It’s not the nature of nostalgia to acknowledge the warts of the era that you’re being nostalgic about. When I was a kid, everybody a little older than me couldn’t help themselves but look back on the 70’s with a sort of ironic madness. It was fun to laugh about fond memories involving involving ridiculous clothes, hair styles and disco but amid all the madcap reminiscence, nobody ever thought to point out how the end of Vietnam more or less destroyed the social quotient of morale and how this led to a lot of people burying their heads in the sand about unemployment, a sagging economy, an imagined fuel crisis and all that. Only in this case you have to replace the sand with cocaine. Flash forward to my own generation getting old and how we look back on the 80’s like it was nothing but Back To The Future, synth pop and Transformers toys. Like our predecessors, not one of us ever thinks to point out the rise of the AIDS epidemic, the Savings and Loans scandals, titanic inconsistencies in the distribution of wealth and so on so forth. In the case of both examples, honestly, who wants to be Debbie Downer at the nostalgia party? Sorry to be that guy but for the first time since the 60’s, the Cold War, in its death throes, reached fever pitch and relations between the United States and the USSR seemed to be on the door mat of critical mass. Over here we had Ronald Reagan, the great orator, to assure us all that we’re number one and over there, they had Mikhail Gorbachev to assure them that in spite of appearances, Soviet communism was the shit and that capitalism was driving America to moral bankruptcy. Each side’s leadership was full of shit but only one of their national philosophies allowed one of the world’s most vicious and prolific serial killers to run free.
Citizen X, produed by and aired on HBO in 1995 tells the story of Andrei Romanovich Chikatilo, The Butcher of Rostov. It’s a pretty dreary but excellent flick from the height of HBO’s period of made-for-cable movies. It features a solid cast and tells an absolutely rancid story about Chikatilo from inside the bureaucratic system of blindness that allowed Chikatilo to run free for so long. When the bodies began to pile up, Victor Burakov, a forensic specialist and Moscow police investigator Mikhail Fetisov headed up a team of cops out to find The Butcher and stop him but in order to make that happen, they had to get The Party to accept the fact that serial murder in Soviet Russia was happening at all. The KGB and influencial members of the communist party refused to believe that this could happen in the USSR because serial murder was an American problem. It was a symptom of a capitalist society and therefore could not happen there. How wrong they were. By the time they got wise to the problem and granted an investigation, Chikatilo had worked out a solid system of murder and had stacked up six dead bodies.
Chikatilo was a typical serial killer in the sense that he came from a seriously fucking awful childhood. In Russia during the time of Stalin, it was hard not to. Stalin ran the country like a maniac and more or less took a shit all over Lenin’s vision of a communist Utopia. Even though this Utopia wasn’t really working for Lenin, it was functional. Stalin came in and instituted many of the nasty hard line communist practices that we have come to recognize as Soviet Communism in the days since. The USSR was a god-awful place to be and it’s a wonder at all that this environment of suspicion and fear didn’t breed more Andrei Chikatilos.
Chikatilo had a fairly simple MO. An accused pedophile before he was even killing people, he found his hunting grounds in the train stations around Rostov and would single out troubled young children. Specifically girls. Unlike most pedophiles, though, Chikatilo didn’t have an age preference. He would hit the train station and lure girls away to a house he had bought on the sly so his family wouldn’t know and this became the staging site for many of his murders. Chikatilo’s initial motive for abduction was rape, however, his impotence would send him into a rage and the act of murder was the thing that would trigger an orgasm. No shit. Strangulation was often his method of killing but post-mortem mutilation was the act that would send him over the edge. His first kill was in 1978. Hid final kill was in 1990. Between those 12 years, Chikatilo managed to rack up 53 murders of boys and girls, men and women between the ages of 7 and 45. He ran wild until the police got wise to his game and decided to lead him into a trap.
Soviet cops blanketed the train stations in the areas surrounding the usual murder scenes with an obvious police presence but left a couple of stations under the careful surveillance of undercover cops. Seems like a good plan, no? The place with all the cops hanging around are going to discourage Chikatilo from doing his thing there and he’d go out to one of these other stations where the cops weren’t hanging around. You’d think it would work, right? It didn’t. From one of the undercover surveillance spots, Chikatilo managed to lure a 16 year old boy away where he was murdered in the usual way. Eventually, the cops would implement this plan and following his final murder, an undercover cop witnessed Chikatilo washing off the blood of his last victim in a train station bathroom. Chikatilo was placed under arrest and subjected to Soviet police interrogation, which is an awful lot like you’d expect it to be.
Chikatilo was found sane by a state psychologist and was sent up to trial for his crimes. He was sentenced individually for 52 of the 53 murders. Each count carried the death penalty. In 1994, Chikatilo was led into a sound proofed room in a prison in Novocherkassk and was shot once behind the ear. It’s a pity they didn’t shoot him 52 times.