Tonight's serial killer bedtime story about Anatoly Onoprienko is a bit of an epic, but we didn't want to leave out any of the good stuff.
On April 16, 1996, police arrested Anatoly Onoprienko, a 37-year-old former forestry student, sailor and mental hospital outpatient, putting an end to the Ukraine's worst killing spree. Anatoly, a native of Zhitomir, was arrested at his girlfriend's house where he had a 12-gauge shotgun matching the one used in the 40 murders. He also had jewelry and video equipment belonging to some of his victims. While in custody Comrade O. immediately confessed to eight killings between 1989 to 1995. At first he denied other charges, but soon admitted to being the maniac dubbed, "The Terminator" who tallied up to 52 victims in a six-year killing spree.
Onoprienko's rampage began in 1989, when he and accomplice Serhiy Rogozin robbed and killed nine people. The former sailor resumed the killings in late 1995, murdering 43 people in less than six months before police arrested him in April 1996.
On March, 1996, a manhunt was launched across western Ukraine after eight families were brutally murdered in their homes. Most of the victims were in remote villages in the Lvov region near the border of Poland. His blood lust climaxed with a three-month rampage in which he killed more than 40 people in the Ukrainian villages of Bratkovichi and Busk. Panic was so widespread in the two villages that an army division was mobilized and armed personnel carriers patrolled the streets. Trying to put a stop to the killings, police imposed a security cordon around Bratkovichi. Undaunted, "The Terminator" moved to nearby villages where he continued his serial killings.
The killings followed a set pattern. "The Terminator" chose isolated houses in the outskirts of villages. He would enter the houses before dawn, round up the family and shoot them all -- including children -- close range with a 12-gauge shotgun. Then he would torch the place and kill whoever crossed his path during his murderous outbursts. He often stole valuables from his victims and sometimes scattered family photographs about the floor. Police arrested Citizen O. in his girlfriend's apartment in April, 1996, after a nationwide manhunt.
On November 23, 1998, the trial of Nasty O. began in the city of Zhytomyr, 90 miles west of Kiev. The accused claimed he felt like a robot driven for years by a dark force, and argued he should not be tried until authorities determine the source of this force. A former forestry student, sailor and soldier, Mr. O claimed his mother died when he was four and his father and brother gave him to an orphanage at seven, and that he had heard voices telling him to do the murders. Dressed in running shoes, an oversized jacket, a knitted hat, and handcuffs, Onoprienko sat calmly inside an iron cage surrounded by police exuding arrogance and boredom.
Hundreds of people huddled in coats and fur hats in the unheated courtroom were angered by his behavior. "Let us tear him apart," shouted a pensioner at the back of the court just before the hearing started, her voice trembling with emotion. "He does not deserve to be shot. He needs to die a slow and agonizing death."
In previous interviews Nasty O has rambled endlessly about the CIA and Interpol, unknown powers and future revelations. Psychiatrists, however, ruled him fit to stand trial. "I perceive it all as a kind of experiment," he said. "There can be no answer in this experiment to what you're trying to learn."
Sitting in his cell the Ukranian serial killer that came to be known as the Terminator told Reuters and a regional newspaper: "I have never regretted anything and I don't regret anything now." In the bizarre and emotional hour-long interview he added that cosmic forces planned to destroy humanity and replace it with "bio-robots." With the guards sitting in a row on a green couch just a foot away, Onoprienko looked his interviewers in the eye and spoke in an intense, rapid voice, at times almost fierce, of his early discovery of special telepathic powers.
Claiming hypnotic powers and saying he had information "nobody, not even the president" had access to, he said he had received "permission" to kill, but did not explain what drove him to destroy his victims. "I love all people and I loved those I killed. I looked those children I murdered in the eyes and knew that it had to be done," he said. "For you it's 52 murders, but for me that's the norm." He said he would have been prepared to kill his own son.
