Gennady Modestovich Mikhasevich – A prolific Soviet serial killer.

In the previous post about the serial killers of the Soviet Union and Russia we talked about Alexander Berlizov, a factory worker who would prowl the streets of Dnipropetrovsk in the dark hours, looking for lone women to rape and kill. Cautious and thorough, he never left a trace behind and even managed to finagle his way into the investigation by joining a group of volunteers helping the police solve the murders. Our subject today is a man called Gennady Mikhasevich who started killing around the same time as Berlizov and shares a few similarities with him, including his MO (strangling) and being part of a local task force hunting the killer, i.e. himself. However, I would argue that the case of Mikhasevich is even more gruesome because he didn’t get caught for many years, claimed more victims, and many innocent people ended up blamed for his crimes. In many ways you can view him as a harbinger of sorts to Russia’s most infamous serial killer Andrei Chikatilo. But let’s not rush things and start at the beginning.

Gennady Mikhasevich |

Gennady Modestovich Mikhasevich was born on 7 April 1947 in Belarus. In contrast to Berlizov, who had a normal, even happy childhood, little Gennady had a violent alcoholic for a father, a fact that became the subject of the boy’s ridicule by fellow kids. Sullen and withdrawn, Mikhasevich grew up without much social interaction and thus didn’t have any real success with girls during his teenage years. Some of them would even mock him for his awkwardness, which made him frustrated and bitter towards the opposite sex. Nevertheless he finally managed to start a relationship with a young woman called Elena which was cut short by Gennady getting drafted into the military. When Mikhasevich returned to his village a year later, he discovered that Elena had already married another man and, too heartbroken to remain close to his former girlfriend, he relocated to another village not far from the city of Vitebsk, occasionally coming back to visit his parents.

It was soon after that he committed his first murder. On 14 May 1971, 24-year-old Mikhasevich had just missed the night bus passing his home village. Deciding to get there on foot instead, he was walking along the road when he suddenly saw 19-year-old Ludmila Andaralova, a local girl on her way home from a vacation. Mikhasevich assaulted Ludmila, raped her, and strangled her with his bare hands. He then tied the victim’s hands with a clothes line, hid the body inside a nearby garden, and fled the scene. According to Mikhasevich himself, he had apparently been contemplating suicide that night before the murder, but then realised that killing women was a grisly yet effective anodyne for his depression. He derived particular enjoyment from his victims’ attempts to struggle or scratch him. “Why should I throttle myself because of a woman?” thought Mikhasevich. “Better throttle some woman myself.”

What followed was a long series of murders committed by an elusive figure that became known to locals as The Strangler of Vitebsk. None of Mikhasevich’s murders were really planned in advance, certainly not to the extent that people like Dennis Rader or Joseph DeAngelo went to. He would spot his victims on a bus or on the street, follow them, and strike when they were alone. Once, he went to a night club hoping to meet a potential girlfriend, and eventually a woman suggested spending the night together. After realising that Gennady was shy and sexually inexperienced she made the mistake of mocking him, which sadly resulted in the killer choking her to death. As far as we know, Mikhasevich only had one survivor: in October 1971, he attempted to garrote a young woman, but she managed to put her hand inside the noose, preventing the killer from tightening it any further. She then bit his hand and started screaming, alerting some students walking nearby and scaring the attacker off.

Mikhasevich discovered to his own surprise that for some reason he couldn’t choke the same victim twice after one of the women he attacked regained consciousness and he found himself unable to strangle her a second time. Instead, he used the scissors from the woman’s handbag to stab her to death, making sure to leave a tightened garrote on his future victims’ necks.

In 1976, Mikhasevich got a job as a locksmith in the Soloniki village, as well as got married and had two children. While he countinued killing young women around Soloniki, making local girls scared of being outside alone after dark, no one would even begin to suspect Gennady Mikhasevich, a hard-working, abstinent family man active in his community. Something else you’ll notice Soviet serial killers like Mikhasevich, Berlizov or Slivko doing is becoming involved in their local Communist Party affairs to increase social standing and ward off any potential accusations. In reward for becoming a card-carrying communist, The Strangler of Vitebsk was gifted with a car certificate and bought a shiny red ZAZ automobile, which he later started using to pick up hitchhikers. Much like Ed Kemper, Mikhasevich would present himself to women as a friendly, charming man, take them to remote locations, and then rape and kill them.

