Professor Oleg Sokolov is a Russian historian and prominent Napoleon reenactor who is accused of murdering his girlfriend after he was fished out of a river with a grisly backpack containing her severed arms.
Authorities allege that Sokolov, 63, was intoxicated when he “fell into the river” during an attempt to discard the body parts, according to BBC. When police went to the professor’s home in St. Petersburg, they say they found the body of Anastasia Yeshchenko, 24, and they say she was also missing her head.
The bizarre murder is causing headlines in Russia and throughout the world in part due to the prominence of Sokolov, who is considered an expert on the Napoleonic era. In fact, the Napoleon-obsessed Sokolov sometimes dressed up publicly as Napoleon Bonaparte.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Sokolov Is Accused of Murdering Yeshchenko During an Argument & Planned to Commit Suicide Dressed as Napoleon, Reports Say
The professor isn’t denying the crime; he’s confessing to it, according to BBC. His lawyer told Agence France Presse that Sokolov “has admitted his guilt.”
According to the BBC, Professor Sokolov admitted to police that he killed his girlfriend in the midst of an argument and “then sawed off her head, arms and legs.”
He planned to get rid of her body “before publicly committing suicide dressed as Napoleon,” BBC reported. The Guardian also reported that Sokolov’s plan was foiled when he fell into the river while trying to get rid of Yeshchenko’s body parts.
“A 63-year-old man was rescued from the River Moika,” investigators said in a statement reported by Guardian. The police statement also said arms were discovered and the man was detained on murder charges. The Russian language site, Tass, reported that a gun was also in the backpack. Tass also reported that authorities allege that Sokolov shot the victim with a sawed-off shotgun on November 7, 2019 before dismembering her.
Reporter Greg White of Bloomberg News wrote on Twitter, “St. Pete Napoleonic historian murder just gets crazier, with report he killed her at his apartment on Thursday but didn’t decide to get rid of the body until Saturday. Had guests over in the interim and nobody noticed a thing.”
2. Professor Sokolov Is the Recipient of a Major French Honor for His Work on Napoleon
Sokolov’s Napoleonic research was recognized in France, where he received the Legion d’Honneur in 2003. According to the Guardian, he wrote books on Napoleon Bonaparte and consulted on films about the French leader.
A Russian language news site reported in 2003, “In 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte established the Legion of Honor, which over the past three centuries was destined to remain France’s highest state award.”
That news site added that, in Russia, ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, director of the State Hermitage Mikhail Piotrovsky, and cosmonaut Beregovoi were previously awarded the honor. “In November (2003), the gallery of heroes (had) one more portrait: the teacher of St. Petersburg State University, the historian of Napoleon’s France and the president of the Military-Historical Association of Russia Oleg Sokolov,” says the site.
Professor Sokolov belonged to France’s Institute of Social Science, Economics and Politics (ISSEP), but, in the wake of the murder, that society has removed him from his committee position, Guardian reports.
As an example of some of his Napoleon scholarship, one article’s abstract reads, “It is generally accepted that Napoleon was considered as an enemy by Russian society at the beginning of the nineteenth century.”
It continued: “Moreover, some historians explain the active participation of Russia in the War of the Third Coalition by the reputed hatred that the Russian aristocracy had towards the First Consul, and later, the Emperor. However, a study of sources before 1812 yields entirely different results; these show that the opinion of the Russian elites held of Napoleon was highly diversified during this period: animosity was far from unanimous, and in the period from 1801 to 1805, positive opinions predominated.”
3. The Victim Was the Former Student of Sokolov, a Founder of the ‘Military-Historical Reconstruction Movement’ in Russia
The Russian-language site Tass describes Sokolov as “one of the founders of the military-historical reconstruction movement in Russia.” The site reported that the victim had been his student and the “co-author of a number of scientific papers.”
According to Tass, she came to St. Petersburg “from the Starovelichkovsky rural settlement of the Krasnodar Territory and graduated from St. Petersburg State University three years ago.” Her mother works in law enforcement.
The university representative expressed great shock to Tass. RTL-Nieuws, a Dutch-language newspaper, reported that Sokolov claims Yeshchenko’s death was an “accident.”
4. Sokolov Teaches History at the University of St. Petersburg & Would Call His Lover ‘Josephine,’ Reports Say
Sokolov was a history professor at Saint Petersburg State University, which is President Vladimir Putin’s alma mater, according to Telegraph, which reports that he was “close to the Russian authorities.” He also taught at Sorbonne, according to Telegraph.
The British news site described how Sokolov and the victim both liked to “wear period costumes, with Sokolov dressing up as Napoleon.”
Students told Telegraph that Sokolov was good at impersonating Napoleon and was a good teacher, but he was also known for eccentricities, such as calling his lover “Josephine” and asking to be called “Sire.” He was also known to yell in French.
Telegraph also reports that Sokolov was on the “Russian Military-Historical Society headed by Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky.”
5. Sokolov Was Accused of Having Alcohol Issues & Previously Attacking Another Woman
In 2008, Sokolov was accused of beating up another woman but wasn’t charged, Telegraph reports. He was accused of having a reputation for instability and alcohol use, according to Telegraph.
The ISSP group to which he belonged was founded by Marion Marechal, “the niece of far-right leader Marine Le Pen,” according to RFI.
Some of his books on Napoleon are for sale on Amazon.