Alexander Pichushkin, The Chessboard Killer, remained under the radar as he brutally murdered over 60 people in Russia during the 90’s. The chess fanatic documented his kills on a chessboard with a plan of filling each of the 64 squares. But is he Russia’s most notorious serial killer?
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To set the scene for this chilling story, I have a quote from the trial from Pichuskin: “A first killing is like your first love. You never forget it.”
Head back to the 90’s
The year is 1992. President George Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin met to formally declare the end of the Cold War while Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her Ruby Jubilee (40 years since accession to the throne). In Milwaukee, Jeffrey Dahmer was convicted to 15 life terms in prison. The beating of Rodney King triggered the LA Riots which resulted in over 12,000 people being arrested and over $1 billion of damage to the city. In the United States President Election, Bill Clinton defeated George Bush and Ross Perot.
In Russia, Andrei Chikatilo – known as the Rostov Ripper – was convicted of murdering 52 people. Chikatilo was now known as Russia’s most notorious serial killer. Some believe this arrest sparked a dark competition of serial killing.
The Early Days of Alexander Pichushkin
First, let’s take a step back. Alexander Pichushkin was born April 9, 1974. He lived with his mother Natasha in a two bedroom apartment located just a 5 or 6 minute wall from Bitsevski Park in Moscow. The building is known as a khrushchoki which is a large-scale public housing project started during the Soviet Union.
The park, nestled between the Chertanovka and Bitsa Rivers, is one of the largest natural parks in Russia covering approximately 18 sq. km (approximately 4,500 acres). Considered a “lesoparki”, Bitsevski Park (also known as Bitsa Park) is a combination of a traditional cultivated park and wild woodlands. Many flock to the park to escape the daily city grind for picnics, bike rides, fishing trips and more.
A Small Accident with Big Effects for Pichushkin
As a small child, Alexander was initially a normal, happy and sociable little boy. At age 4, this would change when he suffered a head injury. While playing on the swings, he fell backward off a swing. Then as he was on the ground, the swing struck him in the forehead.
Within the brain, the frontal cortex (the area behind your forehead) controls impulses and aggression. Since he was so young, his skull offered much less protection than that of an adult, leading doctors to believe in retrospect that the injury caused serious brain damage.
Following the accident, Alexander was a different child. He became hostile and impulsive, leading other children to bully him both verbally and physically. This abuse only fueled his aggression. His mother decided to transfer him from public school to a private institute for children with learning disabilities.
Pichushkin’s Grandfather Steps In
As he reached early adolescence, Alexander’s grandfather recognized that he was highly intelligent and felt his talents were being wasted. At home, he wasn’t involved in any social activities, and the school he attended focused more on overcoming disabilities than achievement or social endeavor.
He moved into his grandfather’s home and was encouraged to find activities outside of school, and the one he gravitated toward most was chess. In Russia, parks are famous for the long rows of tables filled with chess players no matter the weather. After learning the game, he used the strategy and domination of the game to channel his aggression. Soon, he was even introduced into exhibition games against older components in Bitsa Park. However, even as he excelled in the local chess community, he continued to be bullied by other children.
A Terrible Loss
And then toward the end of his adolescence, his grandfather sadly passed away. He then had to return to his mother’s home, heartbroken. At this point, he turned to a different solace: vodka. The alcohol dulled the pain and calmed his aggression temporarily. He continued to play chess in Bitsa Park, now joining the older men in drinking vodka as they played. Unlike his opponents, the alcohol did not affect his gameplay.
As he filled some of his time at the chess tables, Pichushkin developed a second hobby at the time. Whenever he knew he would come in contact with children, he would take a video camera and then film himself threatening them so he could later watch his own dominance. On one occasion, he held a young child upside down by one leg saying “You are in my power now.”
