This is a story my grandpa told me.
When he was younger, he worked with the Soviet police, the Militsiya.
He told me many stories about that time. Most of them didn’t have a happy ending. Grandpa admitted he’d done his share of bad things, but he often tried to make people’s life at least somewhat better.
It was a couple of weeks ago that I asked him what his strangest case was.
At the time he told me about a murder case. It was rather tame if you can call a murder tame. I was a bit disappointed since it wasn’t too different from his other stories.
A few days later, however, he approached me. He admitted that he’d lied. It wasn’t long before he told me what the strangest thing he’d ever experienced truly was.
It was something that he called the Prisrak Case.
It all happened in a small town called Krutchshow, in Southern Russia. It was the late fifties, a time of heavy industrialization in the Soviet Union. At the time the Soviets build what grandpa described as factory towns.
I looked up, but grandpa said, most of them are long gone and forgotten.
The principle was simple. First, look for a suitable location for factories or other production facilities. Once these were constructed, cheap living quarters for the workers were built nearby. Krutchshow was one of these towns.
The one thing that was different about Krutchshow was that the region had a history. During the time of the Russian Empire, the area was the estate of a noble family.
The old mansion still stood, but it was vacant and abandoned.
Once the factories were constructed, the old building was renovated and used as makeshift living quarters. They divided up the vast, lavish rooms into small-one room apartments and relocated the future workforce there.
The case started when an old woman arrived at grandpa’s station in Volgograd. She said she was worried about her brother. The man lived in Krutchshow to the south, but she hadn’t heard from him in months. She was too old to visit the small, distant town by herself, so she pleaded the Militsiya to find out more.
Grandpa was the one who talked to her. Krutchshow might have been hours away, but it still fell under their jurisdiction. In the end, he assured her, he’d check it out and made the long trip there.
Grandpa told me he’d heard his share about those factory towns, but he’d never seen any of them for real. Once he arrived, he saw that things were even worse than he’d imagined.
The old mansion was dirty and run-down. People lived in a state of utter poverty. They were either old or migrants from other parts of the Soviet Union that had nowhere else to go. Some weren’t even fluent in Russian.
Needless to say, many were scared when they saw a man of the Militsiya arrive. The Soviet Police had a bad reputation, and there were more than enough reasons for it. People thought grandpa was there to take them away or drive them from their home.
Once grandpa arrived, he found no trace of the man. When he asked around though, no one told him a thing. He actually had to toughen up on them a bit, he admitted with a blank expression on his face.
His first suspicion was that one of the other inhabitants had murdered the old man. He quickly learned, though, how much more there was going on.
It wasn’t just the old man that had gone missing. In the course of the past three years, he learned, more than a dozen inhabitants had vanished.
A person going missing wasn’t strange. The times were hard. People rarely had enough to eat. People running off, going missing, or dying from starvation wasn’t unheard off. A dozen people vanishing without a trace, however, was an entirely different story.
Grandpa informed the local factory overseers as well as his higher-ups in Volgograd, and soon an investigation was started.
They weren’t concerned about the people, of course. All they cared about was their production quota.
For days they questioned the people living in the old mansion, but even now, no one seemed to know a thing. Or they weren’t willing to talk.
An investigation of the building itself revealed nothing. Even consulting the blueprints brought them nowhere. They were old and shoddy.
There was one thing, however, that grandpa had heard from time to time. It was the word prisrak that people mumbled and whispered to one another. Only when they thought he wasn’t listening, though. Prisrak is Russian for ghost or phantom, grandpa said.
Whenever the Militsiya questioned the inhabitants about it, they all pretended they’d never heard about it.
It was clear that something was going on. The Militsiya made plans to move on to some stricter methods of interrogation. Then one of the factory workers finally started talking.
It was an older man, most likely in his late fifties named Dimar.
The man was as scared as anyone else, but he said someone had to talk. He asked the Militsiya for a stiff drink, to which grandpa complied after a moment.
He downed the drink in one go.
