Murder in Moscow Ends Dream of an American Entrepreneur


The American and his two bodyguards started down the wide, worn steps to the subway. Behind them stood a figure carrying a large plastic bag. Concealed inside was a Kalashnikov assault rifle.

It was dusk, Sunday, Nov. 3, and Moscow’s streets were bustling. Shoppers lined up at kiosk windows. Train travelers hauled cheap, overstuffed baggage.

Paul Tatum, 41, had just left his apartment at the Radisson-Slavjanskaya Hotel, which he had built into one of the first Western-style hotels in Moscow. The ambitious Oklahoman and former Southern California businessman saw newly capitalist Russia as an entrepreneur’s heaven, and the Radisson as his personal stake in it.


But lately, he had been telling anyone who would listen that he was defending his share in the hotel against unscrupulous executives, the Chechen Mafia, and a Russian business culture that wouldn’t play fair.

The Kalashnikov banged 20 times in the tiled subway stairwell. Eleven shots struck Tatum in the back and hurled him to the bottom of the stairs.

Minutes earlier, he had cut short a telephone conversation with a friend, saying he had to meet someone in the subway. He never said who.

Tatum knew murder was a corporate strategy in Moscow. He knew 200 Russian business executives had been killed in Mafia-style hits in the city in the last year. But he gambled they would never dare kill a prominent American. He had even stopped wearing his bullet-proof vest.

“He forgot where he lived,” Moscow police spokesman Yuri Tatarinov said later. “He tried to act in Moscow like he would act in the States or any other civilized country.”


Tatum first saw Moscow in 1985, on a trip with an Oklahoma trade delegation.

Mikhail Gorbachev was just cracking open the country’s doors, and Tatum found a people who were starry-eyed over capitalism and desperate for Western know-how and currency.

Tatum fell for Russian culture: the churches, the museums, the ballet. He also fell for Russian women. He met one on that first trip and stayed an extra few weeks.

The Edmond, Okla., native had been overseas before. As a 21-year-old Oklahoma State University student, he spent a semester in The events leading to Paul Tatum’s violent death in Moscow were reconstructed through interviews with his friends and business associates in Russia and America and information provided by Russian police. The interviews were supplemented by published reports, including those on Tatum’s Moscow news conferences.

foreign study. It took him to Tunis, where he bought cigarettes from his tour boat captain and sold them at a 300% markup on the street.

By the time he was 30, Tatum had already made big money in oil and real estate and lost a million dollars when Oklahoma City’s Penn Square Bank collapsed in 1983.

Now, in Moscow, he was a cowboy who had finally found his Wild West.

“This could be huge,” he told friends back in Oklahoma City. “Like another America.”

Tatum saw that even the best of the Moscow hotels were poorly lit, shabbily carpeted monoliths with plenty of bars but no place to find a good meal or a dependable telephone. His idea was to create oases where foreign businessmen could feel at home.

Many American businessmen were shying away from Moscow or coming up dry, but Tatum was tenacious.

Working from a small Moscow apartment with a scratchy phone line, and backed by a few influential friends, including former Nixon chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, he and his Irvine company cobbled together a $50-million deal for a joint venture with the giant Soviet tourism agency, Intourist, and the Minneapolis-based hotel chain, Radisson Corp.

Together, they would turn a half-finished Intourist hotel a mile west of the Kremlin into a Western-style luxury hotel and office center. Intourist got a 50% share of the business, Radisson 10% and Tatum’s company, Americom Business Centers, 40%.

Not bad for a 35-year-old with a shaky track record. At the signing ceremony, Tatum--typically dapper in a conservative suit with a dark pocket handkerchief--was beaming.

At a 1990 summit, President Bush cited the Radisson deal as a showcase of Soviet-American cooperation.


The hotel was a moneymaker.

The four-star, 430-room Radisson-Slavjanskaya became a center for Moscow’s foreign community, offering business services, a press club, restaurants, a bank, swanky shops and an English-language movie house complete with popcorn.

