MOSCOW • The bodies of an elderly woman and her daughter were found in Russia beneath a scrawled message demanding freedom for the jailed members of the Pussy Riot band, officials said Thursday.
While a Russian investigator cautioned that the killer was possibly trying to mislead police by drawing attention to the punk provocateurs, the alleged link between a killer and anti-Putin protesters was immediately seized upon by Russian media and pro-Kremlin publicists.
Three members of the band were sentenced this month to two years in prison for a February "punk prayer" performance in Moscow's main cathedral entreating the Virgin Mary to save Russia from Vladimir Putin, who at the time was on the verge of winning a new term as Russian president.
An official of the Russian Orthodox Church on Thursday said supporters of the band bear a moral responsibility for the gruesome killings in the city of Kazan.
"This blood is on the conscience of the so-called public, which supported the participants in the action in Christ the Savior Cathedral, because the result is that people with unstable mentality got carte-blanche," said Archpriest Dmitry Smirnov, the church's envoy to law enforcement agencies, the Interfax news agency reported.
Some publications ran headlines claiming that Pussy Riot supporters "committed" or "inspired" a double homicide. The coverage was full of the mostly negative terms used by Kremlin-friendly television networks and media in their coverage of the protesters' trial.
The trial, widely seen as Kremlin-orchestrated, caused an international furor, with celebrities such as Paul McCartney urging Russian authorities to free the band.
The jailed band members' attorney said on Twitter that "what happened in Kazan is horrible," calling the case "either a horrendous provocation or a psychopathic" case.
"I am sorry that some freaks are using Pussy Riot's band name," Nikolai Polozov was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying.
Russia's Investigative Committee said the women were mother and daughter, aged 76 and 38, and were killed late last week in their apartment in Kazan with the words "Free Pussy Riot" written on the wall in English, "presumably" with blood.
The substance has not yet been confirmed, it said in the statement. The agency did not provide the women's names or reveal details about their occupations or whether they had any connection to the band.
The Russian tabloid Lifenews quoted an unnamed investigator as saying their faces and bodies were disfigured by multiple stab wounds.
An investigator in Kazan said the murderer was either psychotic or a drug addict who was trying to cover up the crime by attributing it to the band's supporters. The killer "was trying to avoid suspicion" by misleading police, investigator Andrey Sheptitsky said in televised remarks.
That sense of caution was ignored by many Russian media outlets.
Kristina Potupchik, a pro-Putin blogger and former spokeswoman for a militant youth group known for its violent pranks against the opposition and Kremlin critics, said in a post that the band's supporters "will not get away" after the killing.
She also compared them to Charles Manson, whose followers used the blood of murder victims to write on the walls of their houses.
The leader of an Orthodox youth group that has accosted and assaulted Pussy Riot supporters claimed that they are capable of committing "any" crime.
"The infernal force that drives them hates God, believers and humankind in general," Dmitry Tsorionov told Interfax on Thursday. "These people are capable of committing any crime, and nothing but force and law can stop them."
The country's dominant Orthodox Church has called the band's stunt sacrilegious, but hundreds of artists, musicians and other intellectuals have signed petitions urging authorities to free them.
Several wooden crosses that stood outside Orthodox churches in Russia and neighboring Ukraine have been toppled by people who have claimed to be the band's supporters.
The band's manager and the husband of one of the jailed rockers, however, said the band disapproved of the vandalism.
A poll released Thursday by the state-run VTsIOM polling agency showed that one-third of Russians considered the two-year jail sentence for the band members too harsh, while another 31 per cent found it appropriate. The survey questioned 1,600 people nationwide on Aug. 25-26 and gave a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.