It’s May, the height of spring. L.A. is much as it always is, that veneer of expectation that seems to hang over the city never really fades.The sun is shining, bright and hopeful, but it's not as bright as the smiles that greeted us when we met up with Trixie and Katya to record what you are about to hear. They met us at Mitya and Brian's office, a place very familiar to Trixie and a place that Katya feels safe.
This was our first time actually meeting Katya. Seeing her in person, listening to her speak, we could see what all her friends and family were trying to convey: she is stunningly magnetic.
We sat in Brian and Mitya’s living room; until then we hadn't known that the PIs actually lived in their office. Mitya told us it saves on rent, something of which he is a big supporter.
Katya and Trixie sat close together; a study in contrasts in their pinks and blacks and reds and blonde. Every now and then Katya would touch Trixie, on her knee or arm, as if assuring herself that her girlfriend was really there with her. Similarly, Trixie kept her leg pressed against Katya’s and her body turned towards her, keeping her in her eye line.
Katya’s gaze was intense, a nervous energy pervading. We’d suggested waiting to talk until she’d had more time, acclimated back into her life. But she insisted. She told us that it was better to get it out now, so she could move on. She believed in living in the present, not the past or future, and presently she had a lot of things she needed to get out.
Her voice was soft as she spoke; accented with that rasp that only accompanies someone raised in Boston.
“I wanted to thank you, for putting what happened to me out there. I haven't listened to the Podcast, but my friends that have, have told me how thorough you tried to be. Trixie thinks that you helped spur things on and I mean...I don't think I can ever adequately express in words what that means to me. You didn't know me, but you gave a damn anyway.”
We could tell that Katya wasn't sure where to start, but after we reassured her that she could go off on as many tangents as she needed to until the story was out, she seemed to steel herself, gripped Trixie’s hand and started. And here, in her own words, is the story of what happened to Katya that pivotal night and afterwards.
“I was exhausted, that's what I remember the most. That's what I kept coming back to? I hate what ifs, but this past year I kept thinking what if I hadn't been so tired? What if I had waited for another Uber or called a Taxi or been that bitch that wakes her friends up at early morning hours demanding a ride. So many what ifs...anyway. I was tired and I knew that Vi was kosher with me staying at her condo. She was always telling me, 'girl you don't even need to ask'. I had a key and everything. So I figured, I'll just walk there, it's not that far and I've done this walk before. It's well lit and I'll just be super aware of my surroundings. It felt like nothing you know? I lived on the mean streets of Boston for over a year and fuck, the things I saw there, the things that happened to me there...a late night walk down a well lit street in Los Angeles was not something that crossed my radar as alarming.
So I was walking and I was maybe about half way there when I noticed this car behind me. It was kind of coasting along, never moving up enough to pass me. At that point I knew I couldn't stop, because where was I going to go? Everything was closed and I had already passed all the bars, so my only choices were to either keep walking towards Violet's or turn around. And I thought, well maybe he thinks I’m trying to turn a trick and if I don't acknowledge the car then eventually he'll get the idea and move on. So I kept walking, but I crossed the street because I knew that the shops on that side had cameras? And if anything happened to me, it might end up on camera? Like I said I was exhausted and clearly my rationality had gone out the window. I had my phone out, ready to call 911, but I didn't think to call them yet.
I was around the corner from Violet's, and if you've seen the area, you know it's like this blind bend? And you have to cross the road. And that's when the car pulled ahead of me and stopped, and this guy got out and he stood there for a moment just staring at me. And I should have run at that moment, I know I should have. I was that blonde bimbo you yell at in the horror movies. And I didn't run. I stood there staring at him and then I said, 'if you're looking for a good time I don't do that anymore sweety'. And he reacted like I had slapped him and next thing I know this man is barreling down on me, really quickly. I fought back, of course I did...he grabbed me, was trying to pin me down and I went limp like your supposed to, and kicked him and punched him in the eye. I ran then and he tackled me from behind. I remember just reaching for any pieces of skin I could, digging my nails in and trying to push with my knees. I got him off of me by elbowing him in the chest and I remember I started screaming.