Then, cursing, he started to tell the Militsiya about the noises that haunted the building. They’d started years ago. At first, people thought it was someone messing with the other inhabitants? God knows, there’s no shortage of shady characters in the building. Yet, the longer the noises continued and the more often they could be heard, the clearer it became that something else was going on.
The nature of the noises, it was all wrong. At times it sounded like heavy steps, at others like scratching or beating against the walls. Sometimes they echoed from afar at others they seemed to come from right next to you. Occasionally, Dimar said, they originated from rooms long-vacant or empty. It didn’t matter what time of the day it was. You could hear them early in the morning one day, then in the middle of the night.
It was the older woman who first started to talk about the legend of the prisrak, Dimar said.
Whenever the noises start, people freak out. The old women are crying, and even the men are scared. Everyone thinks that the prisrak is going to get someone again.
At this point grandpa, interrupted Dimar, asking what he meant. With a scared expression, he told him that it’s always during the noises that someone vanishes.
Ever since the Militsiya came, the noises happened daily. It’s only a matter of time, the man said, till someone’s taken away again.
When grandpa asked why he didn’t leave, Dimar laughed. Where would he go? He was poor, got no money, and almost nothing to eat. It was the same for everyone else. If they left, where’d they go?
After that the man was quiet. His expression was somber. He said he was never one to believe in ghosts, but with everything that’s happened… Especially now because he talked, he couldn’t help being scared. Grandpa assured the man they’d find out what was really going on there and made sure nothing would happen to him.
It was during the next days that grandpa looked into the story of the so-called prisrak. He didn’t find much. It was nothing but an old urban legend.
The first time the prisrak is mentioned was more than a century ago. Back then, the mansion was still home to a noble family. It was said by many people that the place was haunted. Strange noises could be heard at night, and more than one servant vanished throughout the years. No one could say what the prisrak actually was. Some said it was the ghost of a serf killed by the family, while others say it’s the ghost of a disfigured family member that was locked up in the basement all his life. Yet others say it’s something much older.
It was all nonsense, of course, grandpa said. Nothing but silly ghost stories. The inhabitants, however, believed them to be true.
Grandpa had never been superstitious or religious for that matter. During his years with the Militsiya, he’d learned one thing upon everything else. The darkest and most vile things are always committed by men themselves.
Of course, he didn’t think so without reason. There was one thing that Dimar had said. The noise happened daily, ever since grandpa had arrived. They why had no one of the Militsiya members ever heard anything. It seemed that whatever, or better, whoever, was responsible, made sure none of them were around.
The plan that grandpa hatched was simple. They’d bug the place, storm in when the noises were going on and catch the perpetrator. Of course, that’s not what they told people. Instead, they said they had to do a sweep of the building, to find evidence. Their real aim, however, was to plant a handful of simple listening devices.
It wasn’t anything sophisticated, of course, but it was enough to do the trick.
Once they were done, they only had to wait. The Militsiya divide into two groups. Grandpa and a few others would enter the building, while the rest kept tight surveillance of the outside. The goal was either to catch the perpetrator inside the building or while he tried to flee the scene.
It was only a few hours after they’d installed the devices that the noises started again. They moved out right away.
The inside of the building was in an uproar. People were huddled together in the hallways. Some of the old women were crying and praying. Some of the men even went as far as to accuse the Militsiya of angering the prisrak.
It took grandpa and the rest almost half an hour to restore order. Once everyone was accounted for, they realized that one person was missing, Dimar. Grandpa immediately rushed to the man’s room but found it empty.
A search was conducted right away. Even after checking all the rooms, however, there was no trace of the man. The group outside also attested that they’d seen no one in the area or leaving the building.
For all they knew, the man had vanished into thin air. Just like all the other people who’d gone missing.
At that point, the Militsiya had enough. There was no one someone could vanish without a trace.
They’d checked the place already, but now they planned to do a complete and thorough investigation. There had to be something that could tell them what happened.
The inhabitants were swiftly evicted and put under strict surveillance in a factory warehouse nearby. Some were reluctant, but after a few threats, they fell in the rest.
