True Crime

Russia’s Magician Murders

Young models went to Gosha the Wizard seeking success, love, and fortune—and three of them may have lost their lives in the process. Anna Nemtsova reports from Moscow.

03.02.13 9:45 AM ET

From the tattoos and muscular arms to the heavy jawline and intense look—no cautious person, upon studying Georg Martirosian’s features, would want to share intimate secrets with him. But apparently, Martirosian’s personal page on a Russian social network—under the nickname Gosha the Wizard--attracted lots of beautiful women. Dozens of tall, skinny, long-limbed women in their early 20s came to Gosha’s home office to ask him to perform magic. Some wanted their health problems treated; others looked for career improvements, or rich husbands. Most of the patients stayed with Gosha for years and trusted every word he said.

A few days ago, a Russian court ordered Martirosian arrested on charges of murdering three Moscow models. All three women had slim bodies, long legs, and blonde hair. They believed Gosha the Wizard had the power to clean up their karmas and multiply their fortunes.

From pagan to Orthodox times, many Russians dabbled in various mystical rituals—they made pilgrimages to churches for blessed healing water, or to old grandmothers for folksy spells. In Russian fairy tales and classical novels, evil witches and kind wizards looked into the future through fortune-telling mirrors or, to bring dead characters back from the grave, gave heroes the Water of Death and the Water of Life. In modern Russia, this belief in the power of wizards lives on. Every kiosk sells newspapers publishing long lists of advertisements for masters of magic, who promise to fix a person’s success in love, sexual life, or business. Such alternative healers and magic men thrive in a country where only 15 percent of the population trusts the state medical system, according to a Levada Center survey, and where many citizens remain suspicious of the merits of modern medicine.

Martirosian’s first alleged victim, 24-year-old professional model Natalya Trapeznikova, arrived in Moscow from Nizhny Novgorod looking for love and success. She used to thumb through photos of rich bankers in Russian Forbes, dreaming that one of them would marry her one day. She saved her money for a business start-up, her friends said. But then she apparently fell in with Martirosian.

During her last visit home, Trapeznikova reportedly told her parents that a Moscow magician named Gosha had advised her to withdraw all the cash she had in her bank accounts to give to him so that he could charge the money with energy meant to multiply her fortunes. Her father, Valery Trapeznikov, protested against the strange affair, but his daughter apparently did not listen to him. “Natalya liked round figures,” Valery Trapeznikov told this week’s edition of the television show Let Them Talk. “She said she had 1 million rubles,” or more than $30,000.

A few weeks later, worried that Natalya had not returned their phone calls, her parents took a train to Moscow. There, they found her dead body, face-down in a bathtub full of water. Later, forensic exams found a near-fatal dose of heroin in her stomach but determined that the cause of death was asphyxiation. Four months later, two more of Martirosian’s patients were found dead under similar circumstances.

It took more than a year for police to investigate Trapeznikova’s case. “There are as many charlatans among policemen as among the magicians,” the chairman of the security committee of the state parliament, Alexander Khinshtein, told The Daily Beast.

If not for Khinshtein’s involvement, Gosha the Wizard might still have been luring beautiful women to his services. But when Khinshtein heard Trapeznikova’s father’s plea for help, he pushed the authorities to look into the killing. Only then did they discover that a security video camera had recorded Trapeznikova entering Martirosian’s building with a plastic bag in her hand; and, a few hours later, a man identified as Martirosian leaving the building clutching a similar bag.

According to his website, Martirosian charged $200 per visit. In one post, he addressed Moscow’s forlorn young women: “Dear ladies who feel lonely in soul and in bed, I am yours at any time. I welcome those who want to be happy.”