MOSCOW: A Siberian policeman who raped and killed women after offering them late-night rides was found guilty of dozens more murders on Monday, making him Russia's most prolific serial killer of recent times.
A court in the city of Irkutsk found Mikhail Popkov guilty of 56 murders between 1992 and 2007, sentencing him to a second life term. He was already in prison after being convicted of killing 22 women in 2015.
Popkov offered rides to women late at night, sometimes in his police car, while off-duty around his city of Angarsk near Irkutsk.
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He killed them using weapons including a hammer and an axe, then dumped their bodies in the woods, at the side of the road and in a local cemetery. He was also found guilty of raping 10 of the women.
Popkov described himself as a "cleaner" who was purging his home city of prostitutes. All but one of his victims were women between the ages of 16 and 40. His other victim was a policeman.
The grey-haired 54-year-old appeared in court in prison uniform, his head bowed, Russian television showed. He will be sent to a prison that is exclusively for convicts serving life terms, nicknamed the "Black Dolphin."
As part of his sentence - a rare case in Russia of a convicted murderer being given a second life sentence - Popkov was also deprived of his police pension.
Prosecutors have described Popkov as having "a pathological attraction to killing people" but he was ruled sane enough to stand trial.
Investigators had suspected a policeman was behind the crime because of the way the killer carefully covered his tracks.
The murders took place while he was a serving police officer and after he left the force in 1998.
Popkov was caught in 2012 after investigators re-examined the case and carried out DNA testing of residents, focusing on those who drove a make of car that matched tracks found at crime scenes.
In a 2017 interview with Russia's Meduza website, Popkov said he gave women lifts and targeted those who were drunk or living in a way he saw as immoral, saying that "any society condemns the behaviour of a debauched woman".
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While already in jail, he confessed to 59 further murders but was convicted only of 56 on Monday because investigators had not managed to prove three of the crimes took place, Interfax news agency reported, citing the court's press service.
Investigators said they uncovered the remains of some of the victims' bodies based on Popkov's account, as well as finding murder weapons including axes, chisels and knives.
The number of killings for which he has been convicted exceeds the totals of several notorious murderers in Russia and the ex-Soviet Union.
"Chessboard Killer" Alexander Pichushkin was sentenced to life in prison in 2007 for 48 murders and Andrei Chikatilo was convicted of 52 Soviet-era murders.