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Chess, not Checkers: The Story of the 'Chessboard Killer'

During my time hosting True Crime & Chill and writing true crime blogs for FTF Media, I've obviously discussed a number of serial killers (listen to our 'Killing Season' miniseries if you're curious) and the strange, disturbing cases surrounding them. However, until now, I've never delved into the apparently vast world of Russian serial killers. The reign of this particular killer was fairly recent, as it began in the 90's and finally came to an end in 2007. Surprisingly, I had never heard of him until now, and there's a very good chance that you haven't, either. To those who are more familiar with him, though, Alexander Pichushkin (a.k.a. the 'Chessboard Killer') is considered by some to be one of the world's worst serial killers EVER.

Unlike many other serial killers, who tend to display odd behaviors or tendencies from a very early age, Pichushkin was remembered to be quite sociable as a child. However, an unfortunate accident seemed to change that; one day, while Alexander was playing on a swing set, he fell backwards and badly hit his forehead. Neurologists speculated that this accident may have caused damage to his brain's frontal cortex, which can result in poor impulse regulation and a tendency towards aggression. Since Alexander was still a child at the time of this accident, the damage would have been more severe, as a child's forehead provides the brain only a fraction of the protection that an adult's does. Following his accident, Pichushkin was said to have became increasingly more hostile and impulsive. Alexander's erratic behavior eventually resulted in his mother placing him in a school for children with learning disabilities. Prior to being transferred, however, Pichushkin was said to have been abused both physically and verbally by his classmates.

Alexander Pichushkin during his 2007 trial

Pichushkin was said to have been extremely close with his grandfather, as he recognized the boy's intellectual abilities early on and would actively pursue activities that stimulated Alexander's intelligence outside of school. One hobby that Pichushkin found particularly appealing was chess; after just a few exhibition matches, he realized just how outstanding of a chess player he was. Pichushkin found chess matches to be a positive outlet for his growing rage as continued to dominate his opponents. Unfortunately, Pichushkin was still being bullied by his peers well into his adolescent years -- around this same time, the young man had also learned of the passing of his grandfather, which greatly (and adversely) affected him. In an attempt to cope with his loss, Pichushkin began drinking, often consuming large quantities of vodka in a single sitting. Another alarming habit that Alexander adopted was a tendency to bring a video camera along to his chess matches, where he would tape himself threatening unsuspecting children. On one particular occasion, he held a child upside down by one leg, saying into the camera that "You are in my power now. I am going to drop you from a window and you will fall 15 meters (49 feet) to your death." Yikes.

Shortly thereafter, Pichushkin's rage turned murderous, as he committed his first killing in 1992 at the age of 18. Reports speculate that Pichushkin had aspirations of "competing" with another prominent Russian killer, aiming to murder somewhere around 64 people. Pichushkin was said to have picked the number 64 because, of course, that's the total number of squares contained on a chessboard. However, he later recanted this statement, saying that he would have killed even more people if given the chance. Pichushkin's first murder victim was actually a former classmate; initially, he had invited this peer to join him on what he referred to a "killing expedition" (somewhat of an odd thing to request of someone, if you ask me). However, once Pichushkin realized that his classmate wasn't actually serious about killing anyone, he decided to target the young man and murder him instead.

In 2001, Pichushkin's crimes began to become both more graphic and also coordinated. Pichushkin would primarily target homeless, elderly men, luring them in with the offer of sharing a drink of vodka with them free of charge. Pichushkin would then kill these helpless men and dispose of their bodies into nearby park sewers. As Pichushkin said, "the fact that the victims had disappeared was no longer able to satisfy me, I need more emotions." After that, Pichushkin adopted a new "trademark" for his murders: repeated blows to the head with a hammer, followed by pushing a vodka bottle into the gaping wound in their skulls. Pichushkin soon moved on from targeting only old, homeless men and began to include younger men, women and children as well. Pichushkin would attack his victims from behind in order to both take them by surprise and also avoid the likelihood of spilling their blood on his clothes. Many of Pichushkin's attacks were close to home, as well, as ten of his victims were said to have lived in the same four building complex as he did. What a great neighbor.

Alexander Pichushkin in his prison cell

The murder of Marina Moskalyova in June 2006 was the last slaying that Pichushkin would commit. Found on her body were the inflicted wounds that had become known as Pichushkin's trademark, along with a metro ticket, which led authorities to surveillance footage that linked Pichushkin to her death. Once apprehended, Pichushkin showed authorities the scenes of all his crimes and demonstrated exactly how each murder was committed. During investigations, Pichushkin claimed that he "felt like God" during his killing spree, as he felt he got to decide whether his victims 'should' live or die. He also went on to say that "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." During a psychiatric evaluation, while doctors did find Pichushkin to be sane, they concluded that he suffered from both antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

On October 24, 2007, Pichushkin was convicted of 49 murders and 3 attempted murders. However, Pichushkin asked a Russian court to add an additional 11 victims to his body count, which brought his overall death toll to 60, along with 3 survivors. At the conclusion of his trial, it took the Judge an entire hour to read the full verdict; Pichushkin was sentenced to life in prison, with the first 15 years of the sentence to be spent in solitary confinement.

- Gabby


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