While in court, he had very little to say. Asked if he would like to make a statement he shrugged his shoulders, slowly sauntered to the microphone and said: "No, nothing." Informed of his legal right to object to the court's proceedings, he growled: "This is your law, I consider myself a hostage." Asked to state his nationality, he said: "None." When Judge Dmitry Lipsky said this was impossible, Onoprienko rolled his eyes and replied: "Well, according to law enforcement officers, I'm Ukrainian."
Though Onoprienko has remained completely silent during court hearings, when it comes to the media he's a veritable gadfly. The daily Fakty newspaper published a long interview with Citizen O from his jail cell in the central town of Zhytomyr in which the 39-year-old terminator was quoted as saying: "Naturally, I would prefer the death penalty. I have absolutely no interest in relations with people. I have betrayed them." The misunderstood killer added that he was shaken by people's indifference to his crimes. As he slaughtered his victims in one village, "people screamed so loudly that they could be heard in neighboring villages. But nobody came to help them. Everybody went into hiding, like mice."
On February 12, 1999, a Ukrainian court ruled that Anatoli Onoprienko was mentally competent and could be held responsible for his crimes. The regional court in Zhytomyr said that Onoprienko "does not suffer any psychiatric diseases, is conscious of and is in control of the actions he commits, and does not require any extra psychiatric examination." With the latest psychiatric examination showing Onoprienko mentally healthy, he will most likely be convicted and sentenced to death. But he will not be executed because Ukraine has pledged as a member of the Council of Europe to suspend capital punishment and eventually ban it.
Dressed in the same track suit and drab duffel coat he has worn throughout the more than three months of hearings, Anatoly Onoprienko, 39, sat impassively in a metal cage at the front of the provincial courtroom and refused to speak at the end of his trial. Onoprienko's co-defendant Sergei Rogozin, accused of helping in the first nine murders, did speak and proclaimed his innocence.
But while the start of the trial attracted hordes of angry spectators, prosecutor Yuri Ignatenko made his demand for the death sentence on March 3, 199, before a practically empty chamber. And the half-filled court consisted mainly of other judges attached to the court and their staff, whose main emotion was relief at the end of the ordeal. "Thank goodness that's over!" said a secretary leaving the hearing.
"My defendant was from the age of four deprived of motherly love, and the absence of care which is necessary for the formation of a real man," Onoprienko's lawyer Russian Moshkovsky told the court. Ignatenko said an examination of Onoprienko's mental health during the investigation had overturned an independent diagnosis of schizophrenia made before his arrest, and a further test ordered by the court confirmed his current mental health.
"Onoprienko's statements about mental seizures, being spied on, voices, and the influence of higher powers...are a simulation of mental illness and a reaction to the situation he is in," Ignatenko said. The prosecutor added that O's motives lay in his own violent nature, unchecked due to what he said was the incompetence of the police force. "In every society there have been and are people who due to their innate natures can kill, and there are those who will never do that," he added.
Two weeks after sentencing, Nasty O. granted an interview to Mark Franchetti, a writer for the London Times: It took the Ukrainian guard a full two minutes to unlock the heavy metal door to Anatoly Onoprienko's small cell. Even the toughest guards on death row at the 19th-century prison in Zhitomir, 80 miles west of Kiev, are wary of Onoprienko and take no risks. Peering through a narrow opening in the door, one of them shouted at him to stand up and face the wall with his hands behind his back.
Anatoly Ivanuik, the prison's deputy governor, searched the outer corridor meticulously before giving the order for the last bolt to be released. Slowly the door opened. Onoprienko, who once proposed to his girlfriend with a ring he had chopped from the finger of one of his victims a few hours earlier, was ready to grant an audience.
Three years after his arrest, following the largest manhunt ever mounted in Ukraine, Onoprienko showed no remorse as he described wiping out entire families in cold blood, battering children and raping a woman after shooting her in the face. Still defiant, Citizen O takes pride in what he calls the "professionalism" of his crimes. Clearly relishing his notoriety, he often stared at me, trying to make me avert my eyes while insisting that he was a good-natured person and a sensitive music-lover.
