Europe's worst serial killer?
Although we mainly hear about serial killers in the United States (thanks partly to our advanced law enforcement techniques which are better able to detect a serial killer's patterns), they certainly stalk other countries as well. Andrei Chikatilo was active in Russia from 1978 until 1990 when he was finally caught, after a terrifying career sexually assaulting, mutilating, and murdering at least 52 women and children in Rostov Oblast.
Chikatilo's early childhood was marked by starvation and deprivation under Stalin's rule. His mother and father were farm laborers. The small family lived together in a one-room shack, and frequently had to resort to eating grass and leaves out of desperation. Chikatilo's mother often told him that he used to have a brother, but at the age of four he was kidnapped and eaten by their starving neighbors. (This story has never been verified.)
Chikatilo had problems with bed-wetting, for which his mother berated him incessantly. He was hungry and physically frail, which made him the target of bullies at school. He did well in school, even though he claimed that he had headaches and a bad memory which prevented him from learning his school work. Once he reached puberty he discovered that he suffered from chronic impotence, which hampered his relationships.
Aside from these problems, Chikatilo's early adulthood was relatively normal. He was drafted into the Soviet army in 1957, returned home a few years later, and eventually settled down in what amounted to an arranged marriage. They had two children, and in 1970 he became a Russian language and literature teacher. At this point, things began to go downhill.
While at the school, Chikatilo committed several sexual assaults against the female students. After enough complaints had been filed, the school asked him to quit. He bounced from school to school until 1981, when he was finally fired for good, after numerous complaints of molestation.
At around this time, he committed his first murder, a 9 year-old girl whom he lured to a house he had secretly purchased in another town. Despite ample evidence and eyewitness testimony, blame was put on an itinerant laborer.
Chikatilo's job had him traveling across Russia, and he used this travel to his advantage. He typically lured children (of both sexes) away to secluded areas, then savagely attacked them with a knife. (Police investigating one murder ruled that it had to be an accident, and the body must have been caught in a threshing machine.) His kills were so distinctive in style that Moscow police suspected a serial killer was at work as early as 1983.
Unfortunately, the Moscow police were heavy-handed in their attempts to pin the blame for the kills, to say the least. Several developmentally disabled people admitted to the crimes under interrogation, and four "suspects" (one convicted sex offender and three men whose sole qualification was that they were gay) committed suicide as a result of police interrogation.
In September, 1984, an undercover detective watched Chikatilo attempting to lure young women away from a bus station. They picked him up and discovered a knife and rope. Unfortunately, his blood type evidence did not seem to match what had been found at the crime scenes, so he was released.
Chikatilo continued his rampage for six more years, as the Moscow police grew increasingly desperate to catch him. Investigators realized that he was primarily hunting railway stations, so they set up a massive nation-wide manhunt and sting operation and stopped every adult man at every railway station to check their papers and make a note of their presence. Despite, this, Chikatilo avoided detection for years.
Chikatilo slipped away a second time in 1990, thanks to an undercover police officer who had been deployed as part of the surveillance network at Donelskhoz station. The officer noticed Chikatilo (who had just finished killing and gutting a 22 year-old woman) walk out of the woods and stop at a well to wash his hands. Many people ventured into the woods in that part of Russia at that time of year to go mushroom hunting, but Chikatilo was dressed in business casual attire. He also had mud on the elbows of his coat, and a red smear on his cheek. The officer checked Chikatilo's papers, found nothing amiss, filed a report back at the station, and apparently forgot all about it.
A week later when the body of Svetlana Korostik was discovered in the woods near Donleskhoz station, investigators combed through all the reports for that station. Someone finally noticed that Chikatilo's name turned up dozens of times in the reports, and that he had in fact been picked up for a similar crime in the early 80s.
Chikatilo's trial was a bit of a circus, but there was no denying that his incredible claims of having sadistically slaughtered at least 52 victims were true. Police were able to collect ample evidence to back up Chikatilo's astonishing claims, including having Chikatilo lead them to the scene of the crime, providing details that had not been released to the press, and sketching the location of the crime and specific position of the body.
In 1994, Russian president Boris Yeltsin refused Chikatilo's last-minute appeal. Chikatilo was executed by a firing squad.