Open a deck of playing cards. Cut them, fan them, shuffle them. After you’ve finished amusing yourself, hold the entire deck in one hand. Using your other hand, lift the first card. Rub it between your thumb and forefinger for a few seconds. Ponder it. Allow its uniqueness to sink in, then drop it on the table. Do this with each card until you’ve depleted all the aces, all the face and number cards, every last diamond and club. Mull over the big pile spread out motionless on the table. Fifty-two cards. That’s how many people Andrei Chikatilo snuffed.
Operating mainly in the grimly macho, smoke-puking port town of Rostov in the former Soviet Union, Chikatilo laid waste to twenty-one boys, fourteen girls, and seventeen women. Starting in October, 1978, he raped, killed, and gnawed on raw sexual organs until his abduction late in 1990.
Physically, Chikatilo was an unimpressive man, as forgettable as a used scrap of newspaper being pushed along by a dry wind. It was his very blandness which enabled him to persuade Rostov’s young wastrels to accompany him into the city’s thick forested strips. Cruising train stations, bus stops, and video parlors, he lured fatally gullible souls with the promise that some pot of gold—vodka, porn tapes, or a ride in his car—was waiting on the other side of the woods. Culturally conditioned to trust all adults, the simpering Soviets swallowed the bait.
A fanatical communist, Chikatilo said he was upholding puritanical commie mores by slaying street degenerates. He imagined himself heroic, defending the motherland’s honor in a one-man guerrilla war. He told a reporter:
Everyone was spying on me, so I could fight only using guerrilla techniques. Grab a prisoner, take them to the chief of the guerrilla team, and find everything out. I told them that we’re going to the guerrillas. And I tied up their hands….I had fulfilled my guerrilla mission against my offenders who poisoned my life. I knew that I had stood up for myself.
“Up” is the operative word, because Chikatilo was cursed with a drooping dingus; he was allegedly impotent since birth. He also felt he resembled a woman and had been taunted in his youth by fellow Red Army soldiers, who jeered at his feeble asexuality. He took a lover after leaving the military but proved unable to complete the deed. The woman blabbed to townsfolk that “his machine is not working.” After that shameful night of non-penetrative sexual agony, Chikatilo tried unsuccessfully to hang himself. He never forgot his debasement at the hands of that unsatisfied Ukrainian maiden. “I was very angry with that girl,” he would recall. “I dreamed of catching her and tearing her to pieces as a revenge for my disaster.”
But the foot-long knife he carried with him into the woods never let him down. Chikatilo described his in-forest demeanor as that of a “crazed wolf.” Raindrop-sized beads of sweat gathered on his balding pate as he and his quarry plunged deep within the dark woodlands. He assumed command there, his hidden rage made manifest in a most ungainly manner. He’d assail his victims out of nowhere, usually from behind—doggy-style, so to speak—and pin them to the ground with his two-hundred-pound bulk. After binding them and running through his guerrilla spiel, he’d torment them by tearing loose their sex organs, biting out their tongues, and slitting open their guts while they were alive. Moving in for the kill, he’d stab them in the heart first, then in the eyes, because he felt the victim’s retinas preserved the murderous apparition even in death. While jabbing with the blade as many as fifty times, he was capable of raising his mast long enough to masturbate to completion. After spurting his filthy grey dribble, he’d often grab handfuls of rich forest soil and ram it into dead mouths and anuses.
His first victim, a nine-year-old girl, was the object of a foiled rape attempt which unraveled into homicide. When Chikatilo found that squeezing out the little missy’s life got him aroused, he sexually fused with murderous sadism, a phenomenon psychiatrists term “imprinting.” He was questioned in connection with that killing, but inept Russian officials arrested, convicted, and executed another man.
As the eighties dawned and the bodies stacked up, Rostov police fell under the delusion that a gang of psychotic young males was responsible. But the slayings proceeded unhindered even after all the gang members were jailed. The killing pace reached its zenith in 1984, with seventeen Rostovite lives extinguished by the impotent psychopath. Police arrested Chikatilo the same year but released him after they bungled a basic blood test. From then until 1989, the killer confined most of his action outside the Rostov area, usually during long business trips for his job as a factory supply clerk. One victim in Uzbekistan was so severely mutilated, she was originally thought to have been shredded by a harvesting machine.
