Between 1978 and 1990, there was a serial killer was on the loose in the town of Rostov in western Russia. The State refused to publically admit such a monster existed whilst also launching a manhunt as the mutilated bodies of women and children were piling up.
The serial killer, who was also known as ‘The Rostov Ripper’, ‘The Butcher of Rostov’, ‘The Mad Beast’, ‘The Forest Strip Killer and ‘Killer X’, was finally captured and identified as 56-year-old Andrei Chikatilo. He had claimed the lives of 43 innocent victims—although the real victim count is believed to be much higher.
He is one of the most terrifying serial killers of all time and his timeline of terror reads like a real-life horror story. This is a disturbing account of how one twisted madman played the most dangerous game of cat and mouse with authorities.
10 Death Was Everywhere During His Childhood
Born October 16th, 1936, in Yablochnoye, U.S.S.R.—now Ukraine—Chikatilo was born just three years after the Ukrainian famine that killed 3.9 million people. Known also as ‘Holodomor,’ made up of Ukrainian words for “starvation” and “to inflict death”, the man-made famine was caused by Joseph Stalin.
The Soviet leader wanted to replace the countries’ smaller independent farms with state-run operations. Those who refused to give up their land were killed off and anyone caught hiding grains from Stalin’s crop collectors were sent to prison. Out of desperation, many of the peasants began eating dogs, cats, tree bark and roots. Others turned to cannibalism in order to survive.
When he was 4-years-old, Chikatilo’s mother told him that his older brother had been kidnapped and cannibalized by their neighbors. Although it’s unknown whether his mother’s story was true, this had a huge impact on Chikatilo growing up and he later cannibalized many of his victims. A psychiatrist who interviewed Chikatilo behind bars later revealed, “On the one hand he found it terrible and frightening, on the other hand, he had an unhealthy interest in it and his fantasies were all constantly concerned with it.”
9 His First Murder Led To The Execution Of An Innocent Man
In 1971, Chikatilo received a degree from Rostov Liberal Arts University and found a job as a teacher. However, he was forced to resign, when parents complained he had sexually assaulted their children.
7 years later, Chikatilo had begun preying on young victims again. He would wait around at train and bus stations in the Rostov-na-Donu where young people who left their homes for the city would be arriving daily. These potential victims were easy pickings for Chikatilo as they often had no contacts on arrival and little money, so he would be able to lure them away—willingly and undetected.
On December 22nd, 1978, Chikatilo murdered his first victim—9-year-old Lena Zakotnova. He lured her to a shed and ejaculated as he slashed at her abdomen with a knife. One witness had seen Chikatilo with the young girl shortly before her disappearance but his wife provided such a strong alibi that the police did not pursue him as a suspect. Instead, 25-year-old Alexsandr Kravchenko, who had a previous rape conviction, was arrested and confessed under duress following a brutal interrogation. He was executed in 1984 for the murder.
8 He Mutilated Victims In The Most Gruesome Way
Chikatilo claimed he murdered and mutilated 56 victims between 1978 and 1990. He was convicted of 52 murders. Although some of his victims were middle-aged—his oldest victim was a 44-year-old woman—he mainly approached children during his sordid killing spree.
They were lured to a nearby forest where Chikatilo would restrain them with rope and stab them repeatedly with a knife. He would use mud to stuff in the victim’s mouths so they could not be heard screaming. He often cannibalized the remains and even drank their blood. Chikatilo was an organized serial killer who would bury the bodies away from the location of the murder.
Investigators knew a maniac serial killer was on the loose as the victims were often found with their eyes gouged out or their genitals removed and stuffed in their mouths. Chikatilo also believed in the Russian superstition that the eyes keep a snapshot of the last thing a person sees before their death. Later, he discovered this was not true and stopped removing the eyes.
7 He Appeared A “Perfectly Normal” Husband and Father
In 1963, Chikatilo married Feodosia ‘Fayina’ Odnacheva after two weeks of meeting each other which was arranged by his younger sister. They had no sex life as Chikatilo was unable to maintain an erection—their two children were conceived manually.
When Fayina was discovered her husband had been arrested by authorities, she believed it was because he had protested about some new garages being built in the local area. Hearing about her husband’s real identity, she started to piece everything together—the nights he had spent away on ‘business trips’ and the blood she had found on his clothes which he claimed was from cuts as he was unloading goods.
What would have been more confusing is discovering the sexual gratification he gained from stabbing his victims—considering his complete lack of sex drive displayed throughout their own marriage. She later said, “I could never imagine him being able to hurt one person, let alone fifty-three. He could never hurt anyone.” Fayina and her two children later changed their names and moved away from their home due to the death threats they received.
6The Manhunt For Chikatilo Helped Catch 200 Other Criminals
During the hunt for the ‘Rostov Ripper’, there were hidden cameras at train stations and undercover policewomen dressed as runaways. Other undercover officers would dress as rail workers and mushroom pickers but they still could not catch the serial killer.