A Plan is Formed by Pichushkin
His prowess on the chessboard and bullying only fulfilled him for so long. In 1992, Pitchushkin was 18 years old. On July 27, he arranged to meet with his best friend and classmate, Mikhail Odïtchuk, to hatch a plan to kill 64 people. The number 64 had two important meanings to Pichushkin: the number of squares on a chessboard and surpassing the death count of the Rostov Ripper.
Oditchuk did not realize Alexander Pichushkin was actually serious about the plan and tried to back out. Pichushkin felt as though Oditchuk was teasing him which only enraged him. Pichushkin took a hammer out of his bag and beat his friend to death. After striking Oditchuk over 20 times with the hammer, Pichuskin then dumped his body down a well and returned home to his mother’s apartment as though nothing happened.
Oditchuk’s body was discovered the next day and an investigation started. Witnesses saw Pichushkin with his friend heading into the park which led to his arrest and questioning. However, the lack of evidence and Pichushkin’s statement that they spent time in the park and then he left his friend unharmed led to the police releasing him.
In September of 1992, Alexander Pichushkin was romantically rejected by his neighbor Olga because she was already in a relationship with a man named Sergei. To get rid of this romantic rival, Pichuskin threw Sergei out of a window, however, at the time police ruled it a suicide.
Afraid of possible punishments for his murders, including the death penalty, Pichushkin ceased his killings until Russia placed a moratorium on the death penalty. This legal development reignited his interest in following through with his murderous thoughts.
As an adult, Pichushkin got a job at a grocery store. His coworkers described him as quiet, perhaps a little strange, but not dangerous at all. He remained unassuming, maintaining this employment as he evolved into the monster later dubbed “The Bitsa Maniac.”
The Chessboard Killer Strikes
On May 17 of 2001, Alexander Pichushkin was playing chess in Bitsa Park with 52-year-old Yevgeny Pronin. Pichushkin had formerly owned a dog, and he told Pronin that it was the anniversary of his pet’s death. He asked the man to take a walk with him to visit the grave in an isolated area of the park. After sharing a toast to the departed companion, Pichushkin struck him over the head with the bottle of vodka. After he was dead, Pichushkin again disposed of the body by dumping it into a well.
Having another taste of murder, this time Pichushkin did not stop. Between May 2001 and September 2005, he attacked 36 victims, killing 33 of them. Many were homeless people he would approach in Bitsa Park with the lure of vodka. After allowing them to drink as much as they wanted, he would strike them over the head with either a hammer or the bottle of vodka they were sharing.
The body of a woman was discovered in 2002 which Alexander Pichushkin confessed as the murder of Olga, the woman he killed Sergei for, but this was never confirmed.
Mistakes were made by Pichushkin
On February 23, 2002, Alexander Pichushkin lured Maria Viricheva into Bitsa Park. After a fight with her boyfriend, Maria was crying. Pichushkin pretended to comfort her before persuading her to join him in the park. The pregnant sales woman was then pushed into the same well he used before to dispose of victims. As she clung to the sides to stop the fall, he grabbed her hair and used it to hit her head against the stone walls until she fell. Thinking she was dead, he left. But Maria was still alive. She managed to not only survive the fall, but also climb out of the well with no harm coming to her unborn child. She reported the attack to the police, however, she did not have proper registration papers for Moscow, she was forced to drop her claim.
Another survivor, Mikhail Lobov, was a 13 year-old boy led into the park with the promise of cigarettes and vodka. Pichushkin struck him over the head and again pushed him down the same well. Thinking the boy was dead, he left again. Mikhail’s jacket had snagged onto a piece of metal that kept him from plummeting into the icy waters and he was able to climb out. In the coming days, he would confronted Pichushkin but dropped it at the threat of having the police called.
The third survivor during this time period was Konstanin Polikarpov, a neighbor of Pichushkin’s. He was bludgeoned in the head and thrown down the well. Due to the head trauma, he did not remember what happened.
