Transcript: 156. Killer Taxi Driver, Dimitris Vakrinos | Greece

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Koula Hatzidogiannaki worked in a tavern in Nikaia, Athens. She had just brought a meal to a table where her husband sat. He always came by for a bite to eat when she was working. They had only been married for a couple of months, and they had a peaceful life together. There were some arguments, for sure, but things always settled down again. Dimitris worked as a taxi driver and Koula as a waitress.

Even neighbours attested to the fact that Koula’s husband was just a quiet, non-descript guy. He was short and scrawny, and even though he wasn’t the friendliest of people, there was nothing threatening about him.

So, when Hellenic Police entered the taverna on April 9th, it surprised everyone that they swarmed in on the timid Dimitris. He had just tucked into a meal when he was forced to go to Attica police headquarters. He was taken in on suspicion of murdering two brothers during a shoot-out at a gas station. 

Koula informed her husband’s family about his arrest, and they were all convinced that there must have been a mistake. No one ever took Dimitris seriously… He was a short in stature, a quiet guy who easily disappeared in a crowd. They did not think he had it in him to kill anyone.

However, in the 24 hours that followed, police were stumped to learn that the man in custody, had killed many more. He did not fit the characteristics of a typical serial killer, which explains why he got away with it for so long. In the decade leading up to his arrest, Dimitris Vakrinos had murdered five people, and almost killed another seven. Who was this monster in front of them?

>>Intro Music

Dimitris Vakrinos was born to Panayiotis Vakrinos and Georgia Vakrinou in Pyrri, Gortynia a small village in mainland Greece in 1962. He was the second of four children and grew up in a poor, farming family. They owned a couple of sheep, and that was it. Dimitris’ father was an alcoholic, which earned him the nickname Vrouvas, meaning ‘drunkard’. When he drank, he had violent outbursts, and often beat his only son, Dimitris.

Dimitris never excelled academically and struggled at school. He was saddled with his father’s reputation and kids teased him, calling him Vrouvaki – son of a drunkard. He dropped out before he went to high school. Most of the time, Dimitris was by himself, working as a shepherd for his family.

During Easter weekend of 1975, his mother Georgia’s brother from Athens visited his family in Pyrri. He saw the dire situation and the strained relationship between Panagiotis and his son. The uncle stepped in and took 13-year-old Dimitris back to Athens with him. Dimitris had always been a quiet and withdrawn child and did not have many friends in his hometown. So, when he left, he wasn’t really missed. To his parents, it was a practical solution: they had one less mouth to feed. He stayed in touch with his mother and sisters, but for the most part became estranged from his father. 

In Athens, Dimitris helped out at his uncle’s taverna in Hasia, called ‘The Three Brothers’. It was the mid-70s, and the tourism industry was booming. Dimitris mainly worked as a waiter. He grew up alongside his cousins, in his uncle’s home for three years, and thrived. 

When Dimitris was 16, his family also moved to Athens. He left his uncle’s home and moved back in with them. But before long tensions between him and his father were so bad, he had to get out of the house. Thanks to the intervention of a social worker who saw a young man left to his own devices, he enrolled at a technical school, to qualify as a welder. Dimitris referred to it as ‘the institution’. He was bullied and teased for being significantly smaller than his peers. He stuck it out and completed his qualification and found a job at Elefsis Shipyard. This job gave him stability and raised him up from his humble beginnings. He would work here for about ten years, before moving on.

In 1990, Dimitris married Evangelia Gerasimou but it was never going to last. She recalled their first year of marriage: 

“Our life together wasn’t anything special. We were locked in the house all day. He had no friends, nor did he want us to go anywhere. He did not invite his father to our wedding. He said he was drunk and did not like him. He only invited his mother, but refused to let her into the church. A month after our wedding he suddenly left our house without saying anything. But then he came back."

On February 13th 1992, Vakrinos confronted his father-in-law at his cottage on Salamina Island. He claimed that the cottage belonged to himself and Evangelia, but her father disagreed. The debate grew heated and police were called. In the end, the feisty 27-year-old Vakrinos was charged with slander. He was furious, but went away, quietly simmering and stewing, plotting his revenge. 

