Russia’s ‘Werewolf Killer’ to spend rest of his life behind bars for murdering 80 ‘fallen women’
Popkov led police to the graves of his victims, with officers uncovering murder weapons near their bones. (AP: Julia Pykhalova)
A former Russian policeman has been handed two life sentences after confessing to more than 80 murders from the 1990s and 2000s.
- Targeted women walking streets at night he believed were immoral
- Brutally stabbed victims to death in Siberian wilderness
- Confessed to more than 80 deaths after investigators matched his DNA to three victims
Mikhail Popkov will spend the rest of his life in prison after he was convicted of a total of 84 counts of murder and attempted murder.
He was convicted of killing 80 women and one man, another policeman, over a decades-long reign of terror in the Irkutsk region of Siberia.
The bodies of horrifically mutilated women were found with injuries so severe the murderer was dubbed the “Werewolf Killer” by Russian media.
“He clearly loved killing,” prosecutor Alexander Shkinyov said after his sentencing yesterday, The Siberian Times reported.
“Some victims had 145, or even 170 knife wounds.”
Discovered in isolated areas, almost all of the women had been raped.
Popkov’s killing career began in 1992, with his homicidal tendencies ignited after he suspected his wife had been unfaithful to him.
It’s believed he continued killing up until 2010, after he’d left the police force.
His victims were aged between 16 and 40.
Punishing the ‘immoral’
Excerpts from his confession were published by Russian news site Komsomolskaya Pravda, revealing Popkov’s justification for the slayings.
He targeted women he viewed as being morally unfit, offering to give them rides in his car, often while wearing his police uniform.
He would offer them alcohol and then drive them out of town, sexually assaulting them and then killing them with whatever he had on hand — knives, axes, baseball bats and screwdrivers.
His justification for the murders was that he was “cleaning” the city from “fallen women”.
“The victims were those who at night, without being accompanied by men and without a specific goal, drunk, were on the streets, behaved frivolously, carelessly, were not afraid to engage in conversation with me, get into the car, and then ride in search of adventure” he said.
“I had a desire to teach and punish them.”
Popkov usually chose victims while they were walking the streets alone, but described attacking two women on one night.
After killing one woman, he gave chase to her friend, who had fled.
A fit, athletic man, Popkov was easily able to catch and kill his second victim.
But during the struggle he lost his police badge and had to return to the crime scene to retrieve it to avoid being linked to the murders.
Keeping up the act
Despite his depraved acts, Popkov lived a relatively normal life, appearing as a model citizen to those around him.
Police referred to him as an “exemplary family man”, doting on his daughter and being a loyal husband to his wife.
Popkov managed to go undetected for decades. (Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia for the Irkutsk Region)
He even gave his daughter money for the funeral of one of his victims, a music teacher, after she asked him to donate to a charity appeal in her honour.
Chief investigator Yevgeny Karchevsky told Russian masthead RIA Novosti that Popkov lived a double life.
“With the onset of the night, Popkov turned into a cruel beast, not knowing pity, humanity and compassion,” Mr Karchevsky said.
“He committed bloodthirsty and cruel reprisals with complete indifference in his eyes.”
Mind of a murderer
Due to the extremely violent nature of the killings, questions were raised about Popkov’s mental state, with a host of psychologists consulted to determine whether he was fit for sentencing.
“Popkov did not suffer and does not suffer from a chronic mental disorder, a temporary mental disorder, dementia or any other painful state of mind,” a statement from the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation said.
“Popkov did not have any temporary mental disorder, which could deprive him of the opportunity to be aware of the actual nature and social danger of his actions and to lead them.
“At the time of the examination, Popkov could also be aware of the actual nature and public danger of his actions and direct them.”
But one of the investigators had his own opinions of the reason behind the ex-cop’s desire to kill.
“Popkov’s motive for murder was one — misogyny,” Karchevsky told RIA Novosti.
Popkov appeared to be a model citizen, doting on his daughter. (VK: Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia for the Irkutsk Region)
Catching a killer
The murders were investigated by a taskforce in the late 90s, however, the police never suspected the killer was one of their own.
There were times, Popkov said, that he escorted detectives to examine the scene of the crime as one of his duties as a low-ranking officer.
Popkov went into a shop to buy alcohol and snacks with one of his victims before her murder in 1997. The woman behind the counter remembered his face.
However, a police sketch of his face wasn’t drawn up until 2004.
A sketch of Popkov was drawn after he was spotted by a witness. (Ministry of Internal Affairs of Russia for the Irkutsk Region)
It wasn’t until the early 2000s that some of the murders were linked to the same killer, when forensic scientists discovered sperm samples taken from three victims matched.
Investigators noted the tyre tracks of a particular brand of vehicle — a Niva, which was an off-road vehicle often used by authorities.
The testimony of one of Popkov’s few victims who survived soon became more relevant.
She said she was assaulted by a police officer and saw his face but her account was dismissed, with some believing her head injuries had made her confused.
The search was focused on police officers, with a pool of more than 3,500 suspects.
Investigators interviewed more than 900 witnesses and more than 200 forensic examinations were carried out.
In March 2012, investigator Olga Likhodeeva interviewed Popkov, asking him for a salvia sample.
Popkov submitted to the DNA test, but gave himself away before the results were even processed.
He asked what would happen if he refused, raising suspicions among the interrogators who described him as an “interesting type” and began tailing him.
“It turned out that he immediately went to a lawyer to consult, then two weeks later he quit his job, then left for Vladivostok,” Ms Likhodeeva told RIA Novosti.
“He was detained on the train as soon as the DNA results arrived.”
The ex-cop did not resist arrest and made a full confession to police.
“He gave testimony in stages, restoring the crimes committed in memory,” Mr Karchevsky said.
“He described the circumstances voluntarily, with pathos and even savouring.”
With Popkov’s testimony, police discovered new burial sites in difficult-to-reach terrain, such as forest and marshlands, using excavators to uncover bodies which had been there for as many as 20 years.
Officers found fragments of the victims’ bones, personal belongings and murder weapons, such as knives and screwdrivers.
In total, 20 victims’ bodies were exhumed, an Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation statement confirmed.
Popkov was handcuffed as he led police to the bones of his undiscovered victims. (Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation)
Popkov was eventually convicted of 22 murders in 2015, as well as two attempted murders.
But after his trial, he confessed to 60 more crimes — 59 murders and one attempted murder.
Popkov will remain behind bars for life and has been stripped of the pension he was entitled to as a former police officer.