You’ve likely never heard of him, but Russia’s ‘Rostov Ripper’, Andrei Chikatilo is arguably the most brutal serial killer in the annals of criminal history. Examining just how a meek, scared little boy turned into one of the most gruesome and bloodthirsty psychopaths of all time is fascinating, repulsive, and necessary all at once if we don’t want this kind of history repeated.
The prime catalysts of that transformation included famine, warped fairy tales, ideological and political hubris, staggering indifference to human life, gross miscarriages of justice which cost the life of 2 innocent men, and old fashioned ineptitude of big bureaucracies.
This portrait has been divided into 2 parts — both of which are on this page — because of the sheer amount of pertinent information necessary to understand just how one of the worst serial killers in history came to be.
…Yelena’s head propelled through the wall of the decrepit house’s front room with a powerful thud. The man who initiated the blow removed his hand from the knocked out girl for a second. His reptilian tongue lapping up the small trail of his blood left from a stray nail in the wall that nicked him, breaking the skin. His free hand went from fingering the butcher’s blade in his pocket to positioning it against her flesh. Hungrily eyeing the bleeding Yelena, the Monster had to steady himself for what he was about to do…
Yelena (she always went by “Lana”) was walking home after overstaying at her friend’s house that past Thursday. Two 9-year old girls together for an entire night tended to equal a lot of giggling and styling of each other’s dark hair. Especially considering it was a little over a week before one of their favorite times of year: Christmas. Lana knew despite the depressing and poverty-stricken conditions of her city, Rostov, on the Don River in Russia, her father really tried to make her extra happy every year around this time by giving her pieces of candy he got from their “German Uncle Fritz” from East Berlin. It was 1978 and things seemed to be getting a bit better too. At least, based upon what Uncle Fritz told them as “news from the West”.
The Tootsie Rolls were her favorite. That perfect taste of chocolate in her mouth, melty and gooey (but not too gooey) as she chewed: she loved it. She just wished Daddy didn’t have to work so hard the rest of the year to keep the little bit of food on the table that her family did get. She had heard from her friend about something that might be able to help Daddy have to work less. Every year, around New Year’s, her family would write their wishes for the year on a piece of paper, burn the paper, mix the ashes in champagne or vodka (vodka was yucky) and drink the mixture. Her friend said this would give them magic power to make wishes come true — her grandma told her it was a very old magical tradition, dating to some 100 years before the Revolution of 1917 when teacher said the Working Classes finally rose up and threw off their chains.
It was something her grandma told her; as did her grandma before that and her grandma before that. Her friend showed her the family’s bottle of champagne-mixture for the upcoming New Year’s celebration. Looking at Yelena, she said, “you wanna try some, Lana? It’s magic!”
“I do as long as it’s not yucky vodka!”
So, the girl’s drank a little bit of the champagne-mixture. A move Yelena was now regretting as she was far from home in the bitter cold, rain and snow, and she had to pee. Bad. Her pace quickened from her full bladder as a tired-looking man in a haggard, long black coat and thick glasses approached her from a forest path to her left, his voice strangely childlike in its cadence but disguising its deeper sound quality, “Little girl, do you want some candy? I have bubble gum!”
Yelena ignored him. Gum was a rare treat she and her friends really enjoyed, but she had far more pressing needs at the moment.
“Hey!”, he bellowed, managing to get straight in her path. “I asked you if you want some gum!”
“No thanks Mister”, she looked up at him with wide eyes, “I really have to get home and use the toilet.”
“I have a toilet in my home! It’s just right over there”, he gestured to his right to a 3-room shanty creaking and moaning under the increasing weight of the snow and rain hitting it. It appeared that nothing but a small branch held the entire structure up.
“You can follow me and then have some candy too.”
Yelena thought for a second on this. He looked weird and he smelled weirder — like sweat and the neighbor’s chicken coop: but why was he sweating so hard at the beginning of Winter here in Russia?
Still, she did REALLY have to pee. Maybe she could do it real quick then finish the route home.
They began the walk to the house… Little did Yelena know that she would be the first in the (at least) 52-people-long trail of some of the most disgusting and morally repugnant acts of lust murder, necrophilia, cannibalism, eviscerations, and abhorrent sex acts ever chronicled in the annals of crime on any continent. All perpetrated against women, children, and young adults.
The Rostov Ripper, Andrei Chikatilo, is responsible for them all. Bureaucratic hubris, incompetence, inefficiencies, people looking the other way towards crimes against the most vulnerable in Russian society, rumors running rampant, and even the wrong man being executed, aided his over 14 year reign of terror. The Russian authorities had EIGHT separate chances to stop him after the first murder alone. Yet they did not for reasons we’ll look at below. Nevertheless, the hunt for the Rostov Ripper grew to such huge proportions that 1,000 crimes — all unrelated to Chikatilo’s murders — were solved in the process.
The Monster is Born
Andrei Chikatilo was born on October 16, 1936 in Yabluchne, Sumy Oblast, USSR — now rural Ukraine. His parents were both farm laborers in Stalin’s massive, forced collectivization of agriculture (beginning 7-years earlier in 1929) which caused major famines, especially in the Ukraine (called “Holodomor” there), which was known for its grain output.
This policy literally meant that itinerant farmers were forced at the point of a gun to give their entire crop output — and usually machinery like tractors — to the state. Conditions were appalling during this time, but by most accounts the Chikatilos did their best with what they had: a small, one room house and a bit of land behind it to till, in lieu of actual pay from Stalin’s government for their back-breaking labor. The deaths during this period would later be estimated at 3 million people in the Ukraine in 1933 alone.
The Chikatilo’s were in no worse straits than their neighbors at this time. Andrei himself claimed to have not had bread until he was 12-years old because of the famine. Many, many people were so hungry they were forced to eat leaves, grass, and sometimes people. This became a large enough problem that the Party in Moscow was forced to make propaganda like the photo below, which actually excused acts of it (to put it mildly).
The translation is:
People who eat one [sic] other because of the famine are not cannibals. Cannibals are those who don’t want to redistribute the church’s gold to the starving.