The hotel--and Tatum--played host to many of Moscow’s most famous and well-heeled visitors, from businessmen and tourists to entertainers and diplomats.

Tatum, accompanied by pretty women, became a fixture of Moscow’s party scene. In 1992, a Russian magazine listed the sandy-haired American as one of the city’s most eligible bachelors.

Tatum also threw himself into Russian public life. In 1991, during the abortive hard-line coup attempt, he joined the pro-democracy defenders backing Boris Yeltsin at the Russian White House. Tatum was a founding member of Moscow’s American Chamber of Commerce. He raised money for the Bolshoi Theater, donated to Russian Orthodox Church schools, helped sponsor the Kremlin Cup tennis tournament.


Tatum wanted to show his new world to his family back home--to show them what was keeping him here.

“Surprise!” he told his retired parents, two sisters and their families in phone calls to Oklahoma and Arizona in 1992. “Get your passports.”

He flew them to Moscow for VIP treatment at the Radisson. He rented a deluxe helicopter, which he said had belonged to Soviet leader Konstantin Chernenko, and took them around central Russia. He chartered a jet and whisked them to St. Petersburg, Kiev and the Black Sea.

He provided guides, translators and baby sitters--who turned out to be former Miss Moscows and Miss U.S.S.R.s.

His brother-in-law, Rick Furmanek, was so impressed that he moved to Moscow with his wife, Robin, and their two children and went to work for Tatum. But it didn’t take long for the Furmaneks to discover that Moscow wasn’t all VIP treatment and beauty queens.

Robin Furmanek and her 3-year-old daughter were shopping for vegetables one day at an outdoor market in a pleasant part of south Moscow. They turned a corner and nearly stumbled over two thugs holding a kiosk owner up against a wall.

The man was already bloody. The thugs kept beating him.

Around them, people were hurrying about their business, looking the other way. They were acting as if this were just part of life, as inevitable as the snow, Robin thought.

There was a creeping terror in everyday Russian life, and the Furmaneks, fresh from Arizona, were shaken by it.


Russian businesses sprouting after the collapse of communism were being strangled by organized crime. Wherever there was a fruit stand, a taxi stop, a hotel, Mafia groups moved in, demanding protection money, freezing out competition and poisoning Russia’s young capitalism.

Those who resisted had their businesses burned in the middle of the night--or worse. Stories about businessmen killed by the mob appeared almost daily in Moscow’s business papers. Police said they were solving no more than one murder in 10.

At the Radisson-Slavjanskaya, menacing figures started hanging around the hallways and shops. Tatum worried they might scare away customers.

In June 1994, federal troops with machine guns raided the hotel lobby and arrested 10 suspected gangsters at the bar.

It doesn’t happen often enough, Rick Furmanek said. And he worried about his children, his wife and Paul.


By 1994, the partnership Tatum had put together was unraveling.

Tatum and the Radisson Corp. were squabbling about finances.

The Russian share of the partnership kept changing hands. The Soviet Intourist Agency gave way to a Russian agency when the Soviet Union broke up. Then the Russian agency was replaced by the Moscow City Property Committee.

In the process, Tatum maintained, organized crime figures muscled their way in.

Tatum claimed the Russians were trying to push their foreign partners out so they could take over the hotel. The Russians said Tatum kept sloppy books and didn’t pay his debts.

It wasn’t unusual for the early Soviet joint ventures to collapse in acrimony. In most cases, the foreigners fled or found a way to settle quietly.

With millions of dollars at stake, Tatum refused to do either.

Tatum walked into the hotel one day in June 1994, and armed guards in double-breasted suits blocked his way. On orders of the hotel’s Russian general director, he was not to be allowed inside.

Tatum fought back.

He held a news conference in the hotel parking lot to denounce his Russian partners. A week-and-a-half later, accompanied by a dozen bodyguards and wearing a light-blue bulletproof vest, he bulled his way back into the hotel.

