It was the 17th of June, 2016, when a friend of Yuri Shipulin and his wife, Nataliya Gerasimova, reported them missing. The couple from Russia had been living at a farm in Kachiquari, Mulomulo, in Nasouti Highlands, Nadi, Fiji. They had been living here since 2011 when they left Russia for pastures greener, setting up a farm to grow and sell fruit and vegetables. They had left their farm in their grey metallic land cruiser. When they failed to return home, they were reported missing.
Inspector Josia Weicavu asked the public to come forward if they knew anything about the couple’s whereabouts.1 Their friend, Alla Mallerich, would make a public appeal on social media, revealing that the couple had been missing for three days and while their cellphones were continuing to ring, nobody was answering them. She wrote: “Police are doing what they can here within their limits. No helicopter or such so we are appealing to everyone.”2
A couple of days after the search for the couple began, their vehicle would be found. The couple, however, were nowhere to be found, although their belongings and their mobile phones were found inside the vehicle. The peculiar discovery only raised more questions about the whereabouts of the couple.
It had been the couple’s business partner at the farm, Andrew Luzanenko, who had reported the couple missing. He said that recently, the farm had been facing quite a lot of debt and said that Yuri appeared to be depressed. He stated: “His business is not doing very well, especially after the cyclone and then we tried to revive the farm but it has been a very slow process.” Much like the couple, Andrew was from Russia. He had been working on the farm for the past six months but had wanted to return to Russia when the farm began to fail. “But now, I can’t because all of our passports are with police,” he said.3
The home where they lived had been built from shipping containers and it had been searched extensively by investigators working on the disappearance. However, no tips which could indicate where the couple had gone were uncovered.
According to other friends of the couple, Yuri, who had once been a pilot for the Russian air force, had a number of failed business interests on the island and was believed to be owed upwards of $200,000 by former business associates. He was said to be exceptionally generous with any money he had, often giving loans to people and never seeing any money back. Some said that he was living much beyond his means. As one friend said, he was living lavishly and burning the candles at both ends.4
The last person to see Yuri was Shafia Hassan. Yuri, who also worked as a part-time photographer, would sometimes work for Shafia’s company, Glitz and Cutz. She said that she had met with him just days before he vanished at her shop. She said that nothing appeared to be out of the ordinary and Yuri told her that he was going to edit some photographs for her and scheduled to meet her the following week. “He was good, he was smiling and he was joking as usual,” she said.5 She said he certainly didn’t appear to be depressed.
On the 24th of June, there would be a grisly discovery at Natadola Beach, when decomposed body parts washed ashore. This was just a few hundred meters away from where the couple’s land cruiser had been found abandoned. The body parts would be sent off to be examined for a potential identification to hopefully be made.
The body parts would be identified as belonging to Yuri and Nataliya. An extensive search in the area uncovered more of their dismembered remains in the water and others that washed ashore, including a plastic bag containing their feet which had been weighed down with rocks and wrapped in a fishing net.6
The grisly find launched the missing person investigation into a murder investigation.
As news of the couple’s murder wended through the area, their friends tried to comprehend what had taken place and why. Those who knew the couple said that they were down to earth and seemingly had no memories. Their friend, Alla, said that Yuri was somebody anybody could depend on. “He comes and helps. If the car broke down and I call Yuri for help, he comes and helps. It was never a problem for him. He would never say that he was busy. He would just say, give me 20 minutes and he would come.”7
A couple of days after the body parts began to wash up on the beaches of Fiji, Yuri’s decapitated head would be found by an unsuspecting tourist. Graeme Bickley, who was on vacation from New Zealand, said that he saw a bundle in the water at the beach. “I went out in the tide and it was knee depth water and grabbed it, it looked like a little bundle but it was very heavy of course,” he said.8
It would be revealed that Nataliya’s clothing had been found inside the couple’s land cruiser which led to rumours within the area circulating that Nataliya had been raped and then killed. The Fiji Police Force announced that they would be refraining from making any more comments on the case until their investigation was complete.9
Fear would grip the area, which is a popular tourist destination. Many living in the area would be on high alert, in particular at night. The notion that a sadistic killer was lurking among the community terrified everybody.10 A memorial service would be held on the 17th of July in Saweni, Lautoka.
Investigators working on the case would remain very tight-lipped. If they had a person of interest or a suspect, they were keeping it quiet from the public. Gradually, however, the case went cold and the following year, a reward would be put forward for information that could lead to the couple’s killer or killers.11
The brutal murders of Yuri Shipulin and Nataliya Gerasimova remain one of the most brutal murders that Fiji has ever seen and they still remain unsolved today.
- Fiji Times, 18 June, 2016 – “Russian Couple, Vehicle Missing”
- Fiji Times, 19 June, 2016 – “Friends Seek Help”
- Fiji Times, 20 June, 2016 – “Russian Couple Still Missing”
- UPI, 8 July, 2016 – “Body Parts of Missing Russian Couple Wash up on Beach”
- Fiji Times, 21 June, 2016 – “Nothing Unusual”
- Fiji Times, 3 July, 2016 – “Missing Russian Couple Killed”
- Fiji Times, 4 July, 2016 – “Tests Confirm Body Parts are Those of Russian Couple”
- The Daily Mirror, 5 July, 2016 – “Mystery of Couple Murdered in Paradise”
- Fiji Times, 7 July, 2016 – “Bid to Keep Integrity”
- Fiji Times, 8 July, 2016 – “Fear Grips Residents”
- Fiji Times, 14 April, 2017 – “Cash Reward for Info”