"The first time I killed, I shot down a deer in the woods," he said, in a flat monotone, as if reading from his curriculum vitae. "I was in my early twenties and I recall feeling very upset when I saw it dead. I couldn't explain why I had done it, and I felt sorry for it. I never had that feeling again."
"To me killing people is like ripping up a duvet," he said, his piercing blue eyes fixed on mine. "Men, women, old people, children, they are all the same. I have never felt sorry for those I killed. No love, no hatred, just blind indifference. I don't see them as individuals, but just as masses."
Onoprienko's crimes have caused such revulsion in Ukraine, however, that the Ukrainian president is considering temporarily lifting a moratorium on capital punishment that was imposed on March, 1997, in accordance with the rules of the Council of Europe, to execute him. The alternative, to commute the serial killer's sentence to 20 years in jail, would outrage most Ukrainians.
On one occasion he confronted a young girl who was huddled on her bed, praying. She had seen him kill both her parents. "Seconds before I smashed her head, I ordered her to show me where they kept their money," he said. "She looked at me with an angry, defiant stare and said, 'No, I won't.' That strength was incredible. But I felt nothing."
He blew the doors off homes on the edges of villages, gunning down adults and battering children with metal objects. He stole money, jewelry, stereo equipment and other items before burning down the houses.
"He is driven by extreme cruelty," said Dmitri Lipski, the judge who sentenced him, poring over photographs of Onoprienko's crimes. "He doesn't care about anything - only about himself. He is egocentric and has a very high opinion of himself."
A manhunt involving 2,000 police and more than 3,000 troops eventually led to Onoprienko's arrest in April 1996 at his girlfriend's house near the Polish border following an anonymous tip-off. Investigators fear his tally of victims may be higher than 52, as there was a long gap between murders when he roamed illegally around several European countries.
To me it was like hunting. Hunting people down," mused Onoprienko with a wry smile as he handed me his autograph scribbled on the back of a magazine.
"I would be sitting, bored, with nothing to do. And then suddenly this idea would get into my head. I would do everything to get it out of my mind, but I couldn't. It was stronger than me. So I would get in the car or catch a train and go out to kill."
Onoprienko's first victims were a couple, standing by their Lada car on a motorway: "I just shot them. It's not that it gave me pleasure, but I felt this urge. From then on, it was almost like some game from outer space."
He said he had derived no pleasure from the act of killing. "Corpses are ugly," he said with distaste. "They stink and send out bad vibes. Once I killed five people and then sat in the car with their bodies for two hours not knowing what to do with them. The smell was unbearable."
Some experts view the fact that he grew up without parents and was given up to an orphanage by his elder brother as a clue to his destruction of entire families. Strangely, his most vicious spree coincided with the time when he moved in with the woman he intended to marry and with her children - towards whom, she claimed, he was always very loving.
Onoprienko, however, claimed he was possessed. "I'm not a maniac," he said, without a hint of self-doubt. "If I were, I would have thrown myself onto you and killed you right here. No, it's not that simple. I have been taken over by a higher force, something telepathic or cosmic, which drove me.
"For instance, I wanted to kill my brother's first wife, because I hated her. I really wanted to kill her, but I couldn't because I had not received the order. I waited for it all the time, but it did not come.
"I am like a rabbit in a laboratory. A part of an experiment to prove that man is capable of murdering and learning to live with his crimes. To show that I can cope, that I can stand anything, forget everything."
Onoprienko was adamant last week that he would not appeal to Kuchma to commute his sentence. Instead, he insisted that he should be executed. Suddenly animated, his speech quickened. "If I am ever let out, I will start killing again," he said. "But this time it will be worse, 10 times worse. The urge is there.
"Seize this chance because I am being groomed to serve Satan. After what I have learnt out there, I have no competitors in my field. And if I am not killed I will escape from this jail and the first thing I'll do is find Kuchma and hang him from a tree by his testicles."
It was time to leave.
Sweet dreams, and may you forever remain Crazy 4 Crazies.