. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Village Still Haunted by Fear of Killer

YAROVIV, Ukraine -- Even to the police who tracked him down, he remains a mystery.


Where was suspected serial killer Anatoly Onufrienko between 1989 and 1995? How did he manage to travel to at least four European countries without a passport? And is it truly possible that he managed -- alone -- to kill 52 people in three months without leaving a trace of himself at any of the crime scenes?


In Lvov Oblast, where a horrific murder spree since December has prompted deployment of a national guard division, the arrest of Onufrienko has done little to temper fears of the locals.


Though Lvov police chief Bogdan Romanuk claims to have enough evidence to convict Onufrienko -- a confession to all of the Lvov Oblast killings and 122 items belonging to victims seized at Onufrienko's home -- people on the streets say something smells fishy.


"No way is he the one," said pressure off, so they made a big announcement about an arrest. But it's a setup -- 100 percent."


If Romanuk has it right, the suspect committed 40 murders in the Lvov Oblast and 12 in three other oblasts -- Kievskaya, Zaporozhnaya, and Zhitomirskaya -- between Dec. 24 and March 22. The killer had to navigate unlit streets in the early morning hours, and entered only homes that were newly built or under construction.


The killer chose target dates that seemed to require careful prior investigation -- a victim's birthday in the village of Bust, a christening of a new home in neighboring Bratkovichi. The victims, including seven families, were shot, and their homes were set ablaze.


Skeptical and frightened citizens want the police to be more forthcoming. A delegation from Bratkovichi, one of the small villages to which the national guard was dispatched, has approached the Lvov government with a demand to see the prisoner.


"They want to be sure there really is a suspect," Romanuk said.


He declined to say when the public might be permitted a look at Onufrienko, 37, who is being held in Lvov's central remand prison.


Romanuk declined to give details about the suspect's background. But a picture is emerging as police and other sources, speaking on the condition of anonymity, disclose details surrounding the interrogation and investigation of Onufrienko since his arrest Easter Sunday in the rural town of Yaroviv.


One officer in the "Berkut" -- the Ukrainian version of Russia's OMON special forces -- who helped make the arrest said the suspect was born in 1959 in the central Ukrainian village of Laski, in the Zhitomirskaya Oblast. He is of medium height, with an athletic build and light brown hair. He also seems eloquent and intelligent. He completed a course of study in forestry in the Kievskaya Oblast, and then quickly fell from public view. There are no records of registration papers or a passport.


"In the interrogation, he confessed to committing his first murder in Odessa in 1989," said the Berkut officer. "That was the death of a young woman, and we've confirmed some of the details. But after that we're not sure exactly where he was."


The officer said Onufrienko left Ukraine sometime after the Odessa murder -- which would put the total number of his victims at 53 -- and managed to travel "practically throughout all Europe without a passport."


"He was in Germany, Greece, Austria, and Sweden, we know that for sure," the officer said.


Police have given several versions of how Onufrienko was caught. Ukrainian Interior Ministry spokesman Viktor Krivoropko said a trace of hunting weapons helped them track down Onufrienko, who owned a gold-colored, 12-gauge shotgun and a Winchester rifle of the type used in 10 of the murders.


Criminal investigator Alexander Yevashchenko said police were led to Onufrienko when they began checking up on mental patients who had been deemed potentially violent. Yevashchenko said Onufrienko turned out to have been a mental hospital outpatient whose therapists knew he was committing murders. The officer is the only police spokesman so far to describe the suspect as mentally ill.


Yevashchenko said those who knew of Onufrienko's activities would be "brought to justice," but there have been no additional arrests so far.


The suspect's cousin, Pyotor Onufrienko, a military captain at the base in Yaroviv, said Anatoly showed up in town about five months ago. He eventually moved in with a woman he called "Anna," a 27-year-old divorced hairdresser with two children.


Some rumors have suggested it was the woman's estranged husband who gave police the break they needed by fingering Onufrienko as a suspect.


Neighbors say Anatoly seemed friendly enough, especially with children. But his cousin, the military captain, saw a mean streak."What do I think about my cousin?" he said. "If they gave me a gun, I would shoot him."