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Former Russian policeman found guilty of carrying out 56 murders, bringing total spree to 78 killings

The conviction makes Mikhail Popkov Russia’s worst-known serial killer of recent times.

Mikhail Popkov looks through bars during a court session in Irkutsk, Russia
Mikhail Popkov looks through bars during a court session in Irkutsk, Russia
Image: AP/PA Images

A SIBERIAN POLICEMAN who raped and killed women after offering them late-night lifts was found guilty of dozens of murders on Monday, making him Russia’s worst serial killer of recent times.

A court in the city of Irkutsk found Mikhail Popkov guilty of 56 murders between 1992 and 2007, sentencing him to a second life term.

He had already been serving a sentence after being convicted of killing 22 women in 2015.

Popkov offered rides, sometimes in his police car, while off-duty around the city of Angarsk near Irkutsk, 4,200km east of Moscow.

His murderous spree initially went unnoticed during a period of rampant mafia killings in the crime-ridden city.

He killed his victims using weapons including a hammer and an axe, then dumped their bodies in the woods, at the side of the road and in a cemetery. 

He was also found guilty of raping 11 of the women.

Killed in forest

Popkov described himself as a “cleaner” who was purging his home city of prostitutes, but his victims included shop assistants and a school teacher.

All but one were women between the ages of 16 and 40.

His sole male victim was a policeman he gave a ride to late at night and killed in a forest.

The grey-haired 54-year-old appeared in court in prison uniform, his head bowed.

He will be sent to a prison that is exclusively for convicts serving life terms, nicknamed the “Black Dolphin”.

As part of his sentence – a rare case in Russia of a convicted murderer being given a second life sentence – Popkov was also deprived of his police pension.

Pathological attraction

He intends to appeal, regional prosecutor Alexander Shkinev told Russian news agencies.

Prosecutors described Popkov as having “a pathological attraction to killing people” and “homicidal mania with sadistic elements”, but he was ruled sane enough to stand trial. 

“He got pleasure from this. He saw it as his purpose in life,” criminologist Yury Antonyan, who gave expert evidence in the trial, told tabloid newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Investigators had suspected a policeman was involved because of the way the killer carefully covered his tracks.

The murders took place both while he was a serving police officer and after he left the force in 1998.

Popkov was caught in 2012 after investigators re-examined the case and carried out DNA testing of residents, focusing on those who drove a certain make of car that matched tracks found at crime scenes.

In a 2017 interview with Russia’s Meduza website, Popkov said he targeted women who were drunk or living in a way he saw as immoral, adding that “any society condemns the behaviour of a debauched woman”.

While in jail, he confessed to 59 further murders but was convicted only of 56 on Monday because investigators could not prove three of the crimes took place, Interfax news agency reported, citing the court’s press service.

‘No death penalty’

Investigators said they uncovered the remains of some of the bodies based on Popkov’s account, as well as murder weapons including axes, screwdrivers and knives.

Several women survived attacks with serious injuries and managed to give evidence, including Yevgenia Protasova, who told Komsomolskaya Pravda that Popkov gave her a ride in his car in 1999 when she was 18. 

“He showed me his police badge. I believed him and got in the car,” she said.

He hit her on the head then took her to a forest where he choked her and left her for dead, but she was found by a rambler.

She contacted police after seeing Popkov’s photograph on his arrest in 2012.

“It’s a shame there’s no death penalty,” she said.

The number of killings for which he has been convicted exceeds the totals of several notorious murderers in Russia and the ex-Soviet Union. 

“Chessboard Killer” Alexander Pichushkin was jailed for life in 2007 for 48 murders, mostly of elderly men he met in a Moscow park.

He aimed to kill one person for each of the 64 squares on the chessboard.

Andrei Chikatilo was convicted of 52 Soviet-era murders that were sexually motivated. He was executed in 1994, before Russia imposed a moratorium on the death penalty.

Popkov reportedly boasted to cellmates that he had committed more murders than Chikatilo.

© AFP 2018 

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