In 1984, Russian authorities finally had a killer in custody who they had been hunting for six years. But despite compelling evidence against the suspect, he was set free due to a blood-typing error. For six more long years, the killer embarked on a reign of terror in the Russian port city of Rostov, claiming dozens of victims.
It wasn’t until the deranged slayer’s capture on November 20, 1990, that the full truth came out: Andrei Chikatilo — the Rostov Ripper — was, at that time, the worst and most brutal serial killer in Russian history.
Life was never pleasant for Andrei Chikatilo. He was born in 1936 in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. The area Chikatilo grew up in suffered disastrously from famine due to Stalinist policies, and he witnessed many horrors including starvation and the carnage of World War II. It is rumored that one of his brothers disappeared, having been killed and eaten by some of their starving neighbors.
Chikatilo was discovered to be impotent as a teenager. It was later revealed that was a driving force behind his rage.
Chikatilo worked as a teacher, but was fired from two different schools for making sexual advances toward students. He then worked as a supply clerk in a factory. He also married and, despite his diagnosed impotence, was able to father two children. To friends, neighbors, and coworkers, Chikatilo was a typical, unexceptional man, and was a member of the Communist Party. But underneath the somewhat normal-seeming exterior was a homicidal maniac with uncontrollable impulses.
Chikatilo committed his first murder in 1978, when he was 32 years old. The unfortunate victim was a nine year old girl, lured into the woods. She was the first in a long line of men, women, and children who met a grisly death at the hands of Andrei Chikatilo.
Chikatilo’s M.O. remained more or less constant throughout his killing spree. He would lead his victims from bus and train stations to an isolated spot in the woods and then attack, ravaging the men and women with a knife, his fists, and even his teeth. Chikatilo was a fairly large man at 200 pounds, and his victims were typically no match for his strength once the assaults began. Chikatilo raped, killed, and mutilated without mercy — tongues ripped out, genitals cut off, and eyes removed. He even cannibalized some of his victims.
The victims came from varying backgrounds. Some were drifters — easy prey who accepted the offer of a free meal. Some were young men and women who saw no harm in accepting a ride from the seemingly mild-mannered former schoolteacher. The entire region was gripped by terror as an unknown killer lurked in the shadows, snatching their sons and daughters and vanishing without a trace.
The investigation to apprehend the Rostov Ripper turned into an obsession for many of the detectives. One of them later recalled:
“I was an investigator with 34 years experience, and had seen a lot of horrifying things, but this was on a different scale. I kept in my head my five children, who were of the same age as most of Chikatilo’s victims. We had to catch him.”
Shockingly, police did catch Chikatilo twice, but he was only detained, questioned, and released to kill again. The first time was in 1978 after his first murder, and the second time came in 1984. In the second instance, a detective noticed a man with a briefcase trying to talk to different young women at a bus station.
Chikatilo was brought in for questioning, and police discovered a knife, wire, and rope in his briefcase. A botched blood test resulted in Chikatilo’s sample not matching the murderer, and he was set free. An unlucky man, a convenient convicted sex offender, was executed for Chikatilo’s first murder.
For six more years until his capture, Chikatilo roamed the train and bus stations of Rostov, looking for easy targets. The killer had an peculiar advantage working in his favor: Soviet officials were not inclined to publicize violent crime, especially serial murders, preferring to dupe the Russian public into believing such crimes only happened in capitalist countries.
The Rostov Ripper was finally arrested on November 20, 1990. A police officer saw Chikatilo emerge from some woods near a train station and clean his muddy boots in a puddle. The officer noticed that the unassuming, middle-aged man had a bandaged finger and a scratch on his ear. Chikatilo was asked to produce identification, and the officer made a mental note of his name. A few days later, a dead body was found near the train station. The officer recalled the man he had encountered, and a witness also told police they saw Chikatilo trying to force a young boy from the station. Investigators began to piece the Ripper’s crime spree together. When the final accounting was made, Chikatilo’s body count stood at a horrifying 52 men, women, and children.
After an extensive review by psychiatrists, Chikatilo was deemed fit to stand trial. The trial itself became a media sensation in Russia, marked by outbursts from both spectators and Chikatilo himself. The accused killer was confined to an iron cage that was guarded by police during the trial, while family members of the victims screamed and attempted to get at the killer. Chikatilo acted strangely during the trial, insisting he was pregnant and that his breasts were filled with milk. He would also scream and strip naked in his cage, and he called himself a “poisoned wolf” during testimony. On many occasions, the judge grew tired of Chikatilo’s behavior and banished him from the courtroom to a basement holding cell.
Lurid details came out during Chikatilo’s testimony. He spoke of how easy it was to find victims willing to go into the woods with him, and that once they entered the forest, “I would start to shake. It was like a fever.”
Chikatilo was found guilty and received a death sentence. On February 14, 1994, Andrei Chikatilo, the Rostov Ripper, faced his judgment. The 57-year-old serial killer was taken to a soundproof chamber, ordered to kneel, and shot in the back of the head with a single bullet.
To learn more about Andrei Chikatilo, watch the “Vampire/Cannibal” episode of Investigation Discovery’s Most Evil on ID GO now!
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Main photo: Andrei Chikatilo [Wikipedia]