When Andrei was about 5, his mother started telling him a story about an older brother who died before Andrei was born (other sources say it was a cousin). According to Andrei’s mother, in 1934, the villagers were so hungry during the famine that they chased the poor child down, presumably cannibalized him, and he was never seen again. The tale horrified and fascinated the young Andrei.
While this story has never been confirmed — it may have been something akin to a folktale told to Andrei as a child to keep his behavior in line, other Ukrainian parents would often do similar things — it is also not out of the realm of possibility, considering we know that survival cannibalism did in fact happen during this era in parts of the Soviet Union.
Whether it’s true or not also is kind of beside the point. The tale, repeated to Andrei as a child several times, unequivocally had a huge effect on the man and his crimes. It became representative of Andrei’s total lack of control over everything in his life — a leitmotif in the psychology motivating his crimes — as we will see in Part 2 below.
World War II
On June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. The Soviet Army called up Andrei’s father, Roman, for service on the Front. He would be captured rather quickly by the Germans and ended up spending the rest of the War as a POW in a prison camp. Andrei would later tell a psychiatrist that one of his first memories was of bombing raids over his village by the Luftwaffe.
Meanwhile, Germany occupied the Ukraine. During this time, the young Andrei likely would’ve seen shootings, hangings, bombings, and all manner of wartime horror, up close. The young Andrei also slept in the same bed as his mother during this time and would wet the bed almost every night. For this she regularly beat him. This instilled a deep sense of self-hatred that would percolate in Andrei’s psychology his whole miserable life.
In 1943, Andrei’s half-sister Tatyana is born. There is speculation that Tatyana was a product of Andrei’s mother being raped by a German soldier. Andrei likely would have witnessed this because of the tiny size of the family home. Seeing the rape of his mother would have only sewn more Oedipal confusion in his subconscious because he was still being regularly-beaten by her and sleeping in her bed every night.
School Days/Roman’s Return
In 1944, Andrei started school. There were problems from the start as he was severely nearsighted but never told his teachers for fear of being teased for having glasses. This would impair his academic performance for a while until he figured out a way around it without glasses: he wouldn’t get his first pair till he was 30. Andrei the student would ultimately be called shy, secretive, and withdrawn by peers and teachers.
His father was liberated from the prison camp in 1949. He contracted a nasty case of tuberculosis while locked up. When Roman returned home he was not viewed as a hero. Even during the War he was seen as a coward by the Party and Stalin’s government: Order 270, given by Stalin during the 1941 invasion, prohibited any commander or soldier from surrendering and ordered them to “fight to the last.”
The policy also arguably laid the groundwork for subsequent mistreatment of former POWs in Russia and gave the citizenry a license to despise the ones who didn’t die or kill themselves while in captivity. Stalin’s infamous paranoia didn’t help the status of former Soviet POWs either. The Chikatilo’s one-room hut would be burned to the ground by locals — for no other reason than Roman’s status as a former POW. Andrei himself would be relentlessly bullied by his schoolmates over his father’s service record. This would plant a profound hatred of his father in his unconscious that grew the rest of his malignant life.
Despite all the shame the Party heaped on his father, Andrei started getting very active in their youth league around this time. He would remain a member in good standing until his crimes came to light almost 40 years later. Some speculate this is when Chikatilo first gets an idea of his impotence. Andrei was arguably identifying some with the aggressor. This propensity of his is in a symbiotic relationship with his sadism. Both will grow together, as we’ll see with this story’s progression.
The Monster’s Teenage Years
Andrei was growing into a good student; proving himself as an excellent reader with a superior memory. Though the question of how exactly he read without glasses is interesting and unanswered. During this time, his fantasy world also grew as he read a lot. He was constantly bullied for his gawky appearance and homemade clothes in addition to the other things mentioned. He found solace in his fantasies, retreating more deeply into his books and vague but abnormal sexual urges that he was able — so far — to suppress.
The adolescent Andrei was chronically shy. Even just sitting next to a girl would cause him to blush very noticeably. This trait caused even further mockery from his peers. Still, he graduated with excellent grades in 1954. That same year, he answered the door at the family’s 1 room house to see his sister’s friend, 13-year old Tanya Bala. His eyes — like a hungry hyena eyeing a limping gazelle — traveled over her body and he pushed her to the ground. He just lay on top of her and nothing else. He would later say to psychiatrists, “I knew then that I was aroused by seeing people suffer”. During this episode, Chikatilo had an involuntary ejaculation.
Andrei had committed his first sadistic act. Notably for the mind of a psychopath (which Chikatilo undoubtedly was) he felt shame after he did the deed and vowed to stay pure until marriage. The next few years, he would concentrate on his studies. He would also come to “disdain sex” during this period — a relevant characteristic with other lust murderers driven by impotence, as we’ll see below.
The Monster Discovers His Impotence
Andrei’s dream during this period was to study at Moscow University, which ultimately would translate into a life beyond school in Moscow. Spots there were highly coveted and scarce in the Soviet Union. He made the trip there to take the entrance exams — sleeping in a train station during the process, working excruciatingly hard. Still, he wasn’t let in because of his grades.
Nevertheless, Andrei knew the real reason: I’m BRILLIANT! So, it’s my father! Killing my dreams! That coward! He is causing me to live in hell YET AGAIN! I’m brilliant! I’m smart! He’s holding me back! Chikatilo’s hatred for his father only grew. Chikatilo set his sights lower after this ordeal. He took a course in communications engineering at a local technical college. This gave him tremendous job prospects in the post-war Soviet environment as an engineering background was very much in demand.
It was around this time that 2 things happened. First, his sister played matchmaker and found him a girlfriend. Still, he constantly blushed around her and could not even maintain eye contact. Second, he found out he was plagued by severe erectile dysfunction. This was the reason that the first girl his sister hooked him up with broke off their relationship after less than 2 months. Still, Tatyana was determined to help her brother. She hooked him up with a second friend soon after the failure of that initial hookup. This second relationship would last 18 months. History would repeat again, with this relationship also ending because of Andrei’s severe impotence.
