Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Devil's Trail


Only one dead woman turned up in 1985 in Rostov, and nothing happened that winter or the next spring. Then on July 23, the body of a 33-year-old female turned up, but it bore none of the markings of the serial killer, except that she had been repeatedly stabbed. Burakov had doubts about her being in the series, but not so with the young woman found on August 18. All of the disturbing wounds were present, but she had been mostly buried, save for a hand sticking out of the dirt — a new twist. Now they had to wonder whether there were others not yet found who were also under the earth.

The handwriting experts finally gave up on the Black Cat postcard, and the police could go no farther with the 14 suspects on the list so far, all of whom Burakov believed could be eliminated. He created a comprehensive booklet to give out to other police departments, and a card file was created to keep track of new leads. He and his team were dogged by the fear that this case might never be solved.

At the end of 1986 Viktor Burakov finally had a nervous breakdown. He was weak and exhausted, and could not sleep, so he went to a hospital, where he remained for a month. Then he was sent to rest for another month. Four years of intense work had come to this. But he would not give up.

He had no idea then that he was only halfway there. This devil was not yet finished.

Burakov's period of rest, however, had given him some perspective. He'd been able to think over their strategies thus far and felt that none was taking them down the correct route. Not only that, all were time and resource consuming. He might only catch this killer if he surfaced again — in other words, murdered someone. It was a grim thought, but it could be their only hope

Yet nothing occurred for the rest of that year or throughout all of 1987.

The winter melted into spring before a railroad worker found a woman's nude body in a weedy area near the tracks on April 6, 1988. Her hands were bound behind her, she had been stabbed multiple times, the tip of her nose was gone, and her skull had been bashed in. Only a large footprint was found nearby. People recalled seeing her but she had been alone. There was no sign of sexual assault and her eyes had not been touched. Nor had she been killed in the woods.

The investigators pondered whether they should include this murder in the series. Perhaps the lesopolosa killer was no longer in business. Yet only a month later, on May 17, the body of a nine-year-old boy was discovered in the woods not far from a train station. He'd been sodomized and then his orifices were stuffed with dirt. He also bore numerous knife wounds and a blow to the skull, and his penis had been removed.

Unlike the murdered female, the boy was quickly identified as Aleksei Voronko, missing for two days. A classmate had seen him with a middle-aged man with gold teeth, a mustache and a sports bag. They had gone together to the woods and Aleksei had said he would soon return but did not.

This was a strong lead, one that could be followed up among area dentists. Few adults in the region could afford gold crowns for their teeth.

Yet by the end of that year, they had turned up nothing. Not only that, they learned from the Ministry of Health that it had been a mistake to assume that typing blood in secretions was an accurate match to blood types (or, alternatively, to assume that the labs were providing accurate results). There were rare "paradoxical" cases in which they did not match. In other words, any of the suspects eliminated based on blood type could have been their killer. While this was frustrating news and made the investigation more difficult in many ways, it also opened a few doors from the past. However, it meant taking semen samples (which had to be voluntary), not blood types, and it also meant redoing four years worth of work to that point. The idea was overwhelming.

The only method of investigation that seemed viable now was to post more men to watch the public transportation stations.

Still, the killer did not strike. It was April 1989 before they came across another victim who could be added to the lesopolosa series.


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