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Andrei Chikatilo

A native of the Ukraine, born October 16, 1939, Andrei Chikatilo was a late-blooming serial killer who traced his crimes back to early childhood. His family had suffered greatly during Joseph Stalin’s forced collectivization in the 1930s, Chikatilo said. Apart from knowing poverty and hunger, he had lost an older brother, allegedly murdered and cannibalized by neighbors during the famine that claimed millions of Russian lives. Whether the tale was true or not, young Andrei’s mother drilled it into him with frequent repetition, and his later deeds would replicate the act.

While most serial murderers kill for the first time in their teens or early twenties, Chikatilo was a slow starter. With a university degree, a wife and two children, he presented the appearance of a meek family man, but dark urges were brewing behind that pacific façade. Employed as a school dormitory supervisor, Chikatilo was fired over allegations that he had molested male students. A new job, as a factory supply clerk in Rostov-on-Don, required frequent travel by bus or train, and Chikatilo turned the circumstance to his advantage, trolling for victims in bus depots and railway stations.

The self-described “mad beast” and “mistake of nature” committed his first murder on December 22, 1978, in the town of Shakhty. The body of his victim, a nine-year-old girl whom Chikatilo strangled, raped, and stabbed repeatedly, was pulled from the Grushevka River days later. Chikatilo was one of many suspects questioned in the case, but police soon focused on 25-year-old Alexander Kravchenko, an ex-convict who had served time for murder and rape. In custody, Kravchenko was beaten by police until he confessed, whereupon he was sentenced to death and shot by a firing squad. The “solution” looked good on paper, but it naturally failed to deter the real killer from striking again.

The terror began in earnest nearly three years later, in September 1981. Over the next nine years, dozens of corpses would be found in wooded areas adjacent to train or bus depots, grossly mutilated by a phantom who was quickly dubbed the “Rostov Ripper.” The victims included young women and children of both sexes, raped and stabbed repeatedly in a pattern of grisly overkill. Some victims had their tongues bitten off; others were disemboweled, sometimes with organs missing that suggested the killer might be indulging in cannibalism. (Chikatilo later confessed to occasionally nibbling on internal organs but denied consuming human flesh.) Repeated stab wounds to the face were a specific trademark of the killer, but the mutilations he inflicted otherwise appeared to follow no set pattern.

Chikatilo may have come late to the murder game, but he was making up for lost time. At the peak of his homicidal frenzy, in 1984, eight victims were found in the month of August alone. Chikatilo was held for questioning again that year and released for lack of evidence after Communist official intervened on his behalf, lamenting the “persecution” of a loyal party member.

It would take another six years, with some 25,000 suspects interrogated, before police came back to Chikatilo a third time and finally bagged their killer. Part of the problem was communist mythology, maintaining that such “decadent Western crimes” as serial murder never occurred in a “people’s republic.” State censorship forbade police from broadcasting descriptions of their suspect – or even admitting his crimes had occurred – and homicide investigators were thus reduced to the same cloak-and-dagger routine that had retarded investigation or earlier, similar cases. Propaganda aside, however, there seemed to be mayhem aplenty in Rostov-on-Don: before it ended, the Ripper investigation would disclose 95 additional murders and 235 rapes committed by other human predators in the district.

Chikatilo finally ran out of luck in November 1990, when he was spotted in a Rostov railway station, sporting bloodstains on his face and hand. While he was not arrested at the time, his name was taken down, and the discovery of another victim near the depot two weeks later prompted his arrest on November 20. After eight days of interrogation, Chikatilo confessed a total of 55 murders, leading police to several corpses they had not discovered yet. His recitation of atrocities – illustrated by demonstration on mannequins – included sadistic mutilation of several victims while they were still alive.

Charged with 53 counts of murder, Chikatilo went on trial in June 1992; four months later, on October 15, he was convicted on all but one count and sentenced to death. A last-minute appeal for clemency was rejected by President Boris Yeltsin on February 15, 1994, and Chikatilo was executed that same day, with a pistol shot to the back of his head. Alexander Kravchenko, meanwhile, was posthumously pardoned for the slaying of Chikatilo’s original victim.