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Murdered Woman's Search for Better Life Was Plagued by Domestic Violence

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | October 17, 2016 8:46am
 Left: Lyubov Gorbunova, right: Roman Gorbunov and his sister Marina.
Left: Lyubov Gorbunova, right: Roman Gorbunov and his sister Marina.
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Courtesy of Marina Gorbunova

QUEENS — When Lyubov Gorbunova, 58, came to the U.S. from Uzbekistan in 2010, she was hoping to turn her life around.

The mother of two suffered years of domestic violence at the hands of her husband, until he died in 2006 after falling sick, friends and family said.

But her abuse did not end there, they said. Her 21-year-old son, Roman Gorbunov, who came to New York with his mother, would often beat her as well.

On Tuesday, Sept. 27, Roman killed his mother after the two started arguing about his father, police said. Two days later, he dumped her body in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, and it wasn't until Saturday, Oct. 8 that she was found, according to the NYPD.

Lyubov Gorbunova's body was found in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. (BMR Breaking News)

“I still cannot believe that Roman could have done it,” said Marina Gorbunova, 30, Roman's half-sister, who lives in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan.

"He killed our mother, who loved him and wanted only good things for him," she said. "He discarded her body like a piece of garbage. It's so cold hearted. It's hard to call him a human being."

Marina believes that if her mother had never left Uzbekistan, she would still be alive.

But to Gorbunova, who made a living walking door-to-door selling makeup products despite holding a degree in economics, a U.S. green card was a pass to a better world. 

In Tashkent, the family lived in a modest one-bedroom apartment where they carved out a portion of the kitchen and converted it into a second small bedroom. 

Things were not happy at home, Marina said. Roman's father, who was not biologically related to Marina, abused all three of them.

"He would beat our mother and Roman a lot," she said. "He would beat me too, but not as much." 

"Roman hated him," she added.

Gorbunova came to New York six years ago with her then-teenage son. Her daughter, who was 24 at the time, had to stay behind due to immigration rules.

For the first two months she and Roman stayed in Coney Island with Alena Solokhina, 47, a friend Gorbunova knew from a Tashkent playground where their children used to play.

Gorbunova later found another place to live before renting a room for her and Roman in Rego Park several months ago, her friends said.

(DNAinfo/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska)

She worked as a home health aide and was able to support herself and Roman, as well as send money to Marina and her 2-year-old son.

Friends described Gorbunova as a positive person who worked very hard.

“She was like a ray of sunshine,” said Solokhina. “Every time she came to our house, she would bring everybody something, like a little gift, she always wanted to make people happy.”

But Gorbunova's friends said that her son often hit her, and on a few occasions, choked her.

“He was really abusive,” said Victoria Solokhina, Alena's 21-year-old daughter who played with Roman when they were kids.

She added that he was “strange and weird.”

“As a kid he was not social at all,” she said. “He would always hide behind his mom.”

After arriving in the U.S., Gorbunova sent Roman to Abraham Lincoln High School in Brighton Beach, but he dropped out, Solokhina said.

“He wasn’t really doing anything with his life, he was just living off his mother,” Solokhina said. “She complained to us about things he would do to her, but she still loved him very much. That was still her baby.”

When he went to Uzbekistan in July, Roman took a body bag with him that he bought on Amazon a month before his trip, family and prosecutors said.

When his sister asked him what the bag was for, he answered, “It’s better that you don’t know," she said.

Marina believes that Roman wanted money from the sale of the family's apartment in Tashkent where she and her son lived. Friends said that at some point he was bragging that he already had buyers lined up.

Looking back, Marina told DNAinfo New York she is now convinced that she and her child were Roman’s initial targets.

“After what happened to my mother, I began analyzing his behavior, his questions, and realized that Roman came to kill me and my child,” she said.

(NYPD handout/Courtesy of Marina Gorbunova)

After he returned to the U.S., Roman fought with his mother about money, which she did not always want to give him, according to his sister.

On Sept. 27, Gorbunova and her son went shopping in the neighborhood. They went to a local liquor store and bought two bottles of Kagor, a red dessert wine. Roman helped his mother with her bags, a clerk at the store said.

“They were always together,” he added.

They drank the wine with dinner, but later started fighting, Roman later told investigators. He also told them that during the argument his mother told him she wished he had never been born.

Prosecutors said that during the fight, Roman struck his mother in the head with a plate. They both fell to the floor and he grabbed a metal pipe that was part of a chair, and beat her to death, according to prosecutors.

On Friday the medical examiner's office said the cause of Gorbunova’s death was "blunt impacts to head with multiple skull fractures and brain injuries."

Roman confessed to placing his mother's body behind a bed in the apartment and later putting it in the body bag. Two days later, on Sept. 29, he was captured on surveillance video leaving the building with a garbage can that he dragged across the street. 

He called an Uber and used it to transport the garbage can with Gorbunova’s body in it to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park where he dumped her body in Willow Lake, prosecutors said.

Photo: BMR Breaking News

The Uber driver, who Gorbunov said helped him take the can out of the car, later called 911 and told police he suspected it contained a body, prosecutors said.

Gorbunov was initially arrested on Sept. 30 for trying to steal a security monitor from his building, but was later released since his mother was not reported missing until Oct. 3, police said.

Meanwhile, Marina was getting worried that she hadn't heard from her mother who used to call her several times a day. She contacted Solokhina, who called Roman. But he didn't answer.

Solokhina then called Gorbunova's job, where she was told that Roman had called their office on Sept. 28 and told them that his mother would be out of work for some time because her back gave out and he was taking her to the hospital in Flushing.

Solokhina said when she called the hospital, it had no record of Gorbunova being a patient.

She eventually managed to speak to Roman on the phone Monday, Oct. 3.

“I asked him where his mother is and that we are all very worried and he gave me five different stories,” she said. “He said, ‘me and her got into a fight, we haven’t been speaking, she is in and out of the house, she could be somewhere walking around, maybe she is at work, maybe she is in Florida.’”

After the call, Solokhina filed a missing person report and police launched a manhunt for Roman.

Roman was arrested on Friday, Oct. 7, when he used his credit card in New Utrecht. Police found Gorbunova's body in the lake the next day.

Roman told investigators that he killed his mother in self-defense and that he had purchased the body bag because he was planning to commit suicide.

He was charged with murder, criminal possession of a weapon, tampering with physical evidence, and concealment of a human corpse, and was ordered held without bail, according to the Queens District Attorney's office.

He is due back in court on Oct. 21.

His attorney did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Local residents started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to help Marina transport her mother’s body to Uzbekistan. As of Friday morning, the campaign had raised more than $3,600 of its $10,000 goal.

"[Sometimes] I still hope that my mom is alive," said Marina, who is now trying to obtain a visa to come to the U.S. "I don't want to believe that she is dead since I didn't see her face."