In 1992, he left his welding job to become a taxi driver. Well, that was the plan, but as soon as he left his job, he announced to his wife that he had no intention of working ever again. It was her turn to go out and work, but then she’d also have to make sure to cook and keep house. Evangelia was not impressed, and after only being married for 14 months, she kicked him out of their him in Kerarsini. 

Vakrinos told everyone that HE had left HER because her mother had attacked him. Evangelia refuted this allegation, saying that he had smacked a relative’s baby, and when her mother intervened, he slapped her. That was the last straw for Evangelia. By that time, her husband had also told her that he never wanted children, as they would only bring problems. He never disclosed this to her before they got married, and for Evangelia it was a deal-breaker. So when he assaulted a baby and her mother, he was out.

Vakrinos had one last score to settle before letting Evangelia go. In an act of revenge, he set fire to his father-in-law’s house on Salamina Island. If he couldn’t have it, no one could. He was charged with arson and received a two-year suspended sentence.

In the years that followed, Vakrinos had various odd jobs, but always came back to taxi driving. He never had many friends and became increasingly socially awkward. He became obsessed with a regular taxi client’s daughter, called Litsa, but nothing came of it, seeing as she was married. 

Four years after his first marriage ended, in August 1996, Dimitris Vakrinos married for a second time. He moved to Moschato with his wife, Koula Hatzidogiannaki. But his days with Koula were numbered.

After being married for only a couple of months, police arrested the enigmatic Vakrinos, at the tavern where Koula worked. He was suspected of killing two brothers during a shoot-out at a gas station and unrelated robberies. Once in police custody, he confessed to the murders. But those were not the only ones… One by one, the seemingly timid individual informed police of murders, attempted murders and robberies he had committed in Athens over a 10-year-period.

His first murder took place in 1987. At the time, 25-year-old Dimitris Vakrinos lived by himself in an apartment in Petroupoli, in Athens’ north. At the beginning of August, an old friend came to visit… Dimitris had invited 43-year-old Panayiotis Gaglias to stay with him, giving him an opportunity to get back on his feet. Panayiotis was a burglar, known on the streets of Athens as ‘The Butterfly’. After serving a short sentence in prison, he temporarily moved in with Vakrinos. 

To say the friends had a rocky relationship, would be an understatement. Whenever they spent time together, they drank through the night – and it usually ended with a fight. During his visit, Gaglias accused Vakrinos of stealing his firearm. Vakrinos denied it, but his friend was convinced he had taken it, and threatened to report the incident to police. 

This did not sit well with the egoistic Vakrinos – he felt that his guest had insulted him. But he knew he would not be able to stand up to the ex-con in a serious fight, so he waited for him to go to sleep. In the middle of the night, he snuck into Gaglia’s room and attacked him with an iron bar. When Vakrinos was certain his friend was no longer alive, he went to a local hardware store, bought a knife and dismembered his body. 

He stashed the body parts into black plastic bags and carried it to his car. Then he drove 19km along the Argos-Tripolis highway and disposed of Gaglias’ remains next to the road. Vakrinos was afraid that someone would notice his friend’s absence, so he did not want to go back home. Instead, he stayed with one of his sisters for a week, hiding out in case police were onto him. But when no one came looking, he returned home, where he cleaned the murder scene and carried on with his life as if nothing ever happened. 

Eight days after the murder, a local shepherd found the remains of Panayiotis Gaglias. Police assumed he was killed by one of his criminal connections but had not the faintest idea where to start the investigation. Vakrinos kept a keen eye on the news and realised that he got away with murder. It would be six years before he killed again.

His next crime took place in March 1993. One evening, Vakrinos he was walking in the Botanical Gardens, when he observed a group of teenagers. He overheard two of the boys making fun of their friends, a couple who was out for an evening stroll. It was all done in good spirits and everyone laughed together. However, Vakrinos did not think it was funny. He was offended by their remarks and profane language. In a rage, he pulled out his pistol and shot 18-year-old Andrea Svyrus in the face and 16-year-old Theodoros Bitoulas in the back, narrowly missing his spine. Andrea Svyrus lost an eye in the shooting. The attack was so random and unmotivated, police had no idea who the shooter could be.

