files
Last summer, we found a very important witness to that tragedy - Evgeny Okishev, who oversaw the investigation of the death of the hikers. Read the interview with Evgeniy Fyodorovich “We were told to say that they were killed in an accident”.
Evgeny Fyodorovich is 94 years. But, despite the advanced age, he perfectly remembers those events. In 1959, he was Deputy Head of the Investigation Department of the Prosecutor’s Office of the Sverdlovsk Region.
Leonid Proshkin, prominent lawyer and former criminal investigation prosecutor joined our investigation. Recently Leonid Georgievich met with Evgeny Fedorovich and we recorded their conversation.
- I have thoroughly studied the Dyatlov case. I have one question to ask: Why there is no case number on the file?
- I really don’t know how this could happen. Maybe because the case was altered later?
- From what documents are available we see that criminal proceedings on the case were initially carried out by Ivdel prosecutor Tempalov. Then all of a sudden we learn that it is taken over by criminal prosecutor Ivanov. However the file contains not a single order on institution of proceedings on the case!
- Look here, all the documents had been in place. I remember that well.
- And had there been any orders on expert examinations? They are missing in the case too.
- All these orders were in place. Otherwise no experts would have started working. I don’t know what had become of them. Maybe someone had had a relation to that case, and the documents of importance had been taken away by someone later?
«We were told to close the case»
- I worked a long time in investigating murders as a criminal investigator for the Kemerovo Oblast. We kind of competed with your Sverdlovsk Oblast in the number of murders.
- Anyway, I can’t say I ever heard of the Oblast Prosecutor being present at autopsies. But, in the Dyatlov case, Sverdlovsk Oblast Prosecutor Klinov must have had some reason to come to Ivdel and spend three days in the morgue observing autopsy of the five bodies.
- This is the only case in my practice, too.
- Does this mean that investigation was regarded as one of special significance?
- This means that the Party organs took control over the case. Note, control not just at the Oblast, but at the Central Party organs level. Before Klinov took this position, he worked at the Oblast Party Committee and maintained good contacts afterwards. I remember well that he had connections among his former colleagues. He had probably been prompted to take the case up himself, this being too serious a matter. Who could advise him? Eshtokin (Second Secretary of Oblast Committee in 1959 – Komsomolskaya Pravda journalists identifying his position) could well be such a person, or that might be anyone else, even Kirilenko himself (First Secretary of Oblast Committee – Komsomolskaya Pravda journalists identifying his position). By the way, Kirilenko was later transferred to Moscow. In what concerned the autopsy, I remember it was mentioned that one of us had to be present in the morgue. I also remember well that Klinov said we would do everything ourselves.
- I was pleasantly surprised to see the name of Eshtokin in the case. After Sverdlovsk, Eshtokin worked in Kemerovo as the First Secretary of the Oblast Committee. I reported to him on several concrete cases. But now, tell me why, after the snow melted away, there was no repeated examination of the incident scene carried out? As you know, repeated examination can bring even more important results.
- When the version of military tests arose, we considered visiting the site one more time, with soldiers, for detailed examination as the snow would be melting away. We even included the trip in our investigation work plan. We wanted to make a thorough study of rags (clothes, tent), and all kinds of expert examination. But nothing came out of it.
- Taboo! No permit. For that reason no repeated examination was conducted.
- Was it for the same reason that there were no radiation tests on the site, when the last four bodies were found?
- Our investigation team did not conduct site radiation tests. But such tests had definitely been carried out because after the last four bodies were found, all who had been in contact with the items at the Pass were sent for radiation examination. But for us, other events were unfolding at that time. Deputy Federal Prosecutor for Investigations Urakov arrived and immediately asked us to bring him the case. He told us to write the closing statement. He went to the Oblast committee and took Klinov and Ivanov with him. When Ivanov cane back he told me that an order was to close the case. We argued: how can we close it, on which grounds? There are nine dead bodies in it!
- Yes, the proceedings were instituted on finding of dead bodies!
- Right. But at that moment we knew nothing about radioactive contamination. We, Ivanov and I, then decided to close the case with regard to organizing a trip, but only suspend proceedings on the case of the dead bodies. Hoping to continue after a respective permit is obtained. A bit later I received an express order from Urakov to tell parents it was an accident. We all then felt something strange about this case. We suspected this to be something connected either with rockets or some tests. It was the most we could do and what we really did. Anyway, the case was already taken away from us. No doubt, Urakov could have told us, but preferred not to. Because he himself must have received orders from the Procurator General who, in his turn, executed orders from his superiors. And it looks like so: all of a sudden, in the midst of investigation, there comes Urakov and closes down all work.
«I remember that on the night of the tragedy it was cold»
- How long had Ivanov worked as a criminal prosecutor?
- Since early 1954, from the moment this position was created.
