Transcript: 21. The Chessboard Killer (Alexander Pichushkin) | Russia

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Our cases have been researched using open source and archive materials. It deals with true crimes and real people. Each episode is produced with the utmost respect to the victims, their families and loved ones. 


On the 16th of June 2005 in Moscow 13-year-old Sergei Moskalyova came home to find his home empty. He called for his mom, but there was no answer, their small, Soviet-style apartment was filled with silence. It was unusual for his mother not to be home at that time, as her shift at the supermarket had finished for the day.


Then he noticed a note on the kitchen table, which said that his mom, Marina, had gone to Bitsevsky Park for a picnic with a friend from work called Alexander. She wrote Alexander’s phone number on the note, in case Sergei needed to reach her.


Sergei kicked off his shoes and made himself a snack. He was excited to have the place to himself, he could watch TV all afternoon.


As the afternoon turned into night, Sergei wondered why his mother hadn’t returned. He was sure if she had planned to still be out over dinner time, she would have let him know. He tried to shake the uneasy feeling surrounding him and switched channels. He flipped past the news channel, and quickly flipped back when he heard the report about a murdered woman’s body that was found in Bitsevsky Park. 


Sergei froze as he glanced at his mother’s note. No, surely the dead woman was not his mother. He changed the channel and tried to forget about what he had just seen. He tried his best to shake the thought that something had happened to his mom. Then he looked at the note again, should he call this guy called Alexander?


Dreading it, Sergei mustered up the courage to make the call. To his surprise, the man answered. When Sergei asked about his mother, the man said that he had not seen Marina in quite a while, about two months. Sergei knew that the man was lying. His mom worked with Alexander and spoke about him often. But before he could ask anything else, Sergei heard a click and the line went dead. The man had ended the call. And there was still no sign of his mother, 36-year-old Marina Moskalyova.


What Sergei didn’t know, was that he had just spoken to one of Russia’s most prolific serial killers, Alexander Pichushkin, the Chessboard Killer.


>>Intro Music


Moscowian teenager, Sergei Moskalyova didn’t know what to do next. He couldn’t shake the images of a dead body in Bitsevsky Park on the news. The phone call to his mother’s friend, Alexander, made him even more anxious. Sergei needed help, so he called his father who said that he would come and pick him up, so that they could go to the police together.


It was 2005 in Moscow, and it was almost fifteen years after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Before 1991, the U.S.S.R. government kept a close eye on all its citizens. Everyday people kept their heads down and didn’t cause trouble.


But the fall of communism in Russia didn’t bring the much hoped-for solution. People were hoping for freedom, but that is not what they got. Food rations were still in place and people had to queue for everyday basics like bread and milk. Educated citizens who had jobs in the Soviet-era, suddenly found themselves without work. 


The new era also meant the disorganisation of social structure and systems. Some even wondered if life had been better before. In the 90’s there was a sense of lawlessness and chaos as the country tried to find its feet in the Western world.


Born to see the perks and perils on both sides of communism, was Alexander Yurievich Pichushkin. He was the oldest child of Natalia Pichushkin, born in Moscow on the 9th of April 1974. His mother adored him, and called him Sasha, a common Russian pet-name for someone named Alexander.


Alexander’s father left them when he was only nine months old and broke off all contact with Natalia. Alexander never knew his dad and grew up as a shy, introverted child.


Natalia remarried, and she and her new husband had a baby together, Alexander’s half-sister Katja. They lived in a small Soviet-era two room apartment. Natalia moved into the apartment with her parents when she was a child. Number 2 Kherson-Skaya, was a building that was identical to so many other large buildings in the area. The five-story buildings, or khrushchovki named after then premier Khrushchev, were the Soviet Union’s first large-scale public-housing projects.


These apartments were very small and usually only had one bedroom, a living room and a small kitchen. When Alexander’s sister, Katja, was born, he was moved out of the bedroom and made to sleep in the living room. As these apartments had limited space, most families used the living room as a bedroom too.


Because of the compact living conditions, people would often go outside. Even in the unrelenting cold of Russian winters, mothers could be seen taking their babies outside for fresh air. Kids played in communal playgrounds and mothers could chat.