Fifty-five officers were eventually assigned to the case full-time, listing twenty-five thousand suspects. Chikatilo was nabbed in November, 1990, when a cop spotted him covered with scratches and stooping to clean his boots after exiting a wooded area. He was set free but taken into custody a few days later when a carcass was found near the arrest site.
The sexually dysfunctional child-butcher didn’t budge after nine days of interrogation. Police then produced a psychiatrist who had drawn up a hypothetical personality profile during the manhunt, describing the unknown killer as an aging milquetoast who was good with kids but had trouble running his flag up the pole. When the shrink read the portrait aloud, Chikatilo recognized himself and began weeping. He admitted guilt for the thirty-four murders with which he was charged and described twenty-one others, of which only three were dismissed for lack of evidence. Chikatilo led police to murder scene after murder scene, unearthing bodies the cops weren’t even aware had been missing.
During his protracted confession, he detailed harrowing childhood memories of cannibalism, dismemberment, and familial shame. When he was four, his mother told him that prior to his birth, famine-crazed villagers captured his older brother and gobbled him clean to the bone. Mama Chikatilo warned young Andrei never to stray outside their yard. The story petrified the fledgling psycho, but it also tantalized him. Living under Nazi occupation in the early forties, the beardless youth helped his fellow citizens pick up body parts which had been blasted all over the streets. His father, who had been taken prisoner by the Germans, was reviled after the war as a traitor and sent to the gulags. The stain remained in Chikatilo’s mind, which may account for his compensatory attempts at valiance through knightly war-game fantasies.
In addition to his ghoulish boyhood and soft pecker, he also blamed the petty indignities of endless business travel. “I dreamed of a big political career,” he sighed, “and ended up with this nothing life, in stations and on trains….I know I have to be destroyed. I understand. I was a mistake of nature.”
Like many seasoned slayers, he was skilled at concealing his violent shadow existence. Chikatilo had lived for years in an apartment with his wife Fayina and their two offspring. He says he and the missus ceased humping circa 1984. “I love my wife,” he wrote. “I’m grateful to her because she endured my impotence. We had no real intercourse, only imitation.” From all reports, Chikatilo’s bambinos had no clue that their flaccid pappy was killing as many mortals as there are weeks in the year. Fayina, whose screaming tirades sent her limp mate scuttling into a corner, described him as a “perfect husband,” a man incapable of “killing a chicken.” She didn’t even suspect anything after learning he had lost two teaching jobs because of child molestation. When Andrei came home disheveled and blood-sprinkled, she believed his stories that his cruel bosses were making him load dirty wooden crates. But rather than face the mazurkas of publicity which swirled around them after Chikatilo’s apprehension, Fayina and her brood adopted pseudonyms and moved away.
They missed one hell of a show. For the trial, Russian officials placed Chikatilo in a white metal cage to protect him from vengeful court observers. Frenzied babushkas lunged toward the cage to claw at him, squealing, “Give him to us! Let us have him!….They should rip him apart like a dog!…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!” Under Russian law, the victims’ relatives were forced to stand and endure the judge’s recitation of the grisly deeds inflicted upon their dearly deceased. White-coated nurses were on hand with smelling salts to revive those who fainted.
Inside the cage, Chikatilo chased after reporters’ popping flashbulbs as if they were butterflies. He screamed that he needed an ambulance and complained that the court ledger had misspelled his name. He once completely disrobed and began spinning his shirt over his head, howling, “Under this banner I battled the Assyrian mafia!” At one juncture, he claimed that he was pregnant and that his breasts were swelling with milk. As the trial wore on and his demise seemed certain, he began each day’s session baying like a loon and was usually ejected within the first five minutes. Despite such laudable theatrics, Soviet shrinks declared him sane. When his death sentence was pronounced, Chikatilo threw his bench against the cage in disgust while the crowd went joyfully berserk. As guards led him away in manacles, he was heard hollering, “Crooks! I fought for free Russia and free Ukraine! Crooks! Crooks!…”
At the trial’s beginning, with his wide eyes and shaven head, Chikatilo looked like an emaciated Amazing Colossal Man. As his sparse hair began to take root and he slipped on a pair of horn-rimmed glasses, he resembled a typical elderly perv.
Back when Chikatilo was out slaying dozens, Russian police refused to publicize the case. The Communist Party line had been that serial killing was strictly a capitalist phenom, a symptom of the virus known as Western materialism. Chikatilo’s final arrest coincided portentously with the Soviet Union’s disintegration.