A Napoleonic history professor with tenure at St. Petersburg’s top university is suspected of murdering his much younger ex-student-turned lover in a fit of jealous rage. He was found in a river with female arms in a backpack.
On a bone-chilling Saturday morning, rescuers were called to help a man in his 60s found in the freezing waters of the Moyka River that cuts though the historic center of St. Petersburg. Their next discovery was much more sinister – a backpack with two female arms severed at the elbows and a non-lethal handgun.
Police detained the man, who had to be taken to the hospital for hypothermia, and launched a murder investigation.
While law enforcement has not officially released the name of the suspect, numerous Russian media outlets have reported he was Oleg Sokolov, a 63-year-old historian teaching at the most prestigious university in St. Petersburg.
When investigators searched the man’s apartment, located not far from the river, they found the dismembered body of a young women and a bloodied hacksaw that was apparently used to cut off her arms and head, local news site 47news.ru reported. It claims the victim is a 24-year-old former student and protégé of Sokolov, who was apparently in a relationship with the man. The two collaborated on several works about the Napoleonic Wars and appeared in period costumes at re-enactment events.
Unconfirmed claims indicate he killed his partner in a fit of jealous rage on Thursday, and on Friday night, he tried to dispose of the body first by dismembering it. He was reportedly drunk when he was found in the river, so it is unclear whether he slipped and fell into the river or jumped in on his own after discovering that his backpack wouldn’t sink.
Sokolov is a renowned expert in French history of the Napoleonic age, authoring several papers on the First French Empire and its stand-off with Russia. He is also a military re-enactment enthusiast who helped to popularize the hobby in Russia. His scientific and public work was recognized in France in 2003, when he received the Legion of Honor, the highest national order of merit.
The man’s reputation, however, is not without stain. He reportedly had several flings with his students and has been accused of having a history of domestic violence. None of his alleged victims, however, filed complaints with police, so the accusations were never formally investigated by the police, according to the public record.
Claims that Sokolov has a bad temper were at least partially substantiated last year when footage of one of his lectures caused a minor scandal. The video shows one of the listeners asking him about a claim that he had committed plagiarism. The teacher responded by angrily ordering his supporters to drag the young man out, cheering all the way. Sokolov insisted the incident was a provocation and that his supporters did nothing wrong. The ethics commission of St. Petersburg State University, where he teaches, investigated the incident and declined to discipline him.
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