Fort Worth

Benbrook slayings: Kholodenko’s wife indicted on capital murder charge

The estranged wife of concert pianist and Cliburn winner Vadym Kholodenko has been indicted on two counts of capital murder in the deaths of the couple’s young daughters in March.

Sofya Tsygankova smothered Michaela Kholodenko, 1, and Nika Kholodenko, 5, with pillows March 17, according to indictments returned Wednesday by a Tarrant County grand jury.

The indictments match investigators’ belief and the Tarrant County medical examiner’s report that the girls were most likely smothered.

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Tsygankova, 32, remained in the Tarrant County Jail on Thursday with bail set at $2 million. She has pleaded not guilty to the children’s deaths.

According to an arrest warrant affidavit, Tsygankova told police that she remembered cutting herself with a knife and taking pills because she “didn’t want to live” but didn’t recall harming her children.

“Did I do anything bad to my kids?” she asked investigators when interviewed hours after her children’s bodies were found in the family’s Benbrook duplex.

The mother visited an MHMR facility in Fort Worth the day before her daughters were discovered, according to the affidavit. An empty prescription bottle found in the home indicated that Tsygankova had just filled a prescription for quetiapine, an antipsychotic medication used to treat bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

Getting back to performing

Kholodenko was the gold medalist in the 2013 Cliburn piano competition.

On Sunday night, he will perform in Fort Worth for the first time since his daughters’ deaths. He will play a solo piano recital at TCU’s PepsiCo Recital Hall as part of the annual PianoTexas Festival. He will also teach master classes and play in two chamber performances June 10 and 11.

In an interview with the Star-Telegram this week, festival organizer Tamás Ungár said he had expected Kholodenko to withdraw from the event. “I said, ‘Whatever you want to do,’ but he says he has to get back [to performing] because music is the only thing keeping him going,” Ungár said.

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According to the affidavit, Kholodenko had spoken with his oldest daughter and wife by phone on the night of March 16 and planned to pick up the girls the next morning and take them to school. He had been staying at a hotel outside Benbrook.

When he arrived at the home, in the 6600 block of Waterwood Trail, however, no one answered the door. He told police that he opened the unlocked door and found his wife covered in blood with cuts on her wrists and found his children in bed, not moving.

He called 911 and reported that his wife “was going crazy.”

When police arrived, they found her kneeling on the floor in the master bedroom, “rocking back and forth and making noises.”

Police said that she was wearing a midlength nightgown that “was covered in blood” and that a cut on her wrist and puncture wound on her chest were visible.

In the children’s bedroom, police found Nika’s body, dressed in a zip-up-style onesie, on a small bed with pink bedding. An additional pillow on the bed that appeared to have come from the master bedroom had a small spot of body fluid on it, the affidavit states.

Michaela’s body was found in the master bedroom. A pillow also with a spot of body fluid on it was found partially resting on her head.

Both girls, the affidavit states, showed signs of rigor mortis.

Police found two knives, a blood-covered butcher knife near the edge of the patio and a cleaver-style knife on the inside rail of the bathtub in the master bathroom.

Next to the knife in the bathtub were three additional prescription bottles bearing Tsygankova’s name, the affidavit states. A search warrant return identified the medications in the bottles as the antidepressant sertraline and hydroxyzine pamoate, an antihistamine that is also used as a sedative to treat anxiety and tension.

‘I think I committed suicide’

When asked about her injuries at the hospital, Tsygankova told police, “I think I committed suicide.”

She told investigators she believed that she cut herself with a knife and remembered taking a lot of pills.

“She stated at some point that she didn’t want to live,” says the affidavit, written by Benbrook Detective R. James.

Tsygankova told police that she arrived at home about 8:50 the night before. She said that Michaela was asleep in her crib and that a baby sitter was putting pajamas on the older girl.

Tsygankova said she remembered going outside later with a knife because she “didn’t see any future for me and the kids.”

When asked if she knew where her kids were, Tsygankova told police that she hoped that they were with their father.

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Tsygankova told police she recalled putting her children in the car at some point but believed it was before she injured herself. She couldn’t recall for police what took place in the vehicle.

According to the affidavit, police found bloodied linens in the Ford Focus and blood in and around the car. A suitcase had been propped up under the car’s rear bumper, apparently to hold in place a rag stuffed into the exhaust pipe.

Kholodenko no longer lived with his wife and daughters. He filed for divorce in November, stating that the couple, married in April 2010, had ceased living together as husband and wife on or about Aug. 15. Tsygankova counterpetitioned for divorce the same month.

Staff writer Stephanie Allmon Merry contributed to this report, which includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

Mark David Smith: 817-390-7808, @MarkSmith_FWST