Nobody is forgotten. Nothing is forgotten.
Nikto ne zabyt – Nichto ne zabyto
Since 1996 at least 15 children adopted from Russia by USians have died at the hands of their Forever Parents.
“Experts” like to say that these kinds of deaths are “rare,” yet no other national or ethnic cohort of children placed internationally with US parents have sustained such abuse. The Daily Bastardette will discuss the Russian situation in other posts, but for now, here are the stories of these children who have found their Forever Homes not with loving adoptive parents but in the grave.
DAVID POLREIS, JR, (birth name unknown) age 2, Greeley, Colorado. Died February 9, 1996; beaten and cut over 90% of his body. Adoptive mother Renee Polreis, 42, claimed David beat himself to death with a wooden spoon due to RAD. Husband, David Polreis, Sr. , a vice president of Con-Agra, was out of town at the time of the attack and was not implicated. Renee Polreis was convicted of child abuse resulting in death and sentenced to 18 years in prison. In 2000 her sentence was reduced; she was paroled in 2005 and remains on intensive supervised parole.
David was adopted from Tula; in US 6 months. Home Study: unknown. Adoption Agency: Rainbow House International, Belen, New Mexico. Second adoption for Polreis; first was bi-racial boy.
Denver Westword, October 10, 1996, “Terrible Two”
Denver Westword March 27, 1997, “Psychological War”
Denver Westword, May 22, 1997, “Little Boy Lost”
(cannot link directly. Google for articles)
LOGAN HIGGINBOTHAM (birth name unknown) age 3, Shelburne, Vermont. Died November 25, 1998 of massive head injuries. Adoptive mother Laura Higginbotham, 33, claimed Logan fell and hit her head on the floor of an upstairs bedroom. The medical examiner was unable to determine if death was an accident or homicide. Three years later police reopened the case with other medical experts and concluded that Logan’s head had been intentionally slammed into a wall. In 2004, Laura Higginbotham pled no contest to a charge of involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 1 year in prison. She will remain on parole until her older daughter, Layne also adopted from Russia is 18, According to an unsuccessful lawsuit filed in 2002 to force the state to pay for expert testimony, the combined annual income of Higginbaum and her husband was $72,984 (she grossed $5,264/mo with monthly expenses of $6.725) Higginbotham divorced and remarried. She remains in Shelburne with her new husband, adopted daughter and an infant daughter, presumably biological.
Logan was adopted from Smolensk; in US 7 months. Home Study: unknown. Adoption Agency: European Adoption Consultants, Strongsville, Ohio.
VIKTOR MATTHEY, born Viktor Sergeivich Tulimov, age 6, Hunterdon County, New Jersey. Died October 31, 2000 of cardiac arrest due to hypothermia after adoptive parents Robert and Brenda Matthey locked him overnight in a damp unheated pump room; also suffered over 40 cuts, scrapes, bruises and untreated fractures. Robert Matthey admitted beating Viktor with an aluminum baseball bat, a belt, 2 whips, and his open hand. Jury acquitted the couple on evidence tampering charges; deadlocked on manslaughter charges, but convicted them of lesser abuse charges. Both sentenced concurrently to 10 years in prison for confining Viktor to the pump room, 10 years for inflicting excessive corporal punishment and 7 years for failing to provide medical care. The Mattheys have 4 biological sons. Viktor was adopted with his younger twin brothers, now in the process of being adopted by Robert Matthey’s mother who testified against the couple at their trial. Robert Matthey was a $25,000/yr auto mechanic; his wife was a stay-at-home mom and home schooler. The couplewere scheduled for retrial on manslaughter charges, though I haven’t seen further news on that. They were both parolled in November 2008.
Viktor was adopted from Amur Region, Siberia; in US 10 months. Home Study and Post-Adoption Follow-up: Hawthorne, New Jersey Bethany Christian Services, social worker: Lori Phelan. Adoption Agency: Adoption Alliance, Denver, Colorado.