On one such an outing to a playground, four-year-old Alexander had an unfortunate accident. He fell backwards off a swing, on his back. When he sat up, the swing struck him on the forehead. It was a significant injury and he spent a week in hospital. 


Experts speculate that this injury caused damage to the frontal cortex of his brain. Damage to this area of the brain, could affect impulse control and cause aggressive behaviour. Which is exactly what happened to young Alexander.


He became aggressive and had learning difficulties. Because of this, kids made fun of him at school, calling him ‘the retard’. His mother was concerned that he couldn’t keep up with his peers at school and sent him to a special school for troubled children.


This school turned out to be even worse and Alexander hardly learnt anything. In an environment of delinquent children from broken homes, he was severely bullied and felt lonely and isolated most of the time. The meaning of his last name didn’t help either. Pichushkin means ‘little bird’ or ‘insignificant creature’. Bullies took great delight in teasing the boy that seemed fragile and weak.


Once a group of bullies overpowered him and stole his bicycle. He promised himself that something like that would never happen again. He was determined to become stronger and started lifting weights.


The only person that Alexander felt close to, was his grandfather. Natalia’s dad took Alexander in to live with him. He saw that Alexander was intellectually strong, despite his learning difficulties. He took his grandson to Bitsevsky Park and taught him how to play chess. Chess is very much ingrained in Russian culture, a game that is no game at all – it is a measure of a man’s intellect and guile. 


Bitsevski Park is a patch of dense woodland in Southwest Moscow which stretches over 2,700 acres. This is huge if you consider that New York’s Central Park covers 843. In the winter, Bitsevsky Park is popular with cross-country skiers. It is where locals go to walk and escape the confines of over-crowded housing estate living. And the main activity within the park is playing chess and drinking vodka with good friends.


Young Alexander liked everything about the chess playing culture in Bitsevsky Park. Most of all, he loved the power of the chess match: strategizing to always stay one step ahead of your opponent. He soon became a very good player and his confidence grew. 


His grandfather encouraged him and introduced him to competitive chess, which he loved and excelled at. He would dominate the game as an intelligent and strategic thinker.


In this time, Alexander became quite well-known in the area. A neighbour remembers him as polite and kind. She remembered how sad he was when his cat died. But that was only an ominous foreshadow of what was waiting for Alexander.


He was only 14 years old when his beloved grandfather died in 1988. He had to move back into the crowded apartment with his mother, stepfather and sister. In this time, Alexander became very depressed and started drinking excessively. He continued playing chess and lifting weights. 


As he grew up with vodka, teenaged Alexander was known to be a drunk like his father and grandfather before him. He realised that, no matter how much vodka he consumed, it somehow did not affect his ability to play chess. Whereas his opponents could not see straight when they had the same amount to drink.


In his late teens Alexander started bullying smaller kids. He would videotape the violent and threatening incidents. On one occasion, he held a small boy upside down, dangling by one leg out the window and said: 


“You are in my power now. I am going to drop you from the window. And you will fall 15 metres to your death.”


He re-watched the videos and felt empowered by it. It energised him to be in control – he was the bully and other kids were scared of HIM.


To make it into the good books with his class mates, he would readily lend money. But if someone borrowed money, they had to write a note (or ‘receipt’) that read: 


"I leave life voluntarily, because it is meaningless." 


The boys freely gave him such receipts, mocking his threats. "Why do you need it?" they asked. Alexander explained that if the friend did not return the debt, he would kill him.


When it was time for high school, Alexander decided to go to a vocational school to study carpentry. But woodwork didn’t have the same lure as the Vodka-fuelled chess matches in Bitsevsky Park, and he did not finish his education.


Alexander was called for military service and went through the motions. But instead of learning new skills and training, he was placed in a military mental facility. On his release, psychiatrists warned his mother Natalia that he had psychopathic tendencies and that he needed professional help. His mother was offended and didn’t believe them: not her Sasha, never.


