The Crimes

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On 22 December 1978, Chikatilo killed his first documented victim; 9-year-old Lena Zakotnova was lured into an abandoned shed, where Chikatilo tried to rape her. Trying to control the struggling child, Chikatilo slashed her with a knife, ejaculating whilst doing so, confirming his psychological connection between violent death and sexual gratification that went on to typify all future attacks.
An eyewitness had seen Chikatilo with the victim, shortly before her disappearance, but his wife provided him with a cast-iron alibi that enabled him to evade any further police attention. A 25-year-old, Alexsandr Kravchenko, with a previous rape conviction, was arrested and confessed to the crime under duress, probably as a result of extensive and brutal interrogation. He was tried for the killing of Lena Zakotnova, and executed in 1984.
Perhaps as a result of his close brush with the law, there were no more documented victims for the next three years. Still dogged by claims of child abuse, Chikatilo found it impossible to find another teaching post, when he was made redundant from his mining school post, in early 1981. He took a job as a clerk for a raw materials factory in Rostov, where the travel involved with the position gave him unlimited access to a wide range of young victims, over the next 9 years.
On 3 September 1981, Larisa Tkachenko, 17, became his next victim, strangled, stabbed and gagged with earth and leaves, to prevent her crying out. The brutal force afforded Chikatilo his sexual release, and he began to develop a pattern of attack that saw him focussing on young runaways of both sexes, whom he befriended at train stations and bus stops, before luring them into nearby forest areas, where he would attack them, attempt rape and use his knife, as a penis substitute, to mutilate them. In a number of cases he ate the sexual organs, or removed other body parts such as the tips of their noses or tongues. In the earliest cases, the common pattern was to inflict damage to the eye area, slashing across the sockets and removing the eyeballs in many cases, an act which Chikatilo later attributed to a belief that his victims kept an imprint of his face in their eyes, even after death.
At this time serial killers were a virtually unknown phenomenon in the Soviet Union, whether as a result of suppression of information, or wider cultural differences between Soviet and Western societies. Evidence of serial killing, or child abuse, was often suppressed by State-controlled media, in the interests of public order. The eye mutilation was a modus operandi distinct enough to allow for other cases to be linked, when the Soviet authorities finally admitted that they had a serial killer to contend with. As the body count mounted, rumours of foreign inspired plots, and werewolf attacks, became more prevalent, and public fear and interest grew, despite the lack of any media coverage.
In 1983, Moscow detective Major Mikhail Fetisov was seconded to Rostov to assume control of the investigation. He recognised that a serial killer might be on the loose, and assigned a specialist forensic analyst, Victor Burakov, to head the investigation in the Shakhty area. The investigation centred on known sex offenders, and the mentally ill, but such were the interrogation methods of the local police that they regularly solicited false confessions from prisoners, leaving Burakov sceptical of the majority of these “confessions”. Progress was slow, especially as, at that stage, not all of the victim’s bodies had been discovered, so the true body count was unknown to the police. With each body, the forensic evidence mounted, and police were convinced that the killer had the blood type AB, as evidenced by the semen samples collected from a number of crime scenes. Samples of identical grey hair were also retrieved.
When a further 15 victims were added during the course of 1984, police efforts were increased drastically, and they mounted massive surveillance operations that canvassed most local transport hubs. Chikatilo was arrested for behaving suspiciously at a bus station at this time, but again avoided suspicion on the murder charges, as his blood type did not match the suspect profile, but he was imprisoned for 3 months for a number of minor outstanding offences.
What was not realised at the time was that Chikatilo’s actual blood type, type A, was different to the type found in his other bodily fluids (type AB), as he was a member of a minority group known as “non-secretors”, whose blood type cannot be inferred by anything other than a blood sample. As police only had a sample of semen, and not blood, from the crime scenes, Chikatilo was able to escape suspicion of murder. Today’s sophisticated DNA techniques are not subject to the same fallibility.
Following his release, Chikatilo found work as a travelling buyer for a train company, based in Novocherkassk, and managed to keep a low profile until August 1985, when he murdered two women in separate incidents.
At around the same time as these murders, Burakov, frustrated at the lack of positive progress, engaged the help of psychiatrist Alexandr Bukhanovsky, who refined the profile of the killer, describing him as a “necro-sadist”, or someone who achieves sexual gratification from the suffering and death of others. Bukhanovsky also placed the killer’s age as between 45 and 50, significantly older than had been believed up to that point. Desperate to catch the killer, Burakov even interviewed a serial killer, Anatoly Slivko, shortly before his execution, in an attempt to gain some insight into his elusive serial killer.
Coinciding with this attempt to understand the mind of the killer, attacks seemed to dry up, and police suspected that their target might have stopped killing, been incarcerated for other crimes, or died. However, early in 1988, Chikatilo again resumed his killing, the majority occurring away from the Rostov area, and victims were no longer taken from local public transport outlets, as police surveillance of these areas continued. Over the next two years the body count increased by a further 19 victims, and it appeared that the killer was taking increasing risks, focusing primarily on young boys, and often killing in public places where the risk of detection was far higher.
The recently unfettered media of Gorbachev’s glasnost society placed enormous public pressure on police forces to catch the killer, and general police patrols were stepped up, with Burakov targeting likely areas with undercover police in an attempt to flush out the killer. Chikatilo evaded capture narrowly on a couple of occasions, but on 6 November 1990, fresh from killing his final victim, Sveta Korostik, his suspicious behaviour was noted by patrolling policemen at the station nearby, and his details were taken. His name was linked to his previous arrest in 1984, and he was placed under surveillance.