Four-year investigation of 9-year-old girl's murder called off

Press conference held at 2:30 p.m. today regarding the investigation of Varvara's death. April 4, 2016. (ERR/Rene Suurkaev)
4/4/2016 7:18 PM
Category: News

According to Estonian police, the primary suspect in the March 2012 murder of 9-year-old Varvara in Narva committed suicide three days after the collection of samples of his DNA in February 2014.

Tarvo Kruup, director of the East Prefecture Crime Bureau, noted that the suspect was a drug addict in his 20s who did have a criminal record, but no previous record of sexual offenses. According to Kruup, the suspect had prior offenses involving theft and battery.

The suspect had samples of his DNA taken in February 2014. Three days later, the suspect intentionally overdosed on a cocktail of three different drugs and died in an apartment building in Tallinn. The match in DNA, however, was only confirmed that summer, which is when, in attempting to contact the man, police discovered his suicide earlier that year.

As that was the case, investigators were unable to question the suspect, however it was confirmed that he was in the area at the time of Varvara’s disappearance on March 18, 2014, despite lack of information regarding his activities at the time and whether or not he had any prior contact with the girl.

Due to the fact that the suspect had taken his own life already, it was no longer possible to further reconstruct or investigate his activities on the 18th or anything else that may undeniably link the man to the death of the young girl, and specialists lacked the technology to further process DNA samples taken from the victim’s body as well as the scene where she was found in order to provide a perfect match to the suspect’s DNA.

One of the biggest criminal investigations in Estonian history

Margus Gross, Chief Prosecutor at the Viru District Prosecutor’s Office, stated, however, that the criminal investigation of Varvara’s death, which had lasted over four years was one of the biggest in Estonian history, was called off today. “Despite the fact that we have clues regarding who may have committed the murder, we cannot currently gather any further evidence,” Gross explained. He noted, however, that in the case of advancements in DNA technology or any new information coming to light, investigators would be willing to reopen the case.

Director General of the Police and Border Guard Board (PPA) Elmar Vaher stated that if one were to consider details relating to the suspected individual’s activities, then one could make certain conclusions.

Kruup said that, over the course of four years, the DNA samples of 2,855 men had been compared, of which those of a total of 11 matched male chromosomal DNA found on the victim’s body.

As a male chromosomal match alone would not be enough evidence to find and convict the killer, 13 hairs found at the scene and on the victim’s body were sent to Austria for further analysis that was not possible with technology currently available in Estonia.

Pool of suspects narrowed by mitochondrial DNA evidence

Austrian experts were able to successfully identify mitochondrial DNA not belonging to the victim on three of the hairs. Comparing this DNA with that of the eleven men in Estonia whose male chromosomal DNA had been a match, the experts were able to identify two men belonging to the same family whose mitochondrial was a perfect match as well.

Upon further investigation, police deduced that of the two related men, it was not possible for one of them to have committed the crime, and so the investigation continued into the other suspect until the discovery of his death half a year prior.

Nine-year-old Varavara disappeared from her own backyard where she had been playing the night of Mach 18, 2012. Five days later, her body was found in the wasteland behind a nearby ice rink, where, according to the investigation, it was taken after her death. It was suspected that she had died the night of her disappearance already.

According to the investigation, which had been complicated by snowfall and subsequent snowmelt at the scene, her cause of death was strangulation, and there was evidence that she had been sexually assaulted before her death as well. Besides ligature marks on her neck and signs of sexual assault, however, the body showed no other evidence of force used against her.

Thousands involved in thorough investigation

Thousands of people in total were interviewed by police in the effort to collect information regarding both the disappearance of the girl as well as possible suspects in her death. Phone records, security camera footage, and the financial transactions of those in the area at the time of Varvara’s abduction were all analyzed. In addition, all of the girl’s possible contacts on social media were reviewed, and all tips received by the police were followed up on as well.

The police also investigated all persons with a prior record of convictions for sexual assaults and serious crimes against other persons. They had also hoped to figure out where the crimes themselves may have been committed, but had no luck; the site of the girl’s assault and death has yet to be identified to this day.

Over one hundred police were involved in the investigation of Varvara’s death, which lasted over four years. Experts from Austria, the Netherlands, and Germany were called in to help local experts and forensic pathologist. Clues in the case were investigated as far as through Europol, Interpol, and neighboring countries, and Estonian police had also enlisted the help of profilers from Great Britain and Russia.

According to a press release from the Ministry of the Interior, over the course of the investigation, police had conducted thousands of investigative procedures, including questioning over 2,100 people and taking DNA samples from 2,800 men. During this time, police also received over 220 different tips from people, and sent dozens of sex offenders to court who were accused of a total of 121 different criminal episodes.

“While nothing will make up for the loss of Varvara, we can let the citizens of Estonia and above all those close to Varvara know that the evidence gathered gives us a fairly high degree of certainty in the identification of the suspect’s guilt,” stated Minister of the Interior Hanno Pevkur. “Unfortunately, due to the fact that he committed suicide, we cannot bring the suspect to trial, however in this case, knowledge is better than the lack thereof, and hopefully this [knowledge] will help Varvara’s loved ones achieve some peace of mind.”

Editor: Aili Sarapik

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