Afraid that if he left again, he might not get back in, he holed up for days in his three-room suite, his guards at the door.

He looked ragged and wasn’t sleeping. But his spirits were high, as usual.

“This,” he still insisted, “is entrepreneurs’ heaven.”

Tatum pressed his case hard in the press. Publicity would keep him alive, he told friends and reporters.

Worried friends countered with an old Russian saying: The more quietly you go, the farther you get.


The press and much of the Moscow business community tired of Tatum and his blizzard of publicity. Critics called him a self-promoter. Reporters groaned at his frequent faxes and news conferences.

When he handed out documents critical of Radisson at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon, American businessmen--including friends who had commiserated with him over coffee--were dumbfounded. Why air dirty laundry about his American partner?

Radisson had enough of Tatum. At the end of 1994, the company asked a U.S. court to release it from “the rotting corpse of the partnership” with Tatum’s Americom. The request was granted.

About the same time, the hotel’s Russian partner, the Moscow Property Committee, appointed a new general director to oversee the hotel.

Umar Dzhabrailov, 37, was a smooth, English-speaking Chechen who had managed one of the hotel’s elegant clothing stores.

Tatum claimed Dzhabrailov was also something else. He began telling the media that Dzhabrailov was a kingpin of the Chechen Mafia, among the most notorious of Russia’s criminal groups.

Ridiculous, Dzhabrailov replied. He ordered Tatum evicted.

When Tatum refused to leave, Dzhabrailov sealed Tatum’s offices and changed the locks.

Tatum holed up in his rooms again, subsisting on takeout sandwiches. He invited reporters and TV cameras in and declared, “I’m here until they carry me out.”

He was getting a lot of death threats, Tatum told friends.

Dzhabrailov issued a news release of his own, saying Tatum owed the hotel nearly $300,000 and had siphoned money out of the country. He said Tatum had slandered his partners and walked out of board meetings.

“I do insist that the only conflict here is the unwillingness of Paul Tatum to cooperate with his partners,” Dzhabrailov said. “He has yet to prove that anyone has ever threatened him.”

After five days, Tatum left his room, went down to his seventh-floor offices and used a power drill to break through the new lock. At his invitation, reporters were there to watch.


By 1996, Tatum was running out of friends and money.

He worked his connections furiously, calling U.S. congressmen, business bigwigs, even Oklahoma state officials. He sought sympathetic ears among Russian politicians. He appealed to the U.S. Embassy.

He asked Moscow police for protection but got no response, he told friends.

In an open letter to the mayor, published in Moscow newspapers in October, Tatum wrote: “The world now awaits . . . the message that Russia is the place of successful investment. That Moscow is where you can come and build your dreams and then get a profit from doing it without someone showing up at your door to take it away in the name of your own protection.”

Tatum could have simply left Russia, but he told his friends he was afraid he wouldn’t be able to get back in. He hadn’t been home to America in three years. In June, he closed Americom’s Irvine offices and based the firm in Moscow.

“He had built this dream, and it was also financially successful, which was very important to Paul,” said Matt Seward, an old Oklahoma City friend. “They were trying to steal his dream. So that’s worth fighting for.”

Tatum ran full-page ads in the English-language Moscow Times pitching “Freedom Bonds” to “support the rights and freedom of a safe business environment in Russia.” The idea was to raise the $600,000 bond he had to post to get a case against his partners heard in an international arbitration court in Stockholm.

The ads worked, and Tatum was able to post the bond in late October. His suit asked that his company be awarded $35 million.

Tatum was upbeat now, and full of plans. He would build new business centers, cultural centers, a string of hotels across Eastern Europe.

He called his parents to talk about the future. They told him his dream wasn’t worth his life.

He told them he’d be all right.

A few days later, he was dead.

Tatum’s remains were buried in Moscow, in accordance with his wishes.

No arrests have been made in connection with the killing.