Ugly World of Modeling: Drugs, Rape, Predators, Isolation

One eyewitness at the scene of model Ruslana Korshunova's plunge to her death in New York City told the tabloids that her blood-splattered body looked beautiful -- "even lying in the street."

The green-eyed, baby-faced girl -- just four days shy of her 21st birthday -- was, in the end, just a commodity in a city of hundreds of stunning models, many of them immigrants.

Even though police ruled Korshunova's death a suicide, and friends claimed she was "on top of the world," blogs from Britain's Daily Telegraph to the Los Angeles Times circulated theories that the Russian mafia had killed the highly paid model because she wanted to leave the fashion industry.

But the mob -- which has been linked to kidnappings and shakedowns of rich Russian National Hockey League players -- may be only one of the many dangers in the predatory world of young models.

That world, say industry insiders, is a pressure cooker populated by a nefarious cast of self-serving agents, promoters and photographers.

"The industry has a see-no-evil approach," said "Tatiana," a 19-year-old model who writes the anonymous "Modelslips" column for

"Another model told me she'd already heard a stylist on a shoot talking about how unfortunate the [suicide] was in the same tone of voice he used when he talked about another model's 'tragic' recent weight gain," she told

Poor 'Russian Rapunzel'

Korshunova, nicknamed the "Russian Rapunzel," followed a typical career path for eastern Europeans -- leaving home at the age of 15 and sending money to her poor family back home. She even bought them a house with her earnings.

While still in her teens, she had graced the covers of Vogue Russia and Elle Paris, and had been featured in ads for DKNY, Vera Wang and Christian Dior.

"It's really tragic," said Noel Ashman, a big player in New York's nightlife scene and owner of the Plumm. "Everyone wants a piece of them."

"The girls get preyed on by everybody, and everyone has their own agenda," the former promoter told "Most come from other countries, from small towns and have never been here before."

Judging by poetry Korshunova had posted on social networking sites, the Kazakhstan-born model was likely a "very young girl who has discovered that romance often fails to live up to its promise," according to Tatiana.

Just hours before jumping from her ninth-floor balcony, Korshunova had spent the evening with her former boyfriend watching "Ghost" -- the bittersweet story of a woman who reconnects with her dead husband.

The lithe, doe-eyed model was a schoolgirl in 2003 when a senior booker at Models 1 agency saw her face in an in-flight magazine story about a German language club in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

"I saw her by chance, and she looked like something out of a fairy tale," Debbie Jones told British Vogue in 2005.

Her life was anything but that, according to Ashman, who had himself left home at 13 to work the "kids" party scene in New York.

"It's a very tough thing to be a young model," said Ashman, now 38. "They are hit so young, and their life span is so short and they are pushed into the adult world at a ridiculously young age when most kids are in junior high school."

These often-naive models are surrounded by "predators," according to Ashman -- from neighbors in cramped agency-provided apartments to promoters, photographers and agents.

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