Born in the Soviet Ukraine in 1948, Rita Shapiro grew up in poverty, seeking a way out. She found that means through education and while in university, she met a brilliant man named Yokov Gluzman. Upon graduation, the pair married and made plans to emigrate to Israel, however there was an obstacle in their path: the Soviet government refused to allow Jews to emigrate, preferring to keep them captive in the science and military industries. Rita and Yokov became refusniks, or active Soviet Jews who fought for the right to leave the USSR. In 1970, Rita became pregnant and she got permission to leave, but the Soviets refused to release Yokov. In 1971, Rita staged a one-woman hunger strike in front of the United Nations in New York to invoke their power in helping Yokov escape the USSR. It worked and Yokov emigrated to Israel.
Clearly, Rita was a driven , passionate woman. She re-united with her husband in Israel and in 1977 they emigrated to the United States to live out their lives. Yokov made $180,000.00 a year as a cancer researcher at Cold Spring Laboratory on Long Island. Rita was only too happy to spend Yokov’s money as quickly as he made it. She adorned herself in mink coats, jewelry, bought herself a BMW. Whatever she wanted, she bought. In the 1980s Rita and Yokov purchased a two-storey colonial home in Upper Saddle, New Jersey. Their son was now grown and out of the house and the friction in the Gluzman marriage began to increase.
Yokov wasn’t a man who preferred to flaunt his wealth. Even so, by 1989, their net worth was in the millions. Yokov bought a small computer company called ECI Technology for Rita to manage. She managed to run it into the ground. Rita continued to spend thousands of dollars a month on spa treatments, make up and clothing. Yokov spent a considerable amount of time with a young Israeli microbiologist named Reisa Karnblit. In 1995, Yokov announced his plans to divorce Rita and move to Israel with Reisa. Not surprisingly, Rita went bezerk. She was so invested in Yokov’s lifestyle and identity in America that she couldn’t picture him leaving her with another woman.
That autumn, Yokov moved to a small apartment in New York near his laboratory. He left his bitter wife $90,000.00 until divorce proceedings were underway. In less than a month, Rita had spent every penny. Rita hired detectives to follow and photograph Yokov and Reisa, but Yokov still refused to end his affair. He also refused to give up ECI Technology, which, in spite of her poor management of the business, Rita believed belonged to her. By 1996, New Jersey’s no-fault divorce law allowed for a divorce, but Yokov and Rita had not reached a financial settlement. Finally in April 1996, Yokov relented and offered Rita the bulk of their estate, being $1,500,000.00. Rita claimed she needed time to mull that one over, as she felt the generous amount wouldn’t keep her in the “manner to which she was accustomed.”
April 7, 1996, a patrol officer in East Rutherford, New Jersey, witnessed a tall, bearded man throwing garbage bags into the river. The man’s right hand was bleeding heavily. The policeman checked inside the trunk of the man’s car and found more garbage bags. One bag held an axe, scalpel and a hacksaw. The second held shoes and bloodied clothing. The third bag held the nasty remains of a human being. In the river, more body parts were recovered. Detectives tried to question the subject, Vladimir Zelenin, but he didn’t speak much English. They traced the car back to Rita Gluzman.
The medical examiner was unsure how many bodies she was piecing together. Zalenin burst into tears and confessed it was Yokov Gluzman. Through an interpreter that he was a physicist and had been in the U.S. for only a year and a half. Then he dropped a bombshell: Rita Gluzman was his cousin. Rita had manipulated Zelenin into believing that a divorce from Yokov would destroy ECI Technology, where Zelenin was working. On Easter Eve, she and Zelenin hid in Yokov’s apartment and ambushed him with an axe. Zelenin accidentally cut his right hand in the attack, explaining the gash and bleeding. Zelenin then dragged Yokov’s body to the bathtub and dismembered it, using the hacksaw and axe.
When asked why Zelenin chopped up Yokov into 67 pieces, Zelenin’s practical answer was, “Yokov big man! Too big to get out door in one piece!” Rita and Zelenin placed Yokov’s body parts in the trunk of Zelenin’s car, then drove to a drug store to get bandages for Zelenin’s hand.Police charged Zelenin with murder. Security cameras at the pharmacy showed Rita buying bandages. Police believed Zelenin’s story to be true with the exception of Yokov’s apartment. it was pristine and there was no sign that a murder had taken place. Most importantly, there was no evidence that Rita had ever been in the apartment. In fact Rita had disappeared and police began to suspect that Zelenin had killed her too.
Rumours abounded that Rita had flown to Russia. Midday, April 12, 1996, Rita Gluzman relaxed in front of a fire in a guest cottage at Long Island’s Cold Spring Labs. She had a ticket to Switzerland, a travel guide and airline information. Soon, Rita believed, she would be on her way. But the sound of a key in the lock belonging to a house cleaner, caused her to bolt out of her seat and out of the cottage. Security called police arrested her on the spot. Rita had changed her appearance, including her hair colour, clothing and makeup. At the police station, Rita told police that the Russian Mafia had killed her husband. The problem now facing police was that under New York law, a witness’s word was not enough to convict a defendant of murder. There had to be physical evidence and the police had been unable to find any. The bottom line was that the D.A. didn’t have a case.
Rita was held without bond for trespassing in Cold Spring Labs while police tried to determine evidence against her. The D.A. found another option: The Violence Against Women Act. April 18, 1996, Rita was charged with crossing state lines to abuse a spouse. She was the first woman in the U.S. ever to be accused of this charge. Rita’s lawyer argued the prosecution couldn’t prove Rita’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Ultimately, it was Zelenin’s testimony that would put Rita in jail for her husband’s murder. He walked the jury step by step through Yokov’s slaughter. The jury was riveted. Zelenin hacked the back of Yokov’s head with the axe. Rita began stabbing her husband with a knife so furiously that she nearly cut off Zelenin’s fingers.
A drugstore clerk identified Rita as the agitated woman who bought bandages early that morning. Rita couldn’t control her own behaviour: she sobbed, “fainted”, glowered and snarled epithets at witnesses. No one was surprised when Rita was found guilty on all charges. Zelenin turned to Rita and snarled, “fuck you, bitch!” April 30, Rita was sentenced to life in prison, without the possibility of parole.