Book Review: Comrade Chikatilo

comrade chikatiloWith the 1993 publication of Comrade Chikatilo: The Psychopathology of Russia’s Notorious Serial Killer, authors Ol’gert Ol’Gin and Mikhail Krivitch clearly divulge the life of prolific killer Andrei Chikatilo, the grisly fate of his victims, Russia’s exhausting and seemingly futile manhunt, and the tumultuous trial that led to the Red Ripper’s death sentence.

With an upbringing in a famine impoverished, World War II entrenched Ukraine, young Chikatilo lived under both the very real threat of German artillery and the possible threat of being cannibalized by fellow starving citizens, which was purportedly to be the fate of his older brother. Later in life, from adolescence into adulthood, he suffered from impotence that led to self-contempt and attempts at suicide.

To compensate for this shortcoming, Chikatilo, a clearly bright student, achieved academic success by obtaining multiple university degrees, and later went on to teach grade school. During his brief teaching career, Chikatilo began to take his first steps toward his eventual career in serial murder. He began to test his ability to prey on children at this time. He was eventually terminated from his teaching position, but the loyal member of the Soviet Union’s Communist party was able to avoid legal trouble and, consequently, any record of his past misdeeds prior to his first killing.

The self-proclaimed “Mad Beast” did not begin to murder until 1978 and he did not stop until 1990. That year, police caught him emerging from the very treeline that concealed his latest—and last—victim’s body. During this 12 year period, Chikatilo was able to amass a confirmed body count of 52 victims, who were often young women and children.

Tragically, Chikatilo’s first murder could have been his last, but the Soviet Union’s prosecution and eventual execution of their prime, innocent suspect allowed the actual killer to continue acting out his fantasies virtually unobstructed. Police were looking for a young male with a troubled past. Chikatilo was a well-educated family man by the time of the first murder—a pillar of the community and his party. No substantial record existed that documented his previous pedophilia, and so began a new record containing dozens of victims who could not be reliably attributed to a suspect for over a decade.

As the killings began to reach their end, so did the Soviet Union’s existence. Chikatilo was arrested in a Soviet Russia, but his trial and execution took place in a post-Soviet Russia. These contrasting environments play a fascinating role in the history of Russia’s most terrifying serial killer. The trial itself, which more resembled a zoo, hosted the accused in a cage to keep him safe from an enraged public. Meanwhile, Chikatilo, in a possible attempt to secure an insanity plea, would often insult the judge, display his genitals, and go on aimless tirades.

Authors Ol’Gin and Krivitch managed to craft a well-balanced book that stands out among the true-crime genre. Chikatilo’s life is disturbing from beginning to end, and the objective recounting of it is no less chilling. With pages devoted to both post-Soviet Russia’s judicial system and Soviet Russia’s hindering criminal investigative technology, or lack thereof, Comrade Chikatilo is an idiosyncratic and worthy addition to the bookshelf of psychopathology.