Soon after his release, Alexander faced another setback: his dog died. By all accounts this was extremely traumatic for him. It isn’t clear exactly how the dog died, but one can assume its owner had something to do with it. Years after the fact, Pichushkin talked about this event, he said:


“I have nightmares… A dog. It lived with me a long time. She died. It was my fault. I treated it, how to say, not very… She could have been saved. It was a bad situation… It left something in my subconscious.”


In 1992, Alexander Pichushkin was 18-years old. He wasn’t partying and chasing girls like most of his friends. He had another obsession. Like other people his age would idolise musicians or movie stars, his hero was Andrei Chikatilo. 


If the name rings a bell… Chikatilo is better known as the ‘Rostov Ripper’, the Soviet Union’s most prolific serial killer. 


His victims included men, women and children and his reign of terror lasted from 1978 till 1990, when he was finally arrested. His MO was to lure his victims into the woods before he launched a vicious attack with the intent to kill. He raped, killed and mutilated his victims. In some cases, he would even cannibalize them.


Chikatilo was eventually executed, leaving an enormous body count of 53 behind his name. He was the worst of the worst.


Or if you were to ask Alexander Pichushkin in 1992, he’d have said that Chikatilo was the best of the best. Alexander had a friend who shared his obsession with the serial killer. Mikhail Odichuk met Alexander at school and the two became friends. Both of them adored Chikatilo and followed his murderous career blow by blow. 


July 27th 1992 was a pleasant summers day in Moscow. Alexander asked Mikhail if he wanted to go to Bitsevsky Park, because he wanted to visit his dog’s grave. Mikhail agreed and followed Alexander deep into the woodlands, off the beaten track. As the two friends walked, they drank vodka and joked around, talking about what it would be like to actually kill someone. They discussed what would be the best way to dispose of the hypothetical body and theorised about all the details. What would Chikatilo have done?


Then Alexander changed the tone of the conversation. He proposed to Mikhail that they stopped talking about it and actually found out what it was like to commit murder. He suggested they killed someone together, that very day. Mikhail was taken aback, surprised at his friend’s suggestion and made it clear that he wasn’t interested. Alexander was enraged and pulled out a hammer that he had brought with him. Mikhail realised: this was no joke. Alexander Pichushkin wanted to kill, and he would be his first victim. Alexander killed his friend by hitting him over the head – 21 times.


Mikhail died instantly. Alexander then dragged his body to a nearby sewer well and threw him down. There is a network of sewers than run beneath Bitsevsky Park that serve the whole of Moscow. The water pressure is extremely strong. Even if a person did not die before being thrown into the sewer, they would most certainly have drowned. 


Moments before the friends were jokingly discussing murder. Perhaps it was Mikhail’s idea to throw the victim’s body into the sewer, no one will ever know.


In the following days, Mikhail’s parents reported him missing to police. Police found Alexander and interviewed him about his missing friend. He faked distress at the news that his friend was missing and police backed off, giving him condolences. 


Alexander realised he had gotten away with it. He had committed his first murder, disposed of the body and nobody knew it was him. It was way too easy. He later admitted:


"The first murder is like the first love, it cannot be forgotten" 


As our story progresses, there will be many near-misses and close encounters between Alexander and police. It is important to remember that even though the Soviet era was over in the 1990’s, Russia was still figuring out what was what. The police force was in shambles and there was friction between old school Soviet cops and cops that embraced the new era. Corruption was rife, and it was a challenge to simply be a good and honest officer, fighting crime with so many political undercurrents pushing and pulling in all directions.


This, of course, suited someone like Alexander Pichushkin very well. He could plot and plan out his murders, without too much suspicion on him. 


After his first murder, however, he became somewhat of a recluse. For nine years, between the ages of 20 and 29, Alexander lived a very monotonous life. He still lived with his mother and worked as a shelf stacker at a supermarket.


One of his favourite books was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Probably influenced by the book, Alexander found it easy to strike up conversations with random people. However, he did not have many – or any – friends. He also didn’t have much luck with women. There were one or two relationships, but it never went anywhere. 


Alexander feverishly studied the murder-career of his idol, Andrei Chikatilo. He identified with him, he felt they had a lot in common. More than anything, Alexander Pichushkin wanted to be like Chikatilo, but better. 


