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Russian convicted of 52 gruesome murders

Andrei Chikatilo, a 57-year-old former Communist, ex-teacher and "perfect husband," was found guilty Wednesday of 52 murders so ghoulish and brutal that he may rank in the history of crime as the world's foremost serial killer.

The verdict, in a small courtroom in this city of 1.4-million people 600 miles south of Moscow, is expected to bring the death sentence, traditionally carried out with a bullet in the back of the head.

But the execution of a man who once described himself as "a mistake of nature, a mad beast" may not quiet a community that suffered the fear of a cannibalistic murderer on the rampage for almost 12 years _ until he was arrested in 1990.

Chikatilo _ dubbed the "Forest Strip Killer" for the place where he dumped the bodies, and the "Rostov Ripper" _ protested his innocence from inside a steel cage as the verdict was read.

"Why me? I demand the podium! Get me a lawyer!" Chikatilo shouted in the courtroom, which was packed with about 200 people.

The victims' mothers screamed and sobbed.

"They should rip him apart like a dog!" said Lydia Khobotova, whose 10-year-old son was one of the victims. "I don't know what will happen to him tomorrow, but I hope he dies the most horrible death, like my son did."

Judge Leonid Akubzhanov spent three hours reading the list of Chikatilo's crimes in lurid detail, mostly taken from confessions. The judge and a two-person jury ruled he murdered and mutilated 21 boys, 14 girls and 17 women in Rostov and other cities from 1978 until 1990 while working as an office worker and Russian language teacher.

Many of the murders sound like the work of Hannibal Lector, the fictional psychopathic killer in Silence of the Lambs. During the early weeks of the trial, relatives shouted, cried and fainted as the judge read about how Chikatilo killed victims and sometimes ate parts of their bodies.

As Akubzhanov read from the 330-page verdict Wednesday, a woman dressed in black screamed from the gallery: "Execution by firing squad is not enough for him! Let me tear him apart with my own hands!"

In most cases Chikatilo, who was declared sane by the court and by a psychiatric institute in Moscow, lured his victims away from bus stops or train stations into deserted forests in Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

He tried to retract his confessions on Wednesday.

"I didn't confess to anything! Show me the corpses!" he yelled in a slurred voice, pressing his head against the bars of the cage.

For students of the law, the case may well become a classic example of how ineffectively the old Soviet police system worked. Investigators moved slowly, misread blood and sperm tests and indulged in bureaucratic rivalries that are now a source of humiliation to most of those involved.

As a result of the investigations, one man was executed for killing a 9-year-old girl in 1978 that Chikatilo later admitted was his first victim. Another man arrested for the killings committed suicide, and a third tried unsuccessfully to kill himself.

"In all those years (Chikatilo) did not leave a single trace, with the exception of his own sperm, which he left on the corpses intentionally," the judge said.

A rare discrepancy between Chikatilo's blood and sperm groups prevented police from identifying him as the killer much earlier. He was detained on one occasion _ after emerging from woods with blood on his hands and carrying a rope _ but later released for lack of evidence.

The impotent Chikatilo dismembered people "to give himself the illusion of having performed a real sexual act," the judge said. "He received sexual satisfaction after he knifed a person and saw blood, when a victim suffered."

The number of Chikatilo's victims is more than other notorious serial murder cases, including Donald Harvey, a former nurse's aide who pleaded guilty to 37 murders in Ohio and Kentucky, and John Wayne Gacy Jr., who was convicted of killing 33 young men and boys in Illinois.

_ Information from the Washington Post, Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.

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