· Keen chess player 'wanted to be worst serial killer'
· Police find only 14 bodies and lack forensic evidence
Along the leafy lanes of Moscow's Bitsevsky Park, Alexander Pichushkin was a familiar figure. The 33-year-old supermarket worker played chess under the trees and even invited his opponents for a drink afterwards.
But yesterday Mr Pichushkin was in court accused of murdering 49 people and attempting to kill three more, a tally which would make him one of Russia's most deadly killers.
According to the prosecution, Mr Pichushkin lured his victims, who were mostly elderly men, to a quiet part of the park. He then attacked them from behind with a hammer. He invariably suggested a glass of vodka next to the grave of his beloved dog before killing them, the prosecution alleges.
"He dreamed of surpassing Chikatilo and going down in history," Moscow prosecutor Yury Syomin said, referring to Andrei Chikatilo, Russia's most notorious serial killer, who was convicted in 1992 of killing and eating 52 people.
In interviews, Mr Pichushkin boasted that he had killed 63 people. He said he drew a cross on his chessboard after each murder. His plan to fill all 64 squares came unstuck in June 2006 when he went for a walk in the park with Marina Moskalyova, 36, a supermarket colleague.
Detectives discovered her body on June 14 last year. Hidden in her coat were two clues: a metro ticket and a piece of paper listing Mr Pichushkin's mobile number. Surveillance footage showed Ms Moskalyova strolling with her alleged killer, leading to a raid on Mr Pichushkin's apartment two days later, when he was arrested.
But despite his apparent confessions, there are questions over the scale of Mr Pichushkin's crimes and the state of his mental health. Police have found only 14 bodies. They have also struggled to find compelling forensic evidence, although they have retrieved a hammer from a pond.
"This is the first such case in Moscow. We are charging him with 52 murders. He insists that he killed 63, but there are no bodies, no murder weapons, no testimony, and not even records of people gone missing," said Mr Syomin.
Relatives of Mr Pichushkin's alleged victims were in court yesterday as the man dubbed the Bitsevsky maniac by the Russian press made his first public appearance at a preliminary hearing. His jury trial will start on September 13.
"He should be handed over to the public for punishment rather than allowed to live in prison at our expense," Tamara Klimova, whose husband disappeared five years ago and was allegedly murdered by Mr Pichushkin, told Russia Today TV.
Mr Pichushkin's mother said her son's errant journey begun when he was struck on the head by a swing at the age of four.
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