Here's How Many Victims The Soviet Ripper Serial Killer Actually Had

For more than a decade, Soviet authorities couldn't find one of history's most horrific serial killers. In the press, he was named "Killer X," "The Rostov Ripper," and "The Butcher of Rostov." Andrei Chikatilo was operating in plain sight in Rostov — a town in western Russia — but the police had no leads. By the time he was finally caught in 1990, he would become known as one of the most prolific killers with a criminal career that lasted 20 years, with more than 50 women and children dead from his sexual crimes.

In the 1970s, Chikatilo took advantage of his position as a teacher to commit his first assault — exposing himself to students, and fondling female students before ejaculating on them, per the Los Angeles Times. But he didn't commit his first murder until 1978 when he lured 9-year-old Yelena Zakotnova from a bus stop before torturing and stabbing her to death.

During the 1980s, Chikatilo grew in confidence that he could literally get away with murder, increasing his victims each year. He preyed on the most vulnerable he could find – runaways and homeless children — and often picked them up from transit stations. It took years before the police realized they had a serial killer on their hands. They called on a psychiatrist, Dr. Alexsandr Bukhanovsky, who concluded that the killer was using murder for sexual gratification and that the knife was being used as a metaphorical penis for someone who was impotent, The New York Times reported.

Police identify Chikatilo

Armed with a clearer profile, the police began to close in on their killer. Chikatilo narrowly escaped capture on a few occasions, but that changed on November 6, 1990, just moments after what would be his final murder. A policeman noticed Chikatilo at a nearby train station looking suspicious. His clothing was covered in mud and leaves, and he had blood across his earlobe and cheek, according to Biography. The officer couldn't prove Chikatilo had done anything wrong, but he was suspicious and took his details to file in a report. When a body was later found in the area, they combed through records and found Chikatilo's and placed him under surveillance for the next week.

On November 20, 1990, following more suspicious behavior, the police arrested him, the Associated Press reported. Interrogations did not yield any results, so the police once again enlisted the help of Bukhanovsky. Chikatilo seemed flattered by the move and provided extensive details of all of his killings, even leading police to the sites of previously undiscovered bodies. In the end, Chikatilo confessed to 56 victims, although the police could prove only 53 of them. Chikatilo went to trial in 1992, and was found guilty of 52 of the 53 murders, The New York Times reported at the time. He was given a death sentence for each murder and was executed on February 14, 1994, by a bullet to the back of the head.