Since 1996, 7 Russian children have died at the hands of their forever families. Except for Dmitry Yakolev/Chase Harrison, all were victims of physical abuse, starvation, and systematic torture by adults who were judged by the US adoption industry and the US and Russian governments to be fit to adopt someone else's children. The Polreis case attracted national attention, but most cases, until recently, have rarely gotten more than a few lines. The Russian press has covered some, but not all of the cases, and covered the Harrison case extensively. Lately it has covered the Dykstra and Craver classes. The Russian Investigate Committee is now looking into some if not all of the cases, and threatening to take action on its own. Though it is highly unlike that Russian courts will accede to the wishes of the IC, the investigations and threats are indicative of the anger and frustration the Russian government has with Russian-US cross-country adoption.
Below is a summary of the legal outcomes of the 17 cases on record. . These summaries are taken from the larger account of each case found at my Forever Family, Forever Dead blog entry. There are also many links to these cases in the larger summary. Outside of Peggy Sue Hilt and Gary and Amy Thompson, the sentences have been relatively short and most of the forever parents are now on the street. I have no idea what the average sentence is for killing your child. I do know there is great disparity not only amongst states but amongst jurisdiction for killing children, so I can't say that these bad sentences reflect a general trend or are just what they are. Whatever, it is shocking to see that monsters like Robert and Brenda Matthey and Heather Lindorff out and about. Her husband, however, checked into the Gray Bar Hotel himself after he was convicted of trying to hire a hitman to kill a witness in the family's earlier trial.
This entry is a backgrounder for my own future writings and is also intended as a guide to domestic and international media t and scholars who check in here.
When pictures of the dead children are available, I have included them here. Pictures of the forever parents, whenever available are placed below "Outcome."
DAVID POLREIS, JR,/KONSTANTIN SHLEPIN
age 2, Greeley, Colorado. Died February 9, 1996; beaten and cut over 90% of his body.
: Adoptive mother Renee Polreis was convicted of child abuse resulting in death and sentenced to 18 years in prison. In 2000 her sentence was reduced; she was paroled in 2005.
LOGAN HIGGINBOTHAM (birth name unknown)
age 3, Shelburne, Vermont. Died November 25, 1998 of massive head injuries. The medical examiner was unable to determine if death was an accident or homicide. Three years later police reopened the case with other medical experts and concluded that Logan's head had been intentionally slammed into a wall.
In 2004, Laura Higginbotham pled no contest to a charge of involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 1 year in prison. She will remain on parole until her older daughter, Layne also adopted from Russia is 18. Higginbotham has divorced, remarried, and has a biological child.
VIKTOR MATTHEY/ VIKTOR SERGIVICH TULIMOV
ge 6, Hunterdon County, New Jersey. Died October 31, 2000 of cardiac arrest due to hypothermia after adoptive parents Robert and Brenda Matthey locked him overnight in a damp unheated pump room; also suffered over 40 cuts, scrapes, bruises and untreated fractures. Robert Matthey admitted beating Viktor with an aluminum baseball bat, a belt, 2 whips, and his open hand
Jury acquitted the couple on evidence tampering charges; deadlocked on manslaughter charges, but convicted them of lesser abuse. Both sentenced to 10 years in prison for confining Viktor to the pump room, 10 years for inflicting excessive corporal punishment and 7 years for failing to provide medical care. The sentences were to run concurrently. Brenda Matthey was released from prison on November 1, 2008. Robert Matthey was released on November 7, 2008.
LUKE EVANS, (birth name unknown)
age 1.5, Lowell, Indiana. Died November 30, 2001 of massive head injuries, shaken baby syndrome, and poor nutrition.
: On June 30, 2006 Natalie Fabian Evans was found not guilty of murder, battery and neglect of a dependent after a doctor for the defense convinced a jury that Luke could have had "bleeding in his brain for days prior to the day" he was found unresponsive in his crib.Evans and her husband divorced during the proceedings.
JACOB LINDORFF, (birth name unknown)
age 5, Gloucester Twp., New Jersey. Died December 14, 2001 of blunt force trauma to head. Also suffered from 2nd degree burns on feet, hemorrhaging in 1 eye; bruises, and seizures.
