Friends have asked me for years to write down this story, and I have finally agreed now that I am only a few weeks away from retirement. I have worked as a social worker for the past forty years in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. The job was incredibly stressful, but I know for a fact that I improved the lives of dozens of families. There was a point, about thirteen years ago, which nearly caused me to walk away from the profession. I still deal with the lingering effects of posttraumatic stress disorder from this period of my life. I hope that writing all of this down will help me finally put this case to rest so that I can find peace in the final years of my life.
The fall of the Soviet Union gave childless American couples the opportunity to adopt needy children. Thousands upon thousands of children from Russia and Eastern Europe were adopted in New York during the 1990’s and 2000’s, and I would say that most these adoptions produced genuinely happy families. The children were excited to have loving families and the adoptive parents were excited to have a child to love.
I was adopted, so I took a natural interest in any social welfare cases that involved adopted children. Almost every adopted child I worked with ended up in a loving, happy home, except for one, but I hesitate to say that the “child” in question was truly a child. Sometimes I think that during that time I was dealing with pure evil in human form.
The Polaski’s were a young, successful couple living in Brooklyn, and commuting to their jobs in Manhattan. They had it all, wealth, good looks, charm, and generosity. I could go on and on about these two. The husband, Ryan, worked on Wall Street while the wife, Jenny, worked at a marketing firm a couple blocks away. They had everything except for a child, as they had been unable to conceive despite trying for three years. Ryan’s great grandfather emigrated from Russia in the early 20th century, so Ryan and Jenny decided to look to Russia for a child to adopt. They worked through a local Russian Orthodox Church to facilitate the adoption, which told them that they had the perfect child in mind. An eight-year-old boy named Dmitri, with blonde hair and blue eyes, was looking for a home.
Both Ryan and Jenny took two weeks off from work and flew off to Moscow to meet with Dmitri. They learned that Dmitri had appeared outside a church at the age of three. His records were suspiciously vague, but the Polaski’s were charmed by the boy’s good looks and perfect grasp of the English language. They filled out the necessary paperwork and agreed to return in one month to accompany Dmitri back to the States. Over the course of the next month they excitedly prepared for Dmitri’s arrival.
When Ryan and Jenny landed at the airport in Moscow they were surprised to find Dmitri, accompanied by two police officers, waiting for them.
The smaller police officer of the two stepped towards the Polaski’s and said in halting English, “Russia is grateful for your generosity. To show our appreciation we have arranged for you to take the next flight out of Moscow which leaves in one hour. Your hotel reservation was already canceled.”
Ryan and Jenny looked at one another in confusion. Jenny stepped forward and said, “What happened to the Priest we met with last time? We were expecting to meet in the same church as last time.”
Dmitri spoke up and said in flawless English, “It’s okay Mommy, my time here is done, let us leave now.”
Ryan later told me that he should have followed his gut and demanded to meet with the proper authorities to figure out what was going on. However, youth, inexperience, and being a foreign country led them to go along with the situation. They had never failed at anything before in their lives, and they weren’t going to let Russian bureaucracy ruin their plans of having a child. So, they took Dmitri back to New York, intent on creating a perfect family.
The Polaski’s did everything right. They enrolled their child in the most expensive private school in New York, hired a therapist experienced in working with adopted children, and spent every minute of their free time with Dmitri. Their first year as a family seemed to be perfect to any outside observer. Dmitri proved to be incredibly gifted, and his teachers remarked that he was the most intelligent student they had ever encountered. His therapist also noted Dmitri’s intelligence, and said that Dmitri seemed to be the perfect child.
Ryan and Jenny weren’t so convinced. They discovered that Dmitri routinely snuck out of the house at night. He would wait until they were asleep to leave and return just before morning. They tried to discuss the issue with Dmitri, but he denied it all while wearing a mask of youthful innocence on his face. Ryan and Jenny became even more disturbed when Ryan observed Dmitri practicing different facial expressions in front of the mirror every night before bed. Dmitri would put on an expression of happiness, and then shift to one of sadness, then to one of concern, then terror. In between each expression his face would appear dead, devoid of all emotion.
After that first year, they decided to switch Dmitri’s therapists. He would now see a behavioral therapist as well as a psychiatrist. Both the behavioral therapist and psychologist sensed that something was off with Dmitri. They advised the Polaski’s to deadbolt the doors to their house at night and keep the only keys with them so that Dmitri could not sneak out.
