A fresh coating of snow and a nip in the air give may make you think of a winter wonderland. But in these tragic cases, the icy weather lead to cold-hearted killing...
There were drops of fresh blood in the clean, white snow outside the Rostov-on-Don home of Andrei Chikatilo. That should have been the first clue that Chikatilo, new to the area of Southern Russia, was behind the 1978 murder of local girl, Yelena Zakonova, 9.
Instead, by the time the police came knocking, the man known as history’s sickest serial killer, had struck over 50 more times…
To the outside world, Andrei Chikatilo was decent and well spoken. A happily married man, a father and grandfather, he worked as a teacher and was well respected.
But secretly, Chikatilo was capable of unthinkable evil. In a 12-year spree, the monster butchered 11 boys and 42 girls and women. Preying on naive children or hard-drinking vagrants, he’d lure them into local woods with the promise of chewing gum, vodka or videotapes. There, they met their sickening deaths.
Chikatilo tied up his victims, stabbed them in the heart and between the eyes, before slicing off parts of their bodies to gnaw on. With bodies stacking up, it wasn’t just the cold winters that sent chills down the spines of the Rostov residents.
Chikatilo’s name was on a list of 25,000 police suspects. But it was only when an undercover officer saw him emerging from the woods in November 1990, did they have their man.
At Chikatilo’s trial, relatives of his victims stormed the dock, demanding that the killer be handed over to them as a human sacrifice. But traditional justice was done and the Rostov Ripper was convicted of 53 murders.
Chikatilo shouted and screamed as he was handed the sentence he’d doled out to so many others. Death.
In the city of Winnipeg, Canada, the winters are fearsome. Snow covers the ground from November until March, temperatures regularly dip to minus 20 degrees.
But in November 1984, Candace Derksen, 13, took nothing but pleasure in the winter wonderland in which she’d grown up. After a snowball fight with a friend, she made her way home from school. But she never arrived.
By 7pm that evening, her frantic parents, Wilma and Clint, called the police. A search party was launched. And for three long months, the city of Winnipeg searched for Candace.
In January 1987, any hope her family had left crumbled when Candace’s body was found.
The teenager had been hog-tied with twine in a tool shed, less than 500m from her parents’ home. Left to face the cruelty of the Winnipeg winter, she’d perished in the cold. The Derksen family and the wider area wondered who could do something so wicked to an innocent girl. But there were no leads.
Then, in 2006, officers reopened Candace’s case – DNA developments had come a long way in the decades since her murder. Testing the twine with which Candace had been bound, lead police to a suspect.
In 2011, Mark Grant, 47, a former neighbour of the Derksens, was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to life with a minimum of 25 years.
‘I don’t feel like rejoicing and it doesn’t bring Candace back,’ Wilma said upon hearing the sentence. But at least the case was closed.
Until this year… Grant successfully appealed for a retrial, due to be heard in January 2017.
So, as another long winter descends on Winnipeg, the case of Candace Derksen’s lonely death continues.
Maryann Castorena and Anthony Delagarza
As the snow thawed outside a home in Park Township, Michigan, in January 2014, a terrible sight was revealed. The body of a man, bludgeoned to death on his doorstep, and left to the elements.
Jose Hernandez, 38, was known to be hardworking and loyal. Not the sort of man to have enemies. Police enquiries started and before long, an ex-girlfriend, Maryann Castorena, 40, was questioned.
Her split with Jose had been amicable. She’d moved on and married someone else since. But there was one motive police couldn’t ignore. When they were together, Jose had made Castorena the beneficiary of his $1.2m life insurance. And despite the break-up she was still named on the papers.
Next, a police search of her belongings turned up a note, in her handwriting. A checklist, detailing a murder.
Better before snow gets here… easier not to follow prints, it began. Don’t park by ATM in case there are cameras.
Most damningly, the note seemed to reference Jose’s life insurance, suggesting the crime should be carried out soon, before he had chance to cancel the policy. Castorena said the note was for a book she was writing, then a film script.
But on the paper, there were fingerprints belonging to a second person: Anthony Delagarza, 19, Jose’s former housemate.
When questioned, he confessed that Castorena had offered to pay him $75,000 to kill his friend. He’d accepted. Her so-called ‘script’ was instructions she’d written about how to commit the crime.
Delagarza cut a deal with prosecutors, and was sentenced to 20 to 40 years in prison for second-degree murder in exchange for his testimony against Castorena.
In November 2014, he told a packed courtroom how, at Castorena’s instruction, he’d ambushed Jose and beat him to death with a mechanic’s tool. Afterwards, he returned to Castorena’s car, where she was concerned he hadn’t done the deed properly.
‘She said, if he turns into a vegetable, she wouldn’t get the money,’ Delagarza told the jury.
Combined with her flimsy ‘film script’ story, it was enough to see Castorena convicted of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, soliciting murder and lying to a police officer. She was handed a life sentence.
During proceedings, it emerged that Jose had known nothing of Castorena’s recent marriage. He’d been deeply in love with her at the time of his death, and believed they were engaged. And he’d no idea the man with whom he’d shared a home would be willing to kill him for cold, hard cash.
Attacked by the two people he should have trusted most, and buried in a snowy grave, Jose deserved so much more.