Andrew Osborn








Moscow stalked by real 'Gorky Park' murderer

The Independent, 17th June 2006 14:52

By Andrew Osborn in Moscow

One Moscow park, 16 unsolved murders, and no suspect. Only a serial killer able to strike at will without leaving the slightest of clues.

It sounds like the plot to a thriller by Martin Cruz Smith, author of Gorky Park, but there is nothing fictional about these killings.

The Russian media have nicknamed the killer "the Bitsevsky Maniac" because the murders have all taken place in south-west Moscow in the city's Bitsevsky Park.

Since October last year, police have recovered 16 bodies from the heavily forested park.

The 16th corpse, that of a well-dressed and so far unidentified young woman, was found on Wednesday. Small wooden stakes had reportedly been driven into her eyeballs and she had been battered on the head with a heavy object.

Police say that at least nine of the 16 murders are the work of the "maniac". The others are believed to be the work of different killers though police cannot be sure.

With one exception, all of the murders have taken place in the northern half of the park.

The "maniac" follows a well-established pattern -until now his or her victims were all men aged between 50 and 70 and were all killed by a blow to the back of the head with a heavy object.

The killer always strikes in the evening or at night and does not kill for financial gain, never taking the victim's money or documents. The men killed so far were poor pensioners or sometimes homeless people.

Though the latest victim is a woman, almost all of the other victims were male and psychologists have speculated that "the maniac" may hold a grudge against men.

Police believe the killer befriends his or her victims by offering them alcohol, the consumption of which is common in Moscowparks.

Bitsevsky Park is at the heart of a gritty southern suburb of Moscowbristling with high-rise tower blocks and soulless out-of-town superstores miles away from the city centre and the more famous Gorky Park.

Muscovites have their own theory about the killings. They suspect the murderer is a patient from a hospital for the psychologically disturbed which is located in the park close to the spot where most of the bodies were found.

The hospital admits it allows some of its more stable patients to stroll in the park and says it cannot rule out

the possibility one of them might be the murderer.

"Our patients are like children," Nikolai Tarasov, the hospital's director, told daily Komsomolskaya Prav-da. "We let the stable ones walk in the park, the others we don't. But anything could happen. They run off sometimes and climb over the fence."

"The maniac" is described as being powerfully built, though police appear to have little idea of who they are dealing with and have not ruled out the possibility the murderer could be a woman. Twice the police have detained (and in one case shot) suspects only to have to let them go for lack of evidence.

The first pulled a knife on them when confronted and ran off - he later explained he thought the police were trying to mug him. The second turned out to be a cross-dressing transvestite who had a hammer in a handbag. Police thought they had their man. But the transvestite turned out to have a solid alibi for all the murders and was released.

The killings have frightened local residents. "We don't want to live here any more," said one. "This place is somehow cursed. How many more bodies are they going to find here?"

The police have set up a task force to catch the killer and have assigned plain-clothes policemen to patrol the park.

Anxious to allay local fears, the authorities have promised to build a police station in the park, to erect fencing around its perimeter, to install CCTV cameras, and to put in street lamps along its walkways.

The murders have evoked painful memories of Andrei Chikatilo, one of the Soviet Union's most prolific serial killers.

Known as the "Rostov Ripper", Chikatilo was convicted of killing 52 women and children between 1978 and 1990. After being caught and tried, he was executed.

'We don't want to live here any more. This place is somehow cursed'