There are many theories as to WHY Alexander waited so long before he killed again. Chikatilo committed his first murder when he was 32 years old. Perhaps Alexander was so committed to draw parallels between himself and Chikatilo, that he simply waited it out. He was playing the chess game of his life, and he wanted to even the playing field.


Alexander Pichushkin’s serial killing career kicked off in May 2001. His second victim (after Mikhail) was Yevgeny Pronin. Alexander met him in Bitsevsky Park and offered to share his Vodka. Yevgeny accepted the offer. Soon the two newfound drinking buddies were walking through the park. Alexander suggested they go and visit his dog’s grave, have some more Vodka and shed some tears for all that is wrong with in world. An inebriated Yevgeny raised his bottle to that and went along. This turned out to be the worst decision of his life. 


As soon as the pair reached an isolated part of the woods, Alexander took his victim-to-be to a sewage hole, where he hit him over the head with a hammer, killing him before throwing his body down the sewage pipe. Alexander found the experience exhilarating, he had tasted blood for the first time after killing his friend nine years before, and he was ready to take on his own personal challenge: to become Russia’s most prolific serial killer, to kill more people than Chikotilo did. There were no traces, it was too easy.


Yevgeny was the first of 11 victims murdered by Alexander Pichushkin in 2001. In one month, he had killed six people. Every time he would use the same story about visiting his dog’s grave to lure his victims into the woods. Just like Chikatilo enticed his victims to follow him into the woods. 


Alexander had a list of people who he wanted to approach. They were people he knew, like some of the old men playing chess in the park, men he had met through his grandfather and whom he had played chess with. Most of them were solitary people, with no family. Some victims were homeless people, others were neighbours, people in Alexander’s own apartment building. Looking back on these days in later years, he famously said:


“Yes, I received more pleasure from killing people whom I knew personally. But I also found a way to get to strangers and that is not easy.”


He was a dangerous killer, living in plain sight. Many people knew him, but he didn’t really stand out as someone who would harm them. Alexander Pichushkin loved his anonymity, but in his effort to follow in Chikatilo’s footsteps, he wanted police to at least recognise his work. 


There is a story, which has become somewhat of an urban legend, it’s not clear if this really happened, but as the story goes… In the winter of 2001, Alexander walked into a police station and announced that he killed people regularly. When asked why, he simply said “Because that is what I do.” Officers did not take him seriously. In fact, they laughed it off, called him a drunk and told him to go home. So, he went home. 


And in the following weeks he kept going to Bitsevsky Park, killing more and more people. His method of throwing his victims’ bodies down the sewer was extremely effective. 


On February 23rd, he saw Maria Viricheva at a metro station. He knew her, as she had dated one of his friends. Maria was pregnant and alone, crying. Alexander went to talk with her and she told him that she had just split up from her boyfriend and was struggling to get by financially. She was especially worried because she was heavily pregnant.


Alexander listened to her concerns and gave her some vodka to drink. Then he told her that he had buried some black-market cameras in Bitsevsky Park and asked her if she wanted to go and help him find it. If she helped him move it, she could have a couple of cameras to sell and keep the money. Desperate for cash, Maria agreed.


In a remote part of the park, they reached a sewer and he said that the cameras were hidden underneath the lid of the sewage well. He removed it, then asked her to look inside. That is when he attacked her, pushing her into the manhole. Maria grabbed onto the side, clinging on for dear life, her body hanging down into the sewer as he hit her on the head. To escape the attack, Maria let go and dropped 26ft (that is eight metres) into the icy sewer. The stream gulped her up and dragged her along, she felt like she was drowning. By an enormous stroke of luck, Maria managed to grab on to a metal grid and pulled herself out of the rushing water. 


It was pitch black and freezing cold and she couldn’t see anything. But she refused to give up and mustered up the strength to and save her own life and that of her baby’s. Once she had reached an exit, but she could not lift the heavy concrete sewer cover. Eventually a passer-by heard her cries for help and managed to free her. The expectant mother was trapped in the sewer for more than 20 hours.