Vakrinos stayed out of trouble for the better part of the year, that is, until a breezy mid-November evening. 28-year-old Anastasia Simitzi had the misfortune of flagging down the taxi of Dimitris Vakrinos after a night out. It was just passed midnight and they got talking. Anastasia told her taxi driver that she had had a fight with her boyfriend. Sensing her vulnerability, Vakrinos convinced her to stop bar for a nightcap with him. As the night wore on, Anastasia was less keen on her new friend and asked if he could take her home. He suggested they go home together and proposed a sexual encounter, but she wasn’t interested. 

Vakrinos kept his cool and said he would take her home, but he didn’t. First, he stopped at a gas station and bought some fuel. Then he drove to a deserted area near Mandra, where he forced his passenger out of the car, doused her in petrol and burned her alive. Some reports say that – desperate to save her own life – Anastasia relented and said she would have sex with him. But the cold-hearted killer said she could pleasure herself as he set her on fire. Anastasia’s charred corpse was found the following day. 

Police were dumbfounded to hear Vakrinos’ detailed account of the murder, almost four years later at Attica Police Headquarter. The wanted to know why he killed Anastasia, and he could not really give a definitive answer. He said that she said he was too short for her liking, and that it infuriated him. But mostly, he wasn’t in a good place. Avoiding responsibility for the murder, he said:

"That girl I burned alive was a bad time. I was blurred by hormones. You understand. A customer came in and we ended up drinking together. Then she did not want anything more... It's all the hormones' fault…”

During this time, murder was not his only crime. A couple of weeks after Anastasia Simitzi’s murder, in December 1993, Vakrinos attempted to rob a gas station at Thebes Avenue. This was an act of revenge, according to Vakrinos, because of an earlier disagreement with an attendant. He did not steal anything, but he shot at the cash register with his pistol. Despite firing five rounds, it never opened, and Vakrinos decided to leave before police arrived. And it was evidence from this senseless crime, that helped police in building their case against him. We’ll get to that…

In the winter of 1993 to 1994, Vakrinos’ intolerance of people, was quietly festering inside. Anger and confrontation seemed to follow him wherever he went. A once-off quarrel between Vakrinos and fellow taxi-driver, 35-year-old Theodoros Andreadis, came back to haunt Andreadis in January 1994. The men had clashed about priority parking at the Elefsis taxi rank months before. Andreadis cut in front of Vakrinos and picked up his customer. There was a verbal exchange between the men. Andreadis reportedly said:

“You’re a taxi driver in Athens. Go there!”

At the time, Vakrinos backed off, but kept a grudge. He recalled the incident, during his confession to police:

“It was in the square [in Elfsina]. I was first in line, I waited 20 minutes. He came later and took my fare. But that was not exactly the problem. I took down his number. He then came out in anger and insulted me and made a move to hit me. Another taxi driver stopped him. What Andreadis did bothered me a lot. It would have been better to kill me than to do what he did. It wasn’t about the 100 or 500 drachmas… It was the move he made to hit me... "

Vakrinos patiently waited for time to pass, while he plotted his revenge. On the 9th of January, he went to a taxi rank and posed as a customer. He let himself into the back of Theodoros Andreadis’ taxi. Their fight was many months before, and with Vakrinos sitting behind him, Andreadis didn’t recognise him. Vakrinos asked him to drive to Loutraki [Loo-Trah-key], a seaside resort about 80km west from Athens. When he saw an isolated spot, he asked the driver to pull over, as he needed the toilet.

They stopped on the shoulder of the road, and Vakrinos went off to do his business. When he returned, he asked Andreadis for water so he could wash his hands. The taxi driver obliged, got out of the car to get some from the trunk. As soon as Andreadis turned his back, Vakrinos pulled out his firearm. He shot Theodoros Andreadis four times, killing him instantly. He loaded his victim into the trunk, stole his watch, and then drove himself back to Elefsina. At a deserted location, he parked the car and, with Andreadis’ body still inside, he set the taxi on fire. The burnt-out car was found some hours later, and police had no idea where to start looking for his murderer. Little did they know, the elusive killer was so callous, he even attended his victim’s funeral. 

