The Gruesome 1998 Death Of Tetris Co-Developer Vladimir Pokhilko

Alexey Pajitnov is a computer programmer who created the game "Tetris" in 1984 while working at the Soviet Academy of Sciences in Moscow. He showed his brainchild to his friend, Vladimir Pokhilko, who was a clinical psychologist. Pajitnov made the game just for fun, but it became popular among his colleagues. Pokhilko said that the project would make a good game, and he helped develop it for release (via Time Extension). "Tetris" gained popularity in 1989 when it was released for Nintendo's Game Boy and NES systems.

Pajitnov and Pokhilko founded the 3D software company AnimaTek in Moscow in 1989, and they also set up an office in the U.S. in 1991 with Dutch businessman Henk Rogers. The two Russians moved to the U.S., and as reported by The Cinemaholic, Pokhilko resided in a Silicon Valley neighborhood with his wife, yoga instructor Elena, and their son, Peter. Friends of the family described the couple as kind and generous, and their son was an intelligent boy with big dreams for the future. However, all wasn't as good as it seemed from the outside. In 1998, the three members of the Pokhilko family were found dead in their home.

The crime scene

On September 22, 1998, a friend of the Pokhilko family called their home but no one answered the phone. After several failed attempts, the friend went to the house to check on the family, and he was met with a gruesome sight. Emergency responders were immediately called, but it was too late. Vladimir, 44; Elena, 38; and Peter, 12 were all declared dead at the scene, according to The Cinemaholic. Elena and Peter were stabbed and bludgeoned to death on their beds, and Vladimir's body was found right by his son's bed. He had a slash on his throat and was holding a hunting knife in his hand, per Palo Alto Online. A note in Vladimir's handwriting was also found, which read, "I've been eaten alive. Vladimir. Just remember that I am exist. The davil (sic)."

Investigators studied the crime scene and initially, they looked into the possibility that an intruder had been responsible for the murders. However, they were later convinced that Vladimir murdered his wife and son before killing himself. A lieutenant working on the case said, "There is no evidence to point us in any other direction," per SF Gate.

The suspected motive

In 1996, Henk Rogers and Alexey Pajitnov established The Tetris Company, and Vladimir Pokhilko was left to run AnimaTek. The company wasn't doing too well, and Pokhilko felt added pressure because of the economic upheaval in Russia where the majority of AnimaTek employees worked. As reported by Forbes, Pokhilko had been talking to several potential investors before the murders happened and was working to raise new capital for the business. Investigators suspected that financial troubles in the company drove him to murder his family and kill himself. After the tragedy, one of the investors, who had not learned of the incident, called Pokhilko's associate and said he was ready to invest.

The case of the Pokhilko family was closed. It was deemed a double murder-suicide. However, some psychiatrists disagree. According to professor of psychiatry Dr. David Spiegel, the circumstances didn't add up. "Business failure could make someone depressed and even suicidal, but not homicidal," he stated (via SF Gate).

A former investigator speaks out

Some investigators involved in the case didn't agree with how the deaths occurred, too. Sandra Brown, a former crime scene investigator who was present at the crime scene, said that she had an inkling that something wasn't right, as she told the New York Post. "The blood and the knife didn't make sense. I was thinking, 'This man didn't kill himself'," she stated. Furthermore, Brown said they were approached by people from the Russian community who were convinced that the murders were carried out by the Russian mob. She said that half of the people who were there at the crime scene believed that Pokhilko didn't kill himself and his family.

The case of the Pokhilkos is the subject of Investigation Discovery's 2022 three-part documentary series titled "The Tetris Murders." Brown delves deeper into the case in the series and is firm in her belief that Vladimir, her wife, and their son were murdered and that what occurred wasn't a double-murder suicide. "I didn't believe it then, and I know I don't believe it now," she said in a Newsweek interview.