On November 20, 1990, detectives arrested serial killer Andrey Chikatilo, who had became known as “The Butcher of Rostov”. During a 12-year period Chikatilo killed, dismembered, and occasionally cannibalized 21 boys, 14 girls, and 18 women in and around the southern region of Rostov in Russia.
The bloody drama, which lasted from 1978 to 1990, became one of the most sadistic killing sprees in the history of criminology. A husband and a father of two children, aged about the same as many of his victims, committed his first known murder in 1978 when he lured a nine-year-old girl into an abandoned house.
An eyewitness had seen Chikatilo with the victim shortly before her disappearance, but his wife provided him with an alibi that enabled him to evade further police attention. A young man, Aleksandr Kravchenko, with a previous rape conviction, was arrested and confessed to the crime during an extensive and brutal interrogation. He was tried and executed in 1984.
Such a close brush with the law stopped Chikatilo from killing for several years, however he began abducting children again in 1981 and by 1982 he had killed seven times. He established a pattern of approaching his victims at bus or railways stations and enticing them to a nearby forest or other secluded areas. When a further 15 victims were added during 1984, police efforts were drastically increased. Chikatilo was arrested for behaving suspiciously at a bus station at that time, but again avoided suspicion on the murder charges as his blood type did not match the suspect profile, but he was imprisoned for three months for a number of minor outstanding offences.
Once detectives recognized that the murders were the work of a serial killer, they mounted a massive surveillance operation. The search was one of the most large-scale operations lead by Soviet law enforcement, who had never dealt with anything of that nature before. In the course of the investigation, police arrested and examined thousands of suspects. Over one thousand crimes were solved, incidentally, and officers accumulated information on 48,000 men with sexual deviations. Despite all the efforts, the body count kept rising.
Police then focused their efforts on transportation hubs. Policemen in uniform patrolled all large train stations in order to drive the killer into isolated locations while undercover officers were used to keep these remote locations under surveillance. In early November of 1990, a plainclothes detective at a remote train station spotted Chikatilo emerging from the woods. The officer noticed a smear of blood on his cheek and what appeared to be a severe cut on his finger. The policeman stopped him and checked his papers. Having not enough reason to arrest Chikatilo the officer let him go. He did, however, file a report on the incident.
The following day a passerby discovered a girl’s body in the same woods. But even then, the police still did not have enough evidence for an arrest and prosecution. Chikatilo was put on a round-the-clock watch. Finally, on November 20, 1990, he was seen attempting to make contact with a young boy. Officers suspected that he might try to lure the boy away and arrested him.
By then, Chikatilo was suspected of committing more than 30 murders, but police had no eyewitnesses and few clues. At this point, detectives decided to allow a psychiatrist to talk to Chikatilo. After a long conversation, Chikatilo confessed to 56 murders, revealing the gruesome details of his 12-year run as a serial killer and even led police to the site of previously undiscovered bodies.
On February 14, 1994 Andrey Chikatilo was executed with a bullet to the back of his head, despite his last minute appeal to then-President Boris Yeltsin, who refused to grant him clemency.