Victim number 32 disappeared in the spring of 2003. Alexander Pichushkin asked the man, “if you had one wish, what would it be?” The man replied that he would quit drinking. Pichushkin then told him, “I promise you. Today will be the day you stop drinking.” After walking deeper into the park’s woodlands, Pichushkin then bludgeoned and murdered the man.
A change in M.O. for The Chessboard Killer
In October of 2005, Alexander Pichushkin’s M.O. changed. He would continue to bludgeon his victims over the head, but he then started to push a vodka bottle into the wound in their skull. He always attacked from behind. The first reason was the element of surprise, and the second to keep blood from staining his clothes. At this time, he also altered his victim pool to include younger men, women and children. Ten of his victims lived in the same housing complex as Pichushkin.
On November 16, 2005, the body of a former police officer, Nikolai Zakharchenko was discovered out in the open instead of being disposed of in a well, presumably as a taunt or challenge to the police. Zakharchenko was the 41st victim, and the first time investigators pieced together that there was a serial killer on the loose. Pichushkin now also continued to leave the bodies in the open as he became confident to the extent of being cocky about his deeds.
On April 12, Pichushkin killed a coworker, Larissa Kulygina. Then on June 14, 2006, he approached another coworker, Marina Moskalyova, to take a walk with him to Bitsa park. Even with the disappearance still fresh, Marina agreed. Pichushkin was unaware that she left a note for her son of where she was going with Pichushkin and included his phone number as contact just in case. He also did not realize that Marina had placed her metro ticket in her pocket, allowing for a trail on CCTV. Unfortunately for Marina, Pichushkin struck her over the head with a hammer and she did not survive.
An Arrest is Made
The police finally had evidence to arrest Pichushkin, and two days later he was in custody. At first, they only believed his victim count to be in the low teens, however, they soon discovered just how many lives this man had taken. After his arrest, Pichushkin told police he would publicly confess to his crimes but only if allowed to do so live on television. The police set up microphones from the major television networks and cameras, believing the press conference to be real.
During the confession, he admitted and detailed 61 murders. He stated, “Why did I kill? I don’t know. There was no sense in life for me without this.” With his arrest, the police were able to collect his log book detailing each kill as well as a chessboard he used as a trophy, earning his name of The Chessboard Killer. Each kill he would mark a square with a coin to track his victim counts. He later led investigators throughout Bitsa Park, explaining his crimes in great detail. A common Russian practice is to also film reenactments of crimes, which he participated in as well. At this time, he revealed that not all murders used his signature of a blow to the back of the head, but rather some were committed by throwing his victims down into the sewer lines beneath Bitsa Park.
When asked the simple question of “Why?” he replied, “For me, life without murder is like life without food for you. I felt like the father of all these people, since it was me who opened the door for them to another world.” Pichushkin admitted that many of his victims were people he knew, stating “The closer a person is to you and the better you know them, the more pleasurable it is to kill them.” He has stated that if he hadn’t been caught, he would not have stopped killing.
Trial and Imprisonment
Doctors at the Serbsky Institute in Moscow pronounced Pichushkin sane after a full examination and he was allowed to stand trial. His mother has stated how ordinary of a child he was. He loved animals and they would watch their favorite show together. Somehow he hid the monster from his family and his coworkers.
During his 2007 trial, similar to his rival Chikatilo, Pichushkin spent the trial confined to a giant glass box “for his own protection.” The trial lasted 46 days, but it only took the jury 3 hours to convict Pishushkin of the 49 murders and 3 attempted murders that could be proven, but he asked the judge to raise the number because it was not fair to forget the other 11. He also complained that he had been denied the title of Russia’s most notorious serial killer because of the additional victims they could not prove were his.
He was given life imprisonment with the first 15 years of his sentence to be spent in solitary confinement. Pichushkin is serving his sentence in the Arctic penal colony Polar Owl which he has publicly branded a “concentration camp.”
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Researched by Mo from The Squonk & The Hag