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Jealous Man Claimed He Was Possessed By A Demon After He Killed His Ex's Boyfriend
The search for a missing businessman, Charles Butler, led detectives to a brutal murder and a "demon" jealous ex.
Returning to New York City in 2012 was a joyful homecoming for Charles Butler, a hard-working, happy-go-lucky businessman and divorced father of three. He’d grown up in Queens and moved to Florida in his early 20s.
Three decades later, Butler, 56, was back on a regular basis. He shared an apartment with his daughter, Molly, a hairstylist, and life was looking good. He’d begun a relationship with a woman who lived in Brooklyn and things were getting serious.
Then, on Tuesday, September 18, he went to spend the night with his girlfriend, Anna Lioznov, in Brighton Beach. He was never seen alive again, his children painfully recalled in “Final Moments,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.
Early in the evening of the 18th, Molly had texted her dad, asking him to arrange a flight for her because she was having a credit card issue. The next morning, she found that he hadn’t followed through. She texted him about it, and he responded with an apology. In it, Molly told producers, “He called me ‘honey.’ My dad had many nicknames for me and ‘honey’ was never one of them.” Misspellings and other odd word choices also confused her.
Molly’s concern grew when she learned that Butler was a no-show at the insurance office where he worked. On Friday, she emailed Lioznov, who said that after she went to work on the 19th, Butler had slept in at her apartment. He then had abruptly texted her that he was breaking up with her and going back to Florida.
That didn’t square. Molly knew that her dad was crazy about his girlfriend.
Molly reported her father missing to the NYPD and spoke to two officers, who were unconvinced that he had disappeared. But one said that he’d “put out a report,” said Molly.
Five days after Butler vanished his children hired private investigator Keith Freeman. He found no evidence that Butler had booked an alternative flight and interviewed Lioznov.
Freeman learned that Lioznov had an ex-common law husband, Mikhail Chernyaev. The two had a child together, and he parked his vehicles in the courtyard of her building.
Freeman reached out to the NYPD detectives that offered to help Molly. They visited Lioznov’s building and were working to obtain footage from security cameras installed there.
In the meantime, Molly received a phone call from one of her dad’s friends in Florida who said that Butler had gotten an alarming call from Chernyaev a month before he disappeared.
“He basically said, ‘She's my woman. Stay away from her,’” Molly told “Final Moments.” The threatening call raised suspicions about Butler’s girlfriend’s ex.
On October 4, 16 days after he went missing, the NYPD obtained the security footage. Butler and Lioznov were seen entering the building on Tuesday evening and Lioznov was seen leaving her home at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesday. Butler was never seen leaving the building after going into it on Tuesday.
In a surprising twist, the footage revealed Chernyaev’s vehicle pulling up near the apartment building in the early morning hours after Lioznov left on Wednesday morning.
“The NYPD believed that Charles had met with foul play and that Mikhail assaulted Charles and the last time that he left in that van Charles’ body was in the van,” Freeman told producers. “The NYPD was seeking search warrants on vehicles specifically that were in the courtyard.”
Pieces of the puzzle appeared to be falling into place, but the investigation was stalled by Superstorm Sandy, which struck New York City in late October 2012. The storm submerged 250,000 cars, according to “Final Moments.” One of them belonged to Chernyaev and potential evidence in it was washed away. The case was at a standstill as the city struggled to recover from the storm.
So, five months into the investigation, Freeman advised Butler’s children to speak with the media about the case. Christopher Heath, an investigative reporter, arranged to interview Lioznov.
“When I asked about Mikhail she seemed to dismiss the idea that Mikhail was somehow involved. She said he's not behind this,” he told producers.
As Florida-based reporter Christopher Heath was investigating the story at Keith's request, another news outlet reported Lioznov was dating her ex-husband again. Butler’s children suspected that she might be trying to shield her former husband from getting caught.
The increased media attention seemed to work. Eight months after Butler went missing, the NYPD interviewed Lioznov, who agreed to a polygraph test. Results showed that she was telling the truth when she stated she believed her ex had nothing to do with the disappearance, said Constantine Papadopoulos, an NYPD detective.
The case had hit a brick wall. But then Butler’s decomposing body was found on October 15, 2012 by a fisherman in upstate New York, according to court documents. Police identified the body in May 2013, reported the New York Post.
Chernyaev was brought in for an interview. The suspect was cool and collected until the detective produced a map of the area where Butler’s body was found. Chernyaev eventually cracked. While being questioned by the NYPD, “he confessed that he was in love with Anna and he was jealous over anybody having a relationship with her,” said Freeman. “In his mind, he went to the apartment to confront Charles about the relationship.”
Chernyaev told detectives he waited until Lioznov left for work to go into her apartment. The confrontation turned violent. Chernyaev grabbed a knife from the kitchen counter and then stabbed, strangled, and suffocated him, according to a 2016 release from the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office.
“Mikhail’s explanation was that he was possessed by a demon,” said Freeman.
Chernyaev told police that he didn’t want his ex to find out he had any involvement in the murder so he took Butler's body to a secluded location upstate where he used to go on vacation. Asked how he was able to gain access to Butler’s phone to send text messages, Chernyaev said he put the SIM card from the victim’s cell into his own. Then he sent messages to cover his tracks.
Chernyaev was arrested for the murder of Charles Butler. The following day, investigators confirmed that a speck of blood found on the floor of Lioznov’s kitchen belonged to Butler.
In an unusual twist Lioznov testified for the prosecution and the defense. On September 29, 2016, Chernyaev was found guilty. He was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.
To learn more about this case and others life it, watch “Final Moments,” airing Sundays at 7/6c on Oxygen.
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