Welcome to Behind the Screams! In this article, we will be taking a look at the true stories that inspired some of our favorite horror films. Each month, we will dive into the stories behind these films and see that, sometimes, the truth is far more horrifying than fiction.
In our True Horrors article that debuted last week, we discussed the case of Mary Ferris. This little girl, only nine years old, was brutally murdered in her small hometown and dumped in a nearby river. In the article, we went over the circumstances, the clues, and the suspects of her case. After revealing this information, we left it up to you to determine who the true killer was. Even though we changed the names, locations, and dates of the crime, everything else was 100% true.
“The man who was known as Citizen X, The Butcher of Rostov, and The Red Ripper.”
In our online poll, 54% of you believed that Suspect “B”, Alex Krouss, was the man responsible for Mary’s death. Alex, if you remember from the previous article, was the stranger who had moved to town to live with his cousin after serving a sentence for the sexual abuse of a minor. As for the other suspects, 25% of you believed that Mary’s stepfather, Trent Sherwood was guilty, while 21% selected Andrew Chambers as the culprit. As you can see, this crime confused us almost as much as it befuddled the actual police investigating it. So, who did kill Mary Ferris?
It was Suspect “A”, or Andrew Chambers, that killed young Mary Ferris. Andrew was the teacher who lived across the river from where Mary’s backpack was found. He was the man who had blood found on his property. The man who was the last person to be seen speaking to the young, innocent girl on the day she died. The man who would go on to kill 56 other men, women, and children over the next 12 years of his life. The man who was known as Citizen X, The Butcher of Rostov, and The Red Ripper.
The Murder of Yelena Zakotnova
Our Mary Ferris was a fictionalized version of Yelena Zakotnova, a 9-year-old from the small town of Shakhty, Russia. Just like in our article, she went missing and was found dead two days later in a nearby river. Even though there was blood found on his property, he was there the day she went missing, and there were witnesses that stated that he was seen speaking to the girl at the bus stop, Chikatilo was never arrested, nor was he even seriously considered, for this crime.
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Our Suspect “B”, who you voted was the most likely person to commit this crime, plays a tragic role in the real case, as well. Due to his previous conviction for sexual assault, 25-year-old Alexandr Kravchenko was brought in and questioned about his involvement. He had an alibi, corroborated by several people, but a search of his home found a few drops of blood on one of his wife’s jumpers. This blood matched Yelena, and Alexandr’s wife, which was more than enough for the police at the time. Alexandr, after a coerced confession at the hands of the KGB, was convicted of the murder of Yelena Zakotnova and was executed by firing squad in 1983. He was yet another victim of Andrei Chikatilo.
“Chikatilo was never arrested, nor was he even seriously considered, for this crime.”
Over the next decade, Chikatilo would go on to game the Communist Party system and get away with dozens of murders. He killed anyone he wished, but he focused mostly on children (35 of his victims were aged 17 years or younger) and the mentally handicapped. He would go from bus stop to bus stop, trying to convince anyone who would listen to take a walk through the woods with him. He would offer them vodka, or food, or sex, and bash them over the head as they walked ahead of him. Then, as they cried out for help, he would take his knife out of his bag and start cutting.
For the sake of full disclosure, I removed a large chunk of this article here. It became too much to handle. Chikatilo’s brutality, his wanton need for the destruction of the human body, wormed its way into my mind and wouldn’t let me go. The things he would do to the bodies of his victims, the mutilation, the cannibalism, the perverse sexual desecrations, made me sick to my stomach. I began having nightmares, thinking about my children being the ones posed and put on display. I became paranoid, watching everyone who walked past me a little too closely, waiting for them to approach someone and ask if they wanted to take a walk. You can find out more about Andrei Chikatilo by googling his name if you like. But, for me, I just want to get him and the photos of his victims out of my head.
This incredible film, made for HBO and released in 1995, was directed by Chris Gerolmo and starred Stephen Rhea, Donald Sutherland, and Max Von Sydow. Instead of focusing exclusively on Chikatilo the man, like so many other serial killer biopics do, Gerolmo wanted to examine the backwards philosophies of the Soviet government that allowed him to kill as long as he did.
Through the years, we follow Rhea’s Lt. Viktor Burakov as he tries to track down the person who is killing and leaving bodies in the woods. He, along with Sutherland’s Col. Mikhail Fetisov and Von Sydow’s psychiatrist Dr. Alexandr Bukhanovsky, have to navigate the bureaucratic mess that existed in the USSR during the mid-to-late 80’s to try to catch their man. While they were mired in the swamp, begging for even the smallest of accommodations, mutilated bodies kept piling up.
“Instead of focusing exclusively on Chikatilo the man, like so many other serial killer biopics do, Gerolmo wanted to examine the backwards philosophies […] that allowed him to kill as long as he did.”
You can see the weight of these crimes pile on Burakov as the film goes on. Each body that they find in the woods is another life he feels like he is allowing to be extinguished. He cries in front of his superiors, he begs for resources, and he demands action when the motives of those in power were to keep things quiet. It’s a brilliant portrayal of a determined man, scared for his job and for the lives of those he holds most dear.
While brutal at times, this film is a terrifying portrait of Chikatilo and his accomplice, the Communist Party of the USSR. Through their ignorance and complete inability to even fathom the idea that there could ever be anything like this happening in Rostov, dozens of people, from 7-year-old Igor Gudkov to 44-year-old Marta Ryabenko, were indiscriminately butchered and left in the woods. Chikatilo, played magnificently Jeffrey DeMunn, goes through his life, protected by his position in the Party, taking out his sexual frustrations on the bodies of the innocent.
The film will leave you frustrated. It will leave you disgusted. Mostly, however, this film will leave you feeling cold. There is a true darkness in this world. A darkness beyond anything our horror-addled minds can conjure. I can sit at my computer and write the scariest 10,000 words of my life, and still not come up with anything as evil as Andrei Chikatilo. He makes Hannibal Lecter look tame. He makes Michael Myers seem quaint in his wanton brutality.
We, as horror fans, run to the fictional horror villains in our lives because, deep down, we know that actual monsters do exist. They stand in the shadows of bus stations and renovated houses. They watch you and your children as you go about your day, and they wait for their moment to strike. We run to the make-believe and revel at their terrifying natures because we are too afraid to think about whether or not there is an Andrei Chikatilo living in our neighborhoods.
ADS ARE SCARY
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“We run to the make-believe and revel at their terrifying natures because we are too afraid to think about whether or not there is an Andrei Chikatilo living in our neighborhoods.”
You can catch Citizen X on HBO Go, HBO Now, or you can rent it on Amazon Prime. Like what you just read? Hit us up on Twitter, Reddit, or Facebook and let us know. While you’re at it, go ahead and check out our previous Behind The Screams articles and learn about the true stories that inspired some of your favourite horror films.