The Importance of Impotence
Let’s take a brief segue and look at the importance of impotence in the psychology of the brutal, corpse mutilating, serial killer. The 19th century Viennese psychiatrist and neurologist Richard von-Krafft Ebing was the first to note the cleaving of impotence (and its associated rage over a lack of sexual control or control more broadly) to very extreme cases of lust murder (technically termed “erotophonophilia”) in his seminal chronicle of sexual perversion (and its forensic consequences): Psychopathia Sexualis, written during the time Jack the Ripper was terrorizing the White Chapel neighborhood of London and before Sigmund Freud was a force on the scene. Both Ebing and Freud’s pertinent literature is cited (along with others) in the “further reading” at the end of this piece.
Ebing notes several cases and conclusions in his book that very much parallel Chikatilo. He notes of Jack the Ripper, “…very likely the murderous act and subsequent mutilation of the corpse were equivalents for the sexual act.” Chikatilo would make the corpse mutilations of Jack the Ripper look tame by comparison, as we shall see in Part II. Ebing goes on to note that the “the sadistic act itself takes the place of coitus”. In the case of this type of offender — proficient with and preferring a blade — the blade itself, we can infer, becomes a phallic object (thank you Freud for the basis of that contribution).
The following are highlights of two cases (there are several more), cited by Ebing, all of whom he reported were impotent, and all of whom bear a striking resemblance to Chikatilo’s crimes in a more early stage (as will be thoroughly dissected in Part II):
1- The Girl Stabber of Bozen. A soldier in 1829, age 30. Had the impulse to stab with a pen knife, usually in the genitals. He would be “in a confused mental state” until he did the deed. He was considered by his friends “shy of people, very moody, and glum.”
2- The Girl-Cutter of Augsburg. A wealthy young merchant who was severely shy. He hated women and “disdained masturbation.” He controlled his impulses for a time but “had to stab.”
Chikatilo explained to psychiatrists after he was caught that his method was to first stab the victims superficially and slowly work his way up to deeper stab wounds. The reason behind this being that he needed to do it to work up his sexual arousal. These two cases share other similarities with Chikatilo. He told psychiatrists after he was caught, “at the point of stabbing them, I would imitate having sex while ejaculating”. Ebing notes other cases as well that bear striking similarities to Chikatilo in the insatiable sexualization of human blood. Chikatilo would explain to psychiatrists that tasting “warm” human blood was one of his main goals with most victims.
The Monster is Drafted
In 1957, Chikatilo was drafted into the Communications Division of the Soviet Army. During this time, he was known as somewhat of a loner to his fellow soldiers. At night and in the evenings, he could be found in the barracks alone listening to the radio and studying politics.
He never went out on the town to drink, meet girls, and be merry like his colleagues. For this reason, many thought he was gay. The very thought of that horrified the 21-year old Chikatilo.
In 1960, the 24-year old Chikatilo returned to the family home in Yabluchne after his military service. Soon after, he moved a few hundred miles away into Russia to a town about 20 miles North of Rostov-on-Don. Here, he quickly found a job as a telephone engineer.
The job paid pretty well and for the first time Chikatilo had his own home with water, an indoor toilet, and electricity. This was a pretty big upgrade for him from that crowded, one-room shack in rural Ukraine. So, soon after, he convinced the rest of his family to move in with him. They did so and soon found their own place not far away. Pretty soon Tatyana met a man and got married.
The Monster gets Married
Tatyana, being the determined and dedicated sister she was, kept trying to find a girlfriend for her exceedingly-introverted, 27-year old, brother. She also kept striking out. That is until 1963 when she hooked him up with her spinster friend Fenya (short for Feodosia), the daughter of a coal miner. Andrei liked her as she was tall, intelligent and well-read, though he still couldn’t make eye contact with her on their first date.
Nevertheless, Fenya persisted. The two eventually warmed to each other, and not long after, thoughts of marriage entered her head. Fenya really liked that Andrei had a good career, wasn’t boozing or womanizing like other men, and — most of all — he really respected her.
So, they got married at the local registry’s office the year they met. After Lyudmila was born, Chikatilo started his studies for a degree in Russian language and literature at Rostov University — a conscious move, undoubtedly to seek some of that control he pathologically longed for his whole life. The same night they got married, Fenya discovered her new husband had real issues. He was unable to consummate.
The Monster Builds his Domestic Facade
Chikatilo’s impotence was becoming a big issue in his marriage to Fenya. Yet they managed to have two children: a girl, Lyudmila, in 1965, and a boy, Yuri, in 1969. Reports in a few biographies of Chikatilo say he often tried to impregnate his young wife by using inanimate objects on her at night while she was sleeping. There is, nevertheless, no reason to suspect Fenya was cheating. By all accounts, he was a good father. He didn’t abuse his children. He didn’t neglect them. In fact, he often doted on them. The relationship as a whole was dominated by his wife though.
After Lyudmila was born, Chikatilo started his studies for a degree in Russian language and literature at Rostov University — a conscious move, undoubtedly to seek some of that control he pathologically longed for his whole life. During this time, the sadistic and pedophilic thoughts began percolating more visibly to the surface. He had no therapist, psychologist, psychiatrist — indeed, no friend — to talk to as an outlet. This was the 1970’s in Russia anyway, these things just weren’t talked about. So, the monster began to slip into a deep depression.
In 1971, Chikatilo graduated with degrees in Russian language and literature, engineering, and Marxism-Leninism. This would lay the groundwork for his first opportunities at translating his vile thoughts and mental violations of children into hard reality. Put another way: it would give him the opportunity to escalate as an offender.
The Monster Escalates for the First Time
Fenya was proud that finally she can boast that she was married to an educated man. To the outside world, the Chikatilos appeared to be model citizens and a family that — justly — others admired. But what happens on the inside, combined with the masks people sometimes wear, can equal domestic rot, moral insanity, and in this case criminality — as evidenced by what Chikatilo does shortly after taking his next job.