Photos from Theodoros Andreadis’ funeral show Vakrinos among the congregation of mourners. Fellow taxi drivers saw this after his arrest and were furious that one of their own had killed a much-respected colleague and friend.

Vakrinos did not shed tears for his most recent victim – instead he turned his anger and hatred towards a new target. He had a dispute with a woman from Neo Sepolia, and waited a while before he took his revenge. In early December 1995, Vakrinos broke into her parked car and looked for valuables. As he rummaged through items inside the car, George Caucas and Vassilis Doula, (both 25 years old) saw him. They did not know the owner of the car in fact, they were only passers-by. But they realised Vakrinos was up to no good and shouted at him, commanding him to get out of the car. Without a word, Vakrinos opened fire on the two young men. Vassilis Doula received minor injuries, but George Caucas barely escaped with his life. The shooting left him disabled, bound to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. The Ministry of Public Order honoured the men for their bravery. Both received a medal and 1.5 million drachmas. 

Police had no idea that all these violent incidents were committed by one man. Vakrinos sometimes wore a motorcycle helmet when he committed shootings or robberies, and rumours about ‘the killer with the helmet’ went around Athens, with most people wondering if it was an urban legend.

Ten days after the attack, Vakrinos almost killed another man too. This time, a motorcyclist who had cut him off in Moschato. Instead of instant road rage, Vakrinos bided his time. He took down the motorbike’s registration number and hatched a plan. He was going to stalk him and wait for the right moment to run him over with a car. To do this, he was going to steal a car, but things got complicated and he had to abandon the plan.

Just before Christmas of 1995, Dimitris Vakrinos was out of control. He had robbed about five supermarkets and was on a mission to destroy anyone who had ever done him wrong. His list was growing by the day and he was ready to take them all down. 21-year-old Kostas Spyropoulos [Spee-RO-polus] had bought a car from Vakrinos a couple of months before. They did not quite agree on the price – Dimitris wanted 700,000 drachmas and Kostas gave him 600,000, saying:

“Go away, Shorty, I’ve given you enough money.”

At the time, Vakrinos left it at that, but he knew he would return to settle the score. On December 21st he went to Kostas’s house and stole the car back. He still had the spare keys in his possession, and simply started the car up and drove off. Kostas and his brother, 20-year-old Antonis, saw Vakrinos drive off, and set chase after him, finally catching up with him at a gas station. 

Vakrinos was surprised to see the brothers, as he was unaware of the fact that they had been following him. They confronted him, and asked what he thought he was doing. He pulled out two 45-gauge pistols and shot both brothers, injuring them. When the gas station attendant saw this, he ran away. The Spyropoulos brothers crawled away and went to hide in an office on the premises. Vakrinos could have stopped at this point, but he followed them to the office, and shot them through the locked door, killing both of them.

Vakrinos fled the scene, and never completed his planned hit-and-run murder of the unnamed motorcyclist. 

In their investigation, police established that the previous owner of the vehicle was Dimitris Vakrinos, and that prior to the shoot-out, he still had the spare keys. But at the time, he had no fixed address and they were unable to locate him for questioning.

His next attack marked the beginning of the end for the erratic killer. At the end of May 1996, Vakrinos arrived at Seraphim Agiannidis' house on Thivon Avenue, angry at him for stealing his girlfriend. Ironically, the woman Vakrinos claimed was his girlfriend, was hardly an acquaintance. Her father said that they saw him once or twice as a taxi driver. When he asked her father for his daughter’s hand in marriage out of the blue, of course he said no. His daughter wasn’t interested anyway. Vakrinos was unaware of the fact that she was married seeing as her husband was in America at the time. When Vakrinos saw Litsa talking to Seraphim Agiannidis in a platonic exchange, he assumed they were romantically involved and, to quote Vakrinos…

“…he had to die.” 

