Every once in a while, a true crime story comes along that is so bizarre, it can’t help but become a big ticket news item. The tale of Tamara Samsonova, the 67-year-old “pensioner” who purportedly killed and dismembered at least ten people, fits that profile. Her case has plenty to interest armchair detectives: murder and potential cannibalism, all from an unassuming figure living in St. Petersburg. Here’s a run-down of what makes her story so interesting. Warning: it gets pretty intense pretty quickly right from the get-go.
The Story of The Granny Ripper
Tamara Samsonova is a 67-year-old woman who at first claimed to be a graduate of the well-regarded Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet. While the truth of that claim remains unverified, she did study English and German at Moscow State Linguistic University. She is also purported to have had a history of mental illness, requiring hospitalization at least three times.
As the lurid details of her twenty year reign of murder reveal, you could easily call her the Russian Jeffrey Dahmer. Not only is it rare that a woman be a serial killer — according to an article in Psychology Today, only about 15 percent of serial killers are women — but her method of murder is also fairly outside the norm.
A 2011 study found that these lethal ladies operate under the radar; they are less likely to have a criminal history, tend to kill those closest to them (emotionally and physically) and use quieter methods of elimination (poison, drugs, smothering). As a result, their killing careers last much longer than men (between eight and 11 years, in comparison to two years for male serial murderers), with an average of nine victims.
Perhaps that is why Aileen Wuornos, too, is such an anomoly. Her method of execution was so violent, so male, that it shocked your common, everyday American. The “Granny Ripper,” similarly, stands out for both her methods and her longevity. She is almost certainly a product killer, meaning that she killed for the end result. She didn’t seem to experiment with the bodies, though she did keep them around. We don’t yet have any evidence of what she did with the heads, but I’d be willing to guess that she kept them around, which would potentially change her classification.
But let’s get to some of the facts in this case.
Samsonova is accused of killing as many as 11 people over the course of the past two decades. It is not merely the acts themselves but the process by which Samsonova, called The Granny Ripper, disposed of the bodies by dismembering and / or eating them. She managed to lure her victims in through offering them room and board, after which she would butcher them.
She was arrested on July 28th following the discovery of the remains of one of the victims at the Dimitrova Street Pond near her flat in St. Petersburg. The headless torso — which had only one arm and one leg — turned out to be the corpse of one Valentina Ulanova, a woman with whom Samsonova had resided for the last little while. (Note: I have also read that she was arrested after the limbs of Ulanova were found in some bushes outside of her apartment.)
In the midst of the investigation, video of the 67-year-old woman dragging plastic bags filled with body parts surfaced, leading investigators to believe they were dealing with more than a simple murderer.
The police eventually discovered an in-depth journal — penned in Russian, English, and German — describes the process by which she killed several victims.
In addition to a ‘how to’ guide on killing people, there is also a detailed description in the journal of how she murdered a tattooed man who rented a room from her.
Here is one such entry:
I killed my tenant Volodya, cut him to pieces in the bathroom with a knife and put the pieces of his body in plastic bags and threw them away.
To say that she is a cold-blooded person is an understatement. But in a twist that seems almost like an afterthought, Samsonova also stands accused of murdering her husband and mother-in-law, who completely disappeared in 2005. At the time, she told police her husband had run off with another woman.
In a recent testimony, Samsonova admitted to some pretty gruesome tactics for ridding herself of the bodies. She drugged 79-year-old Valentina Ulanova’s food before cutting her to pieces and boiling her head and hands for consumption. Apparently, they’d had an argument over dirty dishes, which prompted Samsonova to put 50 pills of Phenazepamum into her Olivier salad.
A hacksaw was found in Ulanova’s apartment, and some claims have floated around that Samsonova began to saw her to pieces while the woman was still alive. As has been previously mentioned, she boiled the head and hands to either (a) prevent identification or (b) for the sake of cannibalization. The Russian Investigation Committee has not ruled out her being a cannibal, but it is not also an express truth, either.
The Granny Ripper came to live with Ulanova after her own apartment was supposedly being renovated in some way. A good friend of Ulanova’s came to investigate after not seeing her friend for some time. She reported having a bizarre back-and-forth with the pensioner over her friend’s whereabouts:
I asked Tamara if she thought Valentina was dead and she told a weird story about getting up to make tea at 2 am and finding Valentina unconscious with drink in the corridor. But she went away to drink her tea and when she came back, Valentina was gone.
Samsonova may have very well been an actress, if her reaction to the publicity of her crimes is any kind of indication. She has presented herself in a way counter to most serial killers. She smiles and waves, blows kisses at cameras, and just very generally appears to be happy to be in her current circumstances.
At her first court appearance, she said, “I am guilty and I deserve punishment. I have been preparing for this trial for 10 years. It is all deliberate.”
And yet, Samsonova purportedly will not comply with the Russian Investigative Committee in charge of sorting out just how many people Samsonova’s killed. For example, according to The Sun, “A police source said despite interrogations and her addmission to her elderly friend’s murder police cannot make her confess to where the missing head of her last victim is hidden.” (Samsonova was seen on closed circuit television leaving the apartment with a cooking pot believed to contain the head of Ulanova.)
It could be that she does not quite want to admit to eating it, or perhaps she feels like she can stretch out her trial and / or time in the limelight by playing coy with investigators. This is not to mention that blood from a former lodger named Sergei Potyavin, 44, was found in her bathroom, a potential crime for which she has not yet confessed.
The RIC revealed last week that Samnsonova suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, which in some way might have contributed to her actions. Because of that, it is probable that Samsonova will spend the rest of her life in a mental health facility — or mental health prison — rather than face jail time.
Other than the confessions of a woman of questionable mental health, there is very little evidence to actually convict her on.
To make matters worse, the area where she could have dumped her victims has been redeveloped and paved over, making it nigh impossible to be able to uncover any evidence, physical or otherwise, to be able to confirm or corroborate the 67-year-old’s claims.
The idea that she might be a cannibal comes directly from the killer’s mouth, but without hard evidence, it might be difficult to determine what Samsonova actually did with the victims’ heads and legs. She is believed to have particularly enjoyed the lungs of the people she butchered, but we cannot be certain, really, of anything just yet. It will take some time for more details to come out.
There is a rumor floating around, as well, that she used the bodies for the sake of black magic or some bizarre occult ceremony, but these kinds of claims are usually modified or outright rejected after thorough investigation, so I’m going to hold off on unnecessary speculation in this case. However, investigators supposedly found books on astrology and black magic in her place, so there’s a chance, at least, that it could be true in this situation.
Timeline of Events
2000 — According to newspaper reports based on the serial killer’s diary, Samsonova is said to have killed a tenant from this time period.
2003 — The supposed murder of a tattooed tenant.
2004 — A torso is found near Samsonova’s current residence. A business card found in her flat links her to the slaying.
2005 — Her husband disappears, never to be seen again.
July 28, 2015 — Tamara Samsonova is arrested