NOTE: Please go to Nykto Ne Zabyt for a dedicated page for all my entries on Russian adoption. This collection includes posts on all known Russian adoptees who have been killed by their US “forever families,” as well as the case of Masha Allen. Go to “labels” on that blog’s sidebar for individual cases. Russian language readers can translate the entire page with the Google Russian translator at the top of the page. Reverso translator is right below it for Russian and other languages.

The acquittal of Miles Harrison does not reside in a vacuum. Since 1996, 14 other Russian children have died at the hands of their forever families. Except for Dmitry Yakolev/Chase Harrison, all were victims of physical abuse, starvation, and systematic torture by adults who were judged by the US adoption industry and the US and Russian governments to be fit to adopt someone elses children. The Polreis case attracted national attention, but most cases have rarely gotten more than a few lines. The Russian press has covered some, but not all of the cases, and covered the Harrison case extensively.

Below is a summary of the legal outcomes of each case. These summaries are taken from the larger account of each case found at my Forever Family, Forever Dead blog entry. There are also many links to these cases in the larger summary. Outside of Peggy Sue Hilt and Gary Thompson, the sentences have been relatively short and many of the forever parents are now on the street. I have no idea what the average sentence is for killing your child. I do know there is great disparity not only amongst states but amongst jurisdiction for killing children, so I can’t say that these bad sentences reflect a general trend or are just what they are. Whatever, it is shocking to see that monsters like Robert and Brenda Matthey are out and about and Heather Lindorff will be walking the streets soon. Her husband, however, recently made checked into the Gray Bar Hotel himself after he was convicted of trying to hire a hitman to kill a witness in the family’s earlier trial. (More on that later in a different entry).

This entry is a backgrounder for my own future writings and is also intended as a guide to domestic and international media that has been hitting this page. I’ll have a handy-dandy chart of the cases up on a webpage (I hope) in a couple days.

When pictures of the dead children are available, I have included them here. Pictures of the forever parents, whenever available are placed below “Outcome.”


DAVID POLREIS, JR, (birth name unknown) age 2, Greeley, Colorado. Died February 9, 1996; beaten and cut over 90% of his body.

OUTCOME: Adoptive mother 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.


LOGAN HIGGINBOTHAM (birth name known) age 3, Shelburne, Vermont. Died November 25, 1998 of massive head injuries. 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.

OUTCOME: 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.


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.

OUTCOME: Jury acquitted the couple on evidence tampering charges; deadlocked on manslaughter charges, but convicted them of lesser abuse. Both sentenced 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 sentences were to run concurrently. Brenda Matthey was released from prison on November 1, 2008. Robert Matthey was released on November 7, 2008.


LUKE EVANS, (birth name unknown) age 1.5, Lowell, Indiana. Died November 30, 2001 of massive head injuries, shaken baby syndrome, and poor nutrition.

OUTCOME: On June 30, 2006 Natalie 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.


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.

OUTCOME: Adoptive mother Heather Lindorff, 36, was found guilty of 2nd degree endangering, aggravated assault. She 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. In May 2004, Heather Lindorff was released on appeal bond and ordered not to visit her children without supervision. That same month DYFS learned that children were back living with the 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 at the Lindorff trial. On August 7, 2008 James Lindorff was convicted and sentenced to a maximum of 7 years with a minimum term of 5 years 11 months and 12 days. His mother-in-law Mildred Cullinan pled down to a charge of hindering an investigation and was sentenced to 90 days in jail.


JESSICA ALBINA HAGMANN (birth name unknown) age 2 years, 7 months, PrinceWilliamCounty, Virginia. Died August 11, 2003 of mechanical asphyxia due to compression against an adult: lack of blood and oxygen possibly due to “holding therapy”performed by her adoptive mother Patrice Lynne Hagmann.

OUTCOME: In December 2003 Patrice Hagmann took an Alford plea ( pleading no contest, without acknowledging guilt). Prosecutors recommended 14 years in prison, In January 2004 the court sentenced her to five years for each charge, suspended dependent on five years probation.


ZACHARY HIGIER (born Nikita Khoryakovont), age 2, Braintree, Massachusetts. Died August 15, 2002 of severe trauma to the head. 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.

OUTCOME:Adoptive mother Natalya 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.