She was taken to hospital and miraculously, Maria and her baby survived. While in hospital, Maria asked a nurse to call the police, so she could report the incident. An officer came to her bedside to take the statement, but he did not think it was as serious as Maria made it out to be.


Maria insisted that the man was trying to end her life and the officer argued: but he didn’t. When the officer learnt that Maria was from St Petersburg and that she didn’t have the correct registration papers for living and working in Moscow, her statement was thrown out. Police did not follow up on her story any further. She was alive and well, and that was the end of that.


Also, in 2002, Alexander killed what would be his youngest victim, a homeless boy known only as Mitka. He lured the boy into the woods and threw him down the sewer. Mitka was only 9 years old.


In 2003, Alexander Pichushkin continued his murderous spree, stacking up the body count. One can wonder why there was so little done about the numerous killings, but remember, Alexander was very clever in selecting his victims. Sometimes nobody even realised that a victim was in fact no longer around. The way he disposed of the bodies was so effective: the water pressure in the sewer often ripped bodies apart and some were never discovered. 


Also remember, as we’ve mentioned before: at the time the police force was still in disarray, and with the exception of a handful of dedicated cops, for the most part policemen were considered to drink Vodka on the job, be corrupt and disinterested. Multiple reports of missing persons remained uninvestigated.


There were certainly rumours floating around about the amount of people who had gone missing in Bitsevsky Park. By this time, Alexander Pichushkin had the blood of 30 victims on his hands. Family and friends of the victims were starting to connect the dots, there were connections between many of them. But there was a sense of defeat, some people didn’t even bother going to police. Like so many people at the time, the impoverished citizens of Kherson-Skaya realised that in the bigger scheme of things, in Russia, they did not matter.


Alexander Pichushkin was unassuming and almost invisible around the Bitsevsky Park area. A minimum-wage worker who lived with his mother and was usually drunk. Nobody would have dreamt that he had it in him to commit murder. Although he enjoyed the anonymity, the indifference to his murder-spree started getting him down. He was, after all, in a one-sided competition against Andrei Chikatilo – and his work wasn’t being recognised.


He had a way of selecting his victims. He could see if people were alone and isolated, not just in that moment, but in life. His instinct to seek out people with no significant links or ties to the community attributed to his crimes going undetected for as long as it did. Most of his victims were men. He never took their money or belongings. Astonishingly, ten of his victims lived in the same over-crowded apartment building as Alexander himself.


Towards the end of 2005, he became sloppy, more reckless in disposing of his victims’ bodies. He didn’t throw them down the sewer anymore but left them out in the park. It was like he wanted people to discover the bodies as he left them in busier parts of the park. He would also strike them over the head only with a Vodka bottle, leaving the hammer at home.


As fall drew in during October of 2005, police discovered the body of a 31-year-old man. Nikolei Warogiov was discovered with the neck of a vodka bottle stuck into his head. One week later, another victim was found in the exact same way. The following week, yet another one. 


In November 2005 a 63-year-old ex-cop named Nikolai Zakharchenko turned up dead in the woods, with the same signature vodka bottle penetrating his skull. Nikolai was Alexander’s forty-first victim. And because he was once a cop, his death made law enforcement pay attention to the fact that nobody was safe from the Bitsevsky Park Maniac.


Police knew it was the work of a serial killer, all the trademarks were the same. All injuries occurred on victims’ heads: on the back, the side, sometimes on the face. Massive blows were made by an object with angled edge, like a hammer. The crime scenes yielded no fingerprints, no footprints leading away from the victims. Police had very little evidence to go by.


People were scared to go to Bitsevsky Park, it was no longer a place of leisure, but a place to be avoided at all costs. 


In the frenzy of fear, many theories arose as to the identity of the person who tormented Moscowians in Bitsevsky Park. On the edge of the Park was a psychiatric asylum. Some inhabitants were allowed to go on day release and often went for walks in the park. A theory emerged that one of them lurked among the trees and attacked innocent people.


