In many ways Anatoly Onoprienko is an extraordinary murderer. None of serial killers enjoyed the “privilege” to have so many definitions: the Ukrainian Chikatilo, Family Murderer, Terminator of Chernobyl, Mister “Pay-Up”, Beast, Maniac of Bratkovychi and others. That case raised a lot of questions to which there aren’t still any replies. For instance, about motives, psychological causes of the crimes, the character of the pathology of Onoprienko’s personality, if it’s here at all possible to speak about pathology. Although the society was shaken by the cruelty of the serial killer, the world history of similar crimes knows some even more brutal cases of deeply pathological character with sadistic acts, body dissection, necrophilia, sexual perversions, cannibalism and so on. For example, Andrei Chikatilo, the Maniac of Rostov, killed 53 people with extreme brutality, raped already dead bodies, gouged their eyes, cut off his victims’ genital organs. Or Sergei Ryakhovsky, a serial killer from the suburbs of Moscow, mainly “specialized” in murders of elderly women and then raped the dead.
The number of victims is also not what strikes in the case of Onoprienko (the Ukrainian Chikatilo killed 52 people); world criminalistics is familiar with the cases of “more tremendous” deeds. For instance, “the Monster of the Andes” Pedro Lopez, a world record holder as a serial killer, murdered about 300 people, mainly girls and young women, or the “Hell Team,” Henry Lee Lucas and Ottis Toole, killed over 200 people.
The brutality of the mentioned cases is explained by sexual pathologies and clinical sadism of the killers. Some of them, for example, Sergei Ryakhovsky, were diagnosed as having an organic brain lesion. As for Onoprienko, there are only assumptions that he had pathology. Perverse sexual impulses or compulsive actions hardly directed his deeds when a criminal is unable to pace himself. Serial sex offenders don’t usually have normal longstanding heterosexual relationship, they don’t have a live-in sexual partner and they feel impotent with the opposite sex. Anatoly Onoprienko didn’t have such problems. He had a wife, women with whom he had normal longstanding sexual relationship, and so far they have spoken of him as a good lover.
The brutality of Onoprienko’s actions lied first of all in his cold-blooded premeditation: he carefully planned his deeds without selecting victims specially as a rule. He killed all members of a family in order not to leave witnesses (by the way, it’s the logics of any experienced killer). He murdered quite small children as well, they couldn’t have given evidence against him (the youngest victim was only 3 months old).
Consequently, it’s fairly hard to identify Onoprienko as one kind of killers. Was he a sex offender? Or was he possibly an “ideological” murderer who fancied himself as the Messiah, and, as Onoprienko stated, he was carrying out an experiment on the Earth? Or was he an ordinary criminal who used to act from selfish motives? The positive reply to the last question is unpleasant for the overwhelming majority of citizens but not for professionals. The possible understanding of the fact that the people who surrounded Onoprienko had bred a murderer put a guilt trip on the society as they later more or less seduced him into that way. And professionals can forget for a while that “Onoprienkos” will appear in our country many times. They would rather escape simple research schemes for such cases and try to prevent them.
Anatoly Onoprienko’s case is also extraordinary due to the almost hysterical public reaction to the crimes of the serial killer. During the investigation and trial of Onoprienko the “assumption of innocence” principle had already been working. He was sentenced to execution before the pronouncement of a verdict not only by the people affected and witnesses but also even by lawyers. For example, one woman, a lawyer by occupation, put forward an idea that he should have already been gunned down as a rabid dog during the arrest. Why to throw money on his imprisonment? The same idea was expressed on television by the investigator who was conducting Onoprienko’s case. Not only low legal consciousness of some citizens might have had an impact on people but also their herd fear of even not the criminal taken into custody but public condemnation. Half-instinctive concerns forced almost all of them, both the people affected and the witnesses as well as lawyers, to demand revenge.
Evidently, that public reaction will ever be in its turn the subject matter of psychologists and sociologists. For the author’s part, he was trying as much as possible to disregard his own attitude to Onoprienko’s case and to realize what had caused his appearance as a murderer, to put questions to everybody which may seem quite awkward but they press for replies.
Before Anatoly Onoprieko committed his crimes, his biography had outwardly been quite usual. But only outwardly whereas inwardly, psychologically all his early years were followed by frosty relations, even brutality from the members of the family and the people who surrounded him. He was born in a small Ukrainian village of Laski in the Narodychi Raion (District) of the Zhytomyr Oblast (Region) in 1959. Onoprienko’s father ran away to the front when he was 14 years old and came back as a sergeant awarded for valor. Then he worked as a locomotive boiler fireman, a driver, tried to be in trade. He was convicted twice: the first time for stealing a lump of lard, and the second time for not giving back the money he had borrowed from his relatives. In 1970s Yuri Onoprienko was convicted to the settlement in the town of Frolovo of the Volgograd Oblast where he was living and passed away. He had two sons from the first marriage: Valentin and Anatoly. However, he abandoned his family when the younger son was only one year old. The father didn’t bring up their sons although later he moved to Laski along with his new family – a wife and a son from the second marriage Mikhail. Because of that since his early age fatherless Anatoly Onoprienko suffered indignity, he was called a bastard (an illegitimate child). Later at the age of almost 40 when Anatoly was in a pretrial detention center, he remembered it in evil part. Yuri Onoprienko was an ill-tempered person by character. He often regarded his son not like a father, but fairly brutally. Anatoly remembered his drunken father running after him around the hut and shouting: “I’ll kill you!” And when the kid hid himself in a shed, his father started dismantling wall boards in rage to get at him.
