The Rostov Ripper: The Nightmare Maker of the Soviet Union
Some people survive monstrous circumstances and then spend their lives dedicated to overcoming the darkness that surrounded them. Other people allow that darkness into their very souls, becoming monsters themselves. Though his beginnings were tragic, Andrei Chikatilo went on to spread that darkness to others. Chikatilo went on to become a serial killer known as the Butcher of Rostov and the Rostov Ripper.
During the years of the Soviet Union, Chikatilo’s 53 killings went on unabated from 1978 until 1990. His victims included women of all ages, young girls and young boys, and the way that he killed them remains the stuff of nightmares. We may never know what makes a man like Chikatilo kill, but we do know that they do not stop until they are stopped.
Chikatilo’s childhood was bleak and cruel. During Stalin’s reign, he and his family were not paid wages for the work they did, but instead they were only given a plot of ground to farm. Hunger and starvation were endemic to their way of life. Chikatilo remembered not eating bread until he was twelve. There were recurring rumors that his older brother Stephen had been killed and eaten in secret by starving neighbors.
After World War II, Chikatilo was a young man. Though he seemed fairly bright and willing, he was unable to enter into any kind of university. Instead, he became a laborer who drifted from one position to another. He eventually married, but due to his impotence, he remained largely unsatisfied with that relationship.
Sometime in 1978, Chikatilo killed a nine year old girl named Yelena Zakotnova. He lured her away from the ice rink, and taking her to a house that he had purchased secretly, choked her and stabbed her three times. He attempted to sexually assault her, but found that he was unable to do so until she was dead.
The Zakotnova case took Rostov by storm. Demands were made for redress, for justice, and unfortunately, the brunt of that demand fell on a man named Aleksandr Kravchenko. Kravchenko had an alibi, but under intense questioning, his wife and her friend swore that he had come home later than he said. It was only circumstantial evidence that linked him to Zakotnova’s death, but he was eventually executed for that crime. It is widely suspected that the police, desperate to find a culprit, rushed the case to alleviate public opinion.
Over the next decade, Chikatilo went on to kill a wide variety of people in many horrible ways. Some he lured back to the house he owned, while others were killed in the forests close to town. Many of his victims were found naked and stabbed. They were frequently mutilated as well, something that led to a wide number of theories for who would do such a thing.
The police were desperate to find the murderer. Every time they found a suspect, another murder would happen, something that discounted their theories. They would question and keep files on more than 25,000 men, looking for suspects. Chikatilo himself was one of the men filed.
Finally a trap was proposed. All of the main train stations in Rostov would have visible policemen stationed at them. The only stations seemingly unmanned would be fairly desolate ones, where undercover policemen would be stationed.
This ruse finally caught Chikatilo in 1990, almost immediately after he had killed his last victim, Svetlana Korostik. When caught he initially denied all claims, saying they had caught him before and found him innocent. He finally confessed after a criminal profiler read him excerpts of his own profile.
Later, when he was questioned about the murders, he would relate that there was a sense of peace that came to him during even the first of his murders. He would feel a sense of pleasure and relief that would only arrive after he had killed a victim.
His open trial was intense, with many family members of his victims in attendance. After a lengthy trial, he was sentenced to death. After failed pleas for clemency, he was finally executed in 1994 with a single bullet placed behind his ear.