Yes, Americans and Russians are able to work successfully together to confront pure evil.
The proof is in the conviction this week of the so-called Russian Rambo in a Russian court for a savage double murder in America.
The extraordinary dedication and cooperation of everyone involved in both countries further proves that a united effort against the worst in human nature can bring out the very best in us.
No ISIS thug was ever more vicious than was Nikolai Rakossi as he slashed to death his 56-year-old wife, Tatyana Prikhodko, and his 28-year-old stepdaughter, Larisa Prikhodko, in a Brooklyn apartment.
New York Police Department Det. Al McCoy of the 61st Precinct detective squad had worked many homicides, but that had not prepared him for what he beheld when he arrived at this scene.
“It was the bloodiest crime scene I’ve ever seen,” McCoy remembers. “It was really heartbreaking.”
The husband, Rakossi, was nowhere to be seen. A check with the airports told the detectives that he was on an Aeroflot flight.
“He was about 35 minutes from landing in Moscow,” McCoy recalls. “We have no chance at all.”
The United States and Russia have no extradition treaty. There initially was little or no hope that Rakossi could ever be brought to justice.
“And that was it,” McCoy says. “He was in the wind.”
Even so, the detectives gave it their all. McCoy and Det. Pat Henn of Brooklyn South Homicide officially caught the case, but everyone else who was available pitched in.
“We worked it as we always work a murder case,” McCoy says.
The crime scene investigators were equally dedicated, making sure that they missed nothing.
“They went in shifts three or four days,” McCoy reports.
They found numerous fingerprints and considerable DNA evidence. But it all had to be filed under Male Donor 1 because Rakossi’s prints and DNA were not in any available file.
In the meantime, the detectives studied surveillance video that showed the daughter, Larisa, riding the elevator up from the third floor apartment where she lived with her 3-year-old son, to the top floor apartment her mother shared with Rakossi.
“And that’s the last you see of her,” McCoy says.
The detectives figured Larisa must have walked in after her mother was attacked in the back. Larisa’s body was found near the front door. She had been nearly decapitated.
“A horrific end of her life,” McCoy says.
On other surveillance videos, Rakossi can be seen leaving with a suitcase and catching a livery cab. Airport footage showed him checking in and then boarding a plane.
“Very causal,” McCoy notes. “You would have never known he murdered two people.”
Various people in the neighborhood said that Rakossi had served with the Russian special forces in Afghanistan and the newspapers dubbed him “the Russian Rambo.” The reality was less cinematic. The detectives would determine that he had been an ordinary soldier and had never seen battle.
The source of his fury was more likely that of an immigrant who had never made much of himself in his new land. He worked a series of low paying jobs when he worked at all. He spent much of his time at a nearby banya, but failed to make many friends.
He should have counted himself lucky beyond measure to have met Tatyana Prikhodko. She and Larisa were both nurses, beautiful and hardworking and well-liked and highly regarded. The detectives came to suspect that Rakossi was jealous of his wife’s success in creating a new and vibrant life. But that did not fully explain the magnitude of his fury.
“Nobody really knows what transpired when they were inside that apartment, what got him to that point of rage that he had,” McCoy says. “This was rage beyond belief. It really took on such a whole other dimension.”
What was clear to the detectives was that whatever triggered the killings, everything that could be done should be done for the sake of the two vivaciously decent victims.
“We kept working the case as if we were an arm’s reach from grabbing him,” McCoy says. “We're going to get justice for Larisa and her mother, Tatyana.”
Others in the criminal justice system responded with the same spirit, most notably Assistant District Attorney Cynthia Lynch of the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office.
Hope for a possible route to justice came in the form of another case in which a Russian had murdered two fellow Russian citizens in America and then sought refuge in the home country.
In those 2002 homicides, 44-year-old Yuri Solovyev murdered two roommates, Vladimir Yemelyanov and Sufiya Arslanova, in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. American authorities successfully arranged for a formal transfer of prosecution under a Russian statute that allows a trial in the motherland for murder of Russian citizens beyond its borders. The evidence and investigative reports were delivered from Tennessee to Moscow under something called The Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty.
In 2012, Solovyev was found guilty in a Russian court, the first such conviction ever. Lynch set out to make it two.
“The amount of work she did was incredible,” McCoy says.
The Brooklyn case as conveyed by Lynch to the Russian authorities was strong enough that they detained Rakossi in October of 2013, pending further proceedings. The next step would be for Russian investigators to come to Brooklyn.
The Russians made it known in advance that they would be needing to visit the crime scene and review all the evidence and interview all the witnesses, of course with the NYPD present. The NYPD detectives asked the Russians to bring Rakossi’s fingerprints and a DNA sample.
Over the next few weeks, the NYPD made ready for the Russians, scheduling interviews with witnesses and establishing a time when the new tenants in the murder apartment would make it available.