Chikatilo’s degrees meant he had no trouble securing a position at a Rostov school teaching very young pupils Russian. They also gave him another mechanism to stroke his porcelain ego. At first, it was just that he was an objectively horrible teacher: he couldn’t control his students; they (and even some staff) made fun of him; smoked in the classroom during lessons; and he was thoroughly uninspiring about his subject. His nickname at the school was “goose”, which could be approximated with the use of “jackass” in American English.
The violent thoughts were getting more conscious in Chikatilo. It angered him beyond belief that the kids he taught could fall in love and feel love, yet he — the highly educated man — could do neither of those things. This rage clearly gets back to his impotence. He began sitting uncomfortably close to his female students, fondling himself in front of students, and appearing in the girl’s dormitories unannounced. He then escalated to full-on sexual molestation when he grabbed the breast and genitals of a 15-year old girl. He reportedly also touched male students.
Chikatilo was still allowed to keep his teaching position for 3 more years. No one said a word but it seems most everyone knew it was happening — even Fenya, who reportedly, brushed accusations that her husband was a dangerous pedophile, off as a joke. Had anyone said something, they may have saved at least 52 lives. When the school finally did ask him to resign in 1974, he did so immediately. Incredibly, his work references made zero mention of why he resigned, nor any of his behavior while on the job.
The Monster Escalates Again
So, Chikatilo rather easily found another teaching job, essentially just around the corner in Rostov. This time, his pupils were older — which gave him little chance to act on his violent sexual urges. Nevertheless, this school was a repeat of the first in terms of his performance. He was lackadaisical and uninspiring about his subject; he did not control his students; and he was thoroughly derided by pupil and staff alike. In 1978 (the year he murdered Yelena Zakotnova) cutbacks axed his position before any others.
Chikatilo rambled to the next job — like the sexually-violent vagabond he seemed to be — which took him to the nearby town of Schachty. Here, he was what amounted to a warden who did a little teaching, at a school for young men aged 15–19. The position came with a job for Fenya as a matron and a decent apartment for the family. His main task was to supervise the young men in their dormitories at night. Still, this was a repeat of his past two positions in that his charges had absolutely zero respect for his authority and did whatever they wanted when he was on duty. Not long after he was hired, Chikatilo sexually assaulted one of the young men while he slept. In what was now a trend, this crime was also hushed up and not reported to the authorities.
The Monster and the Slums
Soon after his third job, Chikatilo secretly bought a 3-room decrepit house in Schachty’s slum district. Neither Fenya, nor anyone else in the family had any idea of its existence. This was solely-intended as a place he could take his fantasies into reality. He would often lure drug addicts, prostitutes, alcoholics, the generally down and out, and sometimes children (though usually unsuccessfully), to the place, promising food or money in return for sexual favors.
The Monster Escalates to Lust Murder/Yelena Zakotnova
It was Friday, December 22, 1978 when 9-year old Yelena Zakotnova was walking home from overstaying at a friend’s house. She reportedly had to use the toilet when she ran into Chikatilo who offered her gum was hunting in the neighborhood (this would become basically all he would do when the murders escalated, as we’ll see in Part II) came across her. He lured her into his 3-room shack and immediately hit her head on the wall, sexually assaulted, and stabbed her to death after he couldn’t perform sexually. He would later say “the struggle, dominance, and sight of blood” aroused him.
The Monster could have been Caught
Chikatilo dumped Yelena’s corpse in the Grushovka River, tossing her bookbag after, where both were discovered December 24. Police canvassed the area. Meanwhile, Chikatilo’s neighbors in the slum basically said, ‘what about that guy?’. They pointed out to police how they thought the 3-room shanty was kept as a sort of “squalid love nest” because they always saw this odd looking man there with many different people; yet, he never stays the night.
In fact, on December 22, the light in the shanty was left on all night (emphasis mine). The police brought Chikatilo in for questioning an astounding EIGHT TIMES for this case. During the inquiry, his past activities as a violent sexual offender were fully exposed. Chikatilo was also reportedly seen with the girl on December 22.
Nevertheless, Fenya alibied her husband by saying he was at their family home all night, even though she herself was at work. The police accepted this with no investigation and moved on.
The Wrong Man is Executed
As police moved on from Chikatilo as even a person of interest in this case, they picked up a local man named Alexander Kravchenko as a suspect. Kravchenko had been convicted of a similar crime (rape and murder), happened to live a few doors down from Chikatilo’s shanty, and — according to police — confessed to the murder of Yelena Zakotnova soon after they picked him up. He was tried, found guilty, and executed by firing squad in 1982.
Chikatilo would later share with authorities that he had no idea an innocent man took the fall. Chikatilo’s violent fantasies toward his pupils finally found fruition in his first murder. Yet, this bizarre story of one of history’s most depraved monsters doesn’t end there… Chikatilo is hooked. Like any addict, he can’t stop with just one…
In Part 2 below we will see specifically how Soviet hubris, bureaucratic red tape and inefficiency, rumor, and vastly-corralled press freedom, contributed to this monster being free to kill at least 51 more times. We will also examine just what can cause this type of offender to become more frenetic, violent, and gruesome in his series of killings.
It was June 12 of 1982 in a little corner of the poor Soviet city of Rostov-on-Don. You could cut the humidity in the air that late afternoon with a butter knife. 13-year old Lyubov Biryuk was running some errands for her mother who was laid up that day with a fever. She loved the responsibility and wanted nothing more than to do her Mama proud by getting home with everything on the list.
Lyubov brushed the sweat and her dark, shoulder-length, hair out of her eyes, looking down at the list Mama had hastily scrawled in pencil on a small sheet of torn paper…It looked like all she had left was a visit to the doctor’s to get something to help bring down Mama’s fever. She made the required turn on the road toward the doctor’s, which intersected near the forested part of Rostov and the city’s train station. As she did so, a unusually-tired and gaunt looking man in thick glasses and carrying what looked like a thick travel case, approached her from the forest — his eyes narrowing like a hungry bird of prey spotting a mouse from the sky.
