Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Serial Killer Movies

Citizen X

Citizen X
Citizen X

Among the most instructive films about serial murder is Citizen X (1995), based on the books about Chief Inspect Viktor Burakov (Stephen Rea) and his adversary, Andrei Chikatilo (Jeffrey DeMunn), who killed for nearly a decade.  In this case, behavioral analysis from the crime scenes had played a crucial role.

Chikatilo managed to kill and mutilate 56 women and children during the 1980s in the Ukraine.  On girls and women, this killer would gouge the breasts and destroy the vagina, uterus and bladder or abdomen. On boys, he would mutilate the penis, scrotum and anus, and once he actually chewed out a tongue.  A few victims were stabbed through the eyes.  His signature was clear — he led them into a patch of woods and attacked, leaving the corpses where they died — but the Russian team's technology was archaic, making it difficult to run a proper investigation.  In fact, Burakov was forbidden to publicize the murders to get public assistance, because the bureaucrats running the U.S.S.R. at the time did not wish to admit that their system might produce a serial killer.  It was considered a "bourgeois phenomenon."

Andrei Chikatilo
Andrei Chikatilo

Trying with scant resources to narrow leads, and influenced by the FBI's BSU, Burakov asked psychiatrists to draw up a profile.  Dr. Alexandr Bukhanovsky (Max von Sydow) agreed to do it and he stated in a report that the killer was a sexual deviant, 25-50 years old, around 5'10" tall, who suffered from sexual inadequacy.  He brutalized the corpses to enhance his arousal, but also because he was frustrated.

The U.S.S.R.'s disintegration eased political control, and Burakov finally identified Chikatilo at a train station after the murder of another child.  Searching his bag, detectives found Vaseline, a rope, and a knife.  However, they needed a confession, but Chikatilo offered nothing.  When his release appeared imminent, Burakov invited Dr. Bukhanovksy to read his profile to the suspect. 

The psychiatrist recognized in Chikatilo the type of man he had described in his profile: ordinary, solitary, non-threatening.  Painstakingly (and well-depicted in the film as a highly dramatic moment), he read his report to Chikatilo, who then broke down and confessed to fifty-six murders, although there was corroboration for only fifty-three: thirty-one females and twenty-two males.  He received sexual gratification, he admitted, from murder, mutilation, and cannibalism, but more than that, he achieved a sense of peace.

Chikatilo was found legally sane and sentenced to die.   The movie remains close to the actual events, although it takes liberties in the beginning to fit a long period of time into a shorter sequence.  As a film about profiling, Citizen X is among the best.  But as profiling has lost some of its larger-than-life allure, some scriptwriters have tried to make it more exciting.


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