Anatoly’s mother was an ordinary peasant woman and worked in a collective farm as a pig-tender, a milkmaid, was involved in fieldwork. So far the residents of Laski have spoken well of her as a meek and hard-working woman. She was already ill and gave birth to Anatoly at a pretty late age (her elder son Valentin was then 13 years old). After that she was feeling unwell long, and in the end, in Valentin’s words, she died of heart failure on September 16, 1962. By the way, there’s another story told by Anatoly’s ex-teacher at the orphan asylum to the journalist Pyotr Tarasyuk. According to it, Anatoly’s mother was allegedly hacked to death by Yuri Onoprienko in front of their younger son. Whether it was so or not, but Anatoly doesn’t almost remember his mother, however, he remembers his granny’s “kind and scored hands” as well as aunt Nastya quite well. They had been bringing him up until he was sent to an orphan asylum. The brutal homicidal maniac turned out to be capable of the most tender filial feelings: so far he has loved both already late women as well as his late grandfather. Anatoly remembered himself as a child weeping when aunt Nastya’s house was being sold.
The orphan asylum
On the contrary, Anatoly didn’t seem to especially care for either his father or his elder brother, and there were some serious reasons for that. His father didn’t take his underage son to his home after the death of his first wife. He provided the son with a child support payment and probably considered such care was sufficient so he pretended as if he were not worried about his son’s fortune. Valentin couldn’t take Anatoly to his place either: he had gotten married quite early, had already 3 children, and as a village teacher he didn’t get a big salary – 130 rubles. According to the elder brother, it turned out that the vital necessity had forced the relatives to send Anatoly to an orphan asylum, and outwardly all had seemingly looked decently. Valentin remembered: “By that time the granny had noticeably grown old and needed attendance. My wife and I worked as ordinary teachers at school. We didn’t have money for ourselves, let alone our children. And Tolka (a hypocoristic of Anatoly) started getting sick. He didn’t have gumboots, and there wasn’t any money to buy them, but the year turned out to be too nasty – the water was knee-high. Our hut wasn’t preheated so we kept living in a damp house. Anatoly was taken ill of rheumatism. Our fellow villagers rubbed our nose in the dirt: “Why has your Tolka always been hungry and cold as if he were a vagabond. Send him to an orphan asylum, he’d better live there, the state will always support him.” My fellow student’s mother worked in an orphan asylum in the village of Privitnoye, her father was an administrative manager there. So we weren’t sending him into the wrong hands.”
Anatoly Onoprienko told about that episode from his life a little differently: “Another vivid memory of my father and Valentin sending me to an orphan asylum. I was probably about seven years old, my brother was then about 20, so my father was 37. Those two dumbbells were standing and shouting at me at the top of their lungs: “Send him to an orphan asylum! To an asylum!” I remembered those words for the whole life. I didn’t realize why to an orphan asylum. I had sort of a father and a brother…I was brought to the asylum and started crying…” One can only imagine what trauma was that for child’s psyche. Even almost 35 year later Anatoly could remember his father and brother dealing by him in that way. When Onoprienko had already committed almost fifty murders and his soul turned into a piece of ice, on leaving home he said with malice to his brother: “I’ll never forgive you the orphan asylum. That’s because of it I’ve become what I am.” Valentin didn’t then realize: “What, Tolik? You’re indeed all right.” Anatoly promised: “You’ll get to know it afterwards, all will find it out.”
Yet in his teens Anatoly didn’t probably steeled his heart so much, his love hunger still overweighed. Otherwise, why did he then at the age of seventy leave so far away for Russia, for the town of Frolovo of the Volgograd Oblast to see his father? Yuri Onoprienko had already been married for the third time. He greeted Anatoly with a scowl. After he had found out that his son had quickly spent 800 rubles of the child support payment put aside into his savings, he scolded him fiercely. They all three (together with the new wife of his father) tried to engage in trade: they would go to the city of Saransk of the Mordovian Autonomous Soviet Republic carrying watermelons along with them to sell and to get potatoes there. During the trip Anatoly made sure how far mean-spirited his father and mother-in-law were. When younger Onoprienko had kept 10 rubles to himself and father’s wife found them, they both got furious with Anatoly and said to him: “We’ve put you up, you eat and drink at our expense, and you steal money from us.” Younger Onoprienko lost temper and had to leave. He didn’t threaten but had a grudge against them. Anyway, when he was 23 years old and he felt independent, Anatoly came to his father in a new own car with the hope of reconciliation. He even wanted to give the car to his father as a gift. But when Anatoly came, he was met by father’s cold eyes and fear – Yuri Onoprienko was afraid of the revenge for his indifference and even brutality towards his son in the past. He was so much frightened that shammed ill and took to bed. Anatoly left quite soon and hadn’t seen his father any longer…