Cops' lies got me wrongly jailed for 16 YEARS over girl found mutilated in school toilet… real killer is still out there | The Sun

Cops' lies got me wrongly jailed for 16 YEARS over girl found mutilated in school toilet… real killer is still out there | The Sun

July 31, 2023

EVERY day at 1:30pm, Ilana Rada would phone her 13-year-old daughter Tair to ask how her day was going.

On December 6, 2006, for a reason she can't remember, she didn’t make the call.

Tragically, it was around that time Tair walked into her school to get a drink of water from the girls’ bathroom – and was brutally murdered.

Her body was found hours later inside a locked toilet cubicle; her throat was slit, she'd been hit on the head several times and slashed on the chest and hands.

The shocking tragedy rocked the Israeli town of Katzrin and had devastating consequences – not just for Tair’s friends and family, but for Roman Zadorov, a Ukrainian immigrant who was framed for the murder and wrongly imprisoned for 16 years.

Newlywed Roman had just welcomed his first son, Leon, when he was arrested, coerced into making a false confession and convicted – despite considerable evidence that he couldn't be the killer.

The conviction divided the Israeli public, with many, including Ilana, convinced of his innocence.

In 2017 the release of a Netflix documentary, Shadow of Truth, shone a global spotlight on the case.

In March this year, dad-of-two Roman was finally acquitted of all charges at the Court of Appeal, amid emotional scenes to be shown in a fifth instalment of the docuseries, directed by Yotam Guendelman and Ari Pines. 

All five episodes will now air on BBC Four from tonight.

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Roman, pictured around the time he was arrestedCredit: BBC

Roman, now 45, tells The Sun he can’t forgive the corrupt cops and prosecutors who put him behind bars.

“They stole half of my life,” he says. “I missed seeing my eldest son walk or say 'Dada' for the first time. I missed his first birthday. 

“My second son Idan was born in 2015 when I was still in prison and I missed all those things with him as well. I lost my right to be a father.”


Ilana and husband Schmuel already had two boys aged nine and 10 when her only daughter Tair was born.   

“From a young age we felt that Tair was a very precious thing that we wanted to protect at all costs,” she tells The Sun.

“She was very determined, opinionated and kind. She was socially active and loved to dance.

“Tair was so wise and smart for her age that I used to sit next to her bed at night and wonder if God had sent me an angel.” 

On the day of her murder Tair skipped a drama class to hang out with friends in the playground before walking back into school, leaving them outside.

She was due home around 2pm, and at 2:30pm, concerned Ilana called her, but there was no answer.

“I got more and more worried as the hours went by, because it was getting dark and it was very cold," she recalls.

Shmuel went out looking for his daughter and, as word spread across the close-knit town, friends and neighbours joined the search.

The last place they checked was the school, where one of Shmuel’s friends found Tair’s backpack in a classroom.

Then he looked in the toilets and discovered her blood-soaked body. 

Local police chief Avi Shai told the documentary he had dealt with over 200 murders, but "this was one of the most horrifying sights – a young, pretty, fragile girl, mutilated”.

“They tried to keep Shmuel away from there so he wouldn't have to see with his own eyes," says Ilana. 

“He was distraught and he had to call me and tell me Tair had been murdered.

“I was in complete shock and couldn't accept it. For many days I sat at home waiting for Tair to walk through the front door and tell me that it was all a bad dream.

“It was devastating for the entire family. It’s a parent’s worst nightmare and it could happen to anyone… nothing can prepare you for the moment you realise that you need to bury your own daughter.”


The brutal crime spread fear among locals and shocked the nation, putting police under pressure to catch a culprit quickly.

Initially classmates with links to a satanic cult were suspected of being involved, but police dismissed this.

They arrested a homeless man and the school gardener, but both proved they were not at the school that day.

They eventually arrested Roman, then 28, who had been doing maintenance work at the school. 

Born in Ukraine, he moved to Israel in 2003 and married wife Olga, in 2006. Their son was born that October – and a month later he was arrested.

“I was a normal person. I had a family, I was working in repairs, trying to provide for my family and I was at the end of the process of obtaining Israeli citizenship," he says. "That all came to a halt.”


Police released a statement falsely claiming they had found Roman’s DNA at the scene and he was remanded in custody.

They also produced a motive, claiming he had refused Tair a cigarette and she had become abusive, causing him to kill her in a fit of rage.

Tair’s friends said she hated the smell of cigarettes and was never rude or insulting to anyone.

During his interrogation the police lied to Roman, claiming they had found Tair’s blood on his tools, and told him repeatedly he was going to prison for life unless he confessed.

A police informant, planted in his cell, can be heard in audio tapes telling him Israeli police never falsify evidence, and providing him with details of the crime – including the fact Tair was not sexually assaulted – so he could make a convincing confession in order to get a lighter sentence.

Roman is heard repeatedly saying he didn’t kill Tair, but his cellmate becomes angry and tells him he has “shot many enemies”, urging him to confess.

