For decades, it was believed that the US was the serial killer capital of the world. But now, criminologists think that Russia – including in its previous guise as the USSR – has actually been home to the most murderers for almost a century.
A new book by British journalist Wensley Clarkson uses new and archive sources to report on how the country became a breeding ground for some of the world’s most evil monsters.
His book also takes a closer look at the country’s most shocking murder cases. Here, NATASHA WYNARCZYK reveals some of the most gruesome…
On a cold, snowy evening in December 1998, 17-year-old schoolgirl Svetlana Misyavitchus was walking home from her best friend’s house in Angarsk, Russia, when a policeman stopped her and offered her a lift. Getting into the car was the start of a sickening ordeal that saw Svetlana be violently beaten, raped and left for dead by Russia’s worst ever serial killer – Mikhail Popkov.
After her attack, Svetlana woke up paralysed down one side in a morgue. But she was one of the ‘lucky’ ones: out of the 83 victims of Popkov he has confessed to, only two reportedly survived. Twisted Popkov used his job as a cop to lure women to their death, killing them with instruments such as knives, axes and baseball bats. Their bodies were left so badly mutilated, the Russian media ascribed the crimes to “the Werewolf”.
Aside from one man, a fellow policeman, the victims were women aged 16 to 40. In 2015, Popkov was sentenced to life imprisonment.
The Rostov Ripper
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When the mother of nine-year-old Lena Zakotnova briefly left her daughter sitting on her empty bench alone at Rostov railway station so she could go into a café to buy some food, she never thought her girl would end up the first victim of one of Russia’s most notorious killers.
A few hours after Lena disappeared on that December day in 1978, Andrei Chikatilo emerged from a forest with the schoolgirl’s blood all over his hands.
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Between 1978 and 1990, Chikatilo – who became known as ‘the Rostov Ripper’ would go on to murder and mutilate an estimated 52 women or children, claiming that he gained sexual satisfaction from his crimes.
His job as a clerk involved a lot of travel, meaning he also committed crimes in Ukraine and Uzbekistan.
Initially, police believed that the killings were caused by a satanic cult, but in 1990 he was finally caught, and he was executed four years later.
The Kiev Poisoner
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In March 1987, several pupils and employees of a school in Kiev’s Podilskyi District were hospitalised with signs of severe food poisoning.
Two children and adults died almost immediately. while the remaining nine people were left in intensive care.
While hospital doctors initially thought they had an intestinal infection, their hair began to fall out which wasn’t typical of such a disease.
Tests on one of the bodies of the victims found traces of the rat poison thallium.
Police then carried out searches of all kitchen staff’s homes including that of dishwasher Tamara Ivanyutina – and the substance was found there.
It was revealed that Ivanyutina, her parents and sister had been poisoning people with thallium for 11 years, and that Ivanyutin had killed her first husband in this way, as well as her second husband’s parents, in order to gain land they owned.
In 1987, she was sentenced to death – and was the last woman in the USSR to face this punishment.
The Sexual Sadist
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Loner Anatoly Slivko was walking down the street one day when he witnessed a traffic accident. A drunken motorcyclist swerved into a group of pedestrians, fatally injuring a teenage boy.
The incident in 1961 sexually excited Slivko, setting him on a path of murder for sexual gratification in the city of Nevinnomyssk. Sadist Slivko exploited his job in a youth club to relive what he’d seen at the accident, tricking young boys into an ‘experiment’ that would cause them to fall unconscious, molesting them as they were passed out.
On seven occasions he became violent, fatally injuring them. He dismembered his victims’ bodies, then burned their remains and kept their shoes as a memento.
In December 1985, Slivko was arrested at his home where he was formally accused of seven murders, seven counts of sexual abuse, and seven counts of necrophilia. In June 1986, he was placed on death row in Novocherkassk prison.
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With the assistance of his mother Lyudmila, sick Alexander Nikolayevich Spesivtsev lured street children and young women to their apartment, where they were brutally murdered and sometimes cannibalised.
The pair had an unusual relationship, which began after Spesivtsev’s alcoholic father abandoned the family. Spesivtsev and his mother slept in the same bed until he was 12, and Lydumila would regularly show her son photographs of corpses from books about criminal cases.
After Spesivtsev left school aged 17 in 1988, he started dating Evgenia Guselnikova. One day, Evgenia made a rude comment about Lyudmila and Spesivtsev flew into a rage, beating his girlfriend violently and trapping her in the apartment where he tortured her for a month until she died of Sepsis.
Spesivtsev spent time in a psychiatric hospital, and after he was discharged in 1991 he went on a killing spree with his mother. After being caught in 1996, they confessed to 19 killings, but it’s believed they may have had over 80 victims.
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After a troubled childhood where he was regularly sexually assaulted by his father, Anatoly Onoprienko turned to a life of crime.
He began robbing houses with an accomplice, Sergei Rogozin. Their first raid, on a farmhouse in Lasky, Ukraine, didn’t go according to plan – after getting into a fight with the home’s owner the pair killed the entire family living there including eight children.
This was the start of a six-year period which would see Onoprienko, who then split from his partner-in-crime, slay 52 people, usually choosing an isolated house and killing all occupants inside it, before setting the building alight to hide the evidence.
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Onoprienko would also kill potential witnesses who crossed his path during his murderous rampages. In March 1996, an innocent man Yury Mozola was detained for Onoprienko’s crimes and died during torture – the real murderer was caught a year later, when a search of Onoprienko’s home found a massive cache of weapons used in the killings.
Serial Killers of Russia: Case files from the World’s Deadliest Nation by Wensley Clarkson is out Thursday, £8.99, published by Welbeck
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