Alexander Yuryevich “Sasha” Pichushkin (Russian: Алекса́ндр Ю́рьевич Пичу́шкин, born 9 April 1974 in Mytishchi, Moscow Oblast), also known as The Chessboard Killer and The Bitsa Park Maniac, is a Russian serial killer. He is believed to have killed at least 49 people and up to 61–63 people in southwest Moscow‘s Bitsa Park, where several of the victims’ bodies were found.
Pichushkin is remembered to have been an initially sociable child. However, this changed following an incident in which Pichushkin fell backwards off a swing and was subsequently struck in the forehead by said swing as it swung backwards. Experts have speculated that this event caused damage to the frontal cortex of Pichushkin’s brain, which is known to produce poor regulation of impulses and a tendency towards aggression. It is also likely that this happened as a child’s forehead has been proved only 1/8 as protective of the brain as an adult’s. Indeed, following this accident, Pichushkin became hostile and impulsive frequently and his mother therefore decided to transfer him from mainstream school to one for those with learning disabilities. As a result, children from mainstream school began to physically and verbally bully Pichushkin (a common practice in the area on those with learning disabilities), referring to him as “that retard,” intensifying his rages. Upon reaching early adolescence, Pichushkin’s maternal grandfather recognized that Pichushkin was highly intelligent, and felt that his innate talents were being wasted, as he wasn’t involved in any activities at home, and the school he was enrolled in catered more towards overcoming disability, rather than exceptional achievement. The grandfather took Pichushkin to live in his home and encouraged intellectual pursuits out of school. The most significant of these interests was chess, with Pichushkin being taught how to play and also being introduced to the exhibition games played publicly in Bitsa Park. It turned out that Pichushkin was an outstanding chess player, and in these exhibition games against generally elderly men, Pichushkin first found a channel for his aggression by dominating the chessboard in all his games. Unfortunately, Pichushkin was still bullied by mainstream school children throughout his adolescence and perhaps as the ultimate blow toward the end of this period, Pichushkin’s grandfather died. Pichushkin was forced to return to his mother’s home and at some point after returning, he enrolled as a student. It has been reported that the death of his grandfather greatly affected Pichushkin, and it possibly to dull the pain of the loss and calm his severe aggressive tendencies that Pichushkin began to consume large quantities of vodka. He continued to play chess both at home and in the exhibition games in Bitsa Park, now joining the other men in drinking vodka, though unlike them the alcohol did not affect his chess abilities. It was at this time that Pichushkin began to develop a more sinister hobby that at the time remained unknown to anyone. Whenever Pichushkin knew he was going to come into contact with children, he would take a video camera along and would proceed to threaten them, on one poignant occasion that has since been made public, holding a young child by one leg, upside-down, and saying to the camera “You are in my power now…I am going to drop you from the window…and you will fall 15 meters to your death..” He would then watch these videos repeatedly to reaffirm his power, however this soon became insufficient to satisfy his urges.
Pichushkin committed his first murder as a student in 1992 and stepped up his crimes in 2001. Russian media have speculated that Pichushkin may have been motivated by a macabre competition with Russia’s most notorious serial killer, Andrei Chikatilo, who was convicted in 1992 of killing 53 children and young women in 12 years. Pichushkin has said his aim was to kill 64 people, the number of squares on a chessboard. He later recanted this statement, saying that he would have continued killing indefinitely if he had not been stopped.
Pichushkin primarily targeted elderly homeless men by luring them with vodka. After drinking with them, he would kill them, hitting them on the head with a hammer. He then stuck vodka bottles in their skulls to ensure that they did not survive. He also targeted younger men, children and women. He would always attack from behind to avoid spilling blood on his clothes. He claimed that while killing people he felt like God as he decided whether his victims should live or die. “In all cases I killed for only one reason. I killed in order to live, because when you kill, you want to live,” he once said. “For me, life without murder is like life without food for you. I felt like the father of all these people, since it was I who opened the door for them to another world.” Experts at the Serbsky Institute, Russia’s main psychiatric clinic, have found Pichushkin sane.
According to the documentary, “Serial Killers”, Pichushkin, once apprehended, led police officers to the scenes of many of his crimes in Bitsa Park. He demonstrated a keen recollection of how the murders were committed, often acting them out in great detail, which has been committed to film. He also revealed that a number of the murders he committed were not done in his preferred method (hammer blows to the back of the head), but by throwing his victims down into the sewers underneath Bitsa Park (although one of his victims did survive the ordeal).
The murder of Marina Moskalyova, 36, in the summer of 2006, was his last. When a metro ticket was found in her possession at the time her body was found, authorities were able to view the last footage of her alive from surveillance tapes of the Moscow metro system, where she was walking on the platform accompanied by Pichushkin.
Trial and imprisonment
He was arrested on 15 June 2006, and convicted on 24 October 2007 of 49 murders and three attempted murders. He asked a Russian court to add an additional 11 victims to his body count, bringing his claimed death toll to 60 and 3 surviving victims. During the trial, he was housed in a glass cage. It took Judge Vladimir Usov an hour to read the verdict: life in prison with the first 15 years to be spent in solitary confinement.