MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian supermarket worker, dubbed “the chessboard murderer”, was convicted on Wednesday of killing 48 people after he confessed in court that the first time he took a life was like falling in love.
Given his nickname by Russian media because he had hoped to put a coin on every square of a 64-square chessboard for each of his victims, Alexander Pichushkin also admitted to killing 11 more people not included in the court case.
The verdict, handed down by a jury in a Moscow courtroom, makes 33-year-old Pichushkin Russia’s deadliest serial killer since Andrei Chikatilo, known as the “Rostov Ripper”. He was convicted in 1992 of killing more than 50 people and executed.
Pichushkin preyed on the marginals of Russian society — drug addicts, alcoholics, the poor and the elderly. He would get them drunk in Moscow parkland and then smash in their skulls.
“On all counts Pichushkin has been found guilty with no mitigating circumstances,” judge Vladimir Usov said after the jury foreman read out guilty verdicts on all 48 counts of murder and three of attempted murder.
The accused, sitting in a glass cage, showed no emotion and instead stared at the ground between his feet, frowning occasionally, before being led away in handcuffs.
Wearing a grey V-neck jumper with the sleeves rolled up, Pichushkin wore the same frown throughout the trial.
Prosecutors say he lured most of his victims to secluded parts of Bitsevsky Park, in a suburb of Moscow, where he plied them with vodka and then beat them to death with a hammer or threw them down drains.
Since many of his victims were elderly and had a record of drug and alcohol addiction, police often did not know for months that someone was missing because no relatives came forward.
“A first killing is like your first love. You never forget it,” he said earlier in his trial after explaining how he started killing at the age of 18 with the murder of a classmate.
Moscow chief prosecutor Yuri Syomin asked the judge to sentence Pichushkin to life in prison “taking into account the grave nature of his crimes”.
Russia suspended use of the death penalty under a moratorium. Sentencing is expected in the coming days.
“He admitted that he deliberately gave his victims vodka and committed his murders when they were not in any state to protect themselves,” Syomin said.
The prosecution said that Pichushkin had lured more than a dozen of his intended victims by saying he wanted company as he drank to the memory of a dead dog.
“He threw some of his victims down a drain when they were still alive and in some cases still conscious, even though some of them begged him to spare them,” Syomin said.
In some cases, prosecutors said, Pichushkin had stuck vodka bottles into the shattered skulls of his dying victims to ensure they did not survive.
Prosecutors said medical tests conducted on Pichushkin after his arrest showed that he did not suffer from mental health problems. They said, though, that doctors found signs of “homocidomania” — which meant he was drawn to killing.
“His motive has been established in court,” said Syomin. “It was Pichushkin’s desire to kill as many people as possible.”
Under Russian law, the verdict cannot be appealed except on procedural grounds.
A prosecution lawyer read out a reference on Pichushkin from a manager at a local supermarket where he worked while carrying out some of the killings.
It said Pichushkin was “a good natured” employee and that “when he came into contact with customers, he was polite and well mannered.”
Pichushkin was caught after one of his victims — a work colleague — left his home telephone number with relatives after being invited for a walk in the woods with him. She was later found murdered and detectives traced his phone number.
Defense lawyer Pavel Ivannikov said he did not believe Pichushkin was guilty on all the counts but said it was hard to argue this when his client had “confessed to everything he was accused of and some things he was not.”
Ivannikov said his client had been expecting the guilty verdict. “He regrets nothing, which for me is strange,” said the lawyer. “He does not regret what he has done.”