From left to right: Sayenko, Hanzha and Suprunyuck in court.
|Birth name:||Viktor Sayenko
|Conviction:||Premeditated murder (Sayenko and Suprunyuck)
Animal cruelty and Robbery (Hanzha, Sayenko and Suprunyuck)
|Sentence:||Life imprisonment for Suprunyuck and Sayenko; nine years imprisonment for Hanzha|
|Number of victims:||21|
|Span of killings:||June 25, 2007 – July 16, 2007|
|Date apprehended:||July 23, 2007|
The Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs (Ukr: Дніпропетровські маніяки, Rus: Днепропетровские Маньяки) is the media epithet for the killers responsible for a string of murders in Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine in June and July 2007. The case gained additional notoriety because the killers made video recordings of some of the murders, with one of the videos leaking to the Internet. Two 19-year-old locals, Viktor Sayenko (Ukr: Віктор Саєнко, Rus: Виктор Саенко) and Igor Suprunyuck (Ukr: Ігор Супрунюк, Rus: Игорь Супрунюк), were arrested and charged with 21 murders.
A third co-conspirator, Alexander Hanzha (Ukr: Олександр Ганжа, Rus: Александр Ганжа), was charged with two armed robberies that took place before the murder spree. On February 11, 2009, all three defendants were found guilty. Suprunyuck and Sayenko were sentenced to life imprisonment, while Hanzha received nine years in prison. The lawyers for Suprunyuck and Sayenko launched an appeal, which was dismissed by the Supreme Court of Ukraine in November 2009.
The first two murders took place late at night on June 25, 2007. The first victim was a 33-year-old local woman named Ekaterina Ilchenko, who was walking home after having tea at her female friend's apartment. According to Sayenko's confession, he and Suprunyuck were "out for a walk". Suprunyuck had a hammer. As Ilchenko walked past, Suprunyuck "spun around" and struck her in the side of the head. Ilchenko's body was found by her mother at 5 AM.
Within an hour of the first murder, the two men attacked their next victim, Roman Tatarevich. He was sleeping on a bench a short walk away from the first murder scene. Tatarevich's head was smashed with blunt objects numerous times, rendering him unrecognizable. The bench he was discovered on was located across the street from the local Public Prosecutor's office.
On the night of July 6, three more people were murdered in Dnepropetrovsk. The first was Egor Nechvoloda, a recently discharged army recruit, who was bludgeoned while walking home from a night club. His mother found the body in the morning by their apartment building on Bohdan Khmelnytsky Street. Elena Shram, a 28-year-old night guard, was then murdered around the corner on Kosiora Street. According to Sayenko's taped confession, as Shram walked towards them, Suprunyuck struck her with the hammer he had been hiding under his shirt and struck her several more times after she fell down. She had been carrying a bag filled with clothes. The men picked up the bag, used the clothes to clean the hammer, and threw the bag out. Later the same night, the men murdered a woman named Valentina Hanzha (no apparent relation to co-defendant Alexander Hanzha), a mother of three married to a disabled husband.
The next day, July 7, two 14-year-old boys from Podgorodnoye, a nearby village, were attacked in broad daylight as they went fishing. One of the two friends, Andrei Sidyuck, was killed, but the other, Vadim Lyakhov, managed to escape.
On July 12, a 48-year-old man named Sergei Yatzenko, disabled by a recent bout with cancer, went missing while riding his Dnepr motorcycle. His body was found four days later, with signs of a savage attack clearly visible even after four days in the summer heat.
Thirteen more murders followed, often with multiple bodies found in the same day. In addition to the earlier sprees, two victims were found every day from July 14 through 16. Victims were seemingly selected at random. Many were vulnerable to attack, including women, children, elderly, vagrants, or people under the influence of alcohol.