On the afternoon of May 31st, Seraphim Agiannidis wasn’t home, when the doorbell range. His mother saw Vakrinos through a window, was immediately suspicious of the man in the black hoodie at her front door. She called police, and warned Vakrinos, who opted NOT to leave. Instead, he positioned himself on an outside stairwell that lead to the basement. When police arrived, he began shooting at them. He injured one of the officers, and Angiannidis’ dad was shot in the hand. Before they could catch him, Vakrinos gave police the slip. 

Enough was enough: he had injured an officer in the Hellenic Police force – and now it was war. It became a matter of pride and no resources were spared in the hunt for the unidentified shooter. But Vakrinos didn’t seem to care. Throughout June 1996, he was still committing robberies – gas stations, supermarkets, whenever an opportunity presented itself.

Police were excited when the first break in the case came from an eyewitness description. Angiannidis’ neighbour saw the man who had fired at police flee in a taxi. She was able to provide a good description of the short man with the dark hair. 

This was a good clue, seeing as they could confirm taxi fares with various operators in the area. Police took to the streets, asking around at taxi ranks if anyone knew a man who fit the description. At this point, they assumed he was merely a passenger. But something didn’t add up… Why would someone take a taxi to a shoot-out? That is when they realised: perhaps he wasn’t a passenger… What if he was a taxi driver? What if he drove off in his OWN taxi?

Ballistic evidence from the shoot-out on Thivon Avenue, linked the assailant to a number of robberies in the area. Like the bullets he fired into the cash register at the gas station on Thebes Avenue. By this time, police also had a composite sketch and bit by bit, they uncovered the identity of Dimitris Vakrinos. Using information from eyewitnesses, they tracked him to his sister’s house, which was located in close proximity to most of the robbed supermarkets. They learnt that he financially supported his sister and wondered how a taxi driver could afford to support two families.

Then investigators learnt that Kostas Spyropoulos, who was killed at the gas station with his brother, had bought his car from someone named Vakrinos, and the pieces of the puzzle came together. It took them just over a year to locate him, and they arrested them as soon as they could. 

After the shoot-out at Seraphim Agiannidis’ house, he accidentally dropped his firearm. This is why he didn’t commit any other crimes after that. He had ordered another firearm through the black market and would surely have struck again. Vakrinos told police that he always carried a firearm as it made him feel bigger. Because of his short stature, 5ft4, he was often teased. His abusive upbringing, sexual oppression and low self-esteem, made him resent most people he met. 

“With the gun, I felt like a god, at the time of the murder… I was taller somehow.”

Vakrinos suffered from an inferiority complex, and reacted with aggression whenever anyone offended him, and as he grew older, his behaviour escalated. This is how he justified his actions:

"I was born a tame animal, but I became a wild animal (…) Situations are to blame. Everyone insulted me unjustly. I have a lifetime of memories, of me hugging my head to protect it. When I was young my father chased me, he wanted to kill me. Twice he chased me with a knife. He once grabbed me by the throat while I was sleeping. Then I was beaten everywhere in Elefsina, at the institution. And never did anything wrong. My whole life I worked for others. When I was grown up, I had nothing to eat and had to feed my sister, nieces, parents... My whole life I worked hard for others…. 

From what I did, yes, some things were bad, some were well done and some things had to be done and were not done. It is easy to say that I regret it, but that won’t change anything.

Above all, I wanted to take revenge on anyone who insulted me unnecessarily and offended me. I would shoot an ant if it wronged me.”

Vakrinos blamed everyone and everything for his actions and did not take any of the blame. In a chilling account, he was planning another murder at the time of his arrest. After the shoot-out with police at Agiannidis’ home, Vakrinos decided he had to kill Litsa, who he believed was his girlfriend. He said:

“[After Agiannidis] it was the woman’s turn… First, I would rape her and then I would beat her to death. They want something like that. Not all of them, but those who ‘educate men’.”

His intended victim was an elementary school teacher, which might clarify his strange remark. There is a lot within this twisted comment: firstly, he hates her for rebuffing him. But somehow, he still thinks that she would have wanted it. Then his inferiority shines through, a chip on his shoulder because she had a better education than him. Perhaps the kids she taught were better educated than him too. Thankfully, many things worked in Litsa’s favour: firstly, he lost his pistol, secondly, he knew police were looking for him. Also, in that time, he married Koula, so perhaps his obsession had dwindled. Ultimately, he was arrested before he could execute this or any other diabolical plans he had for would-be victims.

