One of the most prolific serial killers in the Ukraine, Anatoly Onoprienko, died in prison this week from heart failure. He was 54. Unlike another infamous killer from that area, Andrei Chikatilo, Onoprienko had avoided the death penalty. He’d admitted to killing 52 people.
Between 1989 and 1996, Onoprienko killed whole groups of people, mostly families living in isolated places, in western and central Ukraine. Apparently, his motive was rage against this father.
When Onoprienko was a toddler, his mother died. His father was unable to care for both him and his older brother, so several relatives passed him around while his brother stayed with the father. Finally, he ended up in an orphanage. During his confession, he said he’d resented that he’d been sent away. This single act, he believed, had sealed his fate as a person destined for prison.
Sometimes he operated with an accomplice, sometimes alone. He killed numerous strangers before setting on his path of slaughter on a grander scale. He would invade homes, forcing family members to sit together and blasting them with a shotgun, or picking out the father first and working his way down to the children.
Called “the Terminator” and “Citizen O,” Onoprienko terrorized the area. After taking whatever he could from a family’s belongings, he would burn down their home. Sometimes he scattered the family photographs, as if the very idea of kinship enraged him.
Onoprienko also killed people nearby or in neighboring houses, to eliminate witnesses. Some of his victims were shot, a few attacked with an ax, some bludgeoned with a hammer, and several were burned to death.
He would have continued but for his cousin, who feared for his own family and thus alerted police. He’d seen Onoprienko’s stash of weapons and had argued with him over it. Onoprienko had then threatened him. The police found possessions from many victims where Onoprienko was staying, along with weapons matching those used on the victims.
During his confession, Onoprienko was unremorseful. In fact, he thought the authorities ought to study him, because he had “powers.” He said that “voices from above” had ordered him to kill, but given the rampage of his final months and the vengeful nature of his personality, it seemed more likely to authorities that he’d killed from sheer anger.
Violent fantasies like his that are grounded in anger serve several purposes. They:
* provide a secret world of comfort and narcissistic indulgence
* feed the need to act out
* offer possible scenarios for acting out
* provide a means for recycling frustration and anger into images that feel better
* develop private self-esteem from acts of bravado, control, or revenge
* reinforce a sense of entitlement
* allow indulgence in the most extreme perversities
* fuel momentum when opportunity knocks
* reinforce acts of murder and prepare the way for more
* provide a way to secretly relive the crime
Given their general sense of narcissism and entitlement, rage-empowered killers will not easily resolve their anger – they don’t want to. For some, this is equivalent to being weak.
So, they ruminate, get depressed, feel mistreated, dwell on the past experience, and probably minimize their role in it while exaggerating the role of others. Blame is a strong factor in keeping anger alive. Those “others” who caused the distressing situation become objects in their fantasy, upon which they will take out their rage.
Strangers are just substitutes for the true target. They bear the brunt of the killers’ need and are forced to feel the pain that these killers have long harbored.