Andrei Chikatilo: A new, yet very typical, serial killer

Psychologists often warn that when understanding the source of psychological anxiety or violent behavior in an individual, the most reliable starting point is their external environment. Analyzing the environment they experienced during their childhood offers explanations for their internal turmoil. Investigating the past certainly goes some ways in understanding the actions of Ukrainian serial killer, Andrei Chikatilo who is referred as Hannibal of Russia. That is not to sound fatalistic by believing the capacity to kill is predetermined, nor is it suggesting that the killer is a victim in any sense. That would be a wrong assumption. His vicious murder of 52 people verifies this. However, to understand what Andrei Chikatilo became, one must understand where he came from.

Andrei Chikatilo

Andrei Chikatilo

Born in the Ukrainian village of Yablochnoye, Andrei Chikatilo’s early tale reads like a Soviet Union dystopia. He was born to a poor family during the Ukrainian famine. His mother, he later claimed, physically abused him for chronic bedwetting, and told him bedtime tales of a deceased brother who was cannibalized by hungry neighbors. Andrei Chikatilo testified that such stories had a profound psychological effect on him – creating a character of distrust and constant anxiety. Compound that with living through the Nazi assault into his village during their invasion of the Soviet Union, Andrei Chikatilo lacked any childhood innocence. Still, to outsiders, he developed quite reasonably: he succeeded in school, he became a teacher, and he married and had children. His own family testified that his disposition was always calm and reserved. However, there is a pattern within serial killers to create two worlds: One in the world of appearances, and one reserved for their victims.

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Perhaps the reason why he was described by those who knew him as being reserved was that was his nature: even when he murdered, he did kill out of anger. Murder was an expression of sexuality; a form of stimulation to fulfill their repressed perversions. In this way, Andrei Chikatilo was very pedestrian for a serial killer. Where he was not pedestrian was his scope and his methods. In December 1978, Andrei Chikatilo committed his first murder in a nine-year old girl. After luring her from a bus station with the promise of candy – which became his modus operandi – he attempted to rape her, but he could not achieve erection. He later confessed that achieving arousal became a routine problem, but he found a remedy. By stabbing her to death, murder became his aphrodisiac. His absolute domination over his victim was his Viagra.

Because of the lack of accountability, transparency, and technology available to investigators in the USSR, the Hannibal of Russia continued his reign of terror continued. To the Soviets, serial killers, such as Ted Bundy, were a creation of Western ineptitude, not communist purity. So, in 1982, Chikatilo killed seven; in 1983, four. Though he was caught in 1984, he was released after serving brief prison sentence due to the lack of evidence against him. Then, he continued. His victims were primarily adolescents and young boys and girls. The cannibal killer Andrei Chikatilo described his mission of punishing “undesirables” – runaways or prostitutes. He engaged in torture, mutilation, necrophilia, and cannibalism. Cannibalism is ironic considering his childhood dread of it. This cannibal killer was cooking the genital organs and the nipples of his victims.

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“I am a mistake of nature,” Chikatilo cried during his trial in 1992. He was caught in 1990, six years following his initial arrest, after being caught engaging in suspicious behavior at a bus stop. Charged with a total 52 murders, Chikatilo was executed on Valentine’s Day 1994. The vivid descriptions of his murders haunted the former Soviet Union. In a way, he was a transformational figure: a figure who the society had convinced itself did not exist, but became a reality. Chikatilo’s early traumas do clarify why he was who he was to a certain degree, but not entirely. Andrei Chikatilo, the cannibal killer, was something so new, yet so old. Chikatilo became a lesson for the new epoch of the post-Cold War world.


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