Arrest and release
Chikatilo was identified to have behaved suspiciously at a Rostov bus station. He was arrested and held. It was found he was under investigation for minor theft at one of his former employers, which gave the investigators the legal right to hold him for a prolonged period of time. Chikatilo’s dubious background was uncovered but provided insufficient evidence to convict him of the murders. He was found guilty on other matters and sentenced to one year in prison. He was freed in December 1984 after serving three months.
Later murders and the manhunt
Chikatilo found new work in Novocherkassk and kept a low profile. He did not kill again until August 1985, when he murdered two women in separate incidents. He is not known to have killed again until May 1987 when, on a business trip to Revda in Ukraine, he killed a young boy. He killed again in Zaporozhye in July and in Leningrad in September.
The police investigation was revived in mid-1985 when Issa Kostoyev was appointed to take over the case. The known murders around Rostov were carefully re-investigated and there was another round of questioning of known sex offenders. In December 1985, the police renewed the patrolling of railway stations around Rostov. Chikatilo followed the investigation carefully, and for over two years, he kept his desires under control. The police also took the step of consulting a psychiatrist, the first such consultation in a serial killer investigation in the Soviet Union.
In 1988, Chikatilo resumed killing, generally keeping his activities far from the Rostov area. He murdered an unidentified woman in Krasny-Sulin in April and two boys in May and July. In 1989, Chikatilo killed five times between March and August. Again, there was a long lapse before Chikatilo resumed killing, murdering seven boys and two women between January and November 1990.
The discovery of more victims led a massive operation by the police. A part of the operation involved a large number of the force patrolling train and bus stations as well as other public places around Rostov area. Major bus and train stations were patrolled by the police force wearing uniforms. Smaller and less busy stations were patrolled by undercover agents. The intention was to discourage the killer from frequenting the larger train and bus stations, where activities would be more likely to be noticed. This would force the killer to hunt at smaller stations, where the presence of police was not apparent. The operation also involved a large number of young female agents dressed like prostitutes or homeless people. They kept wandering aimlessly in and around stations as well as traveling extensively along the routes where dead bodies were found.
On 6 November 1990, Chikatilo killed and mutilated Sveta Korostik. While leaving the crime scene, he was stopped by an undercover policeman who was patrolling the Leskhoz train station and saw Chikatilo approaching from the woods. According to the policeman, he looked suspicious. The only reason for someone to go into the woods at that time of year was to gather wild mushrooms (a popular pastime in Russia). However, Chikatilo was not dressed like a typical forest hiker. He was wearing more formal attire. Moreover, he had a nylon sports bag, which was not suitable for carrying mushrooms. His clothing was dirty and he had what looked like smeared blood stains on his cheek and ear. The policeman stopped Chikatilo and checked his papers. Having no formal reason for arrest, Chikatilo was not held. Had Chikatilo’s bag been checked, he would have found the amputated breasts of Sveta Korostik. When the policeman came back to his office, he filed a formal routine report, indicating the name of the person he stopped at the train station. Shortly after the encounter, the police found two dead bodies, 30 feet apart, near the train station in Leskhoz. It was determined that one of the victims was killed around the date of the police report filed about this suspicious man near the Leskhoz station. It was the second time Chikatilo was indirectly associated with a murder of a child (the first one was in 1978, when a witness reported seeing a man whose description matched Chikatilo with a girl who was later found dead).
Final arrest and Chikatilo’s confession
Even after the incident, the police still did not have enough evidence for arrest and prosecution. Chikatilo was put on a round-the-clock watch by the police. He was constantly followed and videotaped by undercover agents. On November 20, 1990, Chikatilo left his house with a one gallon flask for beer. Chikatilo wandered around the city, attempting to make contact with children he met on his way. Finally, he entered a small cafe where he bought 300 ml of beer. His behavior toward the children triggered the decision to arrest him when he exited the cafe.
Again, the police had ten days to either charge Chikatilo with the murders or to let him go. Upon arrest, the police uncovered another piece of evidence against Chikatilo. One of his last victims was a physically strong (although mentally challenged) 16-year-old boy. At the crime scene, the police had found numerous signs of physical struggle between the victim and his murderer. One of Chikatilo’s fingers had a relatively fresh wound. Medical examiners concluded the wound was, in fact, from a human bite. Although a finger bone was later found to be broken, Chikatilo never sought medical attention for the wound.
