Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Devil's Trail

Some Possible Leads

In 1984, numerous victims were discovered in wooded areas, some of them quite close to where previous bodies had lain before being discovered and removed. The first one found after Typapin's arrest was a woman who had been slashed up in the same frenzy as previous victims. Yet her eyes were intact and one new item was added: a finger had been removed.

They also had one more piece of evidence: a shoeprint left in the mud, size 13. On the victim's clothing were traces of semen and blood.

She was soon identified as an 18-year-old girl who had been seen at the bus station with a boy who worked nearby. When questioned, he had an alibi.

The medical examiner's report returned three significant facts: she'd had pubic lice, her stomach contained undigested food, and there was no semen inside her. The killer apparently had masturbated over her. It was also possible that, given her state of poverty, she had been lured away with the promise of a meal.

The police checked pharmacies for anyone purchasing lice treatments, but they came up empty-handed.

One thing they did discover was that this woman had a friend who had been missing since 1982. Matching dental records to skulls from various remains, they managed to identify their second victim in the series. That linked two of the victims together, one of whom had her eye sockets slashed and the other who did not.

Another suspect was caught and he confessed, but Burakov was looking for a certain personality type, and no one thus far seemed to come close. He spoke out to officials and was rebuked. His opinion also divided the task force into factions, helped along by the fact that the crime lab could not give them a definitive answer as to whether semen samples found on two victims were from the same person. They brought in a forensic scientist from the Moscow lab, who did better. They were type AB, she said, and with that, she eliminated their entire list of suspects. None of the confessions gathered thus far were any good and the killer was still at large.

He struck that March in Novoshakhtinsk, grabbing 10-year-old Dmitri Ptashnikov, who was found three days later, mutilated and stabbed. The tip of his tongue and his penis were missing. The semen on his shirt linked him to the previous two crimes where semen was found. Near this body was a large footprint.

This time, however, there were witnesses. The boy was seen following a tall, hollow-cheeked man with stiff knees and large feet, wearing glasses. Yet no one had recognized him. Someone else had seen a white car.

Lyudmila Alekseyeva
Lyudmila Alekseyeva

Then a 17-year-old, Lyudmila Alekseyeva, was found slashed 39 times with a kitchen knife, and leads went nowhere, wasting time and resources. Soon there was another victim, and then another close by. One was a girl, killed with a hammer, the other a woman stabbed many times with a knife. Mother and daughter, they had died at the same time. By the end of that summer in 1984, authorities counted 24 victims that were probably murdered by the same man. Whenever semen was left behind, it proved to have the same AB antigen. There was also a single gray hair on one victim, which seemed to be from a man, and some scraps of clothing near a boy that failed to match his clothes.

Lourie writes that the killer had shifted his pattern somewhat that year. He now removed the upper lip, and sometimes the nose, and left them in the victim's mouth or ripped-open stomach.

With no witnesses, little physical evidence, and no way to know how this man was leading his victims off alone, the police felt the investigation was out of control. This killer had stepped up his pace from five victims the first year (they believed) to something like one every two weeks. Surely he would eventually make a mistake. They had no way of knowing as yet that they had not found the earliest murders and it would be some time before the killing spree was stopped. This man did not make many mistakes.