I tried to run for it again, and I think I'd lost my phone? Yeah, I’d already lost the phone. And he came after me, grabbed me again and all I could think was- and it's so stupid. But our brains react in such dynamic ways under shock or stress. All I could think was that I never texted Trixie, and she wasn't going to know where I was if he killed me and made my body disappear.
He managed to get me to the ground again and I recall biting him, really hard, when he tried to put a hand over my mouth. He had a scar there later that matched my teeth perfectly. And he kept saying, 'why are you making me hurt you Yekaterina? Why couldn't you just be my good girl...I’m going to help you'. He stuck me in the leg with something, some kind of hypodermic, and that was it...when I woke up next I was in a room with no windows.
Katya said that at first she didn't recognize the man who had taken her. For the first few days she was kept in a constant drugged state and afterwards was going through withdrawals pretty hard.
“I didn't know what was happening. He left me by myself for a day and then he came in and forced me to swallow some pills. It got pretty violent...he grabbed me by the throat and squeezed and. Yeah. All the lovely things that men do to women when they are trying to show they have all the power.
He kept me drugged for what I figure must have been about 3 to 5 days? Didn't give me any food or anything, just kept forcing me to take whatever Doctor Feel Good mix he’ d concocted. And then he took them away and I didn't know what was up and what was down. After that he would sit with me for hours...just talking at me and I don't remember much, but he said things like, now my body and mind would be pure, now I was almost ready. And he was sorry, so sorry because he never wanted to hurt me? In lucid moments I recall him holding me. Touching my hair and caressing my arms and legs while I lay there shivering. I- umm can I just go smoke for a minute? I can't talk about this part any more.
Katya went and found Mitya, and the two of them went outside to smoke while Trixie stayed with us.
“She told me that she hasn't smoked in over a year, but it comforts her now. It's something familiar; she only does it now when she's feeling stressed. She'll probably step out a few times today. I hate that she smokes, I always have, but god I missed the smell of her cigarettes when she was gone. Is that weird? It's probably one of those sense memory things...hey babe. Are you good to go?”
It took Katya a couple minutes to settle back in but once she did she told us that when she recognized Max she began to question if she could have ever avoided the whole situation.
“Like I said, I hate what ifs. I believe that whatever is true in the moment is what you need to focus on. But once I was coherent enough to realize that the person who took me was someone I had encountered a few times before? I started wondering if maybe I lead him on, or said something to him that made him snap? But I figured out pretty quickly that it was all him and it probably wouldn't have mattered if we had never spoken. He was obsessed with Me...he would tell me my life's story, but it was through rose coloured glasses. Like anything that had happened in my life, anything I had done to myself with my addictions, my choice of occupation, even my choice of partner, was all something I had to endure before he saved me.
His favourite thing was to rip into Trixie; he would say that she was using me. That she manipulated me. That she was a painted whore, who had already forgotten about me. And that I should forget about her. It made him angry when I wouldn't agree with him...he would storm off and wouldn't bring me any food or water for days. So I had to start agreeing with him, because I knew that if I was going to survive and get home to Trixie I would need anything I could get on my side. But the things he would make me say, I'm really ashamed of them...uh. Ok. Moving on.”
Katya then went on to detail how she ended up chained to the bed, as Brian and the Deputy found her on the day of her rescue.
“About maybe two or three months after he had taken me he brought me dinner one evening and he sat down to eat with me. He always did, he said that he always enjoyed eating dinner as a family. And this particular night he had brought a pitcher of wine with him; it was one of those old crystal ones. The real heavy kind, like your great aunt would have for Sunday dinner? And for whatever reason something in me said, bitch, if you don't pick that pitcher up and smack him one and make a run for it then you are just giving up. So I picked it up before he could, and I threw the thing at him and just booked it for the door. He always left the door to the room slightly open when he came to see me. I ran out of that room and up the stairs and to the first door that I saw ...which was of course locked down and needed a key to open. So I went for the front door, and I had it open, and that's when he caught up to me. And he slammed my head into the wall, and then scooped me up and carried me back downstairs, and he was ranting the whole time. About how I was ungrateful, and couldn't I see that I belonged with him? Hadn't he treated me better than anyone else ever had in my life? The next day I woke up to him fitting a chain around my ankle. And he said, 'this is for your own good Yekaterina. Everything I do is for your own good and I promise one day you'll see that my Russian Dolly'.
