Andrei Chikatilo, AKA "The Rostove Ripper," has a story that is about as sickening as it is Kafkaesque. Over a span of twenty-two years he managed to kill a total of 56 people either via stabbing or strangulation. His first murder was in 1978, but what makes this case so surreal is that not only did he get away with this murder scott-free, but another man was wrongly accused, convicted, and executed for the crime. Over the course of the investigations (which spanned sixteen years), several people confessed to the murders, but in almost all of these cases the people who "confessed" were either mentally handicapped or severly beaten by police (or both). In 1984 he was actually arrested by a plain clothed police officer after observing Chikatilo trying to pick up a young woman at a train stop, a method he often used to procure victims. He was found to be in possession of a knife and a rope, but was arrested on unrelated chargers and served three months in prison.
What is the most aggregious lapse of Soviet police accumen is the fact that in 1990 Chikaltilo was stopped in the middle of the woods shortly after commiting another murder. He was in business attire, smeared with dirt (and possibly blood), and was carrying a nylon travel bag. The police took his name and let him go. Inside the bag were parts of his victim that he had removed. That's right. He managed to basically walk out of a murder scene with a duffle bag stuff with human body parts. Apparently it was very easy to be sent to prison in the USSR by being a dissident, a coward, or simply Polish, but if you're a serial child murderer, you were given a much longer rope.
Luckily the police didn't drop the ball for long and Chikatilo was arrested shortly after his stop in the woods. He then confessed to these crimes shortly there after (as well as several the police didn't know about). While undergoing trial he adapted the "Charles Manson Defense," as lawyers call it, which involved shouting incoherently and exposing himself. It didn't work. He was convicted in 1991 and executed three years later.
What makes Chikatilo so unique is that he managed to stick to a single pattern for so long and evade years of police investigations that would make the Keystone Cops cluck their tongues in disapproval. And somehow this guy managed to not only evade capture from the police, but thrive. It's almost inspiring. No, wait, that's the wrong word. What's the word I'm thinking of? . . Oh yeah, horrifying.
James Kislingbury for Citadel Interactive © 2009
Photo courtesy of Time & Life Pictures, by Terry Smith