Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Devil's Trail


Andrei Chikatilo mugshot
Andrei Chikatilo mugshot

Andrei Romanovich Chikatilo, 54, had been at the Donleskhoz train station on November 6. He had been questioned and cleared in 1984. He had now been placed at the scene of a victim's disappearance. He was seen coming out of the woods and had washed his hands at a pump. He also had a red smear on his cheek and ear, a cut finger, and twigs on the back of his coat. The officer at the station had taken down his name.

Burakov had the man placed under surveillance. They soon learned that he had resigned from his post as a teacher due to reports that he had molested students. He had then worked for another enterprise, but was fired when he failed to return from business trips with the supplies he was sent to get. So what had he been doing with his time? During the time he had spent in jail in 1984, there had been no murders, and his travel records coincided with other murders — including the one in Moscow. He once had been a member in good standing with the Communist Party, but had been expelled due to his incarceration.

But all the evidence was circumstantial. Investigators would need to catch him in the act or get him to confess. Keeping him under surveillance, they saw an ordinary man doing nothing unusual. It was frustrating. Kostoyev, who had finally read the earlier report on this man, ordered his arrest.

On November 20, 1990, three officers dressed in street clothes brought Chikatilo in for interrogation, and they noticed that he did not have a mouth full of gold teeth as one witness had indicated. They learned that he was married and had two children, and that he was something of an intellectual with a university degree. In his satchel they found a folding pocketknife.

Knives found in Chikatilo's possession, trial evidence
Knives found in Chikatilo's possession,
trial evidence

They placed Chikatilo in a cell with a gifted informant, who was expected to get him to admit to what he had done, but failed. A search of Chikatilo's home, which shamed his family, produced no evidence from victims, but did yield 23 knives. Two writers have claimed these weapons were used for the murders, but that was not proven.

The next day, Kostoyev decided to handle the interrogation, and he did so in the presence of Chikatilo's court-appointed lawyer. Richard Lourie based much of his book, Hunting the Devil, on the time that Kostoyev spent with Chikatilo. Contrary to other versions of this narrative that show him to be an angry and impatient interrogator, Lourie says that Kostoyev had decided to use compassion to get the suspect to talk.

He wanted the room to be spare, with only a safe inside that would hint to the prisoner of evidence against him. There was also a desk, a table, and two chairs. When Chikatilo was brought in, Kostoyev could see that he was a tall, older man with a long neck, sloping shoulders, oversized glasses, and gray hair. He used a shuffling gait, like a weary elderly person, but Kostoyev was not fooled. He believed Chikatilo was a calculating killer with plenty of energy when he needed it. Chikatilo looked easy to break, and Kostoyev had only failed to obtain a confession in three out of hundreds of interrogations. He would get inside the suspect's head, figure out his logic, and get him to talk. All guilty men eventually confessed. They had to. Besides, he had ten days in which to succeed, and he had bait.

Chikatilo began with a statement that the police had made a mistake, just as they had in 1984 when he'd first been investigated. He denied that he had been at a train station on November 6 and did not know why it had been reported. Kostoyev knew he was lying, and he let Chikatilo know that. The next day, Chikatilo waived his right to legal counsel.

Then Chikatilo wrote a three-page document to which he confessed to "sexual weakness" — the words he had used before — and to years of humiliation. He hinted at "perverse sexual activity" but did not name it, and said that he was out of control. He admitted to nothing specific. But he wrote another, longer essay in which he said that he did move around in the train stations and saw how young people there were the victims of homeless beggars. He also admitted that he was impotent. It appeared to be an indirect confession, feeling guilt but fending it off by fingering other suspects and also hinting at how it was best that some of these beggars had died rather than reproduce. Nevertheless, he mentioned that he had thought of suicide.

Andrei Chikatilo
Andrei Chikatilo

Kostoyev told him that his only hope would be to confess everything in a way that would show he had mental problems, so that an examination could affirm that he was legally insane and he could be treated. Otherwise the evidence they had would surely convict him without a confession and he would have no hope to save himself. That was Kostoyev's bait, and he felt sure it would be effective.

Chikatilo asked for a few days to collect himself and said he would then submit to an interrogation. Everyone expected that he would confess, but when the day arrived, he insisted he was guilty of no crimes. For each crucial time period involving a murder, he claimed that he had been at home with his wife. Clearly he had used the extra two days alone in his cell to become more resolved.

The next day, he revised his statements somewhat. In fact, he had been involved in some criminal activity — but not the murders. In 1977, he had fondled some female students who had aroused him. He had difficulty controlling himself around children, but there were only two instances in which he had lost control.

He wrote again, but again revealed nothing, and nine days elapsed with Kostoyev getting no closer to his goal. He did not know what approach to take to pressure this man to finally open up.

A medical examination indicated that Chikatilo's blood type was A, but his semen supposedly had a weak B antibody, making it appear that his blood type was AB, though it wasn't. He was the "paradoxical" rare case — if such an analysis could be believed.

The informant in Chikatilo's cell, writes Cullen, eventually told Burakov that the interrogation techniques were not according to protocol and that they were rough and made Chikatilo defensive. It was unlikely they were going to work. Kostoyev brought in photographers to humiliate Chikatilo and pressure him to believe that they had witnesses to whom they were going to show these photographs. Still, he did not give any ground.

Nine days had elapsed. They were allowed only ten before having to charge him with a specific crime, and thus far, they did not have enough proof of even one. It was looking very much like they might have to let him go. And that could be disastrous. Burakov, says Cullen, thought they should try another interrogator, and his candidate was Dr. Bukhanovsky. Cullen also says that Kostoyev initially resisted this idea, but finally had to admit he was getting nowhere. He agreed to let the psychiatrist see what he could do. Lourie, presenting things from Kostoyev's side, says that using the psychiatrist was one of Kostoyev's clever ploys. Lourie does not mention Burakov's role in the decision.

Whoever thought of it, this was clearly a wise move.


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