Because the victims were male, there was a theory that the killer could be a woman. Most  men were aging and didn’t necessarily have families or anyone who would notice that they were gone. The victims also didn’t seem to be connected in any way – it was extremely difficult to find a motive for the murders.


Revelling in the renewed attention, Alexander Pichushkin kept at it and in January 2006 alone, there were seven more unsolved murders.


There was pressure on police to step up and catch the Maniac. Officers patrolled the area relentlessly and questioned most people who passed through the park.


In February, police received a tip about a suspicious man sauntering in Bitsevsky Park. About 200 police officers descended on the area and apprehended the man. The man managed to flee, but then police shot him in the leg and he was hospitalised. In the end, the man was released – he was not the Bitsevsky Park Maniac after all. 


In the same month, police chased down a transvestite in the park. He had a hammer in his handbag and was taken into custody. He claimed the hammer was for protection. After 24 hours of questioning, he was let go. This was also not the maniac.


Later on, Alexander Pichushkin would comment on the arrests:


“I was simply hurt, my work attributed to someone else.”


A man who worked with Alexander showed him a pen which shot small bullets and Alexander immediately bought it from him. On his way home from work, he saw a homeless man sleeping under a cardboard box. The man was snoring as Alexander lifted the cardboard. He used the pen and shot the man once. The snoring continued. The second shot killed him though. Alexander simply covered the man back up and continued on home.


His days consisted of working at the supermarket, heading to Bitsevsky Park, found someone to have Vodka with, play a game of chess with, then occasionally killed someone and disposed of the body. He would head home where his mother had a home-cooked meal ready for him. Alexander had a good appetite and would dig in before he went to bed. Then the next day would be much the same. Sometimes he would kill someone on the way to work, if the opportunity presented itself.


Once, he saw a 13-year old punk kid who was hanging around at the metro with his friends. Alexander offered him some Vodka and convinced him to join him for a walk in Bitsevsky Park. Once the pair entered the forest, Alexander Pichushkin did what he did best and threw the young man down a sewer well.


Fortunately for the kid, his jacket had caught on a piece of metal inside the well and kept him above the water. He managed to crawl out of the sewer and ran out of the park, where he found a police officer. The boy told the cop what had happened but looking had his piercings and punk clothing – and smelling vodka on his breath – the policeman didn’t take him seriously. He told him to go home.


A week later, the kid was back at the metro station when he happened to see Alexander. Again, he went to a police officer, and again the cop didn’t believe him. Nothing was done.


Alexander Pichuskin was aware of the commotion the boy had caused, and loved being so close to police, knowing that they wouldn’t do anything. Who would believe a young punk? Years later, Alexander admitted that he liked toying with cops. Riskier murders made him feel powerful, more powerful than the State. 


There were a further 12 victims in March, making for a big story in the media - much to Alexander’s delight. Finally, some recognition. And the name they gave him was perfect: “The Bitsevsky Park Maniac.”


Police had to act, they were looking bad, very bad.


The police released a profile of the attacker: he was male, tall, lean and physically strong, with a mental defect. 30 years of age, give or take a year or two. Police stopped everyone fitting the profile in Bitsevsky Park, including Alexander Pichushkin. He showed his ID and politely talked and answered, secretly loving that he was above suspicion.


His sister, Katja became intrigued by the story of the Bitsevsky Park Maniac and followed the story religiously. There were men disappearing every week and his mother and Katja pleaded with their beloved Sasha not to go out. But he said he wasn’t scared of any maniac. Alexander must’ve relished in every moment, knowing how entrenched his murders had become into the lives of Muscovites.


In April, a 48-year-old woman called Larissa Kulygina, who worked at the check-out counter of a supermarket, disappeared, and then turned up dead. She was bludgeoned to death and found in Bitsevsky Park. But police did not think their Maniac was behind her murder, as he usually targeted men.


Then, two months later, in June of 2006, they found the body of Marina Moskalyova in a stream in Bitsevsky Park. She had received multiple blows to her head and small wooden sticks were protruding from her eyes and skull. It was unusual for the killer to have a female victim, but police knew that it was the work of the same murderer.