The first big snow storm of 2014 was hitting New York on the afternoon a team of four Russian investigators were scheduled to fly in. The detectives worriedly examined the snow band on weather maps and wondered if they might have to drive to some other city to collect their guests if the plane was diverted.
“Buffalo?… Philadelphia?” McCoy remembers wondering.
But the Russians arrived on the last plane to land before the airport was closed. And there they were in the terminal, the NYPD and the Russians.
“They didn’t know what to expect, we didn’t know what to expect,” McCoy says.
The welcoming party included two detectives who gratefully accepted the fingerprints and DNA samples in the terminal and immediately headed for the lab so as to get results as soon as possible. The Russians pronounced themselves ready to get to work.
“Our Russian comrades, they don’t believe in jet lag,” McCoy says. “They were so professional. Right down to business.”
McCoy and Henn took the Russians directly to a meeting at the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office, which extended to 1 a.m. Inspector Manny Katranakis of the NYPD Forensic Division gave an extraordinarily detailed and coherent PowerPoint presentation of the voluminous evidence.
“Every nook and cranny,” McCoy says.
The phone records that had been assembled by the Computer Crimes Squad showed why Larisa had gone up to see Tatyana.
“She had gotten a phone call from mom,” McCoy says.
The crime scene photos made clear the savagery of the crime. The already serious Russians became all the more so.
“They understood,” McCoy says.
And if there was any possible doubt that Rakossi was the killer, it vanished with word that the fingerprints and DNA confirmed he was indeed Male Donor 1.
“That was a big relief for us,” McCoy says. “We got a name. His name was all over the apartment, DNA, fingerprints.”
Over the next few days, the Russians remained all business, interviewing witnesses from 8 a.m. to midnight at the squad room of the 61st Precinct detectives, then commanded by Lt. Chris Marrow.
“Straight through,” McCoy reports. “A couple of pizza breaks in between, but that was delivered.”
Even the civilians seemed to share the spirit of this quest for justice.
“The witnesses were very cooperative,” McCoy says. “It really brings out the best in detectives and people in general.”
On Thursday, the detectives and the investigators did take an actual break. The Russians asked to see the 9/11 memorial and the detectives obliged, also showing them some of the New York City sights. The winter cold made clear one difference between the two groups of lawmen.
“It was absolutely freezing and it didn’t bother them in the least,” McCoy says.
One of the Russians took out a cell phone.
“He said, ‘Come here, my friend,’” McCoy remembers.
The Russian had set the cell phone to display the weather back home, which was something like 45 degrees below zero.
“He goes, ‘That’s cold,’” McCoy recalls.
Gifts were exchanged, Detectives Endowment Association hats for Russian hats. McCoy received a special bottle of vodka, which he decided not to open until there was a conviction.
When the Russians departed that Friday, everyone was on the best of terms.
“They did say at the end of the visit it was really good to work with us,” McCoy reports.
The actual evidence had to be officially transferred to Russia. McCoy and his regular partner in the 61st squad, Det. Chris Madison, traveled to Washington, D.C.
“On a train,” McCoy says. “With bags of evidence.”
And boxes and boxes and boxes of paperwork had to be translated, including the DD-5s, the reports that detectives file to document each step of the investigation.
“I wish I could see how my 5’s look in Russian,” McCoy says.
The overall process was slow, because everything had to be done according to international protocol and Russian procedures.
“Official channels always,” McCoy recalls. “Everything was always in slow motion. The slightest little thing. It wasn’t as easy as just picking up a phone and saying, ‘Hey, I need this.’”
And as things crawled ahead in Russia, McCoy had a succession of new crimes to solve in Brooklyn. But the Rakossi case remained not even a thought away.
“It doesn’t sit in the back of your head, it’s in the front of your head,” McCoy notes. “It becomes personal. It really does. It consumes you.”
A message from one of the Russians reached the detectives.
“He said everything is going according to plan.” McCoy says.
On Wednesday, McCoy was at a training session when he received a text message from Lynch at the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office.
“Rakossi guilty… just today… congratulations and thank you.”
Rakossi, now 62, had indeed been convicted of the two murders in Tula Regional Court. McCoy later summarized his reaction with a single syllable.
He added, “It was really indescribable.”
He reported on Friday that he had not yet opened the vodka.
“I’m off this weekend,” he said. “I’m sure Saturday night I’m going to sit down in my little man cave and have myself a cocktail or two and a nice cigar and just be thankful it’s all done.”
For the rest of us, the lesson in this time of ISIS is that America and Russia are at least capable of working together to successfully counter unmistakable evil.
“Everybody was at their best, everybody was on their game,” McCoy said. “We bridged worlds.”
If it can happen in the 61st Precinct, why not in Syria?