- Was he a good investigator?
- I reckon, excellent. Meticulous and very thorough.
- This explains his appointment. I understand this as a former criminal prosecutor myself. But tell me, with your transfer, was there any pressure on you at that time?
- No. They only asked what I thought about a transfer. And I had no arguments to say no. Klinov was against my departure, but he had to carry out the Procurator General’s orders. And so I was transferred to the position of Deputy Head of an Investigation Department.
- Lets get back to Dyatlov pass incident. Who photographed the bodies at the scene?
- The scene investigator. I don’t know details how this work was organised, this was done either by himself or someone under his guidance.
- And what about weather conditions as of the time of the incident, were they studied?
- Of course! I remember low temperature and piercing wind were mentioned. There was such a document in the file.
- But it is missing now. And this is an important point.
- I remember the detailed description of snow, and foot tracks on the slope. As far as I know, there was a snowfall after the tragedy. When Ivanov came back from the Pass he gave me a detailed account. We discussed possible versions together. It was clear that the hikers left the tent in a panic and were undressed. The tent was ripped. Later Dyatlov, the group leader, was found lying closest to the tent. And then those dead matches scattered under the cedar tree in attempts to make a fire …
- The closing statement on the case says that the hikers’ death was caused by forces they were unable to overcome. What hides behind this phrase?
- (sighs heavily) Whet else would you hear from an investigator when no version has been fully verified? With any development of the main radioactivity version being simply banned. Just look: where could radiation come from in the open?! Only tests, I am sure of that.
- 2 -
Deputy Head of the Investigative Division of Sverdlovsk Regional Prosecutor's Office
Lev Ivanov's supervisor
The nuclear test site from the Caucasus could be transferred to the Urals
- This is going to be kind of a personal. When you get an order to stay away, when it is explained to you that it’s taboo, such words, as a rule, will only arouse interest to what really happened there? It’s true, the official investigation was closed, but interest in the matter must have remained all the same? Such is human nature.
- It is exactly for this reason that I got interested in the matter. Could there be some tests conducted? I got a clue from some nuclear specialists who mentioned the existence of a nuclear test field in one of the republics in the Caucasus. But in the late 50s a moratorium was called on nuclear tests*. Western intelligence agencies knew about that test field and kept an eye on it. Ivanov and I then suggested that tests might have been moved to the North Urals. The same mountainous terrain, with neither people, nor inhabited areas for 100-150 kilometers around. I asked the above nuclear specialist (I don’t remember his name now), do you admit tests could be conducted at the time of the moratorium. He smiles and says: “look, let’s not discuss that, I have no right to talk about such things”.
* In 1958, the USSR, USA and Great Britain entered into a nuclear weapons testing moratorium which was observed during 1959, 1960 and the first six months of 1961 until in the middle of 1961 it was violated by Khrushchev. (Wikipedia)
- Maybe he refused to talk because he himself participated in violating the moratorium? There was a situation when, at one stage, I stood at the head of a group investigating events in 1993. In particular, we investigated the Ostankino incident in which many people were killed. Reportedly, first there was a shot made from a grenade gun, and then the Special forces (original “Knights” group) started shooting at people. When we examined the scene we understood that there was no shooting from a grenade gun. If it were so, this would have caused much greater destruction. A “Knights” man was killed then, he was posthumously awarded the Title of Hero of Russia. Then we drew specialists into our investigation. Once when we relaxed and had a drink together, a specialist from the Ministry of the Interior suddenly says, “you know I was in Ostankino at that time, and I know of the death of a soldier from an explosion of some special weapon. The said “Knights” had just come back from the North Caucasus bringing their special weapons with them. I know what had exploded there but cannot tell you what”. When I tried to press on him to tell more, he refused point-blank. Just can’t talk, and that’s that!
But let’s get back to the Dyatlov theme. At a glance the case suggests a complex set of questions; there is no case number, it lacks expert examination reports and other procedural instruments. It is unclear who investigated the matter. Tempalov initiates the investigation and then we see him being interrogated himself. How can that be? I have a feeling that case papers had been thoroughly “tidied up”.
- Sure! It can’t be called a criminal case in the full sense of the word, it is only scraps left over and raising no suspicion. No conclusion can be based on such fragments. Hackwork, nothing else. An awful example of an investigation case. It’s worlds different from what we had done then, like night and day.
- But there is an inventory list for the case compiled by Ivanov! Does it mean that Ivanov was making a list of an already sanitized case?
- He did what his superiors told him to do, and the case had to look exactly so. What else could he do?
Pilot could be wrong
- But there’s also the Oblast Prosecutor’s signature under the statement. Was he aware of its content? It might well be that he just signed without looking.