Alexander Pichushkin had asked her for a picnic in the park. They sat and ate and chatted for quite a long time. He later admitted that he was wondering the whole time if he should kill her or not. He knew about the note Marina had left for her son, so he knew how risky it would be to kill her. But despite his reservations, he decided that he HAD to kill her – if he didn’t, life would become torture for him. 


Marina had a metro ticket in her pocket, so police were able to track her movements at the metro station, reviewing CCTV footage. They saw her leaving the station nearest to Bitsevsky Park with a tall man.

 

Marina’s identity was confirmed by her son Sergei and her ex-husband. Sergei gave Marina’s note to police and told them about his strange phone call to his mom’s friend, Alexander. He also told police that his mom knew Alexander from work – they worked at the same supermarket. The same supermarket where check-out lady Larissa Kulygina had worked before her death. 


Sergei’s information made it easy for police to track the 32-year-old Alexander Pichushkin down. 


A task team of police officers flooded into the hallways of number 2 Kherson-Skaya. Natalia Pichushkina opened the door, confused to see so many armed officers bundling their way into her home. One of the detectives tried to calm her down and said they had some questions for Alexander regarding a burglary. Natalia realised that there were far too many police officers for someone only suspected of burglary. But she couldn’t believe that her Sasha would ever hurt anyone. 


Alexander was asleep and when he woke up with police firearms pointed at him, he mumbled:


“Police. It must be for me.”


Police were happy that they had apprehended the man responsible for the deaths of Narissa and Marina. They thought the case was closed, that they had solved the two murders. They didn’t realise who the man in their custody really was. 


At first, Alexander, Pichushkin denied the murders, but not for long. It’s like he couldn’t wait to tell police about his secret. He confessed not only to Marina’s murder, but he said proudly:


“In reality… The Bitsevsky Maniac… As I was called. It was me.”


Police were astounded. They quickly connected him to the 15 unsolved murders that had occurred since October of the year before. But that was only the tip of the iceberg. Alexander was ready to talk, but as this was going to take a while, he asked his interrogators for food. 


The actual footage of his interview shows Alexander hungrily eating a ham sandwich and smoking a cigarette, as he casually runs through the extensive list of murder victims. He talks plainly, without much elaboration.


Alexander explained that his goal was to kill one person for every square on his chessboard. At his home, they found a chess board with numbers on every tile, except for two. Police also found various newspaper clippings relating to Chikatilo. Also, pornography, most of it violent. He felt it was his destiny to kill.


“For me, life without killing is like life without food for you. I felt like the father of all these people, since it was I who opened the door for them to another world.”


Police took him to Bitsevsky Park where he was filmed walking them through all his murders. He knew the woods very well, knew exactly where to take them. Alexander had an amazing memory of the crimes. He remembered the exact details and position of the victim as he attacked. He re-enacted the murders on a mannequin/dummy, while police videoed the walk-though. In total they filmed 40 hours’ worth of footage.


“He was wheezing for a long time. Even when he was already dead. So, I hit him in the jaw again.”


He said of one of his victims.


In the re-enactment, investigators threw a mannequin into the sewer. The water pressure was so tremendous, it ripped the dummy apart.


On further investigation, detectives learnt that some of the bodies were swept as far as five miles (or eight kilometres) away to a wastewater-treatment plant, having floated through the network of underground tunnels. Unfortunately, it was only after those corpses had been disposed of, that authorities connected them to Alexander Pichushkin. Many bodies never turned up at all. At least thirteen corpses are believed to be stuck somewhere in the sewage system to this day.


Psychologists had a field day, trying to understand WHY Alexander Pichushkin killed. Because his victims were usually elderly men, they felt the aggression as aimed towards his grandfather. Because his grandfather died, he felt abandoned. He was angry that the only person in the world who believed in him was taken away from him.


He initially said that his aim was to kill 64 people, one for every square on a chessboard. Later he recanted his statement, saying that, had he not been caught, he would have carried on killing indefinitely. Had he filled all the squares on one board with victims, he would simply have gone out and bought another board to fill.


