Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Serial Killer Spotlight: The Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs

Viktor Sayenko (left) and Igor Suprunyuck with an obscured dead animal in the background.

Viktor Sayenko (left) and Igor Suprunyuck with an obscured dead animal in the background.

Ukrainian serial killers Igor Suprunyuck and Viktor Sayenko, now 21, first became friends at the age of 14 at school in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, along with a third boy, Alexander Hanzha. The trio soon found that they had one specific thing in common: a desire to overcome their fears. Suprunyuck and Sayenko feared heights, Hanzha blood, and all of them were afraid of being beaten up by bullies. Their efforts at becoming braver started off innocently enough–with activities like hanging off of balconies–but progressed to torturing and mutilating dogs, cats and other animals. The murders seem to have been Suprunyuck and Sayenko’s way of battling their fear of people.

After graduation, they started going out together in Suprunyuck’s cab and robbing people. Hanzha was arrested on unrelated charges before the killing spree began. He did not participate in the murders, but was convicted of participating in one of the robberies. Hanzha would later denounce his friends’ torture of animals, though that particular activity was supposedly meant to help him get over his fears of blood and of hurting animals. The case is remarkable in that the trio, and later duo, videotaped most of their doings, including the horrors they visited on their human and animal victims. Despite that evidence, the youths and their families insist that they are completely innocent. They say they have been framed in a conspiracy to protect the real killers: highly placed, powerful people who are above the law.

As news of their exploits spread, Suprunyuck and Sayenko quickly became known as the Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs. They were arrested on July 23, 2007, after a string of 21 murders and nine non-lethal attacks that occurred between June 25 and July 23. Most of their victims were in some way vulnerable; the Maniacs targeted the weak, intoxicated, elderly, young, transients and women. All of the victims were bludgeoned, the killers’ weapons of choice being hammers and metal bars. Most victims were smashed in the face and left unrecognizable. Many of the victims were robbed, though none were sexually assaulted. The killers were not above torture, however, gouging out eyes, cutting off ears or eviscerating, as they did with a pregnant woman.

They were caught after intended victim Vadim Lyakhov escaped (his friend was killed) and gave police enough information to make sketches of his assailants. Once stolen items started showing up in local pawn shops, police, armed with their sketches, quickly identified and arrested Suprunyuck and Sayenko. Though the killers reportedly confessed, the motive for the murders remains unclear. Police and prosecutors put forth the simplest explanation, that the killers enjoyed it, but rumors that the young men planned to kill 40 people and sell their videos as snuff movies persist.

A frame from the leaked murder video.

A frame from the leaked murder video.

Suprunyuck was charged with 21 counts of murder, eight of armed robbery and 1 count of animal cruelty. Sayenko was charged with 18 counts of murder, five of robbery and one count of animal cruelty. Hanzha was charged with two counts of robbery. Hanzha, who was not caught on video, pleaded guilty and apologized to the victims’ families. The other two later recanted their confessions citing police brutality, and maintain their innocence. During the trial, a cellphone video of one of the murders was shown to the court as evidence in October 2008. The same video was leaked on the Internet that December. The assailants’ attorney argued that the videos were altered to implicate his clients, and protect the real killers, who supposedly remain at large. Prosecutors and the judge believe that they have the right men, but do not discount the idea that there could be other accomplices out there.

On February 11, 2009, Suprunyuck and Sayenko each received a life sentence. Their appeal was denied. Hanzha received a nine-year sentence in addition to the one he was already serving.

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