К истории преследования российских помещиков за жестокое обращение с крепостными: инициирование дела Салтычихи (1757‒1763 гг.)
This article examines the legal cases and petitions about the crimes of Darya Saltykova, the most famous serial killer in eighteenth-century Russia. From the mid-1750s to 1762, Saltykova murdered and maimed serfs in her Moscow mansion at the intersection of Sretenka and Kuznetsky Most streets, as well as in the village of Troitskoye near Moscow. According to testimonies, Saltykova murdered 75 serfs, whereas the court found her guilty of 45 murders. The imperial decree of 1768 deprived Saltykova of nobility and the family name, after which contemporaries took to calling her “Saltychikha”. The chronological framework of my study covers the period of 1757‒1763, when at least 22 cases of crimes committed by the “Bloody Lady” were initiated and that preceded the centralised investigation at the Collegium of Justice. This article shows how and when the complainants got the authorities to react to the landlady’s atrocities. Achieving this goal will make it possible to understand better why Darya Saltykova evaded justice for many years. The research refers to legal cases related to the murders committed by Salytchikha. The unpublished cases are stored in the collections of the Russian State Archive of Ancient Acts (RGADA). The sources consist of the serfs’ complaints, decrees of Catherine II, reports and decrees of the Senate, reports, references, extracts from the interrogation protocols, as well as opinions prepared by the Collegium of Justice, office correspondence. In the text of the article, I reconstruct the chronology of petitions and investigative proceedings
against Darya Saltykova. I analysed the practices of sending complaints to courts, as well as the narratives presented by petitioners and officials during the investigation. The serfs, a priest and a nobleman ‒ more than 60 people ‒ filed 20 complaints charging the landlady with beatings, assassinations and attempted murders. Additionally, 7 girls who had died from beatings by Darya Saltykova were examined in different Moscow institutions. The petitions filed between 1757 and 1763, as well as medico-legal autopsy reports did not initiate full-scale investigations. However, during this period a body of evidence developed to support the subsequent murderer’s conviction. After the serfs’ appeals to Catherine II, a radical change occurred in the process leading to the house arrest, interrogation and punishment of the notorious noblewoman. I conclude that the serfs’ complaints, as well as the monarch’s control over the investigation, were of key importance in initiating the case. Three points could explain why the investigation started late and why it was protracted: lack of legislation, lack of complaints, and indifference of the officials and victims’ neighbours.