Adoptive mother Heather Lindorff, 36, was found guilty
of 2nd degree endangering, aggravated assault. She was sentenced to 6
years. She claimed the injuries were accidents and begged judge not to
separate her from her family. Adoptive father, James, 54, sentenced to 4
years probation and 400 hours of community service for child abuse. In
May 2004, Heather Lindorff was released on appeal bond and ordered not
to visit her children without supervision. That same month DYFS learned
that children were back living with the Lindorffs. Medical examinations
found four children were malnourished, abused, and neglected. Heather
Lindorff was released from prison on November `6, 2009. In September
2007, James Lindorff and Mildred Cullinan were charged in a
murder-for-hire plot to kill a witness at the Lindorff trial. On August
7, 2008 James Lindorff was convicted and sentenced to a maximum of 7
years with a minimum term of 5 years 11 months and 12 days. He will be
eligible for parole on April 16, 201. His mother-in-law Mildred
Cullinan pled down to a charge of hindering an investigation and was
sentenced to 90 days in jail
JESSICA ALBINA HAGMANN (birth name unknown)
age 2 years, 7 months, Prince William County, Virginia. Died August 11, 2003 of mechanical asphyxia due to compression against an adult: lack of blood and oxygen possibly due to "holding therapy"performed by her adoptive mother Patrice Lynne Hagmann.
In December 2003 Patrice Hagmann took an Alford plea ( pleading no contest, without acknowledging guilt). Prosecutors recommended 14 years in prison, In January 2004 the court sentenced her to five years for each charge, suspended dependent on five years probation.
ZACHARY HIGIER /NIKITA KHORYAKOVONT,
age 2, Braintree, Massachusetts. Died August 15, 2002 of severe trauma to the head. Jacob had a bilateral skull fracture, a massive stroke on the right side of his brain, a smaller stroke on left side, brain swelling and detached retinas.
Adoptive mother Natalya Higier pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in jail, with 18 months balance of sentence suspended for 4 years; also required to attend anger management classes.
MARIA ANASTASIA BENNETT, (birth name unknown)
age 2, Lancaster, Ohio. Died October 23, 2002 of Shaken Baby Syndrome. Medical evidence indicated fatal head wounds and eye injuries could not be caused by such a drop.
Bennett pled no contest to 1 count of reckless homicide. She originally faced 8 years in prison. Prosecutors recommended 4 years, but said they would not oppose probation after 2 years served. Bennett was sentenced to 3 years.
LIAM DMITRY THOMPSON/ DMITRY SERGEVICH ISHLANKULOV
age 3, Galloway, Ohio. Died October 16, 2003 at Columbus Doctors Hospital West of scalding and neglect. Five days earlier, adoptive father, Gary Allen Thompson, put Liam in a bathtub of 140 degree water causing 2nd and 3rd degree burns; skin peeled off legs. Instead of seeking treatment Thompson put him on a crib mattress in an unheated basement. Adoptive mother, LPN Amy Lynn Thompson, whose diary revealed she didn't like Liam or his adopted sister, failed to notice the seriousness of burns for 2 days, then treated him with Tylenol and Vaseline. Liam was taken to the hospital only when he went into respiratory failure. Autopsy revealed severe burns on both legs, right arm, back, and buttocks; bruises on neck, right side of upper lip, right eye, both cheeks and forehead. The official cause of death is listed as "thermal injuries."
Amy Thompson pled guilty to child endangering and involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. She is currently incarcerated in the Marysville Reformatory for Women and is scheduled for release on October 9, 2017..
Gary Thompson pled guilty to murder and was sentenced to 15-life. His first parole hearing will be in August 2018.
ALEX PAVLIS/ ALEX GEIKO
age 6, Schaumburg, Illinois. Died December 19, 2003 of severe beating. Adoptive mother Irma Pavlis admitted to punching Alex hard in the stomach and slapping him.
Irma Pavlis sentenced to 12 years for involuntary manslaughter. She was paroled on March 28, 2008 and resides out of state. She was released from released from parole on March 29, 2009.
DENNIS GENE MERRYMAN/ DENIS URITSKY
age 8, Harford County, Maryland. Died January 22, 2005 of cardiac arrest brought on by starvation; weighed 37 pounds, 2 pounds less than when doctors examined him in October 2000. Medical examiner could find no underlying conditions and ruled death a homicide.
: On April 17, 2008, adoptive parents Samuel and Donna Merryman On April 17, 2008 they were each sentenced to 22 years in prison. Samuel is currently incarcerated at the Maryland Correctional Institution in Hagerstown; Donna is at Patuxent Correctional Mental Health Center in Jessup.
