In 1978, he moved to Shakhty and committed his first documented murder. On December 22, 1978, he lured a nine-year-old girl to an old shed and attempted to rape her. When the girl struggled, Chikatilo stabbed her to death. He ejaculated in the process of knifing the child and from then on he was only able to achieve sexual arousal and orgasm through stabbing and slashing women and children to death. Despite evidence linking Chikatilo to this first killing, a young man, Alexsandr Kravchenko, was arrested and later tried and executed for the crime.
Three years would pass before Chikatilo killed again – in 1982, but in that year he killed seven times. He established a pattern of approaching runaways and young vagrants at bus or railway stations and enticing them to leave. A quick trip into a nearby forest was the scene for the victim’s death. In 1983, he did not kill until June, but then he murdered four victims before September. The victims were all women and children. In the case of adult females, they were often prostitutes or homeless tramps who could be lured away with promises of alcohol or money. Chikatilo would usually attempt (consensual) intercourse with these victims, but would usually be unable to get an erection which would send him into a murderous fury, especially if the woman mocked his inability to perform. He would achieve orgasm only when he stabbed the victim to death. The child victims were of both genders, and Chikatilo would lure them away with his friendly, talkative manner and promising them treats, such as toys or candy.
The elusive Shelter Belt Killer, so called for the frequency with which his victims were discarded in the woods along railway lines, struck a new frenetic pace in 1984, with fifteen victims slaughtered between January and September. While the murder spree was in progress, on February 22, 1984, Chikatilo was charged with stealing a roll of linoleum from his workplace. Seven months later, with that case still pending, he was arrested for licentious behavior in public, after policemen watched him accosting women at the Rostov bus station. Chikatilo was sentenced to fifteen days on that charge, but remained in jail for the next three months, while detectives grilled him as a suspect in the Shelter Belt murders. Cleared of suspicion when his blood type (A) inexplicably failed to match that of semen found on the bodies, Chikatilo was finally convicted of the linoleum theft in December 1984. He was sentenced to a year in jail, but a sympathetic judge gave him credit for time served since his September arrest, and Chikatilo was freed on the spot.
Overpowering his victims, he would bind them with rope, then-in an ecstatic frenzy-savage them with knife, teeth, and bare hands, ripping open their bellies, chewing off their noses, gouging out their eyes, slicing off and eating their tongues, nipples, genitals-sometimes while they were still alive. He wallowed in their internal organs and would later confess to having a particular fondness for the taste and texture of the uterus.