A retired Russian policeman who raped and murdered 22 women – in what he claimed was a campaign to cleanse his town of prostitutes – has been jailed for life.
Describing himself as a a “cleaner”, Mikhail Popkov, raped and axed or stabbed the victims late at night in the Siberian city of Angarsk after offering to give them lifts in his police car.
Bodies of the victims – who included a teacher, a shop assistant and several prostitutes – were found dumped in woods, on the roadside and in a cemetery.
One had been decapitated and another’s heart had been removed, while it is reported he had sex with some of the bodies after killing them.
Two other women managed to survive attacks by Popkov but suffered serious injuries.
The 50-year-old, who worked as a policeman at the time of most of the murders, described himself as a “cleaner” who was purging the city of prostitutes.
Prosecutor Olga Muzykova told Rossiya 1 television: “He drove out on the streets of the city at night looking for women.
“He either offered (his victims) a lift or the women flagged him down for a ride … Then the crime was committed, almost always according to the same scenario.
“By calling himself a cleaner, he was trying to justify himself. He was an ordinary serial killer.”
The murders took place over six years from 1994, spreading fear among the city’s residents before suddenly ending in 2000, when Popkov said he became impotent and contracted syphilis.
“Investigators managed to gather evidence implicating Popkov in 22 murders and two attempted murders of women,” the Investigative Committee said in a statement after his sentencing.
Investigators had suspected a policeman was behind the crime because of the way he carefully covered his tracks.
Popkov was caught after investigators reexamined the case and carried out DNA testing of residents, focusing on those who drove a car make whose tracks had been found at crime scenes.
He was dubbed ‘The Werewolf’ by Russian media, and ‘The Wednesday Murderer’ by police, in reference to the day many of the bodies were found.
His former colleagues told the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper that he had actually taken part in investigating some of the crimes he has now been convicted of.
He retired from the police force in 1998, but was arrested in 2012 in the far eastern city of Vladivostok, where he had gone to buy a car.
Popkov will serve his sentence in a special prison colony for former law enforcers.