Katya spent most of her days alone and this gave her a lot of time to think. To keep herself from getting too lost in the bleakness of her situation,she would try to remember in detail an event from her life: the time she fell out of a tree when she was seven and broke her arm, or the first time she had met Trixie or the first night she performed at the Club. Sometimes she focused on remembering things like the words to all of the songs Trixie had written in their years together, or the plots of books she had been forced to read in middle school, or the entire sequence of every Michelle Pfeiffer movie to date. She mediated and she did yoga...as best as she could with a chain around her ankle. She says she mapped the whole room out, knew every square inch of it from the door to the bathroom. She knew how many tiles lined the shower stall and that none of them could be pried loose to use as a weapon. She knew how many steps she had to take to go from the bed to bathroom or from the bed to the dresser or chair.
She tried to remind herself that life was waiting for her outside the walls of her prison. She never lost hope that Trixie would do everything in her power to find her.
“At night, I would lay in that bed and I would pray. I’m not religious, but I believe in sending your intentions out into the world. And I would lay there and think, please let me have the strength to get through this until I’m found or get away. Please give Trixie the strength she’ll need to fight to find me. Please let my Mama and Papa know that I will do whatever I have to, to get back to them. I never doubted that I had people that would look for me. But the more time passed, the harder it was to believe that they would be looking for a living person and not a body.
On the nights when he would stay with me in the room, I would stare at the wall and tell myself that this was not the end of me. That whatever was happening to me on a daily basis would not be something that I couldn't get past. That I just had to stay alive.
There were a lot of times I thought he might kill me.Times when I wouldn't comply with what he wanted. I never knew what was going to happen when he walked in that room. Some nights he wanted to talk, he would tell me about his past, about growing up as a foster child after his parents died. And some nights he wanted other things, and if I didn't let him, if I didn't give in and give my consent he would...I’m sorry, can we take another break?”
Katya and Trixie both left the room and were gone for a long time. It was clear that speaking about her time as a captive, and the assaults that took place during,was starting to get to be too much for them both and we were going to suggest that we regroup another day, but after about an hour they came back in. It was obvious that they both had been crying and the smell of cigarettes hung over them like a cheap perfume. But they assured us that Katya was OK to finish her story.
“Eventually he started to refer to me as his wife. I don't remember the first time he said it, but he did start saying it all the time. He would say how happy we were going to be and he hoped that our children had my eyes. It was all highly delusional, full-on psychosis. But it was terrifying. He would tell me how he wanted to move us out of California, that he thought I might like it better in the Midwest. I don't know how he planned on transporting me, but I know that it was coming soon and if I hadn't been found when I was, that he would have enacted whatever plan he’d come up with.
That last evening he had only been in the room with me for a couple minutes and he was asking me what I wanted for dinner, like I had a choice, when there was a knock on the door upstairs. At first he ignored it, but it just kept coming, so he finally went to see what the person wanted. And he left the door to the room open. I couldn't hear what was going on upstairs, but I knew that this was probably my last chance and I hoped that whoever was at that door could hear me. So I started screaming.”
Katya said that everything seemed to happen so quickly after that. Max came hurtling back downstairs, a large kitchen knife in his hand, and began yelling at her, calling her an ungrateful slut and saying that he had no choice now. He couldn't let her go. He grabbed her and pressed the knife to her throat, using her smaller body as a shield. The Deputy then appeared through the door, gun out, and was shortly followed by Brian.
