To outsiders, the Kabanovs had seemed like a happy, hip, and enlightened Moscow family -- he was the chef at a trendy cafe and the couple was well-known among the city's liberal elite, frequent fixtures at the 2012 election-year protests. By all reports, they adored their children, who were 6, 4, and 2. "They were hugging and kissing them all the time," their nanny, Tatyana Shtefanets, later told police.
But late on the night of January 2, the couple had a drunken argument. The fight grew heated. As their children slept, Kabanov punched his wife, knocking her to the floor of their kitchen. He strangled her with a plastic cord, stabbed her repeatedly with a 24-centimeter chef's knife, and meticulously dismembered her in the family bathtub.
He stashed the body parts in plastic bags and suitcases, hiding them in the trunk of a friend's Skoda Fabia. He then called the police, reported his wife as missing, and began posting plaintive messages on Facebook:
Friends! My wife Ira has disappeared. She left the house on the morning of the 3rd and didn't come back. The police are looking for her. But there are no results yet. The police are saying that she'll come back and everything will be fine. But the more time that passes, the less I believe that things are fine. I should explain that she left after we had an argument. I can believe almost anything, but I can't believe that she would leave without a word. If there's anyone among our mutual acquaintances who knows what's happened to her, simply tell me that she's alive.
Kabanov's posts inadvertently sparked a volunteer-driven manhunt in Moscow and St. Petersburg. On January 9, he gave a video interview to RIA Novosti, speaking calmly as he sat in the family kitchen, children's voices ringing out in the background. "I can't imagine any situation... where Ira would leave without telling me," he said. "Where she would leave her kids behind."
WATCH: Aleksei Kabanov talks about his 'missing' wife.
Two days later, police discovered the hidden body parts. (A police report horrifyingly notes that Kabanova's head was found in a bag from Detsky Mir, the children's goods superstore.) Aleksei Kabanov admitted to killing his wife, was promptly arrested, and placed in pretrial detention.
What's ensued since then is a bizarre legal battle in which Kabanov, 39, is preparing to defend his actions as a "heat of passion" murder and not, as investigators allege, a premeditated crime. If he is successful, that nuance could shave years off his sentence -- and leave many spouses wondering just what their own mates might be capable of in the heat of a marital dispute.
Perhaps seeking to bolster his case, Kabanov has just granted a rare interview to Svetlana Reiter of the Lenta.ru website, and the results make for fascinating reading. Kabanov, for example, explains how he came to find himself brandishing his Kasumi chef's knife on the night of the murder -- a fact that could be used to argue the killing was planned. Kabanov normally kept his knives at work. But on the morning of January 2, his boss informed him that the cafe had gone bankrupt and told him to pack up his things. (She also gave him parting bottles of liquor, which went on to fuel the argument later that night.)
Asked by Reiter what they fought about, Kabanov gave this response:
The last thing he remembers, Kabanov adds, was Irina threatening to run away with the children the next time he left the apartment. "I just snapped," he says. The next thing he knew, he was sitting on a chair in the kitchen, smoking a cigarette and holding a knife, his wife lying dead at his feet.
Kabanov has reportedly undergone extensive psychological testing at Moscow's Serbsky Institute -- the country's main center for forensic psychiatry since the Soviet era -- and been deemed sane. He himself argues that even the act of dismembering his wife "was a perfectly rational thing" in a small, crowded apartment, where his children were soon to wake up. He hastens to reiterate, however, that he was not in his "usual state" at the time:
His attempt to hide his wife's body, he says, was motivated by concern for his children. They had lost their mother, he reasoned at the time, and shouldn't lose their father as well. Even now, his lawyer, Mikhail Menglibayev, says Kabanov's desire to mount his "fit of passion" defense is motivated by his desperation to get out of jail and see his children again. "He understands that no one is going to care for his children the way he does," Menglibayev says. (The oldest child, Kabanov's stepson, has moved to Israel to live with his father. The two younger children now live with Irina Kabanova's mother in Ukraine.)
Kabanov bristles at the suggestion that he may serve as many as 15 years in prison, saying he considers a seven- or eight-year sentence "fair...under the circumstances." But he says he's not trying to avoid punishment:
Kabanov is expected to go to trial later this year.
-- Daisy Sindelar