or Saeed Hanai, was one of the worst serial killers in the
history of Iran. Hanai, a construction worker, admitted in court to
killing 16 women in the eastern city of Mashhad in 2000 and 2001.
targeted prostitutes because he said they had corrupted his neighborhood
and made his wife look like a streetwalker. He strangled victims—aged 20
to 50—with their own headscarves. Hanai was suspected of murdering 19
women, but only confessed to 16. The Iranian press used the term "spider
killings" to describe the ruthlessness and methodology of the killings.
Some people in Iran
felt that the prostitutes got what they deserved, and Hanai even had a
crowd of supporters outside his house on the day he was arrested. He was
found guilty and hanged at dawn on April 8, 2002 in Mashhad Prison.
Iran Executes Worker Who Strangled 16 Women Over 2
By Nazila Fathi - The New York Times
Thursday, April 18, 2002
A man who strangled 16 women with their head
scarves in the northeastern city of Mashad was hanged early this
morning in the prison compound, state radio reported.
Saeed Hanai, 39, a construction worker, was
sentenced to death after he confessed that he had strangled 16 women,
many of whom had criminal records for drug abuse and were said to have
worked as prostitutes.
''They were as worthless as cockroaches to me,'' Mr.
Hanai was quoted as saying on Tuesday in the daily Norouz, a day
before his execution. ''Toward the end, I could not sleep at night if
I had not killed one of them that day, as though I had become addicted
to killing them,'' he was quoted as saying.
The arrest of Mr. Hanai came more than two years
after the first body of a strangled woman was found. Many Iranians had
speculated that the police, who are controlled by religious hard-liners,
were intentionally lax in finding the killer since the victims were
drug abusers and prostitutes.
Mashad, where Mr. Hanai killed the women, is a holy
city and home to a major Shiite Muslim shrine. Residents had feared
that an extremist religious group might be behind the slayings,
particularly after hard-liners were blamed for the murders of
dissidents in Tehran.
Mr. Hanai admitted to killing 16 women; the bodies
of 19 women have been found in Mashad in the two years since the first
Mr. Hanai's arrest came after Parliament took up
the case with the highest provincial authorities. The deputies
summoned the security and intelligence chiefs and eventually a special
squad was sent to Mashad from Tehran.
Mr. Hanai said in court that he began killing the
prostitutes after his wife was mistaken for one. He said he blamed the
large number of prostitutes in the city for the incident and believed
killing the women was a religious obligation.
He said he chose his victims while riding in his
car or on his motorbike and took them to his home when his wife and
three children were away. Then he strangled them with their head
scarves, wrapped their bodies in head-to-toe black chadors and dumped
them in the streets.
After the third killing, he told the court, he
dumped the body on a street, waited for the police to come and then
helped them load the corpse into an ambulance.
He was arrested after an intended victim became
suspicious and managed to punch him in the stomach and run away. She
reported the incident a few days later, according to Iranian news
media reports, after she overcame the fear of what the police would do
Following Mr. Hanai's arrest, hard-liners began a
campaign in his support, arguing that he had tried to clean the
country of corruption. The Keyhan daily reported that many in Mashad
had been happy with the killings. Another report said a lawyer had
volunteered to defend him.
But the hard-liners were silent after it became
clear that Mr. Hanai had taken many more prostitutes to his home and
had intercourse with 13 victims before killing them.
He was also found guilty of theft and forging
papers that helped him introduce himself as a member of the so-called
morality police working for the office for promotion of virtue and
prevention of vice.
He told the court that he had used the papers to
harass people he thought were engaged in deviant acts -- unmarried
couples in public together or women not properly covered. He said 80
more were on what he called his hit list.
Iranian serial killer hanged
April 17, 2002
A man convicted of murdering 16 prostitutes in the
north-eastern Iranian city of Mashhad has been hanged after the Iranian
Supreme Court confirmed his death sentence.
Saeed Hanaie, a 40-year-old builder, had confessed to
killing the women, all aged between 25 and 50, but said he was carrying
out the will of god.
Hanaie told the court he had picked up victims on the
streets of Mashhad - one of the country's holiest cities - and taken
them back to his home whenever his wife and three children were away.