MARIA ANASTASIA BENNETT, (birth name unknown) age 2, (left) Lancaster, Ohio. Died October 23, 2002 of Shaken Baby Syndrome. Medical evidence indicated fatal head wounds and eye injuries could not be caused by such a drop.

OUTCOME: 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.


LIAM DMITRY THOMPSON, born, Dmitry Sergeyevich Ishlankulov, age 3, Galloway, Ohio. Died October 16, 2003 at Columbus Doctors Hospital West of scalding and neglect. Five days earlier, adoptive father, Gary Allen Thompson, put Liam in a bathtub of 140 degree water causing 2nd and 3rd degree burns; skin peeled off legs. Instead of seeking treatment Thompson put him on a crib mattress in an unheated basement. Adoptive mother, LPN Amy Lynn Thompson, whose diary revealed she didn’t like Liam or his adopted sister, failed to notice the seriousness of burns for 2 days, then treated him with Tylenol and Vaseline. Liam was taken to the hospital only when he went into respitory failure. Autopsy revealed severe burns on both legs, right arm, back, and buttocks; bruises on neck, right side of upper lip, right eye, both cheeks and forehead. The official cause of death is listed as “thermal injuries.”

OUTCOME: Amy Thompson pled guilty to child endangering and involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. She is currently incarcerated in the Marysville Reformatory for Women.

Gary Thompson pled guilty to murder and was sentenced to 15-life.


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.

OUTCOME: Irma Pavlis sentenced to 12 years for involuntary manslaughter. She was paroled on Marach 28, 2008 and resides out of state. She is scheduled to be released from parole on March 29, 2009.


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.

OUTCOME: On April 17, 2008, adoptive parents Samuel and Donna Merryman On April 17, 2008 they were each sentenced to 22 years in prison.


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

OUTCOME: 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.


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.

OUTCOME: Dykstra released on bond; trial pending.


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. During her post-conviction psychiatric evaluation she admitted grabbing Kolya by an arm and leg and repeatedly slamming him in the floor. Kolya suffered from Down Syndrome.

OUTCOME: Kimberley Emelyantsev, pled guilty to a lowered charge of 2nd degree felony child abuse homicide. On October 10, 2008 she was sentenced to up to 15 years in prison.


CHASE HARRISON, born Dmitry Alexandrivich Yakolev, age 21 months, Purcellville, Virgina. Died July 8, 2008 in Herndon, Virginia after adoptive father Miles Harrison, 49, left him in SUV for nine hours in up to 91 degree heat. Temperature inside anywhere between 131-172,.

OUTCOME: On December 18, 2008 Miles Harrison was acquitted of involuntary manslaughter in a bench trial.


  1. Marley,

    Thanks for posting this, for reporting it, and for keeping it in the public eye. It is all too easy to let your mind slip away from these horror stories.

    These poor children should never have had to endure the torture that they did at the hands of these people (and I use the term loosely) and they should have been punished to the fullest extent of the law. These babies were supposed to be loved, nurtured and cherished; not tortured and murdered. It is a sick society that permits this.

    It is little wonder that Russia is reconsidering and the NCFA is blathering. Keep up the good work, Marley. It is vitally important.

    Sandy Young

  2. This brings me to both tears and anger. Having had a surrendered child who was abused, but, thankfully, lived, I can only say “thank you” for remembering these children from Russia and keeping their stories alive.

    In adoption, it is the vulnerable, the small and the disenfranchised that suffer.

  3. I can’t even express my feelings with words after reading this, and I’ve read it a few times now. I wish those who got what I consider light sentences, much harsher ones, and I wish these people could somehow experience what they put these poor, innocent children though, even for a moment (even if just in their minds and if experienced as real), because no one should ever have to endure what they did, and of all the human beings on this planet, they are the least deserving of such evil.

    I hope your blog(s) get as much attention as they possibly can. This is just heart-wrenching and so unjust. No child, adopted or not, should ever suffer.

    Thank you for telling these stories, even though they bring tears to read. Keep exposing the monsters, and the truth.

  4. I almost cried reading these reports. What these children went through is horrible. I can’t imagine what these chidren must feel.

  5. I almost cried reading these reports. What these children went through is horrible. I can’t imagine what these chidren must feel.

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