Murder Case a Mystery Due to Doctor-patient Confidentiality

Vladimir Piniov, a homeless alcoholic from Bat Yam, is perhaps one of the most prolific serial killers in Israeli history. Piniov was to have stood trial for the murder of three homeless men, but at the outset of his trial at the end of April, he committed suicide.

Amit Ben Aroya
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Amit Ben Aroya

Vladimir Piniov, a homeless alcoholic from Bat Yam, is perhaps one of the most prolific serial killers in Israeli history. Piniov was to have stood trial for the murder of three homeless men, but at the outset of his trial at the end of April, he committed suicide. Recently it transpired that a few weeks before killing himself, he told a prison service psychiatric team that he had murdered two other people. The team did not hand over this information to the police despite the fact that it could have proved crucial to solving a murder case.

Piniov came to Israel from Russia with his wife in 1993, but within a few months she escaped to a hostel for abused women. Police investigations later revealed that he had threatened to murder her several times.

A few years after arriving here, Piniov, who had lived in the Ramat Hanassi neighborhood of Bat Yam, became homeless and built himself a make-shift shack in the dunes around Bat Yam, near the old industrial area. In 1998 he underwent a psychiatric evaluation at the city's Abarbanel hospital. Doctors diagnosed him as "a schizophrenic in a psychotic state." They said he refused to be hospitalized or to receive treatment, but there were no grounds for coerced hospitalization.

In the indictment served against him at Tel Aviv District Court six months ago, Piniov was accused of strangling to death another homeless man, Nikolai Grasimov, some time in the winter of 1999 and burying him in the dunes with the assistance of Alexei Artmanov, whom he allegedly murdered several months later and buried with the assistance of a man known as "buratino" (Pinocchio in Russian). He was also accused of strangling to death Viatslav Shwartz, another homeless man, in July 2000 during an argument between the two.

After investigating the murders, detectives were left with two unanswered questions. The first was connected to Piniov's testimony that he had seen the bones of a woman buried in the dunes, and the second was the whereabouts of "buratino." Piniov clamed that "buratino" had gone to Eilat after helping to bury Artmanov, but the police believe he also was murdered by Piniov.

Piniov's attorney said his client expressed no remorse for his deeds claiming he had commited the murders because of threats on his territory.

At the beginning of this year, a prison service's psychiatric team spent over a month putting together an evaluation to determine whether Piniov was fit to stand trial. In a 10-page document, the team ruled that, "at the time of the deeds attributed to him, Piniov knew the difference between wrong and right... and was responsible for his actions."

After Piniov committed suicide, a member of the psychiatric team which examined the suspect told Superintendent Itzhak Getanio, the head of the Ayalon division's investigation team, that Piniov had admitted to another two murders in addition to the three for which he was indicted. Apparently, Piniov even identified the victims.

The Health Ministry refused to tell Ha'aretz the victims' names, but police investigators also did not receive the information.

The police and the Health Ministry are in dispute over the psychiatric team's duty to report such information to the police. The Health Ministry believes the psychiatric team acted correctly. "In his report, the examining doctor passed on to the police information discovered during the examination. It later transpired that this information was already known to the police," said a ministry spokesman.

The statement is somewhat odd, considering that although the police suspected Piniov of involvement in two other murders, it had no evidence while the psychiatric report contained actual confessions. The spokesman said that the examining doctor hands over information at his or her discretion based on the law and doctor-patient confidentiality.

Commander Danny Chen, head of the Ayalon District, countered that in the case of murder, there is no room for doubt, and the psychiatric team should have reported Piniov's confession. Prof. Menachem Amir from the Institute of Criminology at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem said that in this case, doctor-patient confidentiality did not apply.

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