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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Serial Deaths Find Press Delinquent

It is hard to think of a city anywhere in the world with as many daily news events as Moscow. Between political coups, mafia warfare and the country's chaotic struggle to shed its Soviet skin and start over, the reporter's cup overfloweth.


In fact there is so much news that the press sometimes claims it cannot cover it all. Such was the case with the recent discovery of the bodies of three young women, murdered and mutilated within five days and several city blocks of each other. The Russian press loves a good scandal as much as anybody, but coverage of this story has been shockingly thin. Only the daily Kuranty saw fit to put the story on the front page with, admittedly, a rather panicky headline about a maniac on the loose. A few other papers gave the murders brief and buried notice; even Moskovsky Komsomolets, which usually gives crime stories prominent placement, relegated the first murder to its weekly crime column and failed to write anything about the second two incidents.


Excuses are varied: lack of cooperation from the police, a desire to cover national rather than local issues and crime reporters on vacation. Whatever the cause, the effect is the same: A murderer, or several murderers, is walking the streets of central Moscow and no one is the wiser.


Crime reporting is a tricky thing. It tends toward the lurid and is often more titillating than informative. But such information, at its best, serves a social purpose. It lets people know to watch out for themselves and it lets them track how diligently the police are watching out for them as well.


An editor at Komsomolskaya Pravda explained his paper's lack of coverage of the issue by pointing to the lack of reliable information from the police, who themselves are afraid of creating panic in the city. Such passivity is deplorable because a reporter's job is to demand information when it is due, especially here, where the track record of the authorities in providing information about violent crimes is so poor.


In the case of Sergei Rakhovsky, who killed 24 people in Moscow between 1987 and 1993, the public was not informed of the threat until the month of the final murder. Moscow's police are already becoming more forthright than that, but they still have a long way to go.


The police in New York or London doubtless would also prefer to keep more secrets when investigating serial killers, but they know the media would give them no peace if they tried -- and rightly so. For out of sight may be out of mind, but where serial killers are concerned, it is not out of danger.