Now comes in my opinion the most disgraceful part of this whole story. Of course the murders themselves were beyond appalling but they wouldn’t have continued for such a long time and claimed so many innoncent lives if the local law enforcement had done their job. To be sure, US police doesn’t necessarily have a stellar record in catching serial killers (Jeffrey Dahmer, enough said) either, but what happened in the Mikhasevich case just beggars belief. Let’s start with the fact that it took the police over a decade to even start connecting the killings (keep in mind that Mikhasevich was constantly accelerating the frequency of his murders). Even after that, cops were still more interested in reporting to their bosses that they had solved the murders rather than actually solving them. As a result, a total of 14 innocent people were prosecuted for The Strangler’s crimes.

One man was “only” sentenced to 15 years in prison, while another was outright executed (the cops had forced the man’s girlfriend to testify against him). Yet another innocent person was sent to prison where he lost his eyesight and came out a broken man. The mere fact that three people were walking a dog near a victim’s dump site was enough for them to be arrested and tortured (both physically and psychologically) into confessing to a crime they didn’t commit. Throughout 1984, the police conducted seven raids on the home of a local driver who happened to be working close to the spot where another victim of Mikhasevich was discovered. Instead of concluding that maybe, just maybe the driver in question was not the killer, the cops just doubled down, planting a photograph of the victim in the man’s house during their eighth raid. Too scared to have to go to prison, the driver tried to commit suicide and, despite thankfully being saved, remained addicted to medication. After the real culprit was caught, the surviving victims of police brutality were officially rehabilitated and received compensation in the form of money and apartments. The person who probably deserved the most derision for mishandling the case was a special investigator called Mikhail Zhevnerovich. Already a famous detective by the the time of Mikhasevich’s first murder, Zhevnerovich was nicknamed The Belarusian Sherlock Holmes and boasted a perfect (yet a little suspicious in retrospect) 100 percent crime-solving rate. The truth was that he routinely bullied and tortured suspects into confession, and while his bosses likely knew about this detail, they didn’t especially care.

It’s worth noting that the very word “serial killer” was taboo in Soviet Russia. Officially such criminals were considered a product of Western degradation, utterly inconceivable in the land of triumphant socialism. Of course there was Vladimir Ionesian, a killer operating in and around Moscow, but he was tried and executed so swiftly and secretly that no one really bothered to study him as a criminal. Unfortunately there was no Russian version of John Douglas or Robert Ressler at the time, and so when serial killers started coming out of the woodwork across the Soviet Union in the late 1960s and early 1970s, no one quite knew how to profile, let alone catch them.

You might remember from my previous post that Alexander Berlizov, the first Soviet sex killer, was actually privy to the ongoing investigation as leader of a volunteer task force assisting the police in patrolling the streets. Mikhasevich managed to pull a similar trick, joining a volunteer group and even being present at some of the trials where innocents were prosecuted for his crimes. Like Kemper, who used to hang out around cops at the Jury Room bar, The Vitebsk Strangler, too, showed great interest towards his own case by asking the police all about it. Of course the law enforcement had no particular reason to suspect him as he was officially assisting the investigation and was generally a respectable member of the community. The most extraordinary part of this deception probably came after Mikhasevich learned that the police were interested in a red ZAZ car like the one he drove. Feigning unshakeable determination to catch the killer, he ordered his volunteer task force to locate every single person driving a red ZAZ, of which there were around 7 thousand people, and run background checks on them. Of course the search didn’t lead anywhere and the killer remained at large.