LUKE EVANS, (birth name unknown) age 1.5, Lowell, Indiana. Died November 30, 2001 of massive head injuries, shaken baby syndrome, and poor nutrition. He may have been developmentally delayed.Adoptive mother Natalie Fabian Evans, 33, claimed she couldn’t wake Luke in the morning, and took him to the bathtub where she planned to place him in water to “stimulate him.” Says he “may” have bumped his head on the tub. Local prosecutors took over a year to file charges because they wanted to be sure about the medical evidence. On June 30, 2006 Fabian Evans was found not guilty of murder, battery and neglect of a dependent after a doctor for the defense convinced a jury that Luke could have had “bleeding in his brain for days prior to the day” he was found unresponsive in his crib. Luke was adopted with an unrelated boy from his orphanage who was living at the time of Luke’s death, with a relative of Natalie Evans.’ Her husband Steven was not charged. In 2003 Natalie filed for divorce which wasn’t granted until June 2006.
Luke was Adopted from Inozemtsevo; in US 6 months. Home Study: unknown. Adoption Agency: Small World International/Charity, New York City.
NW Times, June 30, 1996 Natalie Evans Testifies in Her Murder Trial
JACOB LINDORFF, (birth name unknown) age 5, Gloucester Twp., New Jersey. Died December 14, 2001 of blunt force trauma to head. Also suffered from 2nd degree burns on feet, hemorrhaging in 1 eye; bruises, and seizures. Adoptive mother Heather Lindorff, 36, was found guilty of 2nd degree endangering, aggravated assault and sentenced to 6 years. She claimed the injuries were accidents and begged judge not to separate her from her family. Adoptive father, James, 54, sentenced to 4 years probation and 400 hours of community service for child abuse. Couple also adopted 3 bio-sisters from Russia, Jacob was one of a fraternal twins; placed with the Lindorffs only 18 months after the sisters arrived. The remaining children were placed with Heather Lindorff’s mother, Mildred Culllinan. In May 2004, Heather Lindorff was released on appeal bond and ordered not to visit children without supervision. That same month DYFS learned that children were back living with Lindorffs. Medical examinations found four children were malnourished, abused, and neglected. Heather Lindorff is serving out her sentence and will be released no later than June 2010. In September 2007, James Lindorff and Mildred Cullinan were charged in a murder-for-hire plot to kill a witness. On August 7, 2008, after a negotiated plea, he was found guilty of conspiracy to commit murder. Mildren Cullinan pled quilty to 90 days in jail after pleading down to hindering an investigation.
Jacob was adopted from Pskov Oblast; in US 6 weeks. Home Study: unknown. Adoption Agency: Open Door, Thomasville, Georgia.
NJ.com, April 2, 2004, “Heather Lindorff Gets 6 Years”
Philadelphia Inquirer, June 1, 2006, “Revocation of Bail Sought in Death of Adopted 5-Year Old (paid archives)
NJ.com, September 1, 2007, “2 Charged in Murder or Hire Plot”
JESSICA ALBINA HAGMANN (birth name unknown) age 2 years, 7 months,
Jessica was adopted from Moscow. Time in US: 8 months. Home Study: unknown. Adoption Agency: unknown,. (NOTE: agency representative was present in courtroom for sentencing but neither agency nor rep was identified by press).
*I have not found this title, but did find Help for the Hopeless Child: A Guide for Families with Special Discussion for Addressing and Treating the Post-Institutionalized Child) by Ron Federici, which I believe is the correct title.
Manassas Journal Messenger, January 21, 2004, County Mother to be Sentenced in Death of Child
ZACHARY HIGIER (born Nikita Khoryakovont), age 2, Braintree, Massachusetts. Died August 15, 2002 of severe trauma to the head. Adoptive mother Natalia Higier, 47 claimed he fell out of his crib or hit his head on the kitchen floor, but doctors said injuries were consistent with falling out of a 3-story building. Jacob had a bilateral skull fracture, a massive stroke on the right side of his brain, a smaller stroke on left side, brain swelling and detached retinas. Later Higier said she was tossing him in the air when he hit his head on the coffee table. Husband not charged; couple now divorced. Higier pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in jail, with 18 months balance of sentence suspended for 4 years; also required to attend anger management classes. The Higiers had a history of domestic violence and restraining orders against each other.
