Andrei Chikatilo

The Forrest Strip Vampire

ROSTOV, Russia: With his shaved, bald head and wild eyes, Andrei Chikatilo looked for all the world like Nosferatu, the original Dracula silent movie monster, as he glared menacingly from behind his barred cage in a Russian courtroom. "I am a mistake of nature...a mad beast," the fifty-six-year-old former schoolteacher said chillingly as he confessed to killing at least fifty-five people, mostly schoolchildren, between 1978 and 1990, drinking their blood, and cannibalizing them.

Victims' relatives in court swooned and one was taken to the hospital as they heard that Chikatilo's twelve-year reign of terror was primarily the result of botched police work in this city of 1.4 million citizens six hundred miles south of Moscow. The investigators' errors were due mainly to lack of publicity about a monster on the loose, and a lack of communication among police departments operating under the communist regime.

Whatever the motive, the monsterous case of the Russian vampire revealed another underlying tragedy - an innocent man named Alexander Kravchenko had been arrested, convicted, and put to death in 1978 for the brutal killing of a nine-year-old girl who Chikatilo now confessed was his first victim. Another man arrested and falsely accused of the crimes during the investigation committed suicide. A third wrongfully accused citizen made an unsuccessful attempt to kill himself.

Crime was seldom publicized in the preglastnost Soviet Union when Chikatilo embarked on his spine-chilling murder spree in the late 1970s. As a result, almost five years elapsed before Rostov residents were alerted to the fact that one of the world's worst serial killers was operating in their midst. More than 200,000 people were questioned and blood-tested during the decade-long investigation. Amazingly, Chikatilo was taken in for questioning twice during that period, but released because of inconclusive blood and semen tests.

Throughout his murderous reign, Chikatilo maintained a remarkable double life. He was married with children, a pillar of the local communist party who worked as a Russian language teacher as well as at other white-collar jobs. Prosecutors could not accept his contention that the pressure of communism - to which he voluntarily gave his support - was the trigger for his actions. "His goal was a sexual act," said chief investigator Amirkhan Yandiyev. "And when he tried to rape his victims and found he could not complete the act, then he became sadistic" The prosecutor said Chikatilo felt no remorse for his victims - only pity for himself.

The court heard how Chikatilo usually found his young victims at bus stops. He would offer them a ride in his nonexistent car or invite them to visit his nonexistent nearby cabin. Gullible and innocent schoolchildren would follow him, usually to a wooded area beside a railroad track called Forest Strip, where he would suddenly pounce, using his knife, hands, and teeth as weapons.

In a frenzy, he would gouge out their eyes, mutilate vulnerable young bodies, drink blood, and eat body parts - an unspeakable ritual he was to repeat dozens of times. He would then bury his victims in the wooded copse. "He tortured his victims while they were alive by biting out their tongues, tearing away their sexual organs, and cutting their bellies open," Judge Leonid Akubzhanov wrote in his verdict against Chikatilo.

In a remarkable piece of psychological detection at the height of the savage killing spree, prominent psychiatrist Dr. Aleksandr Bukhanovsky was asked to draw up a profile of the possible perpetrator. With unerring accuracy, Bukhanovsky described a middle-aged man with an especially cruel childhood, a terrible inferiority complex, and with serious sexual problems. He added that the killer was heterosexual, probably maried, and had at one time possibly been a schoolteacher.

Chikatilo was arrested when a police officer, watching a bus stop on a massive surveillance called Operation Forest Strip, saw a young schoolboy following a lanky, bespeckled middle-aged man. Arrested, Chikatilo refused to say anything to his interrogators for nine defiant days. He eventually broke down and confessed after Dr. Bukhanovsky's chillingly accurate profile was read to him. That's when he recited to police how his brother was cannibalized in the Ukraine during a famine, how his father was a prisoner of war who was treated like a traitor when he returned home, how he felt inadequate with women - although he had been married and had two children - and how he had been mocked and humiliated for the best part of his life. He had also worked as a clerk and as a schoolteacher, and had begun his killing at age forty-two.

"I gave myself to my work, my studies, my family, my children, and my grandchildren," wrote the man described as "the perfect husband" in a confession. "But when I found myself in a different setting, I became a different person, uncontrollable, as if some evil force was controlling me against my will. And I could not resist." After Chikatilo was found guilty and sentenced to death, victims' relatives tried to storm the courtroom to get to the monster. "Give him to us. Let us deal with him," cried bereaved mothers as an indignant Chikatilo was led from his courtroom cage, whining and protesting that he had been given an unfair trial.

"I understand your feelings an your inability to hold yourselves back. I understand. But we must have due process of law," Judge Akubzhanov pacified the weeping relatives after sentencing Chikatilo on October 15, 1992, to be executed in traditional Russian style - a bullet in the back of the head.

Although police were declaring Chikatilo's arrest, conviction, and death sentence a triumph, most Rostov residents - overwhelmed by many now-publicized crime waves accompanying the collapse of the Soviet Union - are not so sure. Heralded the southern Russian newspaper, Nashye Vremya: "It's not such a triumph to have caught a criminal after leaving him on the loose for 12 years!"