They went through the building rigorously, from top to bottom. They checked each room, went through everyone’s private belongings, but there were still no hints. Worst of all, Dimar’s room showed no signs of a struggle.
The search took hours. Some started to voice their concerns, questioning if maybe there was more to the story of the prisrak. When the sun dawned, grandpa was about to give up altogether.
That’s when one of the other men noticed something. He’d been in Dimar’s room, rechecking it for what must have been the fifth time. A part of the wallpaper looked a bit strange. It was more darkened than the rest and seemed to hang loosely in front of the brickwork below.
At first, he thought it was due to the buildings lousy condition. When he went closer, though, he noticed something. It wasn’t just the wallpaper that looked a bit strange. The brickwork behind it also didn’t look normal. Part of it looked different from the rest as if it didn’t belong to the wall.
The moment the man touched it, he noticed that he could move it. At that moment he called out to the rest.
They removed the loose part of the wall, and a small entry to the room next door was revealed. At least that’s what they thought they’d found.
When one of them tried to squeeze through, he found himself somewhere else, in a space between the walls.
At this point, another member of the group left the room to compare the inner and outer length of the two rooms. He came to the conclusion that the wall between the rooms had to be almost a meter wide.
They were all equally puzzled and consulted the old blueprints, but the shoddy notes didn’t say anything about the width of the walls. What they learned, however, was that this wall had been part of the original mansion. Sure, a lot of new walls had been added to divide the building, but the old walls were still there.
When they entered the space between the walls, they were even more surprised. It wasn’t a hole, no, it turned out to be a tunnel that continued on for the whole length of the wall. It was easily half a meter wide, which allowed more than enough space for a human being to pass through.
While they explored the tunnel, they found that similar tunnels stretched on through all the walls of the original mansion. There were also more of the secret entryways all over the building. From outside, those were almost invisible and blocked off to make entry impossible.
At this point, it was clear what had caused the noise. It must’ve been someone moving through these tunnels.
When checking out these other, additional tunnels, they found more things. There was an old mattress, stacked between the walls, a chair, and a table and even an improvised cooking area.
It didn’t take them long before they stumbled upon Dimar’s corpse. The cause of death was strangulation, but the man also showed a head wound, caused by a blunt object.
It was clear what must’ve happened. Whoever had been inside the walls must’ve entered Dimar’s room in the middle of the night. Then beat him unconscious, dragged him into the walls, and strangulated him.
Grandpa was quiet for a moment. He’d promised the man they’d make sure he was safe, yet they’d done nothing.
The investigation of the wall tunnels took hours. Ladders connected them to similar tunnels on the second floor, and even entrances to the attic and the basement were found.
Finally, they also stumbled upon a stack of old, rotten clothes and various other items. It didn’t take them long to discern what they’d found. It must’ve been the belongings of the people who’d gone missing throughout the years. They all must’ve suffered a fate similar to that of Dimar. One thing puzzled the Militsiya though, no remains, except those of Dimar, were ever found.
The investigation went on for weeks, but even after harsher methods of… questioning, the perpetrator was never discovered. The only thing they knew was that it must’ve been one of the inhabitants. There were secret entrances to the wall tunnels all over the building, but none of them led outside. So after the perpetrator had murdered Dimar, he must’ve left the tunnels and mixed in with the rest of the inhabitants.
Grandpa said that if they’d more time, they might have figured out who it was. Regrettably, though, the higher-ups didn’t seem to care much about the case. It didn’t matter to them if a handful of workers or migrants died.
In the end, the old mansion was demolished, and people were relocated into a newer, more modern building. Grandpa and the rest left Krutchshow behind and returned to Volgograd.
Grandpa said the case bothered him for years. It wasn’t because people had died, it wasn’t even Dimar’s death, it was something else he’d realized.
There had been a routine to the murders. A person was only killed every few months.
At first, I didn’t know what he was trying to say, but then he reminded me what they’d found in the walls and what they didn’t.
There was a reason for the cooking area, and there was a reason they’d never found any remains.
It was indeed a terrible time, grandpa said, shaking his head and it was indeed an impoverished area.