A recent impromptu trip to one of Russia’s former neighbouring states alongside the ongoing Fukushima nuclear plant disaster have informed the choice of killer for this instalment of What the Killer Sees. That choice also takes us into as yet uncharted territory: that of a killer who may cross the line between being understood via traditional profiling methods and the supernatural. Consider the man and myth known only as “Yaponchik”…
Episode: “Maranatha” (9 May 1997)
Writer: Chip Johannessen
Director: Peter Markle
Quote: “In the last days, the Antichrist appears and slaughters the faithful. The Bible doesn’t say he has horns and a tail. He’s an evil man, not supernatural. He can’t walk on water.” –Frank Black
Profile: The name “Yaponhick” is mythical. Designed to instil fear, the moniker reputedly refers to a Russian bogeyman to whom brutal murders and disasters such as Chernobyl are ascribed, seemingly accurately based upon the episode’s teaser. Moreover, the character is undoubtedly modelled upon the real life Russian Mafia member Vyacheslav Ivankov, who was known by the same nickname and was himself active in the Brighton Beach area of New York in the 1990s. The name “Yaponchik” translates from the Russian as “The Little Japanese” and referenced his Asian features. Moreover, the title is one with a degree of honour accorded it by the hierarchy of the “vor v zakone” movement of the Russian criminal underworld and has thus been adopted by a number of its dons.
Supernatural or otherwise, Yaponchik in this guise certainly follows typical aspects of the mobster or hired assassin’s MO: brutal, calculated hits using glass ammunition in a sawn-off shotgun in order to obliterate a face and the further dehumanising removal of his victims’ fingers in order to prevent their identification. But as Frank Black notes during the course of the investigation, his killings are not motivated by anything as trite as mob violence. His involvement at Chernobyl underlines the kind of “terror tactic” that is really at work: a killer seeking constantly to spread fear and thereby enhance his reputation.
His miraculous recovery from having been shot at point blank range is hard to ignore, especially given its foretelling. But is Yaponchik really more than just a man? In spite of the talk of biblical prophecy that he provokes and the consuming fear that he instils, most of the influence he has on those around him could be explained by a wealth of charisma coupled with the kind of psychological effects mastered by the likes of Derren Brown. He is clearly sharply intelligent, but is Yaponchik merely another example of a killer exhibiting a God Complex, supported by the mythology attached to his given name? Or could he be something more?
Investigation: Drawn in by the latest in a series of mutilation killings in New York, Frank Black, working alongside Peter Watts, the NYPD and assisted—or sometimes hindered—by the Moscow Police Department, soon finds himself embroiled in tales of Christian symbols, Russian superstitions and biblical prophecy. Links to Chernobyl and religious icons finally lead the team to the Russian Embassy and a man who goes by the name of Sergei Stepanovich. Their efforts are wrong-footed, however, when Detective Surova attempts to exact a private form of revenge, and Yaponchik seemingly escapes sure death in a manner predicted by the Book of Revelation.
The investigation climaxes atop a hospital helipad, as those who would protect the Russian diplomat ensure his escape. Ultimately, Yaponchik is as deft at evading justice as he is at evading death, and so the truth of just who he is lives on, as does his mythic status.