Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Werewolf Syndrome: Compulsive Bestial Slaughterers

A Chilling Confession


Chikatilo was detained for questioning.  He refused to admit to anything.  When it appeared that they might have to release him, they brought in Dr. Bukhanovksy.  The psychiatrist recognized in Chikatilo the type of man he had described in his report, so he read his narrative to Chikatilo, who finally broke down and admitted what he had done. 

He said that his first murder had occurred in 1978, when he'd grabbed a nine-year-old girl and tried to rape her.  When he could not achieve an erection, he used a knife as a substitute, killing her.  Soon he became obsessed with reliving the crime.  In 1981, he killed a vagrant girl looking for money, biting off and swallowing her nipple.  When he cut her open, he found sexual relief.  He took her sexual organs away with him.

The stabbing, he said, was in place of the sexual intercourse that he could not perform, and he needed violence for arousal.  Over the years, it had become more depraved, but he couldn't stop.  Male victims, he said, had had a different effect.  Chikatilo would fantasize that they were his captives, and that torturing and mutilating them made him a hero, a person of importance. He also admitted to cannibalism, and sometimes he'd removed a uterus and placed his semen inside it, then chewed on it as he walked away. Or he bit off a part and swallowed it.  "But the whole thing," Chikatilo said, "— the cries, the blood, the agony— gave me relaxation and a certain pleasure."  In the end, he admitted to fifty-six murders, although there was corroboration for only fifty-three: thirty-one females and twenty-two males. 

In trying to understand the savage nature of crimes like this, psychologists inevitably search through such a killer's childhood for erotic associations, as well as for sources of anger and hatred.  Chikatilo had been a lonely child, mocked by others for his clumsiness and sensitivity.  Rather than fight back, he seethed with anger but devised fantasy tortures for his tormenters.  His first sexual experience as an adolescent involved ejaculating as he struggled with a ten-year-old friend of his sister's.  Later in life, as he experienced difficulty achieving erections, the images of this erotic wrestling helped him to become aroused.  Added to that were the frequent humiliations he'd received from women, including his wife and mother.  All of this anger became entwined with his fantasies.

His bestial savagery and cannibalism have been associated with incidents to which Chikatilo was exposed growing up.  During the early part of the twentieth century, after Stalin had crushed private agricultural concerns, the Soviet Union went through several widespread famines.  Millions died from starvation and many desperate people removed flesh from newly-dead corpses.  One story indicates that Chikatilo's mother told him that he'd once had an older brother who had been killed as a child and eaten.  Whether or not this is true, the young Chikatilo may have believed it.

Chikatilo at his trial
Chikatilo at his trial

Found sane, the Maniac was convicted of the multiple murders and summarily executed.  The authorities did not find him worthy of further study.  Yet like other modern-day bestial killers, he's rare.  The more we learn about such fantasies and delusions, from both violent and nonviolent people alike, the better we may be able to help them with treatment and medication.  Indeed, some have responded, reverting, finally, to their "human" forms.

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