The strategy chosen by the police force to make him confess included one of the chief interrogators telling Chikatilo that they all believed he was a very sick man and needed medical help. The strategy was to give Chikatilo hope that if he confessed, he would not be prosecuted by reason of insanity. Finally a psychiatrist was invited to assist in questioning Chikatilo. After a long conversation, Chikatilo confessed to the murders. Again, confession was not enough to prosecute him. Interrogators still needed hard evidence. Chikatilo volunteered to provide evidence, showing buried bodies that the police had not yet discovered. That gave investigators sufficient evidence to prosecute. Between November 30 and December 5, Chikatilo confessed to and described 56 murders. Three of the victims had been buried and could not be found or identified. The number of crimes Chikatilo confessed to shocked the police, who had listed only 36 killings in their investigation. A number of victims had not been linked to the others because they were murdered far from Chikatilo’s other hunting grounds, while others were not linked because they were buried and not found until Chikatilo led the police to their shallow graves.
Special precautions had to be taken while keeping Chikatilo in prison. Violent and especially sexual crimes against children are taboo in the Russian underworld. Prisoners accused of raping and/or killing children in Russian prisons are usually “cast down” (опущены) to “untouchable” (опущенный) status, sexually abused, and sometimes killed by their cell mates. The problem was complicated by the fact that some of the relatives of Chikatilo’s victims worked in the prison system.
While in his cell, Chikatilo was put under round-the-clock video surveillance. While the suspect often acted bizarrely in front of his investigators, his behavior inside the cell was normal. He ate and slept well. He exercised every morning. He extensively read books and newspapers. Chikatilo also spent a lot of time writing letters and complaints to his family, government officials, and the mass media.
Trial and execution
The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Chikatilo’s trial was the first major event of post-Soviet Russia. He went to trial on April 14, 1992. Despite his odd and disruptive behavior in court, he was judged fit to stand trial. During the trial he was kept in an iron cage in the center of the courtroom; it was constructed for his protection from courtroom observers. Relatives of victims shouted threats and insults to Chikatilo, demanding the authorities to release him so that they could execute him on their own. There were many incidents of relatives fainting when the names of the victims were mentioned. Chikatilo made many ludicrous statements; on some occasions, he announced he was pregnant or was being radiated or lactated. Twice, he dropped his pants and exposed his genitals, shouting that he was not a homosexual. He denied some murders for which he had already confessed. On the last day of the trial, he broke into song and had to be removed from the courtroom. When offered a final opportunity to speak, he remained silent.
The trial ended in July and sentencing was postponed until October 15 when he was found guilty of 52 of the 53 murders and sentenced to death for each offense. Judge Leonid Akhobzyanov made the following speech: “Taking into consideration the monstrous crimes he committed, this court has no alternative but to impose the only sentence that he deserves. I therefore sentence him to death.” After hearing the sentence, the audience, made up of victim’s families, broke into applause. When given a chance to speak, Chikatilo delivered a rambling speech, blaming the regime, certain political leaders, his impotence (even removing his trousers at one point) and defending himself by blaming his childhood experiences during the famine in Ukraine in the 1930s. At one point he claimed that he had done a favor to society by cleansing it of “worthless people”. Chikatilo was seen saying something as police removed him from his iron cage and led him away.
On January 4, 1994, Russian President Boris Yeltsin refused a last ditch appeal for clemency. On February 14, Chikatilo was taken to a soundproofed room in Novocherkassk prison and executed by a single gunshot behind the right ear.
List of victims
Chikatilo in film and books
An HBO film, Citizen X, based on Robert Cullen’s book The Killer Department, was made in 1995 about the investigation of the “Rostov Ripper” murders. It starred Jeffrey DeMunn as Chikatilo, with Stephen Rea as Viktor Burakov and Donald Sutherland as Mikhail Fetisov. The 2004 film Evilenko, starring Malcolm McDowell and Marton Csokas, was loosely based on Chikatilo’s murders.
Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith, draws heavily on the Chikatilo story, with the events set several decades earlier during the time of Stalin and immediately thereafter.
Conradi, Peter. The Red Ripper: Inside the Mind of Russia’s Most Brutal Serial Killer. 1992. ISBN 0440216036.
Cullen, Robert. Killer Department. 1993. ISBN 1857972104.
Lourie, Richard. Hunting the Devil. The Pursuit, Capture and Confession of the Most Savage Serial Killer in History. 1993. ISBN 0060177179.
Smith, Tom Rob. Child 44. 2008. ISBN 1847371264. A crime novel loosely based on Chikatilo.
NTV (1997). «Criminal Russia: The trail of Satan». A documentary on Chikatilo’s case produced by a leading Russian TV channel.