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Friend: Dead Needham woman, 81, was former Russian scientist

June 1, 2017 GMT

An 81-year-old woman found dead after suffering “sharp trauma” in her Needham home was an engineer who once worked for the Moscow Aviation Institute before she came to the U.S,. said Alexandr Yufa, president of the Massachusetts Club for Russian Speaking Scientists.

Laura Shifrina was a “wonderful woman” and a “prominent member” of the group who edited its bulletin, called “Intellect,” Yufa said.

Shifrina was found dead in her Needham apartment by her daughter after the family had not heard from the woman in a couple of days, Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey said this morning.

The DA declined to say the death is being called a homicide, noting the medical examiner needs to officially make that determination, but said “some sharp trauma was involved from a device that will have to be identified.”

Asked whether the death is being treated as a homicide, Morrissey added, “when you have the local and the state police working together, that’s a pretty good indication that’s where we are heading.”

Needham has not had a murder in over a decade, Morrissey said.

Police put an alert out for Shifrina’s missing car, sparking a hunt for the red Ford Fiesta, which now has been recovered.

Shifrina’s friend, Zinaida Ivchenko, wept as she left the apartment complex this morning. Speaking in Russian via a translator, she told the Herald she had known Shifrina since she moved in six years ago.

“She’s like a sister to me. She’s not my sister but it feels like we are that close, like sisters,” Ivchenko said. “I am crying, what a terrible thing, she was killed because of the car, it was because of the car that someone killed her.”

Ivchenko said Shifrina had lived in the United States for years and added she last saw the red Fiesta on Sunday. She described her friend as being diminutive in stature and repeatedly called her “a good person.”

“We would drink coffee and tea together,” Ivchenko said, trembling. “We were friends. She was Russian, I am Russian, that’s how we knew each other, my friend, my god, my god.”

The DA declined to comment on whether anything else is missing from the apartment where he said Schifrina has lived since 2001, and said police are in the process of interviewing neighbors and other people in the community in an effort to find the car.

Whether a danger exists for the public will depend on what, or who, they find in the missing Ford, Morrissey said this morning.

“That could be the critical clue in the turn of events of what happened,” he said, adding it is unclear exactly how long the woman had been dead before being discovered by her daughter.

“The exact time of death will have to be determined by the medical examiner,” Morrissey said. “It could be up to a couple of days, it’s a couple of days, plus or minus.”

Shifrina’s family could not be immediately reached for comment.

The death rattled the peaceful neighborhood.

“I’m scared, I live two doors down from this woman,” said a neighbor who gave her name only as Mary Anne. “It’s a very quiet area”.

Another neighbor, Maureen Farrell, said she would see Shifrina out in her garden and wave “hello,” but had little interaction with her otherwise. Farrell said she was stunned when a heavy police presence arrived in the quiet, residential neighborhood.

“I am blown away,” she said. “I am usually the last one up around the neighborhood here and all of a sudden my apartment lights up with all thee colored lights and I was like ‘what the heck.’ It was unbelievable.”

Farrell said she did not hear any commotion at the nearby apartment until cops showed up this morning.

“It’s always been quiet around here, that’s for sure,” she said. “No problems, we all watch out for each other.”

Shifrina’s home is across the street from a middle school and Needham police have stepped up their presence around schools today.

“I have had contact with the school superintendent this morning,” said Needham Police Chief John Schlittler. “We believe this to be an isolated incident. The town of Needham is a very safe town. We have increased our patrols around the school, just as a matter of public view.”