A psychiatric hospital on the banks of the Volga river houses a serial murderer who killed, cooked and ate at least 19 young women and girls. Alexander Spesivtsev operated in the 1990s with the help of his mother Lyudmila, who used her grandmotherly appearance to gain victims’ trust and lure them into the apartment where they would meet their deaths. Spesivtsev, who had already spent three years in a mental institution for killing his girlfriend, targeted homeless children and youths, whom he considered to be vermin. A neighbor complained about the stench coming from the apartment, but police, notoriously unreliable in 1990s Russia, ignored the complaints. Because the orphaned street kids he went after didn’t have families searching for them, Spesivtsev remained free to kill until 1996, when he started dumping remains in the Aba river. When police finally entered the home, they found a headless corpse in the bathroom, a ribcage in the living room, and on the couch, a dying 15-year-old girl named Olga. Before expiring at the hospital from stab wounds, Olga told investigators how Spesivtsev forced her to eat soup made from one of her friends. Though only 19 murders were confirmed, he was suspected in as many as 82–that’s how many pieces of blood-crusted clothing were removed from his apartment.
In court, Spesivtsev was found insane and locked up indefinitely in a mental hospital. His mother was imprisoned for 13 years. Now, 16 years later, their ninth floor apartment in the western Siberian city of Novokuznetsk stands abandoned. It’s been entered only three times since Spesivtsev and his mother were hauled away. The first time was due to a fire, and the second when neighbors complained of a draft coming in through the dwelling’s broken windows. The third time was last month, for an inspection. This prompted speculation and worry among residents that the flat was being checked out in preparation for the cannibal’s return home. Sources inside the institution where he’s being kept told the Russian tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda that Spesivtsev, now 42, did recently go before the hospital’s version of a parole board, and that the board summarily decided to send the killer back to his dorm, where he spends most of his time reading.
Apartment number 357, dingy, cluttered and still permeated with the smell of death, is now occupied by about 100 pigeons, who roost inside and on the balcony. The babushkas who sit in the courtyard of the typical Khruschev-era building say the pigeons are the innocent souls of the young women Spesivtsev killed. Their spirits, they say, cannot rest. Even for those who don’t believe in ghosts, it’s a fitting comparison: like the disesteemed birds, homeless children are an expected, if avoided, presence in any urban environment.
If the souls of Spesivtsev’s victims really are fluttering and cooing in apartment 357, they exist in squalor and huddle together for warmth, much like they did in life. Their murderer, meanwhile, resides in a tiled, clinical two-person room. He practices art therapy, maintains impeccable hygiene, and continues to deny his crimes.
Note: Russian language sources were translated by the author of this article.