As a child, I had a book on Ancient Egypt. While it no doubt depicted Ancient Egyptians in a completely historically inaccurate way—aka white with a tan—the chapter I really loved was on mummies. Looking back, I should’ve realized my love of the macabre was life-long because I was six years old and fascinated with reading about the hook they used to slowly pull the corpse’s brains out of its nostrils, and the urns they would keep the organs in, and the embalming process they used to preserve the skin. I loved the illustrations; I can still see them in my mind’s eye.
I’m still fascinated with death and decay and the human obsession with death, but not like Anatoly Moskvin, a journalist from Nizhny Novgorod, Russia. He considered himself a “necropolyst,” or an expert on cemeteries, and was a regular contributor to the Russian obituary newspaper Necrologies. He was obsessed with death and didn’t see why he couldn’t have his cake and eat it too.
In 2011, Moskvin was arrested for the exhumation and mummification of 29 girls between the ages of three and 25. He kept them in his apartment, preserved and dressed up and painted like life-sized dolls.
Moskvin’s obsession with death began with an apparent brush with necrophilia at age 11. When passing by a funeral of a young girl, he was asked to be her “husband.” The clearly fucked up adults at the memorial asked him to kiss her corpse and then put on a wedding ring that matched one on her finger. Maybe that made the girl’s parents feel better somehow, but it started an obsession that would later prove deadly for 29 other girls.
Moskvin lived with his parents, who believed their 45-year-old son was a collector of strange, life-sized vintage dolls. In fact, each doll was a corpse, covered in fabric and makeup and dressed up. Some had souvenirs from their graves inside of them, and some with music boxes embedded in their chests so that they would play music when Moskvin played with them.
He was lonely, he claimed. The adoption agencies wouldn’t let him adopt a child, thankfully. So he resorted to digging up young female corpses to come to live with him. He would preserve them with salt and baking soda. He considered them his children and claimed that he didn’t have a sexual attraction to their corpses. He liked to hang out and watch TV with them in his apartment, but he also had some he disliked and stashed in his garage. His parents pretty much left him the fuck alone because they must have sensed he was a complete weirdo.
His mom is quoted as saying, “We saw these dolls but we did not suspect there were dead bodies inside. We thought it was his hobby to make such big dolls and did not see anything wrong with it.” What about the smell that his neighbors noticed? And how obviously fucked up the dolls looked?
Moskvin’s doll collecting lasted for about 9 years. He was finally caught for desecrating graves. After a suspected terrorist attack in 2011, he began targeting Muslim graves. When he was fingered by police and they went to his home to search it, they didn’t find anything related to the grave desecration because they were too distracted by the mummies and the “stink of something that rots in the basements” as one of his neighbors called it.
He was brought to trial, diagnosed with schizophrenia, and sentenced to treatment at a psychiatric ward. Apparently, Moskvin told authorities to not bother reburying the girls, because he’s planning on digging them up again when he’s released.
In 2019, the psychiatric facility where he lives petitioned for his release, saying he was all better—or better enough, anyway—but he was denied release and remains in custody.