PORTLAND, Ore.—His war hero grandfather and namesake fought the Nazis, his parents are respected scientific scholars in Bulgaria, and a former Reagan administration lawyer and his physician wife helped raise him as a teenager, all predicting a bright future.
Doitchin Krastev walked away from it all in college and vanished about 15 years ago, eventually assuming the identity of a 3-year-old Ohio boy killed during a kidnapping
If Krastev had not applied for a passport, if the State Department had not begun running its own checks on death certificates, if a ski trip had been forgotten, Krastev might still be Jason Robert Evers, an Oregon Liquor Control Commission investigator nearly halfway around the world from his native Bulgaria.
“When the State Department investigators called me up, the call was: ‘Listen you better be sitting down, this is really going to be something,'” said Michael Horowitz, former general counsel for the Office of Management and Budget in the Reagan administration.
Horowitz befriended Krastev’s parents, Dincho and Baychinskia Krastev, while he was visiting Russia and Eastern Europe and researching ways to help the scientific community recover after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Dincho Krastev is a mathematician and director of the Central Library of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, while his wife is one of the leading Jungian scholars in Eastern Europe.
Horowitz and his wife, Dr. Devra Marcus, an internist, offered their home to the Krastevs to allow Doitchin to study in the United States.
Doitchin Krastev lived with Horowitz and Marcus from 1992 to 1994, graduated from the prestigious Georgetown Day high school and earned a scholarship to Davidson College in Charlotte, N.C. But as Krastev entered his second year at Davidson, his grades were poor, he seemed unhappy and ready to drop out, Horowitz said.
“I remember one day driving all the way to Davidson and finding him in the pizza place where he was doing deliveries and just giving everything I could to persuade him what a mistake this was,” said Horowitz, now the director of the Hudson Institute’s Project for Civil Justice Reform and Project for International Religious Liberty in Washington.
But after returning home to McLean, Va., Horowitz said he got a call from Krastev, who said he had decided to leave college. “And we have not seen him for 15 years,” said Horowitz, who hired private detectives to search for Krastev.
Krastev spent much of that time in Colorado before moving to Oregon, where he was hired by the Oregon liquor agency in 2002, passing state background checks as Jason Evers.
He bought a house in Bend in Central Oregon, and worked in that area and in Nyssa, on the Idaho border, for eight years before he was arrested in Idaho in late April by the Diplomatic Security Service, a State Department agency that began double-checking death records in 2005 to catch passport application imposters.
His birth certificate and Social Security number matched the death certificate for Jason Evers, killed in Cincinnati in 1982 during a botched kidnapping by a 17-year-old boy who wanted money for a new car. Horowitz said Krastev was only about 7 at the time, a child growing up in a Bulgaria then struggling under the weight of a failing communist government and economy.
Horowitz said he believes that childhood experience during one of the worst times in Bulgaria and the prospect of returning to an uncertain future after Krastev graduated from college were factors in his decision to disappear from his former life.
“The many evils of communism that I came to see was such an extraordinary experience,” Horowitz said of his travels in the former Soviet Union and the aftermath of the collapse.
“There was a psychological impact from living in those kinds of dreadful societies, and in that dreadful culture,” he said. “And Doitchin saw it.” Chris Galvin, who had befriended Krastev in Denver in the late 1990s, said he was sure there was something painful in the past that Krastev was trying to avoid.
They played tennis, poker, pool and chess together, and Krastev would let slip clues to his past when they drank a little too much, but otherwise Galvin said he was good friend and one of the most intelligent people he’s ever known. “But I always felt like he was running when I knew him,” Galvin said.
Galvin and a college friend, Gary Franks, once took a Colorado ski trip with Krastev, and Franks was having morning coffee this week when he recognized Krastev from photos on newspaper websites.
Franks called Galvin, leading to a crucial tip that helped federal investigators identify Krastev, who had refused to reveal his true name since he was charged with providing false information on his passport application.
The response from his friends and family has been overwhelming relief that Krastev has resurfaced, and that he was not hiding something sinister. But Galvin says he feels guilty about his contribution, wondering whether he betrayed the trust of a friend, and hopes Krastev does not have to pay too dear a price for his actions.
Horowitz said he worries that Krastev may have to serve some federal prison time under a law that is aimed more at catching terrorists and stopping drug cartels. He said he is convinced now that his surrogate son has led a good life despite turning his back on his family, finding a good job, a future with the woman he planned to marry, and a sense of belonging to a community.
“The irony is the fact that he’s built a good life means that he’s more likely to lose it,” Horowitz said. After some legal wrangling over his refusal to tell a federal judge who he really is, Krastev was ordered released to home detention in Bend with electronic monitoring. But federal prosecutors challenged the order, and he remains in custody in Portland pending a June 14 arraignment hearing.
Amy Evers, who was 6 when her brother, Jason, was killed, said Saturday she, too, is relieved that Krastev was not hiding a criminal past. She and her father, Bob Evers, are preparing to attend another parole hearing in Ohio next week for Adrian Williams, the man who killed Jason, and was sentenced to a maximum of 50 years in prison.
Amy Evers said the timing of Krastev’s arrest and the publicity his refusal to reveal his true identity generated brought up many painful memories, and she hopes Krastev will apologize for taking Jason’s name.
She also wants to meet him and understand why he decided to walk away from his own family.
“If he’s a good person, now he’s throwing his entire life away,” Evers said. “The more that I hear, it upsets me more and more.”