Ex-Army officer kept knife under pillow, was in trouble at work before apparent murder-suicide
By NANCY MONTGOMERY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 6, 2018
VICENZA, Italy — Something seemed wrong with Bradley Kinser.
The former U.S. Army Africa major was acting paranoid, and he was irritable and combative at his job on Caserma Ederle assisting other soldiers returning to civilian life, a reliable source said.
On his last day at work at the Soldier for Life - Transition Assistance office late last week, he fell asleep at his desk and was so disoriented that a concerned co-worker drove him home, a source said.
Leila Kinser, his Russian-born wife of 15 years, had just returned to their home near Vicenza after spending a month without Kinser at a friend’s condominium in Miami. On March 18, she’d posted a smiling photo of herself sunbathing. “I’m alive-healthy...,” she wrote on Facebook.
By Monday, both would be dead.
The couple’s 5-year-old pet turtle, Mashka, which they carried with them everywhere and photographed often, was also missing.
Italian authorities investigating the deaths say it appeared that Kinser had suffocated his wife in her bed. He’d then cut himself, written “Sorry” in blood along with the shape of a heart and “U” on a Post-it note and attached it to the bedroom door. Then he cut his throat in the couple’s bathroom, authorities said.
Leila’s friends, Russian women who had also married U.S. servicemen, were concerned when she called them Friday at their homes in the United States to share upsetting news. She told them that her husband said he was in trouble at work for stealing money. “He said he’d rather kill himself than go to jail,” said Yulia Michenia, one of those friends.
Kinser’s employers, Inverness Technologies Inc. based in Ft. Knox, Ky., which contracts with the Army to provide transition assistance service, declined to discuss his performance or whether he had been accused of stealing.
His wife’s friends said she’d told them that her husband had started acting strangely in November but that she didn’t know what was wrong.
“Leila didn’t know about it until he told her he was in trouble on Friday,” said Olessia Maximenko.
Maximenko said her friend told her she’d found a knife under Kinser’s pillow. She said he’d threatened to kill her, too.
“She locked herself in her bedroom,” Maximenko said. “I tell her to put a knife under her pillow. She said, ‘Don’t worry, I got it under control.’”
The next day, Leila, 39, wept on the phone when she told her friends that after an argument her husband had taken their turtle and put it in a pond behind a local restaurant called the Old Wild West.
Kinser, 43, apparently changed his mind after putting the turtle in the pond and waded in trying to retrieve it. “It was Saturday afternoon,” a restaurant employee who gave her name as Michela, said. “They tell me he searched. But we have too many tartarughe (turtles) in the lake.”
The last post on Leila’s Facebook page, just before 9 p.m. Saturday, said: “I don’t have any more my Mashka I want to die.”
Her friends said they last heard from her late on Saturday or early on Sunday.
“If we had called the police right after she stopped talking to us maybe it could have been prevented,” Maximenko said. “But we didn’t know who to call or how to reach them.”
Italian authorities broke into the Kinser home on Monday, after Kinser had failed to show up for a mental-health evaluation he’d agreed to go to accompanied by chaplain Lt. Col. David Schnarr.
Schnarr could not be reached for comment. But Italian media said that he told investigators he’d been counselling Kinser and that the former Army major said he was depressed and considering suicide. According to the Italian media, Schnarr told Kinser that he should focus on the happy relationship he had with his wife.
The couple met in South Korea, Maximenko said. Leila, along with thousands of Russian women who entered South Korea in 2000, worked as a bartender and cocktail waitress.
“That’s how I met my first husband, too, and so did all my girlfriends,” Maximenko said. “There was no life in Russia.”
Kinser, she said, who was from Fayetteville, N.C., fell in love with Leila “immediately.”
He seemed devoted to her, friends said, and supported her love for travel, dining and Louis Vuitton handbags.
The pair traveled to Abu Dhabi, Vietnam, Moscow, the south of France and elsewhere, each trip recorded with photos on Facebook. After a trip to London in July, Kinser wrote on Facebook, “Leila spends hours looking for things for us to do... I am soo lucky to have my wife.” The couple, who did not have children, lived in a variety of places where Kinser was assigned, including Germany and the United States, according to Facebook posts show and friends of the couple.
In 2009, Kinser, then a captain and commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, was quoted in a Central Command news release commending Iraqi forces.
By 2013, Kinser had been promoted to major and was a strategic intelligence research officer for U.S. Army Africa in Vicenza.
Two years later, a drawdown forced him out of the Army, sources said.
It’s not clear when he took the transition assistance job.
Italian authorities were to perform an autopsy Friday on Leila Kinser’s body. Her mother was soon to arrive to retrieve her daughter’s body and return to Russia for burial, Maximenko said.
Arrangements for Bradley Kinser’s remains were unclear.
“We’re all very sad about this,” said Lt. Col. Armando Hernandez, a U.S. Army Africa spokesman. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family.”