SOMETHING DEEPLY EVIL LURKS among the dimly lit streets and along the foggy riverbanks of Rostov-on-Don, the southern Russian city of 1.5 million, and Professor Aleksandr Bukhanovsky is on a mission to fight it. For reasons neither science, religion nor the occult can satisfactorily explain, the bustling river-port city has become a crucible for the rage of an extraordinarily high number of vicious criminals--psychopathic serial killers and sadistic rapists most prominent among them. Twenty-nine multiple murderers and rapists have been caught in the area over the last 10 years. That makes Rostov the serial-killer capital of the world, and Bukhanovsky--Russia's leading psychiatric expert on mass murder--a very busy man.
Why Rostov? Though the city has a reputation as a center of organized crime, its economy is no more blighted than the rest of Russia's, and its per-capita murder rate is actually below the national average. ""The people here are no less God-fearing than anywhere else,'' says Father Ambrosy of the local Orthodox cathedral. ""Why Satan chooses so many of his servants here is not for us to know.'' Some locals blame the evil influence on 18th-century colonizers--runaway serfs later known as Cossacks--who desecrated ancient Scythian burial mounds. But Bukhanovsky, a charismatic man who exudes self-confidence and paternal concern in equal measure, has a more prosaic, if not particularly comforting explanation: ""The problem of serial murder exists everywhere in Russia--it's just that here we have more practice at catching serial killers, and therefore the statistics are higher.'' And Bukhanovsky is better at catching them than anyone else, though his unorthodox treatment of criminal madmen has begun to concern local authorities.
This dark chapter of Rostov history began 20 years ago. From 1978 until his arrest in 1991, Andrei Chikatilo--the ""Rostov Ripper''--stalked the mist-shrouded marshes of the Don River and the thick woodlands around the town. He raped, tortured, mutilated, cannibalized and killed 56 victims. After Chikatilo came Yury Tsuiman, the ""Beast of Taganrog,'' who killed four young girls and had a black-stockings fetish; Konstantin (The Barbarian) Cheremukhin, who killed three children and one of their mothers; and Viktor (The Animal) Kuchmiy, who raped and murdered three young women.
Since 1994, the murders and violence have continued at an average of one new killing spree and two series of rapes per year. ""By the time we caught Chikatilo we had very wide knowledge of these types of crime,'' says police Capt. Anatoly Yevseyev, a veteran of the Chikatilo investigation. ""Most other police forces investigate such crimes individually, without linking them. That gives next to no chance of catching the culprit, whereas we--thank God--have caught every major serial maniac since 1991.''
Bukhanovsky became a crime fighter in 1984. He was a bit of a black sheep, having specialialized in such taboo medical fields as sexual deviancy, but investigators were desperate. They asked him to draw up a psychological portrait of the Rostov Ripper by piecing together forensic and circumstantial clues--such as the killer's habit of gouging out his victims' eyes and the ease with which he was apparently able to lure his prey to isolated areas. Bukhanovsky concluded the killer was a middle-aged, educated man with a history of molestation and sexual problems. Authorities dismissed his findings, until Chikatilo was finally caught--and Bukhanovsky's portrait proved uncannily accurate. Bukhanovsky's methods were quickly adopted by the Rostov police, and cops all over the country began asking for his help.
But now, Bukhanovsky's close relationship with the police is in trouble. He is conducting a bold and semi-legal experiment that pushes the boundaries of both medical ethics and the law to the limit by treating admitted serial criminals who are not in police custody. ""For the first time in the history of psychiatric practice, I, a trained doctor, am working with a killer who is still at large,'' he announces in a dramatic stage whisper. ""I could call the police, but ethically I don't have that right because he trusted me. Maybe I am wrong to do this, but it is in the interests of science.''
Using his own experimental blend of aggression-curbing drugs and psycho- therapy, Bukhanovsky claims to be able to ""cure'' psychopathic tendencies. One of his patients is Aleksandr, a thick-set, surly 21-year-old murderer. He was brought to Bukhanovsky by his parents after he began showing antisocial and violent behavior last summer. Under Bukhanovsky's care, Aleksandr confessed that he had killed one woman during a drunken binge of sadistic sex and had tortured and beaten several more. Apart from a November suicide attempt, Aleksandr claims that his violent urges have now subsided. ""This boy is a classic serial killer in the making,'' Bukhanovsky says. ""We have caught him just as he is beginning to realize his fantasies.''
Bukhanovsky, who earns about $70 per month, is also treating a middle-aged self- confessed child rapist. Viktor was given an ultimatum by his wife to see a psychiatrist or go to the police after she discovered he had been abusing their 11-year-old daughter. ""Professor Bukhanovsky has given me a way to live again, to control my urges,'' says Viktor, a huge junior officer in the Army who has developed a puppylike devotion to his strong-willed therapist. ""If it had not been for him I would have done something much worse.''
Bukhanovsky continues to work with captured suspects, too. At the request of the local prosecutor, he put together a psychological study of ""The Electrician,'' a child rapist who impersonated a repairman in order to gain entry to the apartments of his 28 victims. Bukhanovsky concluded that the defendant was sane and fit to stand trial after a series of intense interviews in the city jail. ""He got right inside my head,'' says the Electrician, Andrei Seleznev, from a cage in Rostov's main courtroom. ""He has a way about him which makes you tell him stuff you didn't even know was there.''
Still, Bukhanovsky's methods worry the authorities--and his colleagues. In December, local health officials lodged a complaint at the municipal court, criticizing Bukhanovsky's handling of a convicted rapist who committed another sexual assault while under his care. Bukhanovsky shrugs off the charges. His freelance work with local psychopaths is doing a service for science and for the community, he argues. And he points out that he treats his ""sensitive'' patients at his own expense at his private psychiatric clinic, which is funded by paying clients, such as drug addicts and sex-change patients under therapy. ""We are fighting to find the roots of social aggression, and to establish ways to curb it,'' Bukhanovsky says. ""We also try to publicize the problem and encourage people to come forward and not just let their anger grow. If they knew I was going to hand them over, they would not come, [and they'd] continue to kill.'' Real-life monsters are roaming the streets of Rostov. Someone has to find a way to stop them.