Most of the victims were killed using blunt objects, including hammers and steel construction bars. Blows were often directed at the victims' faces, leaving them unrecognizable. Many victims were also mutilated and tortured, and some had their eyes gouged out while they were still alive. One of the victims was a pregnant woman, whose fetus was cut out of her womb. No sexual assaults on any victims were reported.
Some of the victims were also robbed of their cell phones and other valuables, with their possessions pawned to a large network of second-hand shops in the area. However, most victims had their possessions intact.
No official link between the murders was made until the July 7 attack on two boys in Podgorodnoye. Vadim Lyakhov, the survivor, was initially placed under arrest, suspected of murdering his friend. He was reportedly denied access to counsel and beaten by police during questioning. However, it quickly became clear that he was not responsible for his friend's death, and that the murder was connected with the murder spree. Lyakhov сooperated with the investigators to create sketches of the attackers.
Several days later, on July 14, a 45-year-old woman named Natalia Mamarchuk was riding her scooter in the nearby village of Diyovka. As she was passing through a wooded area, two men ran towards her and knocked her down. They then took out a hammer or a pipe and bludgeoned her to death as she lay on the ground. After she stopped moving, the men then jumped on her scooter and drove off. The attack was witnessed from a distance by many locals. They gave chase, but quickly lost sight of the attackers. Two local children also witnessed the attack from up close, hidden in a tent just a few feet away from where Mamarchuk was murdered. They provided a detailed description that matched the one given by Lyakhov. A task force was quickly set up from Kiev, headed by Lead Criminal Investigator Vasily Paskalov. The manhunt soon grew to encompass most of the local law enforcement. Reportedly over 2,000 investigators were working on the case.
The investigation was initially kept secret. No official information about the murders was released, and local people were not warned about possible attacks or provided with descriptions of the suspects. However, rumors of the attacks kept most of the local population home at night. Eventually, the investigators selectively distributed sketches and lists of stolen property to local pawn shops. Stolen property began to appear in the pawn shops of the city's Leninskiy district. The combination of the sketches and located stolen property led quickly to the suspects.
The three suspects were arrested on July 23, 2007. Suprunyuck attempted to sell a mobile phone stolen from one of the victims in a local pawn shop, asking for 150 hryvnia (about US $20). When the phone was turned on to show that it worked, its location was traced by law enforcement agents. Suprunyuck and Sayenko were arrested near the cash register of the shop. Hanzha was arrested at home, reportedly managing to flush other stolen mobile phones down the toilet. The phones were recovered, but all information on them was lost.
The three men were charged with involvement in 29 separate incidents, including 21 murders and 8 more attacks where the victims survived. Suprunyuck was charged with 27 of the cases, including 21 counts of capital murder, 8 armed robberies, and 1 count of animal cruelty. Sayenko was charged with 25 instances, including 18 murders, 5 robberies and 1 count of animal cruelty. Hanzha was charged with two counts of armed robbery, stemming from a March 1, 2007 incident in Dniprodzerzhynsk.
All three confessed quickly, although Suprunyuck later withdrew his confession. Their trial began in June 2008. Suprunyuck pleaded not guilty, while the other two suspects pleaded guilty to all charges. Viktor Chevguz, Suprunyuck's original defense lawyer, dropped out of the case after reportedly being disappointed at failing to have a plea of insanity for his client accepted. Lawyers for the victims' families argued that the level of care taken by the killers during their crime spree meant that they were fully aware of their actions.
Prosecution evidence included bloodstains on the suspects' clothing and video recordings of the murders. The defense denied that the people in the videos were the suspects, claiming serious problems with the investigation, including at least 10 more murders covered up by the prosecution, supposed cover-ups of additional arrests of people with powerful connections who were released without being charged, even naming some of the additional people supposedly involved with the murders. The case was heard by a panel of judges chaired by Judge Ivan Senchenko. The prosecution asked for life imprisonment for Sayenko and Suprunyuck, and 15 years of hard labor for Hanzha. Ukraine has no capital punishment.