Dmitri did not respond well to this increased restriction, and began to show his true nature. Dmitri manipulated the other children at his school. He encouraged his classmates to fight one another with scissors and pens, which resulted in Dmitri receiving a three-week suspension from school. Jenny was forced to stay home from work to monitor Dmitri during those three weeks. We don’t know exactly what happened during that time, but Jenny had a mental breakdown during the second week, and was committed to a psychiatric hospital. While at the hospital, cigarette burns were found on the bottom of her feet by doctors. Whether they were self-inflicted, or done by Dmitri is something we still do not know.
The school allowed Dmitri to return to class after Ryan made a large donation. He was expelled four weeks later when authorities learned that Dmitri had convinced two other students to make false molestation charges against the school principal. This is where I got involved. Child protective services were called after the students first reported the claims of abuse. The students kept to their story for a week out of fear of Dmitri. However, the students eventually told the truth to their parents which exonerated the principal. The students claimed that Dmitri had threatened to cut their hands off if they did not make the false reports of abuse. They said that Dmitri had pulled a severed human hand out of his backpack as proof of what they would do.
Three police officers and I visited the home of the Polaski’s to interview Dmitri as well as search the home. A severed human hand was indeed found, as well as a large collection of prescription eyeglasses, wallets, watches, car keys, and other mementos. They asked Dmitri where he had gotten these items and he responded that he had found them in Ryan’s room one day while he was away at work. The officers immediately went to search the master bedroom while Ryan sputtered in disbelief. The police found a bloodied kitchen knife as well as a Taser under his bed. They arrested Ryan immediately on suspicion of multiple murders, leaving Dmitri in my care.
I called my supervisor, and volunteered to care for Dmitri until this mess could be sorted out. I regret that decision to this day. Dmitri wore a lopsided grin for the entire ride back to my house. Every attempt I made at starting a conversation with him was met with silence. I introduced him to my wife and two daughters and let them know that he would be staying with us for a few days while we worked on finding him a permanent home.
The next morning, I got a call from the detective leading the investigation against Ryan. He wanted me to bring Dmitri in to speak with him immediately. When Dmitri and I arrived at the station the detective pulled me aside and said, “All of those items we found at the Polaski residence are linked to six brutal murders from the past year.”
I said, “Has Ryan Polaski confessed yet? Never would have suspected he was capable of anything like that.”
The detective paused, glanced over his shoulder at Dmitri and whispered to me, “It wasn’t Ryan, his alibis for the night of each murder check out. His finger prints are on the kitchen knife, yeah, but only because it is from his kitchen. Finger prints on everything else as well as surveillance footage from one of the murders point to a different suspect.”
I said, “Okay, good, so Dmitri can go home with Ryan?”
The detective looked at me sharply and said, “You’re not getting it. Dmitri isn’t going anywhere. We have video evidence that shows him using the Taser on a man and then pulling him into the alley where the body was found. Don’t ask me how an eight-year-old did that, but we’re charging him.”
He then left to take a phone call in another room.
For a moment, I stood frozen in place, and watched as two officers approached Dmitri and attempted to place him under arrest. A look of pure rage appeared on Dmitri’s face as he pulled out a small knife from under his sweater and managed to stab one of the police officers before another officer knocked him out with a blow to the head.
That monster had slept in my house. I slowly turned to leave, and pulled out my phone to check the time. I saw nine missed calls from my wife. I remember a feeling of pure dread wash over me. I stood there, frozen in place. My wife had never called my phone so many times before. She knew that I turned it on silent when out on business, and would wait until I returned the first missed call. The detective tapped me on the shoulder, and the expression on his face told me everything.
He took me back to his office and I collapsed into his seat. I didn’t want to hear what he had to say. To delay him I asked for a cup of coffee. He came back, closed the door, and said, “Your oldest daughter…”
I stifled a sob.
He continued, “Your oldest daughter was found hanging from the ceiling this morning by your wife. It wasn’t suicide. Her hands were bound behind her back. Dmitri is obviously the main suspect, but we have no idea how he managed to hoist up your daughter who is more than twice his size.”
I took a leave of absence from work for an entire year to deal with the aftermath. I went to Dmitri’s trial. I tried to get them to sentence him as an adult, but they wouldn’t listen to me when I told him that he is not a child. Some bullshit about him being too young to know what he was doing. They conveniently ignored the psychiatric and intelligence tests which showed that he had cognitive abilities better than most adults. I suspect that the Russian authorities knew exactly what Dmitri was capable of, and that they used the international adoption system to push their deadly problem on to someone else.
Dmitri turns twenty-one tomorrow, and will be released from the high security psychiatric hospital he has been held at. I am getting the hell out of New York City, and pray the police keep a close eye on him.