The Chessboard Killer who Murdered for Every Square on the Board
Alexander Pichushkin, Russian’s most prolific serial killer
Alexander Pichushkin marked sixty-two squares off his chessboard throughout his spree, with the dates of the murders he had committed. This act earned him the nickname the Chessboard killer and made him the most prolific serial killer in Russian history.
Bitssa Park (Bitsyevskiy park) spans eighteen square kilometres across the southern area of Moscow. It consists of dense trees and shrubbery and is one of the largest parks in Russia. Hundreds of people walked through it every day, that was until Pichushkin used it as his hunting ground. He became the phantom of the park; children were forbidden to go in their alone, and adults were wary of every shadow. Pichushkin was unstoppable, preying on the vulnerable and murdering them in horrific ways. However, had it not been for a horrendous accident in his early years, he may never have become the killer he did.
Pichushkin was born on 9th April 1974 in Moscow. He lived with his mother, younger half-sister, step-father and their son. The family lived in a two-bedroom apartment on the fifth floor, just six minutes walk from Bitssa Park.
Pichushkin was described as a happy, friendly boy who was easy to get on with; however, this changed when he was four. Pichushkin was playing on a swing when he slipped and fell off; the swing swung back and hit him in the forehead. Being a child, his skull was not formed properly, and experts state that he damaged his frontal cortex, the part of the brain that regulates impulse and aggression.
From that moment, the family noticed a difference in the young Pichushkin. He became aggressive at school, and his mother felt she had no choice but to transfer him to the local school for the learning disabled. The children from his former school tortured him physically and mentally, calling him ‘retard.’ As the abuse intensified, so did his rage and hostility.
Life did improve for the young Pichushkin when his maternal grandfather saw the potential in the young man and took him to live with him. He taught him extensively, including sharing his passion for Chess with the young boy. Pichushkin had a natural talent for the game and found that he could channel his aggression into strategising on the board. He played continually, beating many opponents; his favourite location to play was Bitssa Park.
Unfortunately, this solace was not to last when his grandfather passed away in 1988, and he moved back in with his mother. The troubled teenager dealt with his heartbreak and loss by consuming large quantities of vodka and killing.
On 27th July 1992, the eighteen-year-old Pichushkin committed his first murder by pushing fellow student Mikhail Odichuk down a well at the park. Pichushkin had invited Odichuk to go on a killing spree with him. When he realised that Odichuk had no intentions of killing anyone, he smashed his head with a hammer and dumped his body down the drain. The police questioned him over the murder before ruling it a suicide. Pichushkin showed no remorse for the murder, commenting in court, years later, that ‘the first murder was like first love unforgettable.’
After this murder, for almost a decade, Pichushkin settled into everyday life. He worked as a shelf stacker in a supermarket and tried to date women, although unsuccessfully. Neighbours regarded him as a loner, but people would comment that he was a good person. Throughout this time, his drinking escalated, and so did his compulsions to kill.
The Sewer Killings
Although Pichushkin had kept his violent urges under control for a decade, the feelings escalated. It is thought he may have killed between Odichuk and the sewer killings, although it has never been proved. In 2001 though, he started to kill regularly.
He would lure older men, mainly homeless, to the park with the promise of a drink and then hit them over the head and throw them down the sewer. If the blow to the head did not kill them, then the fall down the shaft did. The sewer system under the park is extensive, with many openings and vents; despite this, the bodies started to mount up, and the authorities became suspicious.
In 2001, Pichushkin met a 19-year-old pregnant woman, Marina Viricheva; she was struggling to make money when Pichushkin offered her cheap vodka. He then asked her to follow him as he had some stolen goods hidden down a sewer in the park; if she helped him retrieve them, she could sell them for the cash. Viricheva followed him; as she looked down the sewer to locate the stolen items, he pushed her into the sewer. Determined to survive for her unborn child, she crawled through the sewer for many hours and reported him to the police. The police, for their part, were more interested in her status as an illegal immigrant than a victim. They told her that they would let her go if she didn’t press charges.
Pichushkin became dissatisfied with the fact that he could not see the final moments of his victim’s life, so he escalated his violence. During this period, he did not just kill older men but women and children also. He would lure them to the park and then hit them over the head; once a wound had opened, he would force a broken vodka bottle into their head, he would then bury them in shallow graves or attempt to hide them under leaves and shrubbery.
This time, the serious crime squad in Russia investigated the crimes, who were confident they had a serial killer on their hands.
Final murder and Capture
Pichushkin would not be arrested until 16th June 2006. His final victim was Marina Moskalyova, who was thirty-six. Before meeting Pichushkin, she told her son she was going to meet a young man. When she did not return, the son called the police. When they discovered her body, she had a metro ticket on her. The police viewed the CCTV and saw her walking through the station with Pichushkin by her side.
Once arrested, Pichushkin admitted all his crimes and was only too eager to show the police where several bodies were buried. The authorities also located a diary with details of his reign of terror and the famous chessboard.
Throughout his trial, he was kept in a glass box for his safety from the grieving families. He was convicted on 24th October 2007 of forty-eight murders and three attempted murders. He then asked the court to add another eleven deaths to that total. It took the judge one hour to read out all the crimes against him and verdicts. Finally, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, with his first fifteen years in solitary confinement.
Although originally Pichushkin had the aim to fill a chessboard with murder victims, he admitted afterwards that he would not have stopped killing once this mission was complete.
In all cases I killed for only one reason. I killed in order to live, because when you kill, you want to live. 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