Family photos from Alexei Kabanov's Facebook page: the couple's… (Facebook )
MOSCOW — It began with a plea from a desperate husband, and turned into a mystery that played out on the Russian Internet and captivated the public during the early days of the new year.
On Jan. 6, the eve of Russia's Orthodox Christmas, popular blogger and Moscow cafe owner Alexei Kabanov posted word on his Facebook page informing his almost 1,500 friends and more than 450 followers that his 39-year-old wife, journalist Irina Cherska, had disappeared three days earlier.
"To make the situation clear, I will say that she left after a quarrel," wrote the 38-year-old professional chef. "I can believe in any setup except that she left without informing me."
"If among our common friends there is somebody who knows what has happened to her, simply tell me that she is alive," he ended his first post that night.
Kabanov also wrote that he had informed the police, who had told him that "she will come back and everything will be normal," assurances that he rejected with a prophetic: "The more time passes the less I believe in this 'normal.'"
Kabanov and Cherska had been married for three years, and had two sons together and a 6-year-old boy from her first marriage. The couple were active, both on and off the Internet, with Kabanov missing few opposition rallies against the government and Cherska hosting a radio program on family violence.
Dozens of his Facebook friends and other users reposted Kabanov's messages about his plight. Volunteers walked the streets of Moscow putting up Cherska's portrait and information on every corner.
Messages addressed to Kabanov on Facebook were full of sympathy and support. He duly answered almost every post with gratitude.
"Sometimes women leave silently just to be alone to survive, and as it happens once in a lifetime to think for the first time of themselves and not of others," user Marina Orlovskaya wrote.
Another user, Sveta Beyer, wrote: "Alexei ... write that you love her and are waiting for her at home."
"She will come back today, it is Christmas!" Julia Chirkova wrote. "Hold on."
People were offering any help he needed and asked about the children. Kabanov initially rejected the offers, saying the boys were fine. But on Tuesday he posted a new statement asking for assistance in taking their oldest boy to school, a request that triggered fresh postings of support.
"Irka [Irina] has not been found," he wrote the next day. "Reports appear of the opposite but they are not true. I will be the first to inform you of this. Thanks to all who are taking part in the search. I have no words to express my gratitude."
The search went on with a new vigor, as more people wrote to Kabanov with words of kindness and support. But his responses began to drop off until he had almost disappeared from the Internet by Friday night.
Then came word Saturday from the Russian Investigative Committee's website: Police examining Kabanov's car Friday night "found fragments of a human body," the statement said. Kabanov had confessed to killing his wife and dismembering her body, the website said, and had been arrested pending investigation.
People were shocked, but they didn't stop writing to Kabanov's Facebook account — though the tone of the messages had changed. "Burn in hell," one post said.
Cherska had left her own final Internet message in her last post to her Facebook page on Dec. 30:
"What was so magic about the New Year's Eve?" she wrote. "Mom left me alone in the room, I sat on my knees … and looked outside the window.... My mother would put on the record of 'The Nutcracker' and as Mary was fighting the Mouse King, I was crying and looking out at the snow as it was falling between the houses. I was telling myself that I wouldn't go to sleep and yet I did. And I found gifts in the morning."