The three suspects were lifelong friends who attended school together.
According to interviews with the suspects' families, Sayenko and Hanzha were friends from an early age. Suprunyuck moved to the area later, and the three became friends in the third grade. The two other boys had been good students before making friends with Suprunyuck, when their grades began to slip. One of their teachers reported that Suprunyuck was shy and withdrawn, but always picking fights and getting into trouble.
By the fifth grade, the boys had their first brush with the law when they were caught throwing rocks at passing trains.
By the eighth grade the three suspects had found some more common ground. "Me and Igor [Suprunyuck ] were both afraid of heights, and we were afraid we'd be beaten up by bullies", Sayenko stated during questioning. Suprunyuck went looking for advice on getting rid of their fears, which led the two boys to stand on a balcony of their 14th floor apartment for hours, hanging over the railing. This reportedly had a positive effect on their fear of heights. Hanzha was reportedly the most squeamish of the three. He had blood phobia, and would even refuse to give a bath to his kitten, afraid he might scald it. Suprunyuck suggested tackling the fears by torturing stray dogs. The boys would capture dogs in a wooded area near their house, hang them from trees, disembowel them, and take pictures standing next to the corpses. Prosecution evidence included many of these photos taken by the underage suspects. Some photos show the boys drawing swastikas and other symbols with animal blood, and giving the Hitler salute. In one photo, Suprunyuck poses sporting a "Hitler moustache". Suprunyuck was born on April 20, the same day as Adolf Hitler, and often made references to the fact.
A long video showing the three torturing a white kitten was shown in court. It takes place in their garage. The suspects fashion a cross out of two wooden boards and nail the kitten to it, then shoot at it with two pistols, placing foam and glue in its mouth in order to muffle the kitten's screams.
When the boys were 17, Suprunyuck beat up a local boy and stole his bike, which he then sold to Sayenko. Both were arrested, but did not go to jail due to their age.
After high school, Hanzha drifted between odd jobs, which included a pastry chef and a construction worker. At the time of the arrest he had been unemployed for some time. Sayenko went to a metallurgy institute part-time and worked as a security guard. Suprunyuck remained officially unemployed, but made a living driving his green Daewoo Lanos as an unlicensed taxi. The car was reportedly a birthday gift from his parents.
Some months before the murder spree began, Suprunyuck - with the help of Sayenko and Hanzha - began picking up passengers and robbing them. A green Daewoo with a taxicab's checkerboard marking was often described as the vehicle used in the murders. According to the suspects' confessions, some of the murder victims were picked up as passengers in Suprunyuck's unlicensed cab. Hanzha reportedly participated in a single incident where two men were robbed, and subsequently declined to take part in any further attacks.
Local media reported that the suspects had wealthy influential parents with ties to local law enforcement. Vladimir Suprunyuck, Igor Suprunyuck's father, in his interview to Segodnya stated that he had been employed at Yuzhmash as a test pilot, often flying with Leonid Kuchma, the future president of Ukraine, and continuing to serve as his personal pilot on domestic flights after Kuchma's rise to power. Local authorities, including deputy interior minister Nikolay Kupyanskiy, initially referred to the supposed influence of the suspects' families, but later denied the assessment, claiming that all three suspects came from poor families. However, Viktor Sayenko was represented in court by his father Igor Sayenko, a lawyer.
The prosecution did not establish a specific motive behind the killings. Local media reported that the killers had a plan to get rich from the murder videos that they recorded. One of the suspects' girlfriends reported that they were planning to make forty videos of separate murders. This was corroborated by the suspects' former classmate, who claimed that he often heard Suprunyuck was in contact with an unknown "rich foreign website operator" who ordered forty snuff videos, and would pay a large sum of money once they were made. Regional security chief Ivan Stupak rejected the claim that the murders had been committed to make Internet snuff videos, saying that no evidence had come to light during the investigation that supported the claim. Detective Bogdan Vlasenko stated: "We think they were doing it as a hobby, to have a collection of memories when they get old." Deputy interior minister Nikolay Kupyanskiy commented "For these young men, murder was like entertainment or hunting."