- Oh no. We finalized the text of the statement together. We were both bound hand and foot. All we had to do is close the case, having nine dead bodies left and without knowledge of what had caused their deaths. We go to prosecutor Klinov and ask him, do you agree to close the case the way we are doing it, putting the blame on the administration for negligence? He only lifts hands in dismay: there’s no alternative. I can only add this; should I meet such an investigator in another situation, I would kick him out for a statement like this. Dead bodies in the case, and the blame for them being put on the people having absolutely no relation to them. Can you imagine how painful it was for Ivanov and me to carry out Urakov’s order? At the height of the work we get a slap on the wrist. Klinov calls us and says; round it off, orders must be executed, without discussion. It was at that moment that we put in this phrase about a “compelling elemental force”.
- I read in reminiscences that on 25 February one of the fliers saw a tent at the pass, and that practically near it, two bodies lay in the snow. One of them had long black hair, presumably it was a woman.
- I am a former flier myself and I know well how one may be visually mistaken. Once, when I was getting near the airfield, looking down from the altitude of 300 m (the first approach circle) I had a feeling that we were at 10 metres, not 300. Low enough to jump down! Such was the illusion. I therefore suggest that the flier might be mistaken in his eye estimation of the distance between bodies and tent.
- I wonder about one thing. From the first moments of the search there are 5 to 6 radio-telegrams every day filed in the case. But exactly on the 25th when the flier had reportedly seen the dead bodies, there are none. While the same are present for the 24th and 26 th. How can that be?
- I don’t remember such details.
- Back to radioactivity. I am sure the terrain was then checked for radiological contamination. But that was done outside the framework of this particular criminal case.
- Of course!
- Because at that time the word “radiation” itself was pronounced ... with awe!
- And not just this. Suppose there had been some tests, then every piece of evidence had to be cleared out. Prompt measures had to be taken. I wouldn’t exclude some special orders coming from the top. And the same top people might have introduced their amendments. Ivanov and I came to understand this when the question of secrecy arose. So, our theory concerning presence of a test field may appear to be true.
- Tell me, in your days as an Investigator, can you name any other criminal cases taken for investigation from the Sverdlovsk Oblast to the Federal Public Prosecutor’s office, or even that of the USSR?
- No, nothing of the kind. In my long practice the Dyatlov case was the only one ever taken to Moscow. We can only guess how much importance was attached to it.”
Former criminal prosecutor and now lawyer Leonid Proshkin
Afterwards lawyer Proshkin told us about his impressions of the meeting with Okishev:
– I am sure Evgeny Fyodorovich has told us almost all he remembered. But still there was something he kept back. As a former criminal prosecutor myself I asked him many procedural questions. He gave clear-cut answers, adding details, but when I asked him why the case had no number, he looked slightly at a loss and could not give a definite answer. There is not a single document in the case that could point to who was carrying out the investigation. That is, we have Ivdel prosecutor Tempalov instituting the criminal proceedings. And that is clear. Some investigative actions are carried out by Ivdel investigator Korotaev. And that is clear, too. Although he must have been included in the investigation team, and the case should have carried some notice of that. But there is none. Furthermore, the investigation on the case is being carried out by Oblast criminal prosecutor Ivanov. That makes sense, but is such be the case that he takes over further processing, there must be notice of him being included in the investigation team, while the latter, judging from the documents in the file, had not been formed at all (!). Note, the case was under control of the Federal or even the USSR Prosecutor’s office. There was attention to it at the regional party committee level, too. It is worth noting that at that time the party committee was the top administrative organ in the Oblast. Therefore such procedural omissions are absolutely unexplainable. Or rather, they may be explained by one fact: the whole case is a fake.
And one more interesting aspect. The Ivdel prosecutor opens up and then investigates the case. Then he gets interrogated as a witness, and after that continues the investigative actions. This is not permissible, absolutely. A person can never appear as a prosecutor, an investigator and a witness at one and the same time. I got an impression that as the investigation was going on everything had been clear well beforehand. People continued working but someone else had already decided that all necessary materials would be extracted to another case, leaving the remaining part as a dummy.
The more so, there is one curious procedural moment to which Evgeny Fyodorovich has given a good answer. Here we have an order on institution of criminal proceedings into the fact of the deaths of the Dyatlov group. But the order on closing down the investigation refers not to the death of people but to neglectful bureaucratic actions of the UPI workers. It also mentions that the hikers had become victims of an unnamed force. Okishev wrote those lines together with Ivanov, the closing statement was approved by the Oblast Public Prosecutor Klinov. In answer to my question about such formulation he said, “We realized that it was wrong to close the case this way. The death of the hikers had remained under-investigated but we had no alternative”.
I understand and am absolutely sure that prosecutors of that time would not have written SUCH a statement for no particular reason. They deserve credit because they did not fear to write such a statement and did not write lies. While they had been under pressure, there is no doubt about it.