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The Grand Theft Auto Killers

One of the most horrific killing sprees under Putin was also one of the most mystifying, giving rise to explosive rumors of high-level cover-ups and terrible vengeance.

"These killers aren't just some crazies. They are far too well-organized and professional."
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Updated | It was a daring escape plan, one that started in the elevator of a Moscow courthouse. On August 1, two Russian police officers were leading five murder suspects to a court hearing. But as the elevator ascended, investigators say, one suspect—his hands cuffed in front of him—began to choke an officer from behind, while his fellow defendants swiftly disarmed the other.

Clutching their newly acquired weapons, the men burst out of the elevator on the third floor of the courthouse and began firing at members of Russia’s National Guard, but the state security force quickly overwhelmed the prisoners. Three suspects were killed in the gun battle; another two suffered serious injuries, and one would later die in a Moscow hospital. Russian television soon aired footage of the suspects lying in pools of their own blood. “Is that one alive or dead?” said an off-camera voice, as security officers stood guard over the crime scene.

The five men who attempted to escape that afternoon had all been charged with a spate of brutal murders on the highways around Moscow . It was one of the most horrific killing sprees in Russia under Vladimir Putin. It was also one of the most mystifying, giving rise to explosive rumors of high-level cover-ups and terrible vengeance. Almost three years on, the rumors just won’t go away—and with good reason.

Corpses on the Highway

Investigators say the killings began on May 3, 2014, when Anatoly Lebedev and his wife, Tatiana, both in their 60s, were driving south on the M4, a 950-mile-long highway that winds south from Moscow through Russia’s agricultural heartland. It was dark, and they had been traveling for around an hour when Anatoly, at the wheel of the couple’s car, realized one of his tires was deflating. He pulled over to check it out and discovered a hole. As he was taking a tire jack out of the trunk, at least two gunmen appeared, firing four shots from two 9 mm handguns, killing Anatoly where he

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