All the victims were strangled with their own
headscarves and their bodies wrapped in their chadors, or veils.
Hanaie was hanged at dawn in a small inner courtyard
of the Mashhad prison.
Contrary to the custom under Islamic law, neither his
family nor relatives of the victims were present. But reporters and
photographers were later allowed to see the body.
In a final interview Hanaie showed no remorse for what
he had done.
He said that for him killing the women was like
stepping on cockroaches.
Hanaie said he was on a divine mission to clean up the
area around the holy shrine of Mashhad, which is a magnet for masses of
Shia Muslim pilgrims among whom the prostitutes were plying their trade.
He said he believed that God approved of his actions.
The killings were dubbed the "spider murders"
by people who thought the killer used headscarves to ensnare the women
in the same way that a spider uses a web to trap its victims.
Before Hanaie's arrest in July last year, Iranian
police rounded up about 500 prostitutes in Mashhad to protect them from
The murders baffled detectives for more than a year
and received widespread coverage in the Iranian media.
The BBC's Tehran correspondent says the nature of the
crime made it a particularly sensitive one, and the execution -
unusually - was not carried out in public.
Our correspondent says that Hanaie's actions to root
out vice have met approval in some quarters where he was seen as
something of a folk hero.
Prostitution and drug-taking were banned after the
1979 Islamic revolution, but have become more common in recent years.
The victims were said to have been drug users.
Iran’s Spider Murderer ‘Confesses’
July 28, 2001
A Iranian man arrested in connection with a string of
prostitute killings dubbed the spider murders has reportedly confessed
to murdering 16 of the women.
In an interview in a government-run newspaper, Saeed
Hanaie said that he had wanted to clean up his district in the city of
Mashhad, and that he would have killed as many as 150 women if he had
not been caught.
Nineteen women, each with convictions for prostitution
and drugs use, have been killed in the past year, all strangled with
their own headscarves.
Mr Hanaie, who allegedly used to pick up the women on
his motorbike and take them home, where he strangled them, was arrested
after one woman managed to escape.
Justice officials say Mr Hanaie, a 39-year-old builder
and father-of-three, will be put on trial in public in about ten days'
In the interview with Iran newspaper Mr Hanaie
confessed to killing 16 of the 19 women. Police have said the other
three women were killed by copycat killers.
Mr Hanaie said that he "killed the
women for the sake of God, and for the protection of my religion because
they were prostitutes and were corrupting other people".
"I wouldn't have been bothered even if I had
killed 150 women because I wanted to clean the holy city of Mashhad from
corrupt women and prostitutes," he said.
"After every single murder, I went back to the
scene of the crime and helped the police to remove the body," he
He admitted that he would approach the prostitutes
whilst out on his motorbike and lure them back to his home on the
pretext of sex, where he would kill them.
He said he was arrested after one of his victims
managed to escape: "She hurt my hands, [and] punched me in the
abdomen before fleeing."
According to Eskandar Momeni, police chief of Khorasan
province, Mr Hanaie "began killing after his wife was propositioned
by a driver at a street near their home that was a hangout for
The killings were dubbed the "spider murders"
by people who thought the killer used headscarves to ensnare the women
in the same way that a spider uses a web to trap its victims.
Prior to Mr Hanaie's arrest Iranian police had rounded
up around 500 prostitutes in Mashhad to protect them from the murderer.
The killings had sparked outrage throughout Iran, not
only because of safety concerns, but also because of the revelations
about the extent of prostitution in Iran's holiest city.
Man held over Iran's "Spider
July 25, 2001
A man has been arrested in connection with the murder
of several prostitutes in the north-eastern Iranian city of Mashhad, the
The governor of Khorasan province said the 39-year-old
was being interrogated and more details of the arrest would be given
Iranian police have begun rounding up prostitutes in
Mashhad - one of the country's holiest cities - after the latest victim
was found at the weekend.
Like the other targets, she was strangled with her own
headscarf and wrapped in her chador, or veil.
One popular theory is that religious extremists have
taken the law into their own hands to rid Mashhad of prostitutes.
Brigadier-General Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf said that the
suspect - a builder, married with three children - had been arrested in
Mashhad after a two-day operation.
The bodies of the 19 victