Who was Alexander Pichushkin aka The Chessboard Killer?
Born on born 9 April 1974, Alexander Pichushkin aka The Chessboard Killer is a serial killer from Russia, believed to have murdered as many as 60 people in southwest Moscow’s Bitsa Park. Not so much is known about his time as a child and young adult, however one striking thing about his early life is the fact that at an early age, he fell backwards off of a swing, which then struck him in the forehead as it swung back. Some experts speculated that this accident might have damaged his frontal lobe which eventually could explain his aggressive behavior.
After the accident, his behavior changed. What used to be known as a sociable child, now became hostile and impulsive. His aggressiveness might have been influenced also by the fact that he was a bullied child. Pichushkin was physically and verbally attacked on more than one occasion by other children at his school. His mother took the decision to transfer him from his school to a one for children with learning disabilities.
But Pichushkin had a very caring relationship with his grandfather. It is his grandfather who realized that Pichushkin has more to offer, observing that he is highly intelligent and his possible talents are wasted at his school, as he wasn’t being involved in any activities that could stimulate him. So his grandfather took him in, to live in his house and care for him. He encouraged Pichushkin to pursue more intellectual activities, outside of the school. This is when he was taught how to play chess, in which he showed a high interest. After learning how to play the game and demonstrating his abilities, he was introduced to exhibition games in Bitsa Park, Moscow, where he played against more experienced elderly men.
He soon became a skilled player. It was a way to control his aggression channeling it into the games.
The death of his grandfather
At the end of his adolescence, sadly, his grandfather passed away, delivering a huge emotional blow to Pichushkin, who took it very hard. He was now dealing also with an emotional distress. Losing his grandfather made him return to his mother’s home and he soon enrolled as a student. But the death of his grandfather affected him in more than one way. He lost a paternal figure and a guiding figure and a way to cope with his loss was to drink excessively.
Pichushkin returned in Bitsa Park where he continued to play chess, but something more sinister also made its presence. He started developing dark and sinister thoughts, developing a distorted God complex. It is reported that when he knew he will come in contact with children, ho would threaten them and record it with a video camera. On one occasion he held a child by the leg, upside down and said “You are in my power now… I am going to drop you from the window… and you will fall 15 meters to your death…”
How did the killings start?
Pichushkin was just a teenager when he committed his first murder. While a student in 1992, he pushed a boy out of a window, according to Pichushkin’s televised confession. “This first murder, it’s like first love, it’s unforgettable,” he later said.
He invited one of his friends, Mikhail Odichuk, with him on a “killing expedition.” They began walking around, trying to find someone to kill. When it became clear that Odichuk wasn’t taking it seriously, Pichushkin killed him. He claimed the police questioned him about his friend’s death, but nothing really came of it.
At the time of that murder, one of the most prolific Ukrainian serial killers, Andrei Chikatilo was convicted of killing 52 people. You can read about him in this article: Andrei Chikatilo
Russian media speculated that Pichushkin was motivated by a dark competition with Chikatilo, aiming to become more famous and kill more people. He said he wants to kill 64 people, the number of squares on a chess board, however, he later said that he would have continued killing if not caught.
As his God complex was driving his killing appetite, Pichushkin was leading what appeared a normal life. He had a job as supermarket worker. He even picked up one of his victims from there. Almost all of his victims were picked up while waking in the park. His modus operandi was the same. Either getting his victims drunk or sneak up behind them and delivering a fatal blow. “I would sometimes wake up with the desire to kill, and would go to the woods that same day. I liked to watch the agony of the victims,” – he told investigators.
The bodies were always dumped in nearby sewage works. But as his victim numbers was increasing, he became frustrated that no one is talking about his murders. So he stepped up his killings by leaving the bodies in more open spaces.
By 2003, residents in the area, especially those that lived near the park, feared that there was a serial killer on the loose. Newspapers nicknamed Pichushkin the “Bittsevsky Maniac” and “The Bittsa Beast.”
Russian authorities started comparing the killer to the Ukrainian serial killer, Andrei Chikatilo, but did not want to jump to conclusions and speculate around the killer’s identity.
The Killing Spree
He stepped up his killing game long after his first murder. He started viciously targeting people in 2000. The victims targeted by Pichushkin were primarily elderly homeless people, people who not be missed or noticed missing. He used to lure them with vodka and after getting them intoxicated, he would kill them, by hitting them in the head with a hammer. To make sure none of his victims survive the attack, he used to stuck vodka bottles in their skull, or wood. The attacks were always taking place from behind, to avoid blood spilling on his clothes.
His pure motivation was power and thrill. He claimed that felt like God while killing, as it was him alone deciding if they live or die. “For me, life without killing is like life without food for you” he once said. “I felt like the father of all these people, since it was I who opened the door for them to another world”
Psychiatry experts at the Serbsky Institute have deemed Pichushkin mentally irrecoverable.
The park where he committed his murders, Bitsa Park, is an extensive wooded area covering 22 square km of Suthern Moscow. On 15th October 2005. Moscow police found the body of 31 years old Nikolay A. Vorobyov. The victim suffered a blow to the head, having a bottle stuck in it. One mobth later, the body of another victim is discovered. It was 63 years old man. Two weeks after that, a third body emerges, Vladimir Dududkin and just a week after that, another body is found.
By Christmas time, seven bodies in total have been discovered. None of the victims seemed to be robbed, but what they all had in common is terrible injuries to the head and mutilation with either a vodka bottle or wood sticks forced into the skull of the victims.
It was clear that Russian police had a serial killer on the loose. Serious crimes like these were handled by Moscow’s elite Murder Squad. The senior investigator put on the case in February 2006 was Andrei Suprunenko, but so far no clues have emerged about the possible identity of the murderer. Investigators picked up evidence from the crime scenes, but the killer left no traces, no fingerprints. They decide to get the help of the most experienced forensic scientist Prof Vladimir Vorontsov. Analyzing the bodies, he noticed multiple injuries to the back and side of the head as well as on the face. This was the killer’s signature. With no other forensic evidence, he still manages to determine the possible murder weapon: a hammer.
Close to the Bitsa Park, there was a Psychiatric Sanatorium. Investigators believed that the killer might be a former patient who escaped and now is hiding in the park killing people. Everyone was questioned. Anyone looking suspicious was interrogated by police. But no one seemed to fit as a possible suspect, so the theory is dropped.
200 police officers roamed the park, stopping and questioning anybody. It is then when they arrested a transvestite man who surprisingly was carrying a hammer in his bag, which he claimed to carry it for protection. It felt that the police finally has a suspect in custody, but after 24 hours, his alibi checks out. He was not the murderer.
A week later, the body of a woman is discovered. By now, the total count of bodies discovered is up to 12. It seemed that the killer has switched victims, now killing women. In April 2006, the body of Larissa Kulygina is discovered.
The last victim
Two months later, in June 2006, the body of another woman is discovered. But this time, investigators discover a crucial piece of evidence in the victim’s coat pocket. It was a metro ticket.
The ticket discovered led investigators to check all surveillance of the Moscow Metro, hoping to get a glimpse of the victim’s last hours of life and see if she was alone or someone else can offer information. The task was huge. However, it comes to the investigators attention that a 15 year old boy, came to identify the body. She was 36 years old. Marina Moskalyova. She was a worker at the supermarket. She was a single mother, living alone with her son, Sergei.
But Sergei, had more to tell than just identifying his mother. He told investigators that his mom went out with her boyfriend, named Sasha. AS a worried mother, she tried to contact her son to tell him where she is going. Unable to reach him via phone, she left him a note about where she is going, who is she with and a phone number. When checking the phone number, investigators traced ti to a 32 year old man, on the name of Alexander Pichushkin. He was too a worker at the supermarket. His name, in Russian language is often shortened to Sasha.
Meanwhile, investigators also discovered the Metro video footage, which showed clearly the the victim was in the presence of Alexander Pichushkin. It was all investigators needed. They had enough to arrest him and bring him in for questioning about the murder of Marina Moskalyova. On June 16th 2006, Pichushkin was arrested.
He initially denied everything and said he is not the one they are looking for. But within a couple of hours of interrogation, Pichushkin confessed the murder of Marina Moskalyova. The final pieces of her murder are coming together. He met marina on June 13 and invited her for a picnic. According to his confession, they sat for hours alone while he was contemplating whether to kill her or not. He eventually decided to take her life, as life would have become torture for him otherwise.
The confession of all murders
But then, Pichushkin delivers an enormous shock to investigators when he suddenly confesses 61 murders. This was something investigators did not expect. They were sure they have the Bitsa Maniac arrested, but no one was prepared for the high number of murders confessed. It is an astonishing confession. They now had to confirm all victims.
While in custody, they searched his apartment for further evidence or clues that might shed some light on his confession. It is then when they discover a chess board with numbers on almost each square. There were 61 numbers on it.
Russian investigators now had in custody Russia’s most prolific serial killer. But are his claims true? Investigators were tasked to find out if the victim number is correct. All missing person’s files were combined under one big case. The task was to find out which are the missing people became Pichushkin’s victims.
He was taken by prosecution the crime scenes to reenact the murders and show them how he killed his victims. The details are horrific. We will not describe the details of the murders here.
His sole confession was not enough for the prosecution. They needed more. They need him to take them at as many murder places he can remember. Investigators also struggled to get as many forensic evidence as they can from the victims. They managed to connect the hammer Pichushkin provided as a murder weapon to one of the victims. The victim’s wounds contained bits of plastic, which were a match to the hammer’s handle.
A missed opportunity
During investigations, it came to light that on February 2002, another victim was interrogated by police. She was a patient at the hospital with severe injuries. Police took her statement. She had met Pichushkin on February 22nd 2002. He promised to sell her some cameras, which he had hidden in the Bitsa Park. She followed him until a sewage, when he grabbed her and pushed her in. She fell in, but managed to save herself, climbing the sewage walls. After being stuck there for 20 hours, she managed to climb out. But the local police decided not to pursue the investigation. They had the name of the man who did this, but the police officer did not want to put the effort into investigating the case. he decided it is not important. The missed an extraordinary opportunity to catch a serial killer.
Under the park there was a massive sewage system serving southern Moscow. It is there where Pichushkin told investigators he dumped over 40 bodies. He even blamed the police of not founding the bodies sooner and not discovering him.
After all the re-enacting, forensic evidence and confessions, the prosecution had enough evidence to charge him with 49 counts of murder.
On Sept 13th 2007, Alexander Pichushkin goes on trial. It was the place where he could get all the attention he ever craved for, He enjoyed every minute of it. He wanted the jury to be there, the press to have a big audience. When asked if he had any regrets he said that he regrets being arrested so early as he was planning another murder at the time of his arrest.
He had absolutely no remorse.
After 6 weeks of trial, the jury returned in less than 3 hours with a verdict. On October 29th 2007, his sentence was pronounced. He would spend the rest of his life in prison, out of which the first 15 would be in total solitary.