“It was all so surreal. He was yelling, the Deputy was trying to get him to let me go, but I knew there would be no reasoning with him. I was either going to live and be free or die that night. I remember looking at Brian and thinking, this one looks like he can stay calm and act fast. And I brought my foot up and kicked back as hard as I could. I didn't expect Brian to throw himself over me or for him to stab Brian...I don't know what I expected to happen but it wasn't that. And sitting there, holding my hand to Brian's side while he bled, because of me? And then he's the one reassuring me that everything is going to be fine? It was too much. I didn't know what to feel or think. Brian started telling me about who he was and how Trixie had hired him and his husband to find me and he said…'I'm honored to finally meet you Katya'. And I'm pretty sure I blacked out after that. I don't remember talking to Mitya or being taken to the hospital. It didn't even hit me until much later that he...that Max was dead.”
The doctors and nurses at the hospital performed various tests on Katya, and took photos of all her bruises and scars. They told her she was in surprisingly good health for someone who hadn't seen the sun in over a year. A nurse helped her wash her hair and found her some sweatpants and a t-shirt so she wouldn't have to see Trixie while wearing a crappy hospital gown. And then they let her girlfriend in.
“It was a lot. I thought about what it would be like to be reunited with her everyday. Everyday- I thought about her everyday. I think that's what I said when you walked in the hospital room, right baby?”
“You did, and then you started crying and I started sobbing. And you asked me if I hated you, which was...like never. I never could. I said, 'I looked for you everyday babe'. And I got right in that bed with you and I don't think we moved until they released you from the hospital.”
Katya finally met Brian and Mitya properly a week later and heard the story of how they searched for her for the last year. She is full of nothing but admiration for the two men.
“I would marry Brian if we were both so inclined. Seriously, I have never met a more genuine man. And Mitya...I mean his mind is like a labyrinth, but he's so sharp. They have been so good to me these past weeks and their job was done. They did what they were hired for and did it well. They don't have to let me bug them at all hours of the day, but they do and I appreciate that. It really means alot, more than I can say."
She told us that she knows though, that if hadn't been for Trixie she probably wouldn't be sitting in front of us that day.
"This wonderful, beautiful, human next to me never gave up- and I didn't think she would! I never once considered that she wouldn't look for me! But I know that some people would leave it just to the Police, they would trust that they were doing their jobs and maybe years later they might employ a Private Eye. The fact that she didn't wait-that she knew right away that she would have to do something and that she did it? I've always been astounded by Trixie's perseverance, her dedication, but on this level…"
"Well I've always been a little extra. It's more of a virtue really. Babe. Do you need a break again?"
"Katya? We can stop if you want."
"Sorry. I can't-fuck. Sorry! I know I shouldn't say that, you can edit it out. Sorry! Gah, you've got me crying now. Next question."
Katya knows that it's going to be a journey for her to get back to where she was before everything happened. And even with therapy she's not positive that it will happen.
"I don't think I'm the same person. When Max took me I was just starting to feel at home in my own skin, for the first time in as long as I can remember and I don't want to have let him take that away from me, but I guess I need to figure out what my life looks like now. Who Katya is. I have a lot of support, and I'm lucky. I won't have to go through that alone."
We asked Katya, finally, if she could shed some light onto what Max was thinking. Why did he want her, specifically, and why did he keep her alive? She couldn't really answer, although she did try, and Trixie jumped in.
"I don't think that's something that any of us know right now. And we can't ask him-he's dead. Maybe someday, Katya will be able to talk about the specifics of what happened during her captivity, but I think what she's shared is enough for now. In the end it doesn't matter what his motivation was. He was clearly psychotically obsessed with Katya and that delusion and psychosis caused him to think he had the right to her. And I think that's really what it boils down to."
We left Katya and Trixie with hugs, promises that if they needed anything they could reach out. We feel hopeful for them, jubilant that they were able to be reunited and expectant that their future will be good to them.
Brian and Mitya had left the office, out on a case. But we have a feeling we haven't heard the last from them. They have some stories to tell.
The day ends on what we think is a high note. As we leave the office we can hear Trixie and Katya, voices low as they speak, and then-laughter. Abrupt and unexpected. And it's beautiful.
Thank you for listening to People Disappear All The Time. This podcast has been a winding road and it's one we are not ready to get off of. There are plenty of people who need their stories to be told and we are eager to tell them.
Until next time listeners. Stay safe out there.