Another common element you might find in the cases of Soviet serial murderers is the fact that the investigation would sometimes only see real results after a young, responsible detective was assigned to the case. Anatoly Slivko was finally caught in 1986 by assistant attorney Tamara Languyeva, a relatively inexperienced but diligent woman who traced all the evidence to the Nevinnomyssk boy scout leader. Similarly, the case of The Vitebsk Strangler eventually gained traction in 1985 when a young detective called Nikolai Ignatovich managed, at great risk to his future career, to convince his incredulous higher-ups that a serial killer was active in the area. Ignatovich quickly drew up a frighteningly accurate profile of the culprit, correctly identifying him as charming man whose work is somehow related to cars and who is part of a volunteer task force. Ignatovich firmly believed The Strangler to be sane as no madman would be capable of acting so cautiously for so many years.

After 14 years of Mikhasevich’s homicidal rampage, the police finally started taking the matter seriously and, in an uncharacteristically humble move, appealed to local citizens asking for their help in catching the killer. Despite moving slowly, the investigation was inexorably zeroing in on the Soloniki village, where Mikhasevich lived. Feeling the walls closing in, The Strangler attempted to lead the police down the wrong track, sending a handwritten letter to a local newspaper. In it, he introduced himself as belonging to a group called The Vitebsk Patriots, which ostensibly consisted of men whose wives had cheated on them and who had vowed to take revenge on all women. To add piquancy to the letter, Mikhasevich also included some anti-Soviet passages in the hopes of getting the attention of the KGB.

The Strangler must have been very proud of himself when, thinking he had tricked the police, he committed the final murder. In order to maintain the fiction of The Vitebsk Patriots, he left a crumpled note in the victim’s mouth saying (translation mine) “Death to the unfaithful. Fight the coppers and the communists.” That proved enough for the investigation to conclude that the letter and the note were both written by the same person whose blood type was O (that was established based a saliva sample on the envelope). The authorities then carried out the colossal task of acquiring a handwriting sample from virtually every adult male in the city, focussing on men who drove cars. Mikhasevich was one of the people whose handwriting was analysed and he was identified beyond the shadow of doubt as the author of both the letter and the note.

Multiple police officers rushed to his house but he wasn’t there. After a while, Mikhasevich was found and arrested at his relatives’ house in a nearby village. Despite acting tough in front of his wife during the arrest, the killer was clearly incredibly anxious, as evidenced by his constant requests to stop the police car on the way to the station so that he could urinate. When he was interrogated by detective Ignatovich on the subject of The Vitebsk Patriots, Mikhasevich came up with a laughably bad explanation: he was apparently kidnapped by two unknown men who took him to a deserted location and forced him to write the letter. Deep down, however, the killer knew that he was finished, as the police would undoubtedly find his victims’ belongings in his house, and that would seal his fate. Like many serial killers, he tried to get psychiatrists to declare him insane, but of course that didn’t happen.

Eventually he seemed to resign himself to his fate and began confessing his crimes in great detail. Self-aggrandising, smug, and without even a semblance of remorse, he looked and sounded very much like Dennis Rader during his confession. And just like BTK, Mikhasevich was giddy at the prospect of national notoriety. “This tape [of his interrogation] will be all over the Soviet Union, people will be trying to see what kind of man I was,” he told Ignatovich. The tape was never shown to the general audience. During the trial, The Strangler of Vitebsk was calm and utterly without regret and the only time he shed a tear was when talking about Elena, his first love. Throughout the proceedings, the killer was protected by KGB agents who feared Mikhasevich could be assassinated not just by the victims’ vengeful family members but also by the police officers who had tortured innocent people into taking a fall for the real killer’s murders. The officers in question sadly did not receive appropriate punishment, with only one cop being sentenced to 4 years in prison and the others getting suspended sentences or being demoted or fired from the police force. As for special investigator Zhevnerovich, he was quietly forced to retire and was not even prosecuted thanks to the 1987 amnesty campaign.

As for Gennady Mikhasevich, a serial rapist and killer who committed between 36 and 38 murders in 1971-1985, he was sentenced to death and executed by gunshot in 1987.

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