Zachary was adopted from Orenburg Region. Time in US: unknown. Home Study: Adoption Resource Associates, Cambridge, Massachusetts; social worker: Laura Nemeyer.
(cannot link directly. Google for articles)
MARIA ANASTASIA BENNETT, (birth name unknown) age 2, (right) Lancaster, Ohio. Died October 23, 2002 of Shaken Baby Syndrome. She died at Columbus Children’s Hospital four days after her adoptive mother Susan Jane Bennett, 41 claimed that she tripped while carrying Maria from the bathroom to a bedroom, dropping her backwards causing her head to hit floor. Medical evidence indicated fatal head wounds and eye injuries could not be caused by such a drop. Bennett pled no contest to 1 count of reckless homicide. She originally faced 8 years in prison. Prosecutors recommended 4 years, but said they would not oppose probation after 2 years served. Bennett was sentenced to 3 years. Bennett, adopted another child, Sarah, a year earlier from the same orphanage. At last report, Sarah is in the custody of Bennett’s relatives. Bennett, a single mother, was a software programmer for an insurance company and had no prior record.
Maria was adopted from Ussurisk near Vladivostok in US for 9 months. Home Study: unknown. Adoption Agency: Focus on Children, Wellsville, Utah.
Lancaster Eagle-Gazette, November 8, 2003, “Mom Sentenced in Child’s Death (not online)
Liam was adopted from Blagoveshchensk; in US 5 months. Home Study: unknown. Adoption Agency: Tree of Life. Portland, Oregon. (Tree of Life also placed a 5-year old Romanian orphan with William Peckenpaugh who was later convicted of 33 charges including 9 counts of sodomy and 3 counts of sexual abuse against the boy).
Columbus Dispatch, December 3, 2003, “Father Peads Guilty to Burning, Killing Son
ALEX PAVLIS, born Alex Geiko, age 6, Schaumburg, Illinois. Died December 19, 2003 of severe beating. Adoptive mother Irma Pavlis admitted to punching Alex hard in the stomach and slapping him. She said he was mentally unstable and suicidal; defense lawyer argued his behavior which included banging his head in walls and urinating and defecating through the house were caused by Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which the Pavlis’ were unaware of when they adopted Alex. Husband Dino Pavlis was not charged. Irma Pavlis sentenced to 12 years for involuntary manslaughter, paroled out of state in March 2008. Alex was adopted with his younger sister last reported in foster care.
Alex was adopted from Yeysk; in US 6 weeks. Home Study: Mt. Vernon, Illinois Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services. Adoption Agency: independent adoption.
WMAQ-TV, Chicago, April 14, 2005, “Pavlis Trial: Defendant’s Video Statement Shown” (cannot link directly. Google for articles)
ABC News, May 17, 2005, “Boy’s Death May Halt US Adoptions”
DENNIS GENE MERRYMAN, born Denis Uritsky, age 8, Harford County, Maryland. Died January 22, 2005 of cardiac arrest brought on by starvation; weighed 37 pounds, 2 pounds less than when doctors examined him in October 2000. Medical examiner could find no underlying conditions and ruled death a homicide. Adoptive father Samuel Merryman, 37, and adoptive mother Donna Merryman, 42, arrested on August 3, 2005 and charged with manslaughter, 1st degree child abuse resulting in death, and reckless endangerment. Samuel Merryman’s parents posted a property bond of $50,000 for each. Merryman’s mother, Olivia, claims that despite cororner’s findings, Dennis suffered from cystic fibrosis, digestive problems and “may have had other problems.” Samuel and Donna Merryman are born again Christians, Sunday School teachers, and home schoolers. They have 2 biological children, and Donna Merryman has a daughter from a previous marriage. On February 25, 2008 the couple pled guilty to 1st degree child abuse resulting in death; 4 child abuses charges relating to two of their daughters were dropped in the plea bargain agreement. When asked by the judge if they were pleading guilty because they were guilty, the answered “yes.” The Merrymans have been under house arrest and have supervised visits with other children. On April 17, 2008 they were each sentenced to 22 years in prison and are currently incarcerated.
Dennis was adopted from Ochery in the Perm Region with 1 older biological brother and 2 older biological sisters, all with medical problems discovered after adoptions; in the US nearly 5 years.