“Hey! Want some vodka and weed?” he muttered. “All the cool kids are doing it!”
“No thanks Mister,” she replied. “I have to get back to my mother. She’s sick with a fever.”
“You should’ve said so sooner! I’m a doctor and I just so happen to have something in this case that cures all fevers! I’ll give it to you if you’ll follow me down this trail,” he gestured toward the forest — the light from the early evening casting a golden pallor in between the play of shadows of the larch and birch trees. Lyubov thought for a moment: that would save me a stop and help Mama. She hadn’t heard of the seemingly-indiscriminate killings of women, young adults, and children of both sexes around Rostov. She had only heard about some boys from the nearby home for the mentally handicapped possibly harassing people. She felt sorry for them whenever she walked pass that place that seemed so dark and forgotten.
“Ok,” she said to the man. Stranger danger was not yet a force in the zeitgeist in America, let alone the Soviet Union. People were kind to each other — especially in the People’s Utopia. Most liked to give at least lip service to the idea of mutual aid in a land founded on “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” When Lyubov was found 2 weeks later, she was nothing but a skeleton. Lyubov would be the first in Chikatilo’s series that reflected the honing of his M.O.: gutting much of the body, biting on (or eating) certain parts, and then plucking out the eyes with his knife. The monster would not be caught for another 8 years.
1978–1982: Yelena Zakotnova
After the police thoroughly bungled the investigation of Yelena Zakotnova’s murder — excluding Chikatilo as a suspect because of his wife’s false alibi, and disregarding hard evidence like a blood trail leading to the family home — Chikatilo felt invincible; empowered; like he was immune from anything the authorities could possibly do to him. He wouldn’t kill again for about 9 months.
It was 1982 when he lost his job as a warden at that school for young adult males. Again, cutbacks instituted at a higher bureaucratic level made his position unnecessary. So, they axed him. Not long after, he found a job that did not involve teaching or children at all. He was now a supply clerk in the nearby town of Schachty. This put him in charge of coordinating the right amounts of raw materials for production of various items. This was a position unique to the Soviet planned economy.
While his new job was a demotion pay wise, this position suited his odd temperament much more than teaching did. It also came with an apartment and the opportunity for extensive travel throughout the Soviet Union. He would be gone for days at a time on “business trips”. This new position kept him away from children. It also gave him quite a bit of time to plan his next murder.
March 9, 1981: Larisa Tkachenko
17-year old student Larisa Tkachenko was sitting at a bus stop in Rostov, waiting on her ride back to her boarding school when Chikatilo saw her while doing something that would take up increasing chunks of his time: hunting for his next victim. Chikatilo saw Tkachenko and offered her vodka, marijuana, and a good time if she would only follow him. She did so — the two finding a forest trail and hiking down it.
When Chikatilo found a suitable spot, he strangled Tkachenko and mutilated her corpse with his knife and incisors. She would be found 2 days later under some hastily-piled leaves on the same spot where he killed her. Chikatilo would later claim that he spontaneously ejaculated when he saw her blood and that this killing in particular gave him “intense pleasure.”
1982: Lyubov Biryuk. The Monster Dramatically Escalates
It was June 12, 1982 when Chikatilo came across 13-year old Lyubov Biryuk as she was running errands for her mother, and butchered her. He was somehow able to keep her well enough concealed to where she was not discovered for 2 weeks. It’s rather amazing that the smell of rotting flesh didn’t get somebody’s attention — as the spot wasn’t THAT isolated — but it never did. Chikatilo would kill at a truly astonishing rate for the rest of that year. The abject, total, gobsmacking brutality combined with these prolific numbers, makes a compelling case for Chikatilo as the most brutal serial killer of all time and on any continent.
On July 25, 1982 he killed 14-year old Lyubov Volobuyeva in an orchard near a local airport. On August 13, he killed and castrated his first male victim, 9-year old Oleg Pozhidaev. From there on, Chikatilo would typically castrate the males using his knife or his teeth. For female victims, he would commonly bite off and eat their nipples, amputate breasts, and take uteruses as trophies — it’s rumored Chikatilo also ate the latter, but he vociferously denied that part when he was finally arrested and questioned by detectives and psychiatrists before his trial.
In August he killed 16-year old Olga Kuprina. Her body was not found until October 27. By September, he massacred a 19-year old woman and a 15-year old boy. His last known killing of 1982 was that of a 10-year old girl who was taking the bus home from a piano lesson in a nearby town.
The Monster’s Bloodlust is Unrestrained
Looking at the overall picture of these killings, one is immediately struck by 2 things: the frequency and the ferocity. Very few serial killers kill this many people in such a short amount of time and in this brutal a fashion — up close and personal with a knife or their bare hands. Whoever the police were looking for had very poor impulse control. Indeed, their perpetrator is losing more and more of that with every victim he kills and mutilates.
Most of Chikatilo’s victims were stabbed over 30 times, showing a great deal of rage — a point again reflected in Chikatilo’s chronic impotence. Chikatilo himself said this method — superficial, than deeper stabs — was totally in service of working his physical sexual arousal up. This is also pertinent because it reflects Chikatilo’s pure and profound sadism. This is closely allied to a point that von-Krafft Ebing drives home again in Psychopathia Sexualis. He uses the example of the infamous Marquis de Sade (the namesake of “sadism”) to show wasn’t always the sexualization of blood itself, it was sometimes the acts that make a person bleed.
For de Sade, the important acts were actually eliciting the blood and sometimes healing the wound that caused it. He would often pay prostitutes just to make them bleed and then dress the wound. For Chikatilo it was the suffering itself that was the goal. He also often mutilated or bit in order to taste “warm human flesh” and blood. He stabbed most victims 30+ times in the chest, face, and eyes. Enucleation of the victim’s eyes (literally plucking them out with a knife) became the most well-known part of the Ripper of Rostov’s signature. Chikatilo would explain to investigators after he was caught that the reason he did this was his belief in the Russian folk superstition that the face of a murderer is forever imprinted on the retinas of their victim.