He delighted in telling investigators the details of the murders, cracking of skulls and inserting something into the wound. He blamed police for not finding all of his victims, like they were in some sick partnership where Alexander started the job and police were expected to finish it and to keep score like he did on his chessboard.


Police didn’t know if they could believe him. Before they could take him to trial, they had to follow up on every murder he claimed he had committed. To make the case airtight, forensic evidence to back up Alexander’s claims were needed. One of his victims had bits of yellow plastic in his head wounds. At first: they thought it was part of the murder weapon that had come off. They tested it against the handle of a hammer found in Alexander’s apartment, a hammer that he had admitted to using. The hammer had deep scratches at a point close to the head, where some flakes had come off. The plastic on the hammer, matched the plastic bits found in the post mortem examination. 


Alexander Pichushkin also told the story of a homeless man, whom he had met drinking outside the supermarket where he worked. He invited the man upstairs into the 16th floor apartment he shared with his mother and stepfather under the premise of spending the afternoon drinking and toasting his dead dog. Once inside the man started singing an annoying song – he was pretty drunk. Alexander simply picked him up by his belt and flipped him over the railing of the balcony. He watched the man fall to his death, heard a scream from a passer-by, then calmly left the apartment building and walked away. At the time, the man’s death was ruled to be an accident, nobody suspected foul play. 


Alexander Pichushkin loved the notoriety and agreed to televised interviews where he made shocking statements, like the following one:


“It was all the same to me who I killed. I killed for the sake of the process itself. And, for the record, I wanted to kill as many people as possible and to beat Chikatilo’s record.”


His trial started in September 2007. During his trial, Alexander was walked into in a glass cage, where he stood as proceedings took place. He paced up and down like a caged animal as journalists and photographers tried to catch a glimpse of the maniac.


He showed no remorse and answered the prosecutor’s questions in monotones: 


“Yes I did it. Yes, it was me.” 


Alexander Pichushkin told prosecutors:


“I like the sound of a skull splitting.”


He got sexual gratification from sexual substitution. What did it for him, was skeletal penetration. After he had bashed his victims to death, inserting vodka bottles or sticks into the wounds satisfied him. He sometimes ejaculated when he killed.


When asked if he had any remorse about his actions, he coldly and calmly said:


 “No, I do not regret it. So much strength and time spent. Repent? I do not repent, this is again a dull formality. It will not change my sentence.”


It took the jury less than three hours to find him guilty on all charges.


On October 24th 2007, the 33-year-old Alexander Pichushkin was convicted of 49 murders and three attempted murders. Instead of denying any of the charges or begging for leniency, he asked the court to add and additional 11 victims to his body count, which would take his total death toll up to 60. And considering three attempted murders, that brought him so very close to his goal of 64 – a whole chessboard. 


The court obviously denied his request. Alexander pushed and insisted, but authorities said that he was falsely accusing himself, chasing notoriety.


Alexander was deflated. He was disappointed that the number of victims next to his name, will forever be 49. That is three less than the 52 murders that his idol, Andrei Chikatilo, were convicted of. The self-perceived master had lost the greatest chess match of his life. 


Check mate.


Alexander “Sasha” Pichushkin was sentenced to life in prison, with the first 15 years in solitary confinement. As Russia doesn’t have the death penalty, it was the maximum sentence he could receive. 


He was sent to a hard labour colony in Siberia, in a prison referred to as “Polar Owl”. The prison is located in the most isolated and inaccessible part of Russia.


In 2014, a woman who only identified herself as ‘Natalya’, told Russian press that she had married Alexander in prison. The Siberian native who works at a children’s shop said she first became aware of Alexander when she saw a documentary about his crimes. For her, it was love at first sight. She claimed that she communicated with Alexander on a regular basis and that the couple had married. Whether the couple had ever met in person or if the marriage is only on paper, is unclear.  


But newly-wed, Mrs. Pichushkin is proud to say she is married to the infamous Alexander Pichushkin, second most prolific serial killer in Russian history.


If you’d like to read more about this case, have a look at the resources used for this episode in the show notes. 


As it was impossible to name all of Alexander Pichushkin’s victims in the course of this episode, a list of names will be posted on our social media pages.


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