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7 May, 2013 17:44

‘Mentally abnormal’ inmate escapes Moscow prison 'using spoon’

An inmate charged with two counts of murder has escaped from one of Russia’s oldest and most famous detention centers through a hole in the ceiling. The escapee may have only used a spoon in his jailbreak, a police source said.

Moscow’s Matrosskaya Tishina prison has seen just a handful of escapes in its history. Oleg Topalov, a 33-year-old from Sochi, may have outdone them all in sheer effortlessness: He allegedly used only a piece of tableware to escape.

Early Tuesday morning, the prison’s guards discovered that Topalov, an inmate in an eight-person cell, was missing. Accused of two murders and illegal arms trafficking, Topalov was characterized as “mentally abnormal and liable to escape” by the prison staff.

Having been detained for a year and a half, he was scheduled to appear in court soon, but made his escape before the hearings could begin.

According to Federal Penitentiary Service spokesperson Sergey Tsygankov, Topalov “expanded the vent of an air-shaft with the help of some item.” He then climbed up the vent to the prison’s roof, and left the facility undetected.

Oleg Topalov (Photo from www.fsin.su)

The only item suitable for the job that Topalov would have had in his possession was “a table-spoon,” a police source speculated, according to Interfax. The inmates are “routinely searched” for items they are not allowed to have, the source added.

While the police search for the escapee within the city and Moscow region, investigators have opened an inquiry into possible dereliction of duty among prison staff.

Matrosskaya Tishina comprises a set of detention buildings surrounded by a high barbed-wire wall in one of the capital’s residential areas. Some of the prison’s pre-trial facilities have held high-profile detainees such as Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Sergey Magnitsky.

The prison opened at the end of the 18th century, making it one of the oldest detention centers in Russia. Matrosskaya Tishina’s current buildings were built about 100 years ago, which is one of the reasons Topalov succeeded in his escape, according to Russian Federal Penitentiary Service representative Kristina Belousova.

"Because of the building being run-down, Topalov had no difficulty in widening the vent of the air-shaft, through which he got to the prison’s roof. Using sheets tied one to another he managed to go down the wall, then jump over the fence and run away,” Belousova told RIA Novosti.

Most of the inmates who attempted to escape Matrosskaya Tishina before Topalov used brute force to smash the facility’s brick walls. They were all later detained.

The most successful escape that the jail has seen took place in 1995, puzzling the authorities and causing a big stir in the media. Notorious hitman Aleksandr Solonik made use of an accomplice in the junior police who infiltrated the prison guards’ ranks and smuggled him some mountain-climbing equipment. Both escaped with the help of a 20-meter long cord thrown over the jail’s wall. Solonik was never seen in Russia again, but two years later reports of his death emerged in Greece.