The higher ups in the Party in the Kremlin were keenly aware of the situation in Rostov. Yet — as big bureaucracies have a tendency to do — their first instinct was to cast blame somewhere else for the rapidly growing number of murders. They blamed anything that did not involve the government or communism. It was foolishness — in their minds and in their PR efforts — to ever think something as wretched as serial killings and corpse mutilations could happen in the People’s Republics of the Soviet Union! Our utopia is all about mutual aid and improving the lives of citizens! We call each other “comrade” and life is good here… right?
To affect this idea in the popular mind, the Party knew it had to keep an even tighter leash on the media than it usually did. No information contradicting their official positive narrative about the situation may be shown the light of day in the press. This had the unintended effect of shielding the murderer further as he tallied up more brutal loss of life and the police chased shadows.
Because the media was mum on information about the murders, people naturally went to the rumor mill to see what they could find. They were smarter than the Party gave them credit for. Still, a lot of stupid innuendo came out of this: quite possibly the most interesting conspiracy theory involving the wealthy class — Soviet glitterati — snatching children into the backs of gigantic, jet-black limousines to presumably make them sex slaves. It is interesting to look at the parallels of this kind of popular paranoia then in the USSR and now in the United States: Pizzagate as an example.
Law Enforcement Response: Theories of the Crimes
Still, local law enforcement — that is, actual investigators on the ground in Rostov — knew something was horribly wrong. So, they started a task force to investigate the growing number of murders, dubbing the investigation Operation Forest Path. What first caught the attention of many a detective, in looking at what patterns existed, was the ritualistic quality that seemed inherent. This being the years of the Satanic Panic in the West, there was a theory suggesting the murders were all somehow linked to the occult.
This theory persisted despite the fact that investigators never found things like pentagrams or ritual accouterments around the murders. Who else would be murdering women and children in the woods and severely mutilating their corpses? This has to be the work of a satanic cult — just like what the Americans have been dealing with, with games like Dungeons & Dragons and their children selling their souls to the Devil. The ritual angle is nevertheless interesting for a different and distinct line of reasoning. There can be no doubt that Chikatilo was compelled to do his dirty deeds by what became the equivalent of an unconscious, ultra-symbolic, and violent ritual for him where his knife became a symbolic substitute for the non-working genitalia he would claim during his trial he was cursed with.
His urges percolated under the surface for so long and during his first aborted rape attempt at age 15 (described above in Part 1) — where he couldn’t get an erection — he realized that sex and violence became fused as one symbol or archetype in his mind, instead of existing separately. Toss into this very volatile mixture the cannibalism story told to him from age 5 onward. This arguably became tied up with his oedipal confusion — as he associated the story with his mother. Looking at Chikatilo’s history, it would’ve been more interesting had he turned out to NOT be a serial killing, cannibalistic, and extremely sadistic pedophile. The almost linear path to him becoming a violent predator is very easy to see.
The cannibal story can also be seen as a symbol — in Freud’s parlance, a totem — that came to represent the TOTAL lack of control over anything and everything in Chikatilo’s pathetic life. Frustration and rage over this lack of control became a leitmotif throughout his crimes, as they were — a part — his violent attempts to take control. He can’t control his basic biological sex drive because of severe erectile dysfunction despite having a powerful libido which grows exponentially more intense and his crimes get more graphic. He can’t control his students’ behavior as a teacher or boy’s school warden. He can’t control how he puts food on the table, let alone a basic level of job security.
He can’t control his relationship with his wife and it is subsequently dominated by her. He can’t control how he was treated as a boy and man nor how the constant abuse made him feel. He can’t control his mother’s basic safety (evidenced by her rape), nor his own (evidenced by the regular beatings he received from his mother). He couldn’t control his sight, being very nearsighted. Chikatilo couldn’t even control his bladder until he was in his teens. All of this rage and frustration got paired with his sex instinct and libido when he attacked Tanya Bala at age 15. From then on, the thoughts and drives would escalate to a ferociousness largely unseen in other serial sexual killers.
Chikatilo would butcher 8 more children in 1983 alone. By now he was much more careful in his choice of victims as he noticed the increased police presence all around him. He began targeting prostitutes, alcoholics, the poor, down and out, and their children. Usually he would offer them vodka or food, and sometimes marijuana as a ruse to get them to come willingly — a tactic that quite often worked. Ebing in Psychopathia Sexualis makes the point that quite often the lust murderer becomes less discriminate in his choice of targets by gender as his crimes escalate.
During this time Chikatilo became opportunistic to the point that he really didn’t care about the victim’s age or gender. This arguably is another point in Chikatilo’s “worst serial killer of all time” column: he was an equal opportunity monster. At the end of his reign of terror, his victims would range in age from a 9-year old child to a 45-year old woman. This behavior made it harder for the already-overwhelmed Rostov police to track him and spot discernible patterns. In late 1983, he would stab a 14-year old boy 70 times and amputate his genitals.
The end of 1983: Moscow gets Organized
By the end of 1983, Chikatilo’s victim tally hit 17. While Moscow still refused to admit the existence of serial killer (this is the Soviet Union — the epic fulfillment of class struggle — having a serial murderer here would be impossible), they did send Major Mikhail Fetisov, of the Central Moscow Militia, and his investigative team to Rostov to find and apprehend the monster.
Fetisov was the first to look at the evidence and suggest with a good deal of certainty that the killings were “caused by a single sex-crazed male.” Fetisov brought with him a much-needed focus on the serial killer hypothesis.
1984: The Monster on a Greater Downward Spiral
By the start of 1984, Chikatilo’s personal and work lives were becoming more and more disarrayed. His supervisors hounded him over his lackadaisical performance on the job and his chronic absenteeism. Fenya also rode him very hard the small amount of time he was at the family home. Chikatilo was spending more and more time wandering the streets and trying to infiltrate different smaller communities in Rostov hunting for his next victim. When he wasn’t out physically hunting for them, almost the entirety of his attention and mental life was occupied by the practical issues he discovered surrounded an act of murder (like hiding a body) and the brutal, completely-unrestrained bloodlust still inhabiting his fantasy life and becoming impossible to suppress.
