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Private Investigation Launched to Find Missing Screenwriter

By John Fortin

AP: In a strange case of Truth is Stranger than Fiction, a Los Angeles-based screenplay writer has vanished, and his mafia and occult connections suspected in the disappearance seem to mirror the characters in his latest film.

Robert Hurley, 27, a Culver City native and one time computer engineer, has not been heard from since late February, after many attempts to contact him via phone calls, e-mails, and visits to his home in Los Angeles. The latest film based on his screenplay, "Notes from the New World", tells a modern day version of Russian novelist F.M. Dostoyevsky's "Notes from the Underground", complete with Russian mafia gangsters and a dangerous call girl, and evidence suggests Hurley's disappearance is due to real life characters who inspired the script.

Abandoning his job at Teletech Technology, Hurley hooked up with Vitaly Sumin, a fellow screenwriter from New Playwrights Foundation after a chance meeting and Hurley went back to his first love: writing. Vitaly, a Russian native and creator of the film company VM Productions, took a shine to Hurley and looked over a very rough draft of the script for "Notes from the New World." They visited Sumin's hometown of St. Petersburg to get a better feel for the language, people and culture, and Hurley's rough draft took shape with Sumin finishing the script. In Hurley's quest for authenticity for the character in the story, he met a call girl--which the main character in "Notes" does as well--via a contact to an agency suggested by Sumin.

Apparently, however, Hurley became a little too smitten with the girl--Natalya--and became entangled in her dealings with members of the Russian mafia.

“None of us would have believed Bob could've gotten himself into something like this," said Kellie Yackee, Set PA for VM Productions. "He was an easy going guy who pretty much kept to himself."

Thinking an investigation into Hurley's disappearance might provide good additional footage for Behind the Scenes documentary for the film, Sumin asked Kellie and Colin Walsh, 2nd assistant to the director for the film, to take some photographers around and locate Hurley. Sumin’s second goal was to create legal evidence, should the situation become dangerous. And right away things seemed wrong.

Yackee and Walsh went to Hurley's apartment and found it abandoned. There were many missing items, including the only copy of Vitaly’s original shooting script, which Hurley promised to return. They came across his diary, however, and some postcards addressed to Russia but never sent. Yackee and Walsh went to various places around the city that his diary made reference to in an attempt to find more clues as to Hurley's whereabouts, but were met with odd circumstances, including some love letters addressed to Ellie Araiza, a member of the cast.

"Robert’s diary said he'd been in love with me, although I don't know why," Araiza stated. "We hardly knew each other."

Later an anonymous caller agreed to meet Araiza at a local cafe and give back the shooting script, provided she come alone. Araiza went with Brett Mack, a fellow cast member, and Jon Edwards, the films cinematographer.
Araiza recalls what happened. "When we got there, this creepy guy with dark sunglasses kept watching us from a distance. When we tried to approach him, he just ran."

Creepier yet were two pentagrams lying on the cafe table when they got back, showing occult symbols and rituals of human sacrifice.

Yackee also began to worry when they'd come across a passage in Hurley's extensive diary, where he mentions that he feared for his life.

"He and his girlfriend Natalya had been in Mexico," Yackee said. "And the listing mentioned a practice of sacrifice and rituals, and how he feared Natalya might be a victim. But there weren't any details."

Yackee said she wasn’t quite sure whether to take the occult listings seriously, but became more worried with a passage that said Natalya's mafia bosses were after her.

"It's frustrating," she said. "He didn't give enough details in the diary."

The frustration turned to alarm when Vitaly Sumin's brother e-mailed him and said he'd seen Hurley and Natalya trying to leave a casino in St. Petersburg, but were stopped by a number of alleged members of the mafia.

"My brother said he'd overheard them demanding Bob's winnings to cover the money he owed them," Sumin said. "But they made no mention of any kind of gambling debts. Natalya was apparently pretty frightened."

While there is no proof of any connection so far between Hurley's supposed interest in the occult and his dealings with the Russian mafia, his associates in the script writing world and the producers of the film are worried there might be.

And in the world of filmmaking, anything is possible…

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