The Volga Maniac: The Untold Truth

In the beginning of the 2010s, a serial killer was prowling the streets around the Tatarstan Republic in Russia, breaking into the apartments of elderly women and strangling them to death (via CBS). The unknown assailant had victims in a dozen cities situated around the Volga River, which earned the killer the nickname "Volga Maniac" as Russian authorities struggled to capture and bring someone to justice.

The Volga Maniac took at least 26 lives in 2011 and 2012, but the list of victims could possibly stretch longer. All the victims were elderly women, aged between 75 and 90 years old. It was the similarities between the murders that caused the authorities to consider the crimes linked, yet the range of cities and disguises used by the killer — often posing as a social services or utilities worker to gain entry into the home — meant that it took years before they could unmask the Volga Maniac. Eventually, in December 2020, 38-year-old former petty criminal Radik Tagirov was arrested.

Tagirov was poor and homeless

Radik Tagirov admitted to the murders after he was apprehended by the Russian Investigative Committee (via Psychology Today). Tagirov had no prior record of violence or aggression, but did have a petty theft conviction back in 2009. Tagirov claims that following that arrest, he was impoverished, unemployed, and desperate for money. His victims were robbed after they were killed, which Tagirov stated was an "opportunity for easy money."

His crimes weren't planned, he claimed. The Volga Maniac would identify his victims in public places and follow them home, always targeting those who lived alone in 1960s-era apartment complexes that dot the shores of the Volga. He claimed that he was simply looking for money, used strangulation as it was quick and painless, and targeted women toward the end of their lives. However, there is serious doubt over Tagirov's macabre "sympathy" for his victims and decision to go beyond simple robbery.

The murders were probably planned

According to Unresolved, 2017 saw a new spat of murders and even some security camera footage that reportedly showed the Volga Maniac's face. Along with the footage and other pictures of the killer, police released a psychological profile of the suspect to the public in hopes that someone would be able to identify the serial strangler. The profile speculated that the killer had been raised by a single grandmother in a similar type of apartment, which were mass-produced during the Soviet era and would have similar layouts; it was also likely that the killer would appear friendly and charming, as he was able to quickly earn trust before entering the home of victims.

While it's logical to reach those conclusions, what little we know about Tagirov's upbringing doesn't match the profile provided (via Psychology Today). An interview with a childhood neighbor brought to light that the killer's upbringing was normal and with a nuclear family, though his grandmother was also present. 

Improvised weapons were used

According to The Guardian, Tagirov reportedly used objects found within his victim's apartment to strangle or smother them to death after overpowering them. Objects used included aprons and clotheslines, although he would use his hands to murder if there was nothing within reach. After going quiet for a few years, Tagirov sparked a new killing spree in 2017, eventually a $40,000 reward was offered for information leading to his arrest.

Though the lack of a murder weapon may seem like the murders were a spur of the moment affair, Tagirov's claims that the murders were spontaneous are also likely false: Not only did Tagirov purportedly wear gloves when he went out, he also may have had supplies to clean and sterilize the apartment to throw off any evidence or scents for dogs to pick up on. His claims were questionable in the first place, as it might have been easy to simply rob the elderly women without strangling them, which by all accounts is far from a painless process (via Psychology Today). In fact, some apartments were left with their valuables untouched.

Tagirov was found using DNA

How was the Volga Maniac captured after years of evading the authorities, even after being photographed by security cameras? Extensive DNA evidence (via the Daily Mail). The Russian Investigative Committee went through painstaking forensic research and analysis to first conclude that the murders were being committed by one person, and then connected that DNA to the 38-year-old locksmith and father of two.

Over 10,000 genetic tests were carried out, which analyzed everything from the genotype of the attacker to footprints found in the snow. Tagirov, a resident of Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan and most common location for his killings, could end up becoming one of Russia's most prolific serial killers, as it's possible the number of confirmed victims could rise to 32. This would put him behind Mikhail Popkov, an ex-police officer who killed 78 women throughout the '90s and 2000s, and Alexander Pichushkin, the "Chessboard Killer" who took 48 lives in an attempt to kill one person for each one of the 64 squares on a chessboard.

Some mysteries still remain

While the Volga Maniac may be safely behind bars, there are still some questions lurking around the case, particularly around motivation. According to Unresolved, Radik Tagirov was in tears as he confessed to his crimes after his 2020 arrest, admitting that he might have killed more than 25 times but couldn't remember all the victims. While it's strange that the DNA evidence took so long to lead investigators to Tagirov, given that he had a criminal record, a big question remains over motive.

What possibly led Tagirov, a man with no violent history, and supposedly unremarkable childhood upbringing, to confess to killing so many defenseless elderly women? If desperation and homelessness were enough to have him simply rob his victims, it would be more understandable, but the suspected Volga Maniac chose to kill every time, and sometimes even neglected valuables in the house. Tagirov said he couldn't explain why he chose to murder instead of simply rob, and with only limited information on his life before, during, and after his killing sprees, it's a mystery we might never truly understand.