Order of knights becomes murder gang

  • 2001-03-22
  • Ilze Arklina
VENTSPILS - A gang of five young men, two of them members of a self-styled society of ancient knights, confessed to the kidnapping and murder of a 15-year-old boy in the western Latvian port city of Ventspils on March 13. Three later confessed to another murder.

The cruelty and senselessness of the crimes shocked locals.

"The murder shattered the city and people are talking about it with indignation," Edite Melgalve, the editor of the Ventspils city newspaper Ventas Balss, told The Baltic Times.

Ranging in age from 17 to 24, the five were detained 12 hours after police found a body covered with sand in a roadside ditch near the Ventspils-Uzava road, some 200 kilometers west from Riga.

The teen disappeared March 9, and his stepfather alerted authorities three days later after receiving a call from a man demanding 20,000 lats ($32,000) in ransom. The victim was already dead at the time of the phone call, Ventspils police chief Anatolijs Dzelzkalejs told BNS. The men had tortured the boy, hit him with a rock on the head and buried him alive, according to police.

The five men confessed, explaining that the parents of the victim "had come into large money," the police official said.

The police chief said four out of the five gang members could face a maximum sentence of life in prison. The fifth, because he is only 17, would face 10 years.

"The detainees are a serious group of murderers, who had already committed several other grave crimes, and we are going to prove it," Dzelzkalejs said.

That afternoon the "knights" confessed to murdering a fellow knight of the Curonia Order last November.

The men said they had killed the Curonian member, 24, because they had had differences. Until the confession the man was considered as missing. On March 13 the police found his body buried in a forest.

The 10-member Curonia Order, whose members in an open letter to the media March 13 strongly denounced the murder and extended their apologies to the victim's parents, announced it dissolved as of March 19.

However, many people in Ventspils said the crimes of a few members should not taint the entire order.

"Our activities have always been directed at the promotion of history studies, not at propagating the cult of violence and physical force," the letter by the Curonia members read.

The Curonia Order re-enacts medieval battles with wooden broadswords and armor, organizes hikes and claims to follow rigorous rules of living dating back to medieval knights.

However, specialists do not consider such activities innocent.

"The demonstration of violence and superiority is typical in similar unions," Latvian criminologist Andrejs Vilks told The Baltic Times.

His research looks into similar groups in Russia, Ukraine and Italy, some of them criminal and all of which have in common a misinterpreted code of honor, sense of fraternity, as well as a tendency toward violence, he said.

"In the Ventspils case, this tendency revealed itself as theatrical battles," Vilks said.

The tradition of knighthood has been revived in Latvia contrary to the local tradition, Vilks said. Medieval Latvians had never been knights, as their philosophy was completely different.

"Knights were conquerors, while ancient Latvians defended their land and their families," he stressed.

Ventspils residents openly embraced the order, allowing it to train and store its self-made weapons in the city museum, Melgalve noted. However, the museum has suspended the order from its premises until it gets an official registration by the city's authorities. Soon after their announcement the order announced its dissolution.

Another order of knights is reviving the medieval traditions in the castle of Cesis, a town in eastern Latvia.

The order members' violent tendencies have not emerged on their own, Melgalve believes, and authorities should look for their root in their families.

Many people are particularly indignant over the crimes because the confessed killers reportedly come from respectable families, one Ventspils resident noted.

The mother of one of the killers was elected chairwoman of the local council of the small county of Targale near Ventspils on March 16, and has no plans to resign, the Latvian daily Diena reported.

"People are calling our newspaper to express their indignation over this," Melgalve said. "In the countryside, the municipal leader means everything Ð a mother and a father in one person to the local people Ð so it will be hard for her to work there."