Home Study: unknown. Adoption Agency: Adoptions Forever (closed)
Baltimore Sun, February 26, 2008, “Harford Couple Plead Guilty”
Baltimore Sun, April 18, 2008, “Prison for child’s death”
NINA HILT, born Viktoria Bazhenova, age 2.5, Wake Forest, North Carolina. Died July 2, 2005 on visit to Manassas, Virginia from blows to the abdominal area. Adoptive mother, Peggy Sue Hilt, 33, told investigators she was “enraged and angered” at Nina, shook her, dropped her on floor, kicked her in the stomach, then picked her up, put her in bed and continued to strike her with a closed right fist on her back and stomach. Nina’s sister adopted from Ukraine in an independent adoption through Cathy Harris, Nataliya Oksana, was put into protective custody and later placed in the custody of an aunt. Peggy Sue Hilt was held without bond in Prince William County, Virginia until trial; husband Christopher Hilt was not charged. a Functional alcoholic, Hilt had workedas a dental assistant; her husband was a computer consultant. On May 25, 2006, Hilt was sentenced to 35 years in prison with 10 years suspended; will serve 21-22 years due to time served awaiting trial. Christopher Hilt plans to divorce his wife and is expected to regain custody of Nataliya. In April 2008 Peggy Sue Hilt was featured in the WE-TV documentary Women Behind Bars.
Nina was adopted from Siberia; in US 1.5 years (approx) Home Study: A Loving Family, Alexandra, Virginia (no longer operating). Post Placement Report (2005): A Child’s Hope, Raleigh, North Carolina. Adoption Agency: Adoptions International, Dallas, Texas owned by adoption lawyer Jody Hall.
Charlotte News & Observer, July 14, 2005, “Slain Girl was Second Couple Adopted” (cannot link directly. Google for article)
WRAL-TV, Raleigh, July 28, 2005, Community Gather to Remember Russian Child Allegedly Beaten By Adoptive Mother (cannot link directly. Google for article)
Washington Post, May 26, “Mother Sentenced to 25 Years” (cannot link directly. Google for article)
WE-TV: Peggy Sue Hilt’s Blog (and links to Hilt segment)
Hilt Family webpage
ISSAC JONATHAN DYKSTRA, (birth name unknown), age 21 months, Iowa City, Died August 14, 2005 , the day after he was hospitalized for injuries reportedly incurred from an accidental fall a few days earlier. On August 7, 2008, after a nearly 3-year investigation, adoptive father, Brian Dykstra, 31, was charged with 2nd degree murder. He plead Not Guilty on October 2 and is currently free on $15,000 bond. Adoptive mother, Dr. Lisa Dykstra, now an Assistant Professor of Spanish at
On August 13, 2005, Brian Dykstra called 911 saying Isaac was having a ‘little seizure” and difficulty breathing from what “might be related to a head injury” Isaac was recovering from club foot surgery and Dykstra claimed the baby had fallen a few days earlier after the cast was removed, but had shown no signs of injury. According to police, Isaac had massive brain swelling, severe bleeding inside the skull, and retinal swelling in both eyes. He also had severe bruising on his torso and legs. The description is consistent with shaken baby syndrome, not a fall on the floor.
Isaac was adopted from
Dykstra is scheduled for a pre-trial hearing on April 29 and the trial set to start on May 10, 2010.
