When he died three years ago at age 38, Russian-born Kyril Faenov was an American success story with a family, money, and a promising future as a visionary computer programmer. Having risen to head of Microsoft’s High Performance Computing Lab, Faenov and wife Lauren Selig, daughter of the man who built Seattle’s tallest skyscraper, lived here with their two young daughters. Their marriage of 10 years began with Faenov’s proposal on bended knee in Paris.
But behind this perfect life was the reality of a troubled man battling with his visions. As his mental health deteriorated and he sought psychiatric counseling, darkness set in. On May 25, 2012, Faenov committed suicide.
He would be remembered for, among other things, his smile and his empathy for others. He’d also be remembered as the man who urged Bill Gates to step into the supercomputer market and successfully persuaded Steve Ballmer to launch the company’s Technical Computing Initiative.
The story of Faenov’s life, and death, should have ended there. But it has come alive again from the grave, and is quietly being retold in courtrooms. A civil lawsuit brought by his mother, Marina Braun, seeks to have Faenov unearthed from a Jewish cemetery atop Queen Anne Hill and reinterred in Portland where she lives.
She is suing Lauren Selig, today a Hollywood producer, and her father, mega-developer Martin Selig, in the belief they have abandoned both Faenov’s grave and his memory. For the land baron, who developed the 76-story Columbia Center and continues to erect towers around the city, it is likely the biggest battle over the smallest piece of real estate he owns, and so far he is winning.
Selig paid $13,200 for the plot at Hills of Eternity Cemetery, run by Temple De Hirsch Sinai, where Faenov was buried without a headstone. Under Jewish tradition, a marker can be placed on a grave at any time up to the first anniversary of a death, in a ceremony called the unveiling.
But, says Braun, there was no headstone after the first or the second year. And a headstone that had been put in place by Faenov’s friends was removed under threat of a lawsuit by Lauren Selig, Braun claims. “The grave had been desecrated by the daughter of one of the most powerful and wealthiest people in Seattle,” she tells me, leaving behind scarred earth where the headstone was.
She also claims in court records that her son’s family cut all ties with her, that Lauren changed her name back to Selig prior to Faenov’s death, and that after the death she changed her children’s names to Selig and will not allow Braun to see them.
Braun provided copies of e-mails she exchanged with Lauren, who has since moved to Los Angeles and stepped quickly into a Hollywood executive producer role. (Her credits include Lone Survivor with Mark Wahlberg and A Walk Among the Tombstones with Liam Neeson). In one, Braun recounts a phone call from Lauren. She allegedly told Braun it was “disgusting” no one thanked her father for arranging the funeral for “your son.” Braun apologized and said she and others were more consumed with the pain and sorrow of Kyril’s death.
Braun did hope, however, to return to Seattle in a few weeks to visit the grave again and get together with Andrea Selig, Martin’s wife, whom she e-mailed. Lauren Selig responded for Andrea: “Do not e-mail my mother anymore. She has no interest in meeting with you or seeing you.” Braun also claims Lauren has thwarted her attempts to see her grandchildren, and at the funeral reception—when she picked up one granddaughter—Lauren “came over, and without any explanation, grabbed her out of my arms and left me standing by myself.”
I asked the Seligs and their attorney to respond to Braun’s claims, noting that Braun portrays the family in an unforgiving light. After hearing nothing and placing a second set of phone calls and e-mails seeking comment, I got an e-mail from attorney Chuck Rullman. The “silence was intentional,” he wrote. “Please do not contact us further on this issue.”
In court papers, Rullman dismisses Braun’s claims and says “Ms. Selig will not be baited into a war of words with her former mother-in-law.” Braun’s attorney, Matt Menzer, says the Seligs have used “take no prisoners” tactics in court, and claims Selig’s attorney hung up the phone on him “after directing an expletive-laced phrase at petitioner’s counsel.”
Whatever the tactics might be, they’re working. Three months ago, King County Superior Court Judge John Ruhl dismissed Braun’s reinternment petition, and in December refused to reconsider it. Last month, Braun filed an appeal, arguing Ruhl failed to follow the law. Another hearing awaits her—if she lives.
A few months before Kyril died, Braun’s mother died. Nine months after Kyril’s death, Braun’s father died. And two months after Kyril died, Braun was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. She has developed other life-threatening complications, she says. No, she adds, the Seligs have not called.
Rick Anderson writes about sex, crime, money, and politics, which tend to be the same thing. His latest book is Floating Feet: Irregular Dispatches From the Emerald City.