At the trial, it emerged that Suprunyuck had collected newspaper cuttings about the case. Some of the photographs of the crimes had captions added, including "The weak must die. The strongest will conquer."
The legal team defending the suspects consisted of three lawyers, one assigned to each suspect. All three lawyers were originally court-appointed, but after the initial hearings Viktor Sayenko requested to be represented by his father instead of his previous lawyer, who had apparently graduated from law school only two months earlier. The request was granted, leading to a significant delay in the proceedings as Sayenko's father familiarized himself with multiple volumes of evidence. Igor Sayenko became the most prominent figure on the defense side, giving numerous interviews and taking a leading role in the court proceedings.
Hanzha's attorneys based their defense on the fact that he never participated in the murder spree, and was involved only with a single incident four months before the spree began, in which two men were robbed in the nearby town of Dniprodzerzhynsk. Hanzha fully admitted his guilt, hoping for leniency in sentencing.
The defense strategy for the other two suspects was to attack the prosecution on a wide front. Multiple investigators were called to the stand, including the leader of the arrest team and the lead investigator in the case. The defense claimed illegal searches, improperly kept records, and problems during questioning. Igor Sayenko raised questions about the videotape of the searches conducted in the suspects' apartments. According to Sayenko, the tape constantly stops and restarts, showing the evidence obtained only after being picked up by investigators, but never the actual moment of discovery. The legal team also denied that the people shown in the murder videos were the suspects, claiming that they are recognized instantly as different individuals.
In an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda, a major Russian-language newspaper, Igor Sayenko claimed that a fourth suspect named Danila Kozlov was initially charged with the murders. Tatiana Shram, a sister of victim Elena Shram, also stated in an interview that she saw Kozlov's name mentioned in court documents, and that Kozlov was reportedly aware of the murders, and was with the suspects just before her sister was murdered. Shram further stated that the investigators told her that Kozlov remains free because he "did not murder anyone", and that when her attorney attempted to bring up the matter in court, the judge "asked him to sit down".
Igor Sayenko continued to speculate on the influence of the families of the "real killers", claiming that he conducted interviews with an escaped victim who wanted his identity kept secret out of fear for his life. This unnamed victim claimed that he identified the suspects in his attack, and that two other men were identified and arrested. The suspects were supposedly released an hour later due to pressure from their families, and two of the investigators were fired. Sayenko stated in court that four days before the three suspects were arrested, police caught two men and a woman in the act of committing one of the murders. The suspects attacked the police officers but were arrested and were booked under the names of Sayenko and Suprunyuck, but they were not the men currently on trial. "But now these details are being covered up," Sayenko said in court. "The investigators claim that this did not happen. But there are people, officers in the Militsiya, who on July 19, 2007 received reports that those three were arrested. [...]But, alas, it turned out that the persons arrested had powerful parents. So the information was quickly suppressed, and instead my son and two of his friends were railroaded. I also believe that the girl arrested on that day has since left the country and is now in Germany."
The defense team also claimed that the prosecution was withholding from the court information that exonerated their clients. Igor Sayenko claimed that the police interviewed witnesses and recovered evidence from two additional murders. The suspects had a strong alibi for the time of these murders, and so all information on these crimes was removed from the case.
Viktor Sayenko's defense claimed that he had a "psychological dependence" on Igor Suprunyuck, whom they called the ringleader. They claimed that Suprunyuck repeatedly threatened Sayenko, and that Sayenko feared for his life. Sayenko testified in court, saying that he had been in constant fear of Suprunyuck since 7th grade.