However, the efforts to catch the killer resulted in the arrest of more than 200 rapists and dozens of murderers. This became a frustrating achievement as none of the criminals apprehended had been the man they really wanted. Former senior investigator Amurkhan Yandiev stated, “Nobody connected to this case has anything to boast about.”
Psychiatrists said the killer would be: “Middle-aged, tall and strong, neatly dressed, wore glasses, carried a briefcase containing a knife, was a known sexual pervert, suffered from impotence and frequented train and bus stations.” When Chikatilo was later caught, he fit the profile exactly—if only it had been much sooner so many more innocent lives could have been saved.
5His Rage Came From Sexual Dysfunction
Chikatilo was a serial killer and sexual deviant who could only become sexually aroused by stabbing his victims to death. He later told psychiatrists that the experience of “cutting” the victims would bring him to orgasm and he felt an urge to keep reliving the experience.
He suffered lifelong erectile dysfunction and this frustrated him for many years before his internal rage eventually boiled over into a brutal killing spree. Psychiatrists explained, “Chikatilo stated that the desire to achieve sexual arousal through killing continually consumed him, something that in isolation suggests Chikatilo’s previous unresolved sexual conflict may have led to an evident overbearing urge to act upon the murderous desires within him.”
In his own words, Chikatilo described, “What I did was not for sexual pleasure. Rather it brought me some peace of mind.”
4 He Carried His Own Twisted ‘Murder Kit’
In 1984, Chikatilo’s killing spree claimed the lives of 15 victims. On September 13th, two undercover detectives noticed him approaching women at Rostov bus station and also rubbing himself up against them sexually. Chikatilo was posing as a traveling businessman and carrying a briefcase. Inside this briefcase—which would later be revealed as his ‘murder kit’— police found it contained an 8-inch knife, a jar of vaseline, some rope, and a dirty towel—all the suspicious items he had an excuse for.
His description also matched many witness accounts of a man the victims had last been seen alive with. He was arrested but the police misidentified his blood type and scrapped his name from the long list of suspects tied to the murder. It was a huge error that cost many more innocent lives after that.
In December, Chikatilo was found guilty of theft from a previous employer and he served three months in prison—not the worst of his crimes as now the serial killer was on the loose again.
3 He Almost Got Away With The Murders
During Chikatilo’s 12-year reign of terror, Soviet police were not forward enough with issuing warnings about an active serial killer because serial murder was not considered a reality in an ideal communist society. Also, with the absence of any real media—many of the young victims disappeared and nobody even knew they were gone.
Then on November 19th, 1990, a policeman who was patrolling the train station saw Chikatilo walk from the woods before stopping to clean his boots and coat in a puddle. He also noticed there was a smear of blood on his cheek and what appeared to be a deep cut on his finger.
The next day, the body of a young girl was discovered in the same woods Chikatilo had appeared from and the chief of police demanded the details of any suspicious individuals who were reported in the last 24 hours.
Finally, after hours of interviews, Chikatilo not only admitted to the 36 murders which were known to the police but also described 17 more that they were unaware of. In his own chilling words, he confessed, “I was like a crazed wolf. (I) just turned into a beast, into a wild animal.”
2 He Was Kept In A Cage During His Trial
In Rostov Oblast Court, aged 56-years-old, Chikatilo stood before a judge during the ‘trial of the century’. As the court heard the gruesome and disturbing evidence; Chikatilo was locked in an iron cage to the left of the judge. The cage was to keep the killer safe as the distraught relatives of victims threw themselves at the guards in an attempt to get their revenge.
Paulina Ishutina, whose 20-year-old daughter was killed by Chikatilo, said, “Why bother trying him? If they gave him to me, I’d tear him apart. I’d gouge out his eyes and cut him up. I’d do everything to him that he did to my daughter.” Adding emotionally, “My daughter had 46 knife wounds, her womb was cut out. Why did he do that? What did he need with it? How can you torment someone like that?”
On October 15th, 1992, Chikatilo was found guilty on 52 murder charges and sentenced to death for each of the murders. On February 14th, 1994, he was executed by a shot to the back of the head. He will forever remain an infamous name in history due to his sadistic brutality.
1 He ‘Inspired’ The Chessboard Killer
Russian serial killer Alexander Pichushkin, who became known as ‘The Chessboard Killer’, killed at least 48 known victims between 1992 and 2006. His ‘goal’ was to kill 64 victims—one victim for every square on a chessboard. Moscow’s prosecutor Yury Syomin stated during Pichushkin’s trial, “He dreamed of surpassing Chikatilo and going down in history.”
Pichushkin would lure his victims—who were often vulnerable homeless men and runaways—to a nearby woods where he would bludgeon them to death with a hammer. Similar to Chikatilo, he would then dump the body away from the kill site, usually favoring the underground drainage tunnels near Moscow’s Bitsa Park. Also, similar to Chikatilo, Pichuskin was placed behind a glass box during the trial.
Pichuskin coldly explained, “For me, life without killing is like life without food for you. I felt like the father of all these people since it was I who opened the door for them to another world.”