It was during this time that the beast inside Andrei Chikatilo made a full transformation from just terrorizing him in his head, to terrorizing anyone he likes full time, all the time. Yes Chikatilo’s other murders were “beastly” to say the least, but it seems that before this time he did have a modicum of self-control over his murderous impulses. That control seemingly evaporated in 1984 and life became just about satisfying his urges toward sexual homicide and unparalleled sadism. This perfect storm was able to come together only because of the environment in which it occurred — the factors of which all positively reinforced Chikatilo’s impulses to murder.
Everything from the sexual release he was able to achieve, to the temporary cessation of his rage, to even the many mistakes of the police: all would have acted as positive behavioral reinforcement to further acts of murder and depravity. To start the year off, on January 9 Chikatilo would brutally kill then mutilate 17-year old Natalya Shalapinina in Rostov’s Aviators’ Park.
February 21, he would butcher his oldest victim — 45-year old Marta Ryabenko — also in Aviators’ Park. Both of these women were known to be prostitutes who had fallen on hard times and taken to drinking. History repeated itself yet again with Chikatilo and these murders as the authorities arrested and charged the wrong man — this one named Borowski — yet again.
A Forensic Problem. / March 24, 1984 — May 25, 1984
Soon after the murders in Aviators’ Park, Chikatilo lost yet another job. This time, however, his employer decided to have a charge of theft brought against him. For now, his employer and the state would sit on fully bringing these charges forward (they languished in what was more or less the Soviet equivalent of the indictment stage for a while) and save them if they would later be needed. They still fired Chikatilo, which forced him to go on the job hunt yet again.
On March 24, 1984, Chikatilo butchered 10-year old Dmitriy Ptashnikov, whom he led away from a stamp collecting kiosk by claiming to also be a collector. Chikatilo bit off the youth’s tongue and penis — leaving his semen on the boy’s clothes. This time, near the body, he also left a footprint in the dirt. From the semen left at the scene, Fetisov’s forensics’ team came to the conclusion that the offender’s blood type was AB. There was statistically no real reason to doubt this finding, but it would turn out that Chikatilo belongs to a statistical minority of people called “non-secretors.”
It is impossible to accurately determine the blood type of a non-secretor using bodily fluids like semen or saliva. The only reliable way to do it is through a blood sample. To be fair, the ratio of secretors to non-secretors in the general population is about 80% to 20%. Still, the science underlying this had been around for about 50 years prior to the 1984 murders in Aviators’ Park. So, one would think the police would have found a way to budget for it.
In the next 6 months, Chikatilo’s impulse control diminished even further. He would kill 12 more women and children. On May 25, 1984, he slaughtered his former mistress Tatyana Petrosyan and her 11-year old daughter Svetlana with a claw hammer. Their bodies were found July 5. About a month later, he stabbed 22-year old Yelina Bakulina to death. Her body wasn’t found until late August. Chikatilo committed 3 murders July 10 — Dimitri Illarionov (13), Anna Lemesheva (19), and Svetlana Cana (20).
August 1984. / Another New Job
At the start of August in ’84, Chikatilo was hired as a department head in a factory in Rostov. This again was a demotion in pay where he colleagues ridiculed him, but it was better than nothing considering he still had the theft charge hanging over his head from his previous employer.
The day after starting this new job, he killed 16-year old Natalya Golosovskaya. This touches on an important category of triggers for many serial killers: environmental (that is, social and personal environment) stressors. We see quite a few of them in comparing Chikatilo’s murder dates with various life stressors, especially on the job front. It therefore is to be expected that he would be likely to kill right after starting something like a new job. A few days after the Golosovskaya murder, he butchers 17-year old Lyudmila Alekseeva, also in Rostov.
On August 8, he flies to the capital of Uzbekistan: Tashkent. One of the first things he does after getting off his plane is head to a nearby store to buy a butcher’s knife. He then slaughters and decapitates an unidentified woman. Before heading back to Russia, he would also brutally murder a 12-year old Uzbeki girl who had run away from home.
The Investigation Ramps Up
Upon returning to Rostov — on August 28, 1984 — Chikatilo guts and castrates 11-year old Alexander Csepel, dumping his body on the left bank of the Don. To top this scene off, where he dumped the body was literally yards from where he had left a previous victim. Russian investigators were getting downright desperate to cage this monster permanently. They combed everywhere they could for clues and suspects; literally deluging the area with police, most of them in uniform.
They brought Chikatilo in as part of the dragnet again. During this inquiry, yet again, his past known sex crimes against children were exposed. Nevertheless, Yelena Zakotnova’s 1978 murder wasn’t on their radar because a man was already tried and executed for it. Ditto for the more recent double murder in Aviators’ Park. Throughout the investigation, police were still stuck on a suspect with AB blood too. They did draw a blood sample from Chikatilo when they had him in custody; but upon finding he had A blood, they cut him loose again, despite other evidence pointing to him — very much including his past sex crimes and now his weird stalking behaviors (Chikatilo hunting).
The Monster is Locked Up (But Not For What You Think)
This time, the police would see the necessity of holding Chikatilo longer if they can. So they resurrected the prior theft complaint as an excuse. After being tried and found guilty of this, he was stripped of his membership in the Communist Party, and sentenced to 1 year in jail. He would be released after only 3 months, on December 12, 1984.
He returned to the family home to celebrate the New Year with Fenya and his children. He soon found another new job as an engineer at a locomotive factory in Rostov. This was yet another step downward, occupation wise, for Chikatilo. Still, he truly had very little choice in jobs now because he was — after all — a convicted felon who had served time.
Chikatilo succeeded at this new job, mostly because what he was tasked with were tasks that no one else around him wanted to do — even going so far as also getting a job for his daughter who was by now married with a child. Chikatilo had about a 1 year cooling off period when he first got this job — indeed, a very long time for him. This doesn’t mean the urge left him, however.