When Vakrinos made his first court appearance, the people of Athens to came out and stare down the man who killed for no apparent reason. To add insult to injury, they called him names like ‘Shorty’ and ‘Mouse’.

At the hearing, he was asked why he killed the Spyropoulos brothers. They were hiding and posed no threat to him, both having been injured. Vakrinos claimed that he feared that they would report him after he shot them. They knew him and would have been able to identify him to police – and he couldn’t risk it. Had he not harmed them, he probably would not have finished the job and killed them.

He was refused bail and held on remand in the Korydallos Prison. Vakrinos made a short statement outside of the Prosecutor’s office:

“What’s there to say… I’m a beast. I have to pay.”

A psychological examination concluded that Dimitris Vakrinos was a psychopath, who lashed out whenever he felt slighted. In an interview, he claimed:

"Only after the first murder did I have nightmares… For a year and a half. Then I was okay, I slept peacefully. At the time I was killing, my eyes were blurring. I did not understand anything. Once you start, it’s hard to stop.”

The press located his parents and asked them to comment on their son’s deeds. His mother refused to believe he was a killer. His father, Panagiotis Vakrinos, coldly stated:

“I do not think my child has done these things. But if he did – as they say – fall into the sea and drown! Because we are not people who kill.”

On May 12th, 1997, 35-year-old Dimitris Vakrinos was found hanging by the neck from shoelaces tied to a shower head in the prison bathroom. Had he been taller, this would not have been possible. In a twist of fate, he leveraged his weakness to end his own life. By committing suicide, he avoided standing trial for his horrendous crimes.

Greece is not known for its serial killers. But in the 90s, there was a rise in this phenomenon. 

Three killers were caught in 1996 and 1997. Theofilos Sehidis [Suh-HEE-dees] surrendered to police in August 1996, and confessed to killing his parents, sister, grandparents and uncle three months before. He was found guility on all charges in June of 1997. In January 1997, Antonis Daglis, the Athens Ripper, was convicted of murder. A truck-driver by trade, Daglis killed three women. All the while, Dimitris Vakrinos with his unconventional victim selection process, went under the radar, klling five people during the same time. Because his first murder took place in 1987, some regard him as Greece’s first serial killer. Of course, there were others before him, but his case grabbed the imagination of the nation.

What made Dimitris Vakrinos’ murder spree so interesting, was the fact that he used a variety of methods and his victims did not seem to have anything in common. Typically, a serial killer would follow a certain pattern, whether it was in his choice of victim, or killing at certain times of the year, or they choose a specific location. Although he was classified one, Vakrinos lacked a serial killer’s MO. He seemed to kill for no reason whatsoever. 

But at second glance, he did seem to have a recurring motive. He hated it when people insulted or belittled him. Knowing his own limits in physical strength, he seldomly acted in anger on the spot. He killed Panayiotis Gaglias, because he caught Vakrinos in a lie about stealing his gun, and then threatened to report him to police. Only when Gaglias was asleep did he attack him. Anastasia Simitzi rejected his sexual advances, and Vakrinos wanted her to experience the same pain – so he burned her alive. The Spyropoulos brothers caught him stealing their car, and before they attacked him, he shot them. They were unarmed and injured when he shot them through the office door. 

As his confidence as a killer grew, Vakrinos made the most of his ability to keep his calm. He took down details, like a home address, or registration number, whatever he could use to track down his rival later. Then he spent months dreaming and planning about how he would take his revenge. Had he not been caught, who knows how many people would have paid the ultimate price for unwittingly insulting him or aggravating him on the road.

Vakrinos’ anger towards his father and schoolyard bullies fuelled an obsession: he was committed to ‘sticking it to the man’. To Vakrinos, when he held a gun, he was Zeus with his thunderbolt, Poseidon with his trident. In the end, he lost his gun and was exposed for who he really was. He was no god, he was an who thrived on causing trouble, a creature operating without being seen, very much like the impish, malevolent creature in Greek folklore – a small goblin known as a Kallikantzaros

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