Iowa City Police News Release, August 8, 2008: Former IC Man Charged for Death of Adopted Child
Iowa City Press-Citizen, October 3, 2008: Witnesses Listed in Infant Death Trial
NICOLI (KOLYA) EMELYANTSEV, (birth name unknown) age 14 months, Tooele, Utah. Died March 7, 2008 from a “significant skull fracture” caused by blunt force trauma. Adoptive mother, Kimberly Emelyantsev 33, charged with murder. Called 911 saying Kolya was barely breathing after fall from a chair. Adoptive father, Fyodor Emelylantsev, 31, a Russian citizen, under investigation for suspicion of child abuse by malnutrition involving 4-year old, Luka, adopted from Russia in December. Kolya had Down Syndrome as does Luka and F. Emelylantsev’s biological 10-year old daughter. F. Emelylantsev reportedly holds an MA in genetics, is trained to work with the disabled and is an RN working at a local nursing home. Kolya’s parents voluntarily relinquished their rights, visited him in an orphanage weekly and wanted regular updates on him from adoptive family. On June 6, K. Emelylantsev, pled guilty to a lowered charge of 2nd degree felony child abuse homicide. She admitted to dropping Kolya on the floor “more than once.” The county prosecutor says that no intent to kill the baby could be shown. Abuse charges against the couple in Luka’s case were dismissed due to lack of evidence. On October 10, 2008 K. Emelylantsev’s was sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. During her post-conviction psychiatric evaluation she admitted grabbing Kolya by an arm and leg and repeatedly slamming him in the floor. According to defense attorney, Kimberley suffered from a “”depressive disorder” after the adoption, and her husband Fyodor refused to participate in “an extraordinary familial situation.” She says she never wanted to adopt Kolya, but was afraid to say no to Fyodor and afraid of what the neighbors would think if she didn’t go through with the adoption plan. K. Emelyantse is a parlegal and wanted to attend law school.
Kolya was adopted from the Moscow Region; in US less than 1 month. Home Study: unknown. Adoption Agency: About a Child, DesMoines, Iowa (Russian press reports adoption was independent).
March 14, 2008, Dead, Another Starving
Truveo, “US Baby Death Puts Russian Adoption in Doubt”
Salt Lake City Tribune, October 11, 2008, “Mother Must Serve Up to 15 Years for Death of Adopted Son”
CHASE HARRISON, born Dmitry Yakolev, age 21 months, Purcellville, Virgina. Died July 8, 2008 in Herndon, Virginia after adoptive father Miles Harrison, 49, left him in SUV for “several hours,” in 91 degree heat. Temperature inside anywhere between 131-172,. Harrison was supposed to take the boy to daycare, but “forgot” about him and left him in the car all day while he was at work. Chase was found after a co-worker reported seeing something in SUV (windows are tinted). Harrison is the managing relocation director at Project Solutions Group. He collapsed at the scene and was hospitalized. He has been charged with manslaughter and faces up to 10 years in prison. Wife Carol, 45 questioned, but not implicated. According to the July 12 edition of the Russian language paper Gazetta, attempts to place Dima in Russia were unsuccessful because he had “a series of serious diseases.”
Chase was adopted from the Pechora City Children’s Home, Psov area; in the US 3 months.
Home Study: Adoption Connections, Falls Church, Virginia. Social Worker: Christine Hessinger. Adoption Agency: European Adoption Consultants, Strongsville, Ohio. EAC also placed Logan Higginbotham. (see above) According to RBC News and Gazetta (Russian language papers) the Russian Education and Science Ministry’s adoption commission has banned EAC from working in the Russian Federation for failure to inform Russian authorities immediately of Chase’s death, a breach of Russian law. The July 14 edition of The Moscow Times reported that it was only under investigated.
Washington Post, July 10, 2008, “VA Toddler Dies After Father Leaves him SUV”
Fairfax Times, July 10, 2008, “Father Charged After Son Dies in Unattended Car in Herndon”
Novistii, July 11, 2008, “Russia Bans 3 Adoption Agencies Following Baby’s Death in US”
RBC News, July 11, 20008, “Россия запретит усыновление международным организациям”
Gazetta, July 12 2009, “Россия отсекла усыновителей”
Moscow Times, July 14, 2008, “Two Agencies Barred After Boy’s Death”
Fairfax Times, July 22, 2008, “Purcellville Toddler Remembered”
Washington Post, July 23, 2008, “Father Indicted in Toddler’s Death in Hot SUV”
Nathaniel Michael Craver (birth name: Ivan Skorobogatov), age 7, Dillsburg/Carroll Township, Pennsylvania. Died August 25, 2009 at Penn State Hershey Medical Center after being taken off life support. The autopsy revealed Vanya suffered 80 external injuries, including 20 to the head. Old injuries, including fractures to his forehead and old blood beneath his scalp were found. The coroner also found evidence of malnourishment and “severe failure to thrive.” Adopters Michael and Nanette Craver say that Vanya caused injuries to himself.
