Killing spree claims its latest victim

  • 2001-02-08
  • Jorgen Johansson
RIGA - As police officers and fire fighters broke down the door of a small room in the Hotel Julia in Riga on a cold morning in January, they found a naked young man walking in circles around the body of a dead woman chanting that he had driven Satan out of her. The woman had been stabbed nine times in the chest. Small statuettes of occult figures stood around the room. The murderer was still chanting as police officers led him out of the hotel.

State police spokesman Krists Leiskalns could not provide much information on the case since it is still under investigation. He would not confirm whether or not this particular case was related to Satanism, but he did say it was related to "Eastern religions."

"Neighbors from across the backyard of the hotel called the police when they saw what they described as Ôstrange things' going on in the hotel," he said. "The door was locked when police arrived."

The young man's mental state is currently being evaluated to establish whether he is fit to stand trial.

This is only the latest in a string of strange murders that have been making Latvians nervous. The latest crime statistics recently added to the anxiety. Of 22,812 crimes committed in the country in 2000, only 6,211 were solved. People in Latvia are beginning to wonder just where it will stop.

Latvia's Lecter

On Feb. 22, 1999, 21-year-old Alexander Koryakov was calmly walking along the highway from Gulbene to Riga, covered in his victims' cooling blood. He had just stabbed three children to death in their sleep, together with their nursery teacher who had bravely tried to defend them. Koryakov did not try to resist arrest when the police officers came for him.

In court, the young man acted in a manner reminiscent of the fictional serial killer Hannibal Lecter. Without showing a flicker of emotion he retold his version of the murders in front of the weeping parents and relatives of the victims. In summing up, he told the court that his one regret was that he "did not manage to kill more people." His motive was that he wanted to become famous.

Just 18 days before the murders Latvia had abolished the death penalty. One parent expressed his hatred toward Koryakov by saying it was a shame he had been sentenced to remain alone in his cell, because otherwise it would be easier to get at him.

Both killings have led to the obvious question, "why?"

According to psychiatrist Dr. Elmars Rancans, every one of us has traits of personality disorders, but most of us are able to compensate for them.

Rancans works in Latvia's largest mental hospital, located in the northern suburbs of the capital. Riga Psycho-Neurological Hospital has about 6,000 new admissions every year. Some are referred while others volunteer for treatment.

Erratic behavior is not uncommon among criminals, Rancans explains. "Among criminals it is common to find personality disorders such as sociopathic and psychopathic behavior. The patients are the victims. They suffer from voices in their heads or hallucinations. They feel persecuted and they try to defend themselves."

The psycho-neurological hospital houses some 700 patients on any given day. An average stay runs to about 35 days. Different treatments are offered, including counseling, drugs and electric shock treatment, or ELT.

"ELT is used, but not on a regular basis. There is a long bureaucratic procedure to go through before it is applied, together with the patient's signature or a significant other's," Rancans explained. "On my ward, we haven't used it for three years."

Lone gunman

Not all killers in Latvia conform to the conventional image of the mad loner. There have been cases where it is the very upholders of law and order who snap.

In the quiet town of Jelgava, central Latvia, security police officer Dairis Filipovs lost his cool in a bar at about 2 a.m., shooting two people to death and wounding three others. In court, Filipovs simply said he could not remember a single detail of what had transpired in the bar. But he still admitted his guilt in full and regretted his actions.

The court was not impressed with Filipovs' regrets and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. The appeal went all the way to the Latvian Supreme Court, which decided to sustain the sentence.

Filipovs still faces civil claims amounting to more than 100,000 lats ($154,000) from the families of the victims. The heads of two families with a total of five children were killed in the incident and a young man was handicapped for life.

Estonia and Lithuania have also had their share of unusual, shocking murders. In late June 1999, Anatoli Paal, the director of the Estonian state power utility company Narva Power Stations Co, and his son Aleksei, 21, had a violent argument during which Anatoli was killed by a sharp blow to the back of the head.

The younger Paal later admitted he had killed his father, and he showed Narva police officers how the killing had been carried out. Anatoli was a father of two in a second marriage, and it was this that had caused a division between the two men.

Probably the most shocking murders to shake Lithuania in recent years were two cases that took place within weeks of each other in October 1999.

In the quiet western town of Plunge, a young woman confessed on Oct. 14, 1999, to the killing of her own 6-week-old twins. Eugenija Ringailiene had thrown her babies into a ditch, while they were still alive, to drown. Two weeks earlier, a resident of Sakiai, in southern Lithuania, drowned his young daughters in a bath in a drunken haze.

Foul cells

Prisons in the Baltic states are not known for their standards of swift rehabilitation. Cells are overcrowded and living conditions are poor. Many inmates contract HIV from sharing needles while injecting drugs, and some die from the tuberculosis rife in prisons throughout Eastern Europe. Very few prisons offer any kind of education for their inmates, who have very little to do while they await trial.

Opinions on how to improve the scenes of deprivation in prisons in the Baltic states differ widely. Last year, the international security company Group 4 Securitas planned to make a formal suggestion to the Latvian government that they privatize the prison system, but these plans were never realized.

There are 15 prisons in Latvia holding around 9,000 prisoners. The average length of their stay is four and a half years, which is one of the longest in Europe.

The director of the prison and police reform program for the Soros Foundation in Latvia, Angelita Kamenska, made the remark to The Baltic Times on a prior occasion that Latvia's prisons are like human warehouses.

"This country should seriously try to bring down the number of prisoners," she said.

But judging from the rising prison population, repeat offenders, possibly including brutal and psychologically unstable murderers, do not take the shocking state of prisons into account when they commit their crimes. Without an adequate system of rehabilitation, the crime wave will continue to churn out its murder victims.