Roman eventually buckled, and in another shocking tape, police are seen leading him through his “confession”, telling him to “think again” if he got a detail wrong – including the fact the cubicle door was locked, which he clearly didn’t know.

They also claimed they found pictures of naked underage girls, snuff movies and an article on “overpowering people with a knife” on his computer. 


Roman says he was an “idiot” to confess, but was “brainwashed”.

“They weren't treating me as a human being,” he says. “They decided I was the murderer and that there is no one else and that’s how they treated me from the get-go.

“The police lied to me and kept telling me they have more and more evidence, including DNA and the girl’s blood on my stuff. I had always trusted the police so I didn’t know it was a lie.

“Then I would come back to my cell and the informant was there, but I thought he was my mentor and my only friend in the world. 

“On the one hand, I knew I was innocent, but I really believed that they had all this evidence somehow. 

“They said, ‘If you confess you will get a reduced sentence,' which happens in the Ukraine, but not in Israel.”

On the one hand, I knew I was innocent, but I really believed that they had all this evidence somehow

Roman retracted his confession the following day and refused to plead involuntary manslaughter for a reduced sentence. 

Despite lack of evidence, Roman was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to life.

In a 2014 appeal, experts disputed two key pieces of evidence.

Forensics expert William Bodziak found that three bloody footprints found in the toilet stall, including on the cistern and wall, could not have belonged to Roman.

The prosecution agreed but claimed they belonged to one of the people who had discovered the body, despite the fact those interviewed said they didn't climb over the cubicle wall.

Pathologist Dr. Maya Forman-Reznik testified the murder weapon was a serrated knife, not the flat-edge tool that Roman has been accused of using.

The court disregarded the evidence and upheld the conviction, based on the confession alone.

“Prison was hard. It's a very lonely place,” says Roman. “You don't have your family and it's not a place for normal people, because you don’t know what the other people in there are capable of.

"It can be very scary. For the first time I knew what it means to lose your freedom.”

'Freed by Netflix'

The inconsistencies in the case were picked up by the makers of Shadow of Truth.

Initially released in Israel in 2017, it was a huge hit and snapped up by Netflix, which had recently scored success with its miscarriage of justice docu-series Making A Murderer.

In 2021 the Supreme Court ordered a full retrial and released Roman on house arrest. 

Expert witnesses testified the bloody prints could only belong to the killer, who climbed out of the stall, and that they weren’t Roman’s. 

A computer expert revealed the downloads which had led the jury to believe Roman was a “violent pervert” were there before he owned the second-hand equipment, and a former Secret Service specialist pointed at signs his confession was false.

When Roman was cleared, Ilana was among those who welcomed the verdict, having always believed he was innocent. 

“Through all the trials and appeals I have been disappointed, but the Supreme Court hearing was entirely different… a lot of it is thanks to Shadow of Truth and everything it exposed,” she says. 

Prison was hard. It's a very lonely place… It can be very scary. For the first time I knew what it means to lose your freedom

“The judges not only acquitted Zadorov but they also said that they think the case should be reopened and investigated, which is what I want to see happen.

“I just want to know what really happened to my daughter.”

Despite his ordeal, softly spoken Roman remains a polite, gentle man, now focused on the difficult task of rebuilding his life.

“It's hard to explain the feeling of joy of being released,” he says. 

“After 16 years that I fought to prove my innocence… Shadow of Truth came out and made a huge impact. Finally I got acquitted and was reunited with my family. 

“I'm trying to spend as much time with my kids as I can to make up for all the time I lost.

"It hasn’t been easy because my oldest son was 15 when I was released, and suddenly there's a man in the house that he almost doesn't know, telling him what to do.

“That was hard for him but after a time, we reconnected."

Roman says it was "easier" to connect with his younger son – conceived during a conjugal visit.

“We are very close and spend a lot of time together. I just want to get back to a routine life and work," he adds.

Olga, who he calls his “diamond”, has steadfastly stood by him.

“It was very traumatic for my wife because she was left alone to raise the two kids. Everything fell on her shoulders which was very hard for both of us," he says.

“She’s one in a billion. She’s my gift from the heavens.”

Long years in jail have left their mark – his health deteriorated and psychologically it's been "very difficult".

“I was injured during a raid on my cell, when the officers were very violent, and I needed psychiatric treatment for post traumatic stress," he adds.

"But thank God I still have my eyes and my legs and I’m going to focus on the good things.”

Ilana, now 60, remains close to her sons and finds strength in her two grandchildren, aged 10 and one. Another is due imminently.

“After Tair’s death, Shmuel and I became so focused on the case and the trial that we forgot about our two other sons, who also lost their sister, and how traumatic it was for them. 

“It took a while for me to realise that. Then Shmuel got cancer. He died in 2016, on the day they opened a synagogue in the town named after Tair.” 

She has now made it her “life’s work” to talk about Tair and push police to find the real killer.

“The pain never goes away, It doesn't fade and it isn't forgotten. On the contrary, the more time passes, the harder it becomes," she admits.

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“But I owe it to Tair to find the truth.”

Shadow of Truth airs from July 31 at 10pm on BBC Four.

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