A man who believed he had killed his wife and child in a drunken row and spent 24 years living in a Russian wilderness alongside bears and tigers has been arrested after he lost his leg to gangrene.
Now aged 72, Nikolai Gromov learned his forestry skills after leaving his home in Kaliningrad to become a lumberjack working outdoors in the Russian wilderness, and then later joined the military.
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Life seems to be going well when he met and fell in love with Lyubov Petrovna, who was working in the military base where he was stationed. She was educated and friends felt they were an ill match but nevertheless they married and started a family, with his son arriving in 1970 and a daughter in 1975.
He took a different job, working as a prison guard in a local penal colony, eventually becoming governor, and it was there that life changed forever when he started an affair with a female prisoner, and after deciding they could not live without each other, he helped her escape in May 1980.
They thought they would be safe after finding an abandoned hut in the forest some 40 kilometres from the jail. But they were arrested, and he was jailed for 12 years in the Irkutsk region. While he was inside, his marriage broke up, and his prison lover vanished.
Outside, he briefly had an affair with another woman in Taishet, who dumped him with a baby daughter after realising she had become pregnant, and without a job and nowhere else to go, he returned eventually to his ex-wife Lyubov Petrovna in Siberia. She opened the door to find him standing there with his daughter in his arms and after he begged her to take him back, and to help him care for his new daughter named Elena, she agreed.
For a short while they were happy after she gained a husband and another child, but the brief honeymoon period did not last very long and soon they were arguing which culminated in a violent row after he had been drinking. During the incident he attacked both his wife and his six-year-old daughter, and when he sobered up after his drunken binge and returned home, the house was empty.
He believed they had died, but in fact his wife and daughter had gone to hospital and then checked themselves out, and moved to a new address. Believing that he had killed them, he went on the run, vanishing in the Russian Taiga region where he believed police would never find him.
His woodcraft allowed him to build himself a home in remote wilderness, home to Russian bears, wolves and even Siberian tigers where he lived for 24 years until old age and illness finally allowed justice to catch up with him.
It started with an injury to his leg, which by June 2019 had become gangrenous and infected. Even then he was so worried about still being arrested that he might not have sought hospital help, but there was a flood in the Irkutsk region and he, along with many others, was rescued, and hospitalised.
His leg had to be amputated, and when doctors realised he was living effectively homeless, they raised the alarm so that he could be entitled to help and a pension, and he was arrested when the outstanding warrant for the assault was triggered.
A police spokesman said: “The man admitted to officers that all these years he believed that he had taken the life of a woman and a girl. After looking at all the facts, at the request of prosecutors the court decided to release Gromov from custody, as the statute of limitations over the incident in the early 1990s had expired.”
His ex-wife Lyubov however did not live to see him rediscovered, she died in an accident earlier this year after drowning in her bath. His daughter meanwhile now lives in Novokuznetsk with her husband, where she has a family of her own, and says she has no interest in any contact with Gromov.
Contacted by local media, she said: “Why do I need him? There was never a word from him over all these years; I thought that he was not alive.”
She confirmed police had been in touch and asked to help identify him, and said: “We met shortly when he was taken out of the investigation department. He told me ‘Do not hold evil thoughts about me. A father is a father, albeit a stupid one’.”
It was not revealed what happened to the children from his first wife.
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