Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Tajikistan: Headless Corpses Spark Panic

A series of gruesome murders in the Tajik capital has sparked fears that a maniac is on the loose.
By Nargiz Zokirova

The discovery by police of five decapitated and dismembered bodies in and around Dushanbe has left many people afraid to go out after dark.


The murders have led to rumors that a maniac or serial killer is on the loose, with panic-stricken parents collecting their children from the school gates and forbidding them to wander alone outside the house.


Scenes of empty streets after dark recalled the worst years of the Nineties, when civil war raged across the land and only armed people in camouflage clothing were seen outside at night.


A pedestrian found the dismembered body of the first victim in a sack in the Lenin district, 12 km from the centre of the capital, on October 10. Around two days later, passersby and children playing in a Dushanbe street came across sacks containing two more butchered corpses.


A few days after the discoveries, national television news reported that police had detained a group of suspects. The prosecutor-general of the Frunze district of Dushanbe, Yusuf Rakhmonov, said they had been arrested for one of the killings.


A source in the interior ministry, MVD, told IWPR that an investigative team had been formed after the first two bodies were found and that this had led to the arrest of a group of four unemployed drug addicts in their early twenties.


The source confirmed the group had been charged over the murder of only one of the victims - a taxi-driver who was strangled and then dismembered with an axe. The investigation showed that it followed an attempted theft.


Another MVD source told IWPR that the murder for which the group had been accused differed markedly from the other four killings. In this case the corpse was dismembered with an axe, while the other four bodies were dismembered with surgical precision.


The investigative team admits that the men responsible for the other four crimes - the most recent of which was discovered on November 2 - may still be roaming the streets.


One of the police investigators said the search had been hampered by their inability to the identity the other four victims. The police have not been contacted by anyone reporting a friend or family member as missing.


In spite of the gruesome nature of the deaths, psychiatrist Davron Mukhammadiev has warned against assuming it is the work of a serial killer. "Corpses are often dismembered, not only to mock the victim but to conceal the crime," he said. "We can only identify the motive for the killings when we have more evidence."


After the horrors of the recent civil war, it might seem strange that the battle-hardened residents of Dushanbe could be scared by reports of "maniacs" or "serial killers". But they are rattled nonetheless.


"The police may have caught some criminals and shown them on television, but I still worry about my sons," said Malika Vakhobova. "I try not to let them out after dark, as one of the corpses was found in our neighborhood."


"No sane human being would ever commit such a brutal crime - not even for big money," said Anvar Khalikov.


Nargiz Zakirova is a journalist with Vecherny Dushanbe newspaper in Dushanbe


More IWPR's Global Voices