NINA HILT/ VIKTORIA BAZHENOVA
age 2.5, Wake Forest, North Carolina. Died July 2, 2005 on A visit to Manassas, Virginia, from blows to the abdominal area. Adoptive mother, Peggy Sue Hilt, 33, told investigators she was "enraged and angered" at Nina, shook her, dropped her on floor, kicked her in the stomach, then picked her up, put her in bed and continued to strike her with a closed right fist on her back and stomach
On May 25, 2006, Hilt was sentenced to 35 years in prison with 10 years suspended; will serve 21-22 years due to time served awaiting trial.She is currently incarcerated at the Fluvanna Correction Center for Women in Troy, Virginia. Her expected release date is October 6, 2022.
ISAAC JONATHAN DYKSTRA/ILYA KARGYNTSEV
age 21 months, Iowa City. Died August 14, 2005 , the day after he was hospitalized for injuries reportedly incurred from an accidental fall a few days earlier. On August 7, 2008, after a nearly 3-year investigation, adoptive father, Brian Dykstra, 31, was charged with 2nd degree murder.
Dykstra released on bond. Due to the complexity of the case the prosecution and defense asked for several postponements over the next three years. As a result, Dykstra didn't go to trial until the end of October 2011. On November 3, 2011, despite a preponderance of evidence from doctors, nurses, police, and pathologists that in their opinion he killed Ilya, Dykstra was acquitted of all charges. Judging from news reports, the jury appeared to prefer the testimony of character witnesses.over scientific evidence. Dykstra and his wife, Dr. Lisa DeWaard Dykstra are now divorced, but she testified for the defense. Nearly a month after the verdict, on December 3, 2011. the Russian Investigative Committee, announced it was opening a case file on Dykstra and doing its own investigation. According to numerous Russian sources, the US State Department, contrary to agreement, had never informed Russian authorities about Ilya's death.and they heard about it only after the trial was over.
NICOLI (KOLYA) EMELYANTSEV
age 14 months, Tooele, Utah. Died March 7, 2008 from a "significant skull fracture" caused by blunt force trauma. Adoptive mother, Kimberly Emelyantsev 33, charged with murder. Charles against her husband, Fyodor, a Russian national, were dropped. During her post-conviction psychiatric evaluation she admitted grabbing Kolya by an arm and leg and repeatedly slamming him in the floor. Kolya suffered from Down Syndrome.
Kimberley Emelyantsev, pled guilty to a lowered charge of 2nd degree felony child abuse homicide. On October 10, 2008 she was sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. I can find no current information on Emelyantsev's whereabouts (she should still be in prison), but according to his Facebook page, husband Fyodor Emelyantsev has returned to Russia and is living in Novosibirsk.
DMITRY ALEXANDRIVCH YAKOLEV
age 21 months, Purcellville, Virgina. Died July 8, 2008 in Herndon, Virginia after adoptive father Miles Harrison, 49, left him in SUV for nine hours in up to 91 degree heat. Temperature inside anywhere between 131-172,.
On December 18, 2008 Miles Harrison was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter in a bench trial.
NATHANIEL MICHAEL CRAVER/ IVAN "VANYA" SKOROBOGATOV
age 7. Dillsburg/Carroll Township, Pennsylvania. Died August 25, 2009 at Penn State Hershey Medical Center after being taken off life support. The autopsy revealed Vanya suffered 80 external injuries, including 20 to the head. Old injuries, including fractures to his forehead and old blood beneath his scalp were found. The coroner also found evidence of malnourishment and "severe failure to thrive." Adopters Michael 45 and Nanette Craver, 54, say that Vanya caused injuries to himself.
On February 26, 2010 Michael and Nanette Craver were
arrested and charged with criminal homicide, conspiracy, and child
endangerment. The prosecutor considered seeking indictments with death penalty specifications, claiming that Vanya's death constitution torture, but later took that option off the table. The couple were held in the York County Prison without
bond until their trial in September 2011. Like the Dykstracase, despite a preponderance of evidence to the contrary, the Cravers were acquitted of first degree murder, but unlike Dykstra were found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, child endangerment, and conspiracy. In November they were sentenced to five years in prison with time served. They are currently on parole and attempting to regain custody of Vanya's twin sister, Dasha. After the sentencing hearing, the Russian Investigative Committee, outraged at the outcome of the trial announced it would seek to extradite the Cravers and try them on murder charges in Moscow. A Russian court ruled against the CI, but it is still investigating the case. On December 2, the Cravers filed separate appeals of their sentences and demanded new trials. If they win their appeals, which is doubtful, they can only be retried on the involuntary manslaughter charge, and if found guilty again, be sent to prison for up to10 years.
UPDATED DECEMBER 7, 2011