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Crime News Snapped

A Man Was Brutally Attacked and Chopped Into About 66 Pieces — Who Was Behind It?

“Rita snapped because she was gonna lose everything," former FBI agent Hilda Kogut said on Snapped. "She was going to lose her kingdom.”

By Caitlin Schunn

Police in East Rutherford, New Jersey called it one of the most gruesome crimes they’d ever come across: Rita Gluzman helped murder her husband, Yakov, with the assistance of her cousin, Vladimir Zelenin. Zelenin was caught in the act by police while trying to dump Yakov’s chopped-up body into the river on Sunday, April 7, 1996.

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“You could see like a scalpel. A pair of pliers. An axe. Belt. Shoes,” Richard Freeman, former East Rutherford police officer, said of discovering the garbage bags in Zelenin’s trunk on Snapped, airing Sundays at 6/5c on Oxygen. “You could make out a piece of what would appear to be skull — but missing an ear. We just couldn’t believe what we were looking at. Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever thought that I would encounter such a horrific scene.”

Freeman was on a routine patrol down by the river on that Easter morning when he saw two cars parked near the bank with the trunks open and garbage bags inside — and a man walking near the river. As the man walked closer, Freeman opened up a garbage bag and saw what he thought was human intestine.

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“I did ask Vladimir how many bodies were in the bags, and he answered, ‘One,’” Freeman said. “And with that he started to motion his head to the left [to the other trunk], and he said, ‘More parts.’”

Police and divers managed to recover the garbage bags from the river.

“We’re talking about large, hefty bags. Filled with body parts,” Hilda Kogut, a former FBI agent, said on Snapped. “Roughly [66] pieces of this man. And they were small pieces: parts of his arm, parts of his hand. Fingers. Eyes. The heart. Liver. It was a fairly gruesome, ugly situation.”

Vladimir Zelenin confessed to the brutal murder to police — but said he didn’t do it alone. Zelenin also pointed the finger at his cousin, 47-year-old Rita Gluzman, as the mastermind behind her husband’s murder.

Vladimir Zelenin explains why he conspired with Rita Gluzman to kill her husband

Zelenin identified the murder victim to police as 48-year-old Dr. Yakov Gluzman. Yakov was a world-renowned scientist, famous for his breakthroughs in cancer research. He had known his wife, Rita, since the two were children in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. Yakov and Rita married in 1969, and after a hard-fought battle, the two were allowed to immigrate to Israel, where they lived with their only child.

Rita Gluzman featured in Snapped 3314

In 1977, they immigrated to Long Island, New York in the U.S, and by 1987, Yakov was working for Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a pharmaceutical company in Pearl River, New York, and researching cures for cancer. The family settled into a large home in the affluent area of Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, and Rita launched her own technology company with Yakov’s help, called ECI Technologies.

Zelenin immediately provided a motive for Rita to want her husband dead: The couple were going through a bitter divorce, after Yakov had moved out in 1995 and gotten his own apartment.

“Once the divorce became a reality, she was going to do anything she could to protect the assets that she had,” Kogut said.

Zelenin claimed to police that his cousin had come to him in February 1996 and asked for his help to murder Yakov Gluzman. When he turned her down, she threatened his employment at her company as well as his immigration status.

“Rita had been threatening that if Vladimir did not help Rita kill her husband, she was going to go to the authorities and tell them that his political asylum application was falsified, and he would then be thrown out of the country,” said Louis Valvo, former prosecutor, on Snapped. “According to Mr. Zelenin, he felt like he had no other option.”

Zelenin also shared with police the murder plot Rita devised. Because she had access to her husband’s apartment, they waited for him to come home on Saturday, April 6, 1996, then ambushed him. Zelenin confessed to hitting Yakov with an axe multiple times before Rita joined in.

“Rita Gluzman had a hatchet, and Rita was furiously hitting him with the hatchet on the top of his head,” Valvo said.

Zelenin also claimed Rita took a knife and stabbed her husband repeatedly in the torso to make sure he was dead. According to Zelenin, while he dismembered Yakov, Rita cleaned the apartment.

“He was trying to cut up the body into such small pieces that it couldn’t be identified,” Valvo said. “So, that’s why he cut off the ears. He cut off the nose. The fact that one person could do that to another human being shocks the conscience so much.”

Zelenin alleged he and Rita dragged all the garbage bags filled with body parts to his car and Yakov’s car, and drove them to the ECI Technologies parking lot by the river. Zelenin said he took Rita home, before returning to try to dump the garbage bags in the river.

Several of Yakov’s neighbors confirmed parts of Zelenin’s story, including hearing banging and hammering in Yakov’s apartment, as well as seeing the two putting garbage bags into cars on the morning of April 7.

It was difficult for the medical examiner to formally identify the hacked up body, as the fingerprints had been severed off. Yakov Gluzman was identified using dental records.

Police dig into Gluzman marriage

While trying to find Rita Gluzman, police investigated the couple’s finances. Although Yakov had offered a generous divorce settlement, it had been rejected by Rita. It seemed the two were fighting over ECI Technologies. While Rita wanted the company signed over just to her, Yakov wanted to see more of the financials of the business before agreeing to anything.

But there was a reason Rita didn’t want anyone looking closely at the company.

“She was eating out at fine restaurants, buying furs and jewelry, expensive clothing,” Valvo said. “All these things that she really couldn’t afford were being paid through ECI Technology. She was spending upwards of $20,000 a month.”

Police said Rita was also using the company to pay not only her own mortgage, but her mother and sister’s mortgages as well. She also leased expensive cars through the company.

But the couple’s battle wasn’t just a financial one. Rita also had a very personal motive to want her husband dead. Yakov’s phone records showed he was calling a number in Israel frequently. That number belonged to a young researcher that he met while on a trip in 1994. Once he moved out on his own, he began having an affair with the woman.

“How dare he find someone else, find someone younger than her? Basically if she couldn’t have Yakov, nobody could,” Valvo said.

Rita went so far as to plant recording devices in Yakov’s apartment and hire a private investigator to follow Yakov and his girlfriend in Israel. She threatened to ruin his reputation with the photos taken if Yakov’s family didn’t pay her $100,000. And when that blackmail didn’t work, she worked with her cousin to have her husband killed.

Police eventually found Rita hiding in a cabin on the campus of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where her husband worked, on April 12, 1996. Zelenin was offered a plea deal to testify against her at trial and was sentenced to 22.5 years in prison. He was released in 2015.

On January 29, 1997, a jury found Rita Gluzman guilty.

“This was not an aggrieved wife who was about to be divorced because her husband’s having an affair, but rather a cold, calculating individual who did not want to lose the lifestyle she was accustomed to,” Valvo said.

Rita Gluzman was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. But in 2020, she developed the beginning stages of Parkinson’s disease, and had suffered several strokes in prison. In July 2020, a judge granted her compassionate release at the age of 72.

She’s under court supervision until 2025, and wears a GPS monitoring device. She’s confined to her home.

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