In my letters with the BTK killer Dennis Rader, he shed a bit of light on why serial killers can go silent for what seems to be an inordinately long time. BTK’s longest cooling off period was over 10 years. Rader explained that during this time, it’s not that the urge ever left him — it never did. It’s just that he literally didn’t have the time to act on it because he was so busy with his public life in his community and his family life. I suspect something similar may have occurred during this time with Chikatilo.
May 16, 1987
On May 16, 1987, Chikatilo was sent on a business trip to the Ural mountain city of Revda. One of the first things he did there was murder a 13-year old boy. This time he thoroughly escalated his by now signature overkill behavior in how he mutilated the corpse — this time using especially his teeth.
Chikatilo was — by now — thoroughly escalating the sadism and violence over his victims. On July 29, 1987, Chikatilo killed 12-year old Ivan Bilovetsky while on another business trip in the Ukraine. This attack was so vicious the butcher knife Chikatilo used broke in half while he was stabbing the boy. It was found near where Chikatilo dumped his body. By the end of 1987, he would kill another boy, aged 16, while he was on a business trip in Leningrad.
1988 and 1989
During 1988 and 1989, Chikatilo would butcher another 9 people, mostly children. He also started the habit of removing certain parts from the corpses and carrying them away wrapped in paper. He told investigators this was intended as a crude disposal method, but it’s much more likely he did this to keep trophies. Chikatilo never really tried to do much in the way of corpse disposal — the most he would do is throw leaves or newspapers over them or sometimes throw them in a local river.
Of course, in a gross repeat of the cannibalism story from his childhood, it has often been speculated that he ate the parts he took. While this, like much in the whole saga of Andrei Chikatilo, hasn’t been proven, it’s not out of the realm of possibility considering what we do know about the man. Like some earlier victims, females were missing uteruses and nipples. Male victims were missing their genitalia and tongues. Most were missing their eyes, because of Chikatilo’s paranoia about the old Russian superstition that his identity would otherwise be imprinted on them in the act of murder.
1990: The Monster’s Last Year of Freedom
The beginning of 1990 saw Chikatilo in yet another new job. He managed to kill a further 8 young adults and children by November, most of them around train stations. The police absolutely took notice and began patrolling many of them with a heavy uniformed presence. The ultimate goal in this train station dragnet was to funnel their suspect from the busier stations to the less busy, more rural ones which were patrolled by plain clothes detectives. The main idea here was to make the entire effort more manageable for law enforcement.
Before this effort got extremely serious, Chikatilo was able to kill 22-year old Svetlana Korostik after using a ruse of vodka and marijuana to come with him. He savagely beat her, mutilated her, and ate her tongue and nipples.Two weeks after her murder, Chikatilo was under very heavy surveillance wherever he went. He was still hunting through his normal haunts in Rostov and Schachty when he approached one little boy only to be scared away by a woman nearby.
He tried again with another little boy, only to again be spooked by the child’s mother. It was directly after this when 3 men in plain clothes approached him, identified themselves as police officers, and arrested him. Chikatilo did not resist. The 3 officers found a knife, rope, and pocket mirror on him.
The Monster finally in Custody
Chikatilo wasn’t talking. The silence was frustrating the hell out of Fetisov, when he had an idea. That doctor who gave us a profile of the killer, Bukhanovsky, I bet he’d like a crack at this guy to see just how right or wrong his profile was. Fetisov’s hunch proved correct, Bukhanovsky was very eager to talk to the offender and see just how right or wrong he was in the profile he supplied the police. The good doctor started by gently prodding this seemingly diminutive and (as of now) mute suspect. Chikatilo opened up to Bukhanovsky and ultimately to the authorities at large, showing them the sites of other bodies they did not know about. The police also ended up solving 1000 unrelated crimes before they finally caught the monster.
The Question of Sanity/The Monster’s Trial
Andrei Chikatilo was ultimately declared sane by doctors. Neurological examination, however, uncovered evidence of lesions in his prefrontal cortex, which could mean prenatal brain damage. This is something that is found far too often in serial killers. Chikatilo was confined to a steel cage in the courtroom when his trial started April 14, 1992. It is important to note this was done for Chikatilo’s protection: he was greeted in the courtroom by the families and friends of his victims, not to mention a very irate public, who often threw things like fruit and bottles at him.
It took the judge two solid days to just read the entire list of charges against Chikatilo. During the trial, Chikatilo often insulted the judge, yelled loudly protesting his innocence, and dropped his pants, waving his genitalia at the entire assembly and shouting about how he was cursed by nature with defective equipment because of his impotence.
Chikatilo was found guilty of 52 murders on October 15–1 murder charge was thrown out because of insufficient evidence.
Postscript: The Worst Serial Killer of All Time?
On February 14, 1994 the monster was taken into a sound-proofed room in a Russian prison where a specially chosen soldier from Moscow shot him once in the back of his skull. Thus went the diminutive, rage-filled, cannibal Ripper of Rostov. Perhaps it’s a good thing this monster isn’t more widely-known in the west. The hottest pit of hell really would be too easy on him and he certainly doesn’t even merit infamy.
Nevertheless, we have to not shy away from such barbarity, rage, and indifference to human life if we want to stop it from ever happening again — especially when the path from starving, introverted child to inhuman serial murderer is so absolutely clear, as it is here. Is Andrei Chikatilo the worst serial killer of all time? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Author: Wess Haubrich
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Willmott, Dominic, Daniel Boduszek, and Rebecca Robinson. “A Psychodynamic-Behaviourist Investigation of Russian Sexual Serial Killer Andrei Chikatilo.” The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology 29, no. 3 (2017): 498–507. https://doi.org/10.1080/14789949.2017.1416658.
Wess Haubrich is a staff writer at CitizenTruth.org, the former editor of the 405 Film, and half of the weekly True Crime podcast Real Monsters. Follow him on Twitter Wess Haubrich, email him email@example.com.
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