After suffering financial difficulties
at his software company, AnimaTek, he murdered his wife Elena Fedotova
(38) and their son Peter (12) then committed suicide. Shortly before his
death, Pokhilko penned a note, possibly a suicide note, which read:
A desperate, semi-incoherent note
written by the Palo Alto software engineer who police believe last year
killed his wife and son before slashing his own throat reveals a
tormented man on the brink of collapse.
"I've been eaten alive. Vladimir. Just remember that
I am exist. The davil," read the note, according to Sgt. Scott Wong of
the Palo Alto Police Department.
The note, found on the desk in the study of Vladimir
Pokhilko's Palo Alto home, is not being classified by police as a
suicide letter, said Wong, who supervised a team of investigators who
combed through the bloody scene for clues and painstakingly researched
all possible motives for the brutal slayings.
"There are different interpretations of what the note
means," Wong said. "But any interpretation of the person writing the
note is that they were under some stress." The note was sent to the FBI
Crime Lab for analysis.
Pokhilko's body was found Sept. 22 by a close family
friend lying next to his son's bed with his throat deeply slashed and
holding an 8-inch hunting knife. The friend, who stumbled onto the
tragic scene on Ferne Avenue, frantically called the police after also
discovering that both Pokhilko's wife, Elena Fedotova, 38, and their 12-year
old son had been bludgeoned and stabbed to death while apparently
sleeping in their beds.
Police continue to believe Pokhilko, 44, was driven
to despair by financial uncertainties faced by his San Francisco-based
company, AnimaTek, which specializes in 3-D animation graphics software.
Palo Alto police last week sent a 200-page report on
the crime to the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office for
review. A response from the district attorney should be in by the end of
the week, Wong said.
The police consider their investigation closed. The
district attorney's office, however, may not agree with the conclusion
that the crime was a double-murder suicide, or they may have unanswered
questions for police, Wong said.
The case will be officially closed only when the
district attorney makes a final determination, he said. "We found
nothing in our investigation that contradicts our original belief that
the crime was a double-murder suicide," Wong said.
"We looked at all possible angles," he said. "There
were no signs of forced entry, nothing was taken as far as we could tell,
and there were no signs of a struggle."
PALO ALTO -- WHILE HE WRESTLED with
the financial difficulties of his San Francisco-based software company,
Vladimir Pokhilko watched from the sidelines as business associates and
friends readied the lucrative relaunch of Tetris, the world's most
popular video game.
Apparently pushed to the edge, Pokhilko - president
of AnimaTek, a San Francisco-based software design company - brutally
murdered his 39-year-old wife, Elena Fedotova, and their 12-year-old
son, Peter Pokhilko, before killing himself, police said Wednesday.
A business associate said Pokhilko had been wrestling
with company problems brought on, in part, by the economic upheaval in
Russia, where 70 of AnimaTek's 82 employees work.
Adding to those pressures, said Henk Rogers, who
helped found AnimaTek in 1988, was a push to get more financing to
create software that would yield "Hollywood-type" computer effects.
"We were in the middle of raising money," said Rogers.
"It was nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing that we
couldn't see past the end of."
But sometime Monday night, in the family's home on
the 400 block of Ferne Avenue in southern Palo Alto, Pokhilko killed his
family and then himself, police believe. Pokhilko hit Fedotova, a
popular yoga instructor, and Peter, a seventh-grader, with a hammer, and
repeatedly stabbed them with a hunting knife, apparently as they lay
Then he stabbed himself once in the throat with the
knife, police said.
"It's unfathomable that someone would do this to
themselves and a child," said Palo Alto police spokeswoman Tami Gage.
A close family friend called police at 3:30 p.m.
Tuesday, after he arrived at the family home, having failed in repeated
attempts to reach the family by phone.
The pajama-clad bodies of Fedotova and Peter were
found in their beds by police. There was no sign of a struggle,
indicating they may have been sleeping when they were attacked.
Pokhilko's body was found in Peter's room, with the
hunting knife in his hand, police said.
Along with the knife, police recovered the hammer
believed to have been used in the attacks, and they found a note.
Investigators would not release its contents.
"Not a suicide note"
"It is not a suicide note," Gage said. "We don't even
know who wrote the note or how significant it might be."
Wednesday, the community was reeling from the
Flags at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School, where
Peter was a student, flew at half-staff. And during the day, about 40 of
his classmates placed a makeshift memorial of poster board in front of
the family house. The poster board carried messages such as "In loving
memory of Peter" and was covered with signatures of classmates and
Meanwhile, more was learned about Pokhilko, 43, whose
firm, AnimaTek, emerged from a partnership formed in Moscow more than a
decade ago with Rogers and Russian computer scientist Alexey Pajitnov,
who invented the video game Tetris in 1985.
Pajitnov based Tetris, which entails lining up stacks
of blocks as they drop to the bottom of a computer screen, on an ancient
Roman puzzle called Pentamino.
Pokhilko, a Russian clinical psychologist and a
longtime friend of Pajitnov's, had been experimenting with using puzzles
as psychological tests when Pajitnov first showed him his invention,
Mass appeal of puzzle
Pokhilko immediately saw the mass appeal of the
puzzle and convinced Pajitnov it would make a great computer game. But
in 1986, before the game was published, Soviet authorities demanded that
Pajitnov sign over all rights to the game.
Later, Pokhilko and Pajitnov teamed to create other
digital diversions, including El-Fish, a virtual aquarium.
In a 1996 Examiner interview, Pajitnov said he had
acquiesced to the Soviet demand to sign over the rights of Tetris
because he feared reprisals.
"I would have been in prison for sure had I gone
directly to Nintendo," Pajitnov said. "I would have had to be a
dissident and possibly be cheated for everything anyway. So it wasn't
During the 10 years the Soviet government brokered
deals with Nintendo, Atari and other video-game makers, Pajitnov lost an
estimated $40million in royalties.
One of those who brokered the largest license
agreement was Rogers, whose Japan-based Bullet Proof Software locked in
the rights to sell Tetris to its largest market, the hand-held gaming-device
"That was the biggest market for Tetris," Rogers said.
"That's what made the game huge."
Rights revert to inventor
In 1996, the Soviet restrictions expired and Tetris
rights reverted to inventor Pajitnov, who, at Roger's urging, had
immigrated to the United States five years earlier with Pokhilko.
Rogers had helped the pair open AnimaTek
International Inc., a software development company creating computer-generated
terrains and characters for the gaming industry. Pokhilko became
president of the company. Rogers was the chairman and largest
But two years ago, when the Soviet rights to Tetris
expired, Rogers said, he formed the Tetris Co., which bought the rights
to the game from Pajitnov, leaving Pokhilko out of the loop.
Rogers also launched Blue Planet Software, which he
said was to publish the next-generation Tetris computer games, including
versions that would allow players to conduct Tetris matches over the
The new version is expected to be a big hit.
"There's a lot of anticipation around (the new Tetris),"
said Cindy Blair, publisher of the San Francisco-based Game Developer
magazine. "It's huge. It's one of the biggest games, ever."