With his mop of blond hair and gregarious, in-your-face nature, Gary Alderdice was nothing less than a character. Among Hong Kong's then tight-knit legal community in the early 1990s, he stood out - a smart lawyer, mad-keen racegoer, formidable tennis player and, most glaringly, a massive ball of fun. Those attributes were on full display in Alderdice's leisure-time job of author. His sharp wit shone through in books with titles like Let's Kill all the Lawyers and The World's Greatest Horseracing Book Ever. Such a person attracts many friends and the senior lawyer from New Zealand who arrived in Hong Kong in 1973 was blessed with plenty - a good number of them in high legal places. Eleven years ago this week, a large swathe of Hong Kong's elite society was in shock when word filtered through from Vladivostok that Alderdice, 49, and a Russian prostitute 29 years his junior had been found dead in a shabby little flat on the wrong side of town. In the following days, the story would get increasingly bizarre, with the revelation that the beautiful young woman was his lover from Macau and that they had been shot dead and possibly tortured. Claims emerged that he had been carrying US$150,000 to either buy her freedom from the Russian mafia, or a McDonald's franchise or property. His closest friends were confused. Although he frequently went to Macau, especially after separating from his second wife five months earlier, no one was aware of the new woman in his life. Russian authorities arrested three men, but they were later freed. In 2001, a written confession emerged from a jailed woman who later died of a heroin overdose, but the two men she named as having helped her carry out the killings are now also thought to be dead. She claimed it was meant to be a robbery and that murder had never been intended. The motives in other tellings of the story were more romantic, speaking of mafia mobsters out to teach a lesson or KGB agents eager to protect their patch. There is no mystery as to why Alderdice might have been attracted to Natalia Samofalova. Full-breasted, 183cm tall with long, blonde hair and blue eyes, she was a natural magnet for a man known as much for his love of women, wine and song as his legal prowess. The pair are believed to have first met in Macau some time in March 1994. Samofalova was 19 when she arrived in the then Portuguese enclave from the mainland the previous August and two months later was working at the Skylight nightclub in the Presidente Hotel as a dancer - a euphemism at the venue for a prostitute. Like other prostitutes there, a percentage of the money she made from customers went to the Russian gangsters who had brought her from Vladivostok. At the time of Samofalova's arrival, Alderdice's marriage to his second wife Pippa was falling apart. They had no children, although the popular criminal lawyer, who had been made a Queen's Counsel the previous year, had three sons from his previous marriage. Friends and associates noticed that the marital tension was affecting Alderdice's work and outlook on life. He became quiet and withdrawn. On January 24 at 8.43pm, in answer to a phone call from Alderdice, an ambulance pulled up outside the family's luxury home on Chung Hom Kok Road near Stanley. The lawyer, bleeding heavily from a chest wound, was taken to Hong Kong Adventist Hospital for treatment. He was discharged the next day and soon after his wife returned to New Zealand, purportedly with a settlement of $6 million. Good friend and legal partner Gary Plowman, who is still practising in Hong Kong, said at the time: 'The break-up affected him enormously ... He didn't feel he could do his best work and took some time off.' Another friend, Peter Sherwood, who co-wrote books with Alderdice, said he had been trying to 'reach out' to the lawyer for some time. 'He was withdrawn,' he said. From April 5 to May 9, Alderdice and Samofalova stayed at Macau's Westin Resort, although the woman was not registered as a guest. She ended work at the Skylight on the day they checked out and later in the month returned to Vladivostok while the lawyer went back to Hong Kong. In the Russian Far East city, she bought a two-room, 450-sq-ft apartment in the crime-ridden 1st of May district for US$20,000. On June 22, she telephone friends in Macau and told them Alderdice was flying to see her and that she would not be returning. Alderdice arrived the following day, but there is still confusion about whether he came direct from Hong Kong or via Moscow. The amount of money he was carrying is also uncertain - police said he declared US$150,000 on arrival, although subsequent checks of his bank accounts reveal it was more likely between US$2,500 and US$3,000. He was reportedly met by Samofalova and a former boyfriend, who has never been identified, and the trio then went to the Vladivostok Hotel, where the lawyer checked in and deposited his passport and possibly the money, which has never been found. The group went to Samofalova's flat and stayed a short time before leaving, according to the only neighbour living on the floor, a 47-year-old woman who only wanted to be identified as Maria K. She heard a number of people return at 11pm, and was woken at 3.30am by 'some strange noises, as if someone was chopping wood'. By morning, the sound had stopped, but the neighbour was concerned and phoned police. They told her they would investigate only if she observed 'something serious' happening. That afternoon, Samofalova's mother Naoiejda went to the flat. With the neighbour's help, the door of the falt was forced - and a disturbing scene revealed. Samofalova was slouched in one of the two armchairs with her hands tied together with rope; Alderdice was lying half-naked on a bed in the other room, his feet covered by a blanket. Both had been shot in the head at point-blank range, Alderdice in the eye. Police gave conflicting accounts as to whether the couple had been tortured, but quickly concluded that it was a case of robbery. Theories still abound as to whether the motive is more sinister. The one favoured by the media at the time was that the mafia carried out the killings to send a warning to other women they controlled not to cross them. Another story was that Alderdice had been trying to buy Samofalova from her pimps and that they had taken exception to his bargaining. Police arrested a young man, Sergei Sukhanov, whose fingerprints were found in the apartment. A travel agent rumoured to be involved in trafficking Russian women to China and Macau, he claimed he was a close friend of Samofalova and helped her buy her apartment. He was released several weeks later and two other men were arrested, but they were also freed. In 2001, Russian police released a letter written two years earlier by a woman held on a drugs charge who claimed the murders were the result of a botched robbery. Olga Bogdashevskaya, 29, who had died of a heroin overdose when the letter was revealed, wrote that she was a friend of Samofalova's and believed that Alderdice had been bringing a large quantity of money to Vladivostok to open a McDonald's franchise. She said she had arranged a dinner at the flat for her boyfriend and another friend with the intention of robbing Alderdice. An argument broke out and the lawyer was shot in the eye and Samofalova was tortured and then also shot dead. Prosecutors said they could not act on the confession because Bogdashevskaya died in prison while suffering withdrawal from her heroin addiction. The other two men were also believed to have since died. A close friend of Alderdice's, fellow lawyer Michael Lunn - now a High Court judge presiding over a trial involving the alleged murder of a senior Merrill Lynch banker - said at the time he had no reason to doubt the account, although he would need to know more before accepting it as the truth. He went to Vladivostok to identify Alderdice's body and help Russian police with their investigation. Mr Plowman believed the murders were still a mystery and that 'no one is any the wiser'. 'You have to accept what you get from Russia and that's that,' he explained from his Admiralty chambers last week. 'You can't go into a foreign country and conduct your own investigation. You have to accept what the Russian authorities tell you.'