On August 19, the Cravers claim Vanya fell and hit his head on a wood stove in their home, but seemed OK. Next day he was found unresponsive in his urine soaked bed and taken to the ER. Michael Craver’s mother told investigators that on Memorial Day 2009 she was shocked to see Vanya’s eyes swollen shut and was told by her son that the boy rubbed and scratched his eyes and wouldn’t leave them alone. She also reported that Vanya would shake when he thought he would get in trouble over something. An adoptive aunt reported that in August 2009 Nathaniel’s eyes were swollen shut and the left side of his face was swollen. There are no records of medical treatment for any of the injuries Vanya supposedly suffered at his own hand.
On February 26, 2010, Michael J. Craver, 45 and Nanette L. (Korkuch) Craver, 54 were arrested and charged with criminal homicide, conspiracy, and child endangerment. They are currently held in the York County Prison without bond. Authorities said they made no connection between the death and Vanya’s Russian adoptee status and were surprised when Russia TV crews showed up at his office. In May 2010, York County Senior deputy prosecutor Jennifer Russell, citing Vanya’s age and the state’s contention that his death constituted torture, said she would seek the death penalty. On June 14, the Cravers pled not guilty to all charges. No trial date has been set.
Additional information: Sometime in 2008 , the Cravers briefly lost physical custody of Vanya and his twin sister Elizabeth (now in care) while York County Children and Youth Services investigated alleged negligence and poor conditions in the home. (no details) The children were returned and pulled out of public school to be home schooled. (Another report says they were already being home schooled).
In 2003, Vanya and his twin sister Dasha (now known as Elizabeth) were adopted from Dom Rebyonka #9 in Troiotsk, Chelyabinsk region. In US 6 years (approx). Home Study: unknown. Adoption Agency: Lutheran Social Services of the South, Austin, Texas. (accredited in Russia 2001-5/20/2005. Never re-accredited and closed Russian program). Post-Placement: unknown.
Harrisburg Patriot-News, February 27, 2010. “York County parents charged in death of their son, 7”
York Dispatch, March 4, 2010. “Prosecutor: Local boy’s death sparks international attention”
York Dispatch, March 5, 2010. “Carroll Twp. couple charged in child’s death”
Other Russian adoptees have survived brutal treatment from their Forever Parents. Though no one has yet completely documented the number of cases, here is one survivor:
KELSEY HYRE, age 2, Akron Ohio. Permanently paralyzed September 26, 2002. Spine severed after her adoptive father Gerald Hyre slammed her on the floor. Adoptive mother, Bonnie Hyre, who was at work at the time, took her to hospital when she came home. Ms. Hyre had previously suspected her husband of abusing both Kelsey and her adoptive brother Nathan, 3, and taken photos of other injuries, discussed suspicions with co-workers, but after husband’s arrested she destroyed pictures and did nothing. Gerald Hyre sentenced to 16 years for felonious assault and child abuse. Bonnie Hyre sentenced to 2 years for permitting child abuse and evidence tampering and is now out of jail. Kelsey has been adopted by another couple and is reportedly responding well. Nathan was placed with Bonnie Hyre’s mother, but Bonnie Hyre now has custody.
Kelsey and Nathan were probably adopted from Blagoveshchensk. Home Study: A Child is Waiting, Akron, Ohio (Also see my Stephpanie Bennett blogs for ACW other activities). Adoption Agency: Building Blocks Adoption Services, Medina, Ohio.
Thanks Dan and Elizabeth Case for their assistance in preparing this piece. For more information on Russian adoptions and abuse in the US please go to their website Beware of BBAS.com: an Experiment in Literary Investigation
Thanks, also to Niels Hoogveen from Pound Pup Legacy, especially for information on the Jessica Albina Hagmann case.
FOR MORE INFORMATION SEE:
James Marsh’s ChildLaw blog
“Adoptee Deaths are Rare, Experts Say,” Chicago Tribune, May 26, 2004 (now in paid archives but found here.
Also see my blogs on Masha Allen
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in the “comments” section.
(updated July 5, 2010)