The U.S. Marine forces trained Catherine Serou to survive in combat, and she did during in the war in Afghanistan. The 6-foot-tall blonde was athletic, hard-working, intellectual, an artist, a photographer and studying law at a Russian university. But it was a car ride in a sleepy provincial Russian town, Bor, in the region of Nizhny Novgorod that she did not survive: after going missing on Tuesday, her body was found in the woods this weekend. The car’s driver, 43-year-old Aleksey Popov, stands accused of her murder.
Serou went missing on the eve of a summit between President Biden and President Vladimir Putin. The fate of two other former U.S. Marines detained in Russia came up at the meeting, giving the timing of her disappearance a hint of politics, and a hope she might be still alive and under arrest. Instead, it was a crime story. Not long before the tragedy, Serou told her mother she had made up her mind to stay and live in Russia. “She enjoyed Nizhny Novgorod so much, she loved her life in a Russian family, her friends at the University,” her mother, Becci Serou, told The Daily Beast in a phone interview.
Becci Serou expected her daughter’s call on Tuesday. They were supposed to build a website together for Catherine’s business, where she taught English. But after 7 pm Moscow time, Becci was not able to reach her daughter on the phone. “I came out of my own class and found a message from Catherine, it said: ‘In a car with a stranger. I hope I’m not being abducted,’” Becci said. “I realized she had sent me that note 40 minutes before I found it. I tried to reach her but her phone was off. Later police tracked her phone in the woods near the town of Bor.”
Earlier that day, Catherine visited a beauty salon in downtown of Nizhny Novgorod, then returned home to her room in a rented apartment in the small Soviet factory town of Bor, just across the Volga river. “I could not sleep for three nights, thinking if she got away from him— her being a strong athlete, trained to survive,” the mother told The Daily Beast in an interview before police determined Catherine’s grim fate.
Thousands of miles away from her daughter, Becci was trying to reconstruct what had happened to her child in the former secret Soviet town. “It seems the salon called her complaining that the payment did not get through, so she rushed back but Uber did not come forever, the salon was about to close, so she stopped a random car—I am just imagining what had happened. Catherine is extremely careful; and that stranger must have seen her on the corner of her house before,” the mother told The Daily Beast. “I am on the phone with FBI, State Department, Moscow embassy and Russian police investigators, who have been very helpful.”
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SOURCE: The Daily Beast, Anna Nemtsova