Capitalism and the consumer society came late to Russia, and despite the country’s very best efforts to catch up with the West, it still hasn’t gotten that “everything can be turned into a buck” attitude quite yet. Its serial killers are a fine example of this, I realized as I flicked through my horror/thriller DVDs recently. It’s a grossly underexploited area just waiting to be developed.
In the United States, the dark deeds of serial killers like Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, the Son of Sam, Jeffery Dahmer, Zodiac, and so on, have been commercialized in films, books and “edgy” art, their names entering the ranks of consumer culture along with those of politicians, baseball stars and pop singers (a fact summed up brilliantly by Brad Pitt’s weary cop in David Fincher’s classic Hollywood serial killer movie “Seven,” when he snaps: “You’re just a t-shirt” at the movie’s egoistical murderer).
But in Russia, serial killers do their stuff and, with very few exceptions, are forgotten about – a snap poll among friends and acquaintances here saw the vast majority only able to name one domestic mass murderer (apart from Stalin, of course). So, for their and your enlightenment, here is a guide to four of the Soviet Union’s and Russia’s most accomplished serial killers.
1. Andrei Chikatilo, otherwise known as the Butcher of Rostov, after the Soviet region where he carried out his murders, apart from a few he managed to fit in while on business trips. He’s the one you and most Russians have heard of, the superstar of the country’s serial killers. Chikatilo – a one-time teacher of Russian literature – is believed to have killed just over 50 women and children in a 12-year period from 1978 to 1990. His motive, he confessed when he was eventually apprehended, was sexual. Blood turned him on. Chikatilo’s infamy has seen three films made of his story – two in the West (see? Even the West makes more use of Russia’s killers!) and one in his homeland. At least one person was reportedly wrongly tried and executed for his murders by the Soviet authorities – who covered up Chikatilo’s killings as best they could, lest the murders detract from the glory of the socialist system. Chikatilo was executed with a shot to the back of the head in 1994.
2. Alexander Pichushkin, aka the Chessboard Killer, was a pretty big name when his murders were uncovered in Moscow in the summer of 2006, but things have kind of tailed off for him as of late and he lags way behind Chikatilo in the serial killers rating. Pichushkin got his nickname after he admitted to trying to commit one murder for each of the 64 squares on a chessboard. He fell short of his aim, managing to batter 48 people to death before he was caught. Most of his victims were elderly, homeless men whom he lured to Moscow’s sprawling Bitsa Park with vodka. "In all the cases I killed for only one reason. I killed in order to live, because when you kill, you want to live,” he told the court before being sentenced to life behind bars.
3. Nikolai Dzhumagaliev, whose shiny teeth earned him the nickname White Fang, was arrested on charges of killing seven women in the Soviet republic of Kazakhstan in 1981, although rumors suggest he killed at least six times more. Some reports indicate he may have murdered 100 women, mainly prostitutes. Nicky D, as his friends didn’t call him, had set himself the task of ridding mankind of prostitutes. He raped, hacked to death and ate the body parts of many of his victims, turning one woman into pelmeni, a kind of Russian/Soviet dumpling. Dzhumagaliev was committed to an insane asylum in 1981 after being found guilty of murder, but escaped in 1989 and wandered the perestroika-era Soviet Union for some two years before finally being recaptured.
4. Sergei Ryakhovsky, nicknamed the Hippopotamus by the Russian media for his hulking stature, carried out a killing spree interrupted by the collapse of the Soviet system and the birth of the newly independent Russia. Did he even notice the world around him had altered beyond recognition as he strangled and hacked at the bodies of at least 22 people (three of whom survived) in the Moscow Region between 1988 and 1993? His motive for his murders was almost textbook – “to cleanse the world of homosexuals and prostitutes.” He died of tuberculosis in prison in 2005.
There have been, of course, many other serial killers here, from the Siberian murderer Vasily Kulik, the Monster of Irkutsk who killed 13 people in a two-year blood frenzy in 1984 to 1986, to Irina Gaidmachuk, one of Russia’s few known female serial killers. But for more on them, you’ll have to carry out a little digging of your own.
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
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Marc Bennetts is a journalist who has written about Russian spies, Chechen football and Soviet psychics for a number of UK newspapers, including The Guardian and The Times. He is also the author of Football Dynamo: Modern Russia and the People’s Game (Virgin Books).