The strategy of the defense team received some support from the victims' families, who were reportedly dissatisfied with the slow-moving legal process as well as an alleged cover-up by the investigators. Some of the victims' relatives stated to the media that they planned to set up an independent organization to monitor the court proceedings. The authorities in Ukraine strongly denied that a fourth person was involved in the killings who could still be at large, and said that rumors of similar crimes taking place since the arrest of the three suspects are unfounded.
The suspects' cell phones and personal computers contained multiple video recordings of the murders taking place. One full video was leaked to the Internet, showing the murder of 48-year-old Sergei Yatzenko. He is seen laying on his back in a wooded area, and is struck repeatedly in the face with a hammer held inside a plastic bag. One of the attackers pokes out Yatzenko's eyes, and stabs him in the abdomen with a screwdriver. Yatzenko is then struck with the hammer in order to ensure that he is dead. The attack lasts over four minutes, during which the victim lapses in and out of consciousness. One of the murderers can be seen smiling towards the camera during the video. The murderers walk back to their car, showing that the crime took place only a few feet away from the side of a road, next to their parked car. They discuss the murder calmly, expressing mild amazement that the victim was still breathing after a screwdriver was plunged into his exposed brain. The suspects then wash their hands and the hammer with a water bottle, and begin to laugh. Only two suspects appear to be present in the video, with one always behind the camera.
The suspects were also found in possession of multiple photographs showing them attending funerals of the victims. They can be seen smiling and "flipping off" the coffins and gravestones. Evidence of animal abuse was also shown in court, with the suspects posing alongside mutilated animal corpses.
The photographic and video evidence was shown in court on October 29, 2008, as part of a larger presentation of over 300 photographs and two videos. The defense objected to the presentation, claiming that the evidence was obtained illegally, and that the subjects shown in the video and the photographs were digitally altered to resemble the suspects. When Suprunyuck and Sayenko were asked if they recognized the people in the photographs, they replied that they did not. Judge Ivan Senchenko responded by stating "You are not blind." Valery Voronyuck, an expert on film and video editing, testified to the court that in his view the video material had not been faked or altered in any way. The court rejected all the objections raised by the defense, and accepted the prosecution's argument that the material was genuine, and showed the suspects in the act of murdering their victims.
The man whose brutal murder is recorded in the leaked video was identified as Sergei Yatzenko from the village of Taromskoye. His murder took place on July 12, 2007, and his body was found on July 16.
Yatzenko was 48 years old. He had recently been forced into retirement due to a cancerous tumor in his throat. The treatment left him unable to speak for some time, but Yatzenko was unhappy with being unable to work and continued to find odd jobs around the village. He took on small construction projects, fixed cars, weaved baskets, and cooked for his family. He was beginning to regain his voice by the time of the murder. Yatzenko was married and had two sons and one grandchild. He also had a disabled mother whom he looked after.
Yatzenko had another brush with death sixteen years earlier. While working at a farm, he lost control of his tractor and rolled downhill into a river. Instead of jumping out, he stayed in the cabin trying to save his vehicle, and became pinned underwater. By the time he was freed, Yatzenko was clinically dead, but was resuscitated. Doctors called his survival "one in a thousand".
At around 2:30 PM on the day of the murder, he called his wife to let her know he was riding his old Dnepr motorcycle to see his grandchild. He never arrived at his son's house, and his cell phone was turned off by 6 PM. His wife Lyudmila called a friend and walked around the village, afraid that her husband might have fallen ill or had a motorcycle accident. They were unable to locate any signs of him. They were also unable to file a missing person's report, since in the Ukraine a person cannot be declared missing until at least 72 hours after last being seen. The next day, Lyudmila posted photographs of her husband around the village, and enlisted more local help to search the surrounding area. Four days later, a local who saw one of Lyudmila's posters remembered that he had seen an abandoned Dnepr bike in a remote wooded area by a garbage dump. He took Yatzenko's relatives to the scene, where they discovered his mutilated and decomposing body.
The fact that Yatzenko's murder was captured on video was unknown to the public until a court session on October 29, 2008. The unedited video of the murder was shown as part of a large presentation by the prosecution, causing shock in the audience. The court agreed with the prosecution that the video was genuine, that it showed Igor Suprunyuck attacking the victim, and that Viktor Sayenko was the man behind the camera.
The video showing the murder of Sergei Yatzenko was leaked to a shock site based in the United States and dated December 4, 2008. Ekaterina Levchenko, adviser to Ukraine's Minister of the Interior, was critical of the leak, but admitted that control of videos on the Internet was "virtually impossible". Caitlin Moran of The Times watched part of the video and recalled her reaction in her column in January 2009. Parts of the video have become a viral video known as 3Guys1Hammer, a pun on another famous shock video, 2 Girls 1 Cup. Some YouTube users have posted videos recording their reactions while watching the murder video.
On February 11, 2009, the court in Dnepropetrovsk found Igor Suprunyuck and Viktor Sayenko guilty of premeditated murder and sentenced both to life imprisonment. Suprunyuck was found guilty of 21 murders, while Sayenko was found guilty of 18 murders." They also received fifteen years sentences after being found guilty on the robbery charges. Alexander Hanzha, who was not involved in the killings, was found guilty of robbery and sentenced to nine years in prison. All three were also found guilty on the animal cruelty charges. Hanzha said of Suprunyuck and Sayenko: "If I had known the atrocities that they were capable of committing, I would have not gone near them at gunpoint." The judge stated in the verdict that the motive for the crimes had been a desire for "morbid self-affirmation". Referring to the accused, the court noted "the poverty of their emotional world, and their absence of interest in people and moral standards."
The court's verdict was several hundred pages long and was read out over a period of two days. The lawyers for Suprunyuck and Sayenko announced their intention to appeal, saying that the authenticity of the photographic and video evidence had not been established beyond reasonable doubt. The claim was dismissed by Edmund Saakian, a lawyer for one of the victims' families, who commented: "In theory a photo can be faked, but to fake a forty minute video would require a studio and a whole year." Larissa Dovgal, a representative of the victims' families, claimed that other perpetrators involved in the crimes could still be at large.
The parents of Igor Suprunyuck and Viktor Sayenko repeated their belief in the innocence of their sons. Vladimir Suprunyuck claimed that Igor had been tortured in order to extract his confession, with the police covering his head and forcing him to inhale cigarette smoke. Speaking at a televised press conference, Vladimir Suprunyuck cited irregularities during the investigation, and said that the case against his son was false. Igor Sayenko claimed that his son had been made a scapegoat, and that the crimes had been committed by the relatives of senior officials. The parents plan to appeal to the Supreme Court of Ukraine and the European Court of Human Rights. The parents of Suprunyuck and Sayenko also argued that the sentence on Alexander Hanzha had been too lenient. An opinion poll conducted in Dnepropetrovsk found that 50.3% of people believed that the sentence was fair, and 48.6% believed that the sentence should have been more severe.
On August 18, 2009, the Supreme Court of Ukraine referred the case back to the Dnepropetrovsk regional court of appeal. The move was welcomed by Igor Sayenko, who stated that it was a step towards clearing his son's name. Speaking at a press conference, Igor Sayenko and Vladimir Suprunyuck repeated their belief that the case was based on fabricated evidence. A spokesperson for the prosecutor's office said that the decision to refer the case back to the appeal court was procedural, and that they were confident that the verdict would be upheld. The appeal was scheduled for October 5, 2009. In an interview with the newspaper Novi Most, the mothers of Suprunyuck and Sayenko said that their children were being treated well in prison. It was also reported that Igor Sayenko was considering setting up a website about the case.
On November 24, 2009, the Supreme Court of Ukraine upheld the life sentences passed on Igor Suprunyuck and Viktor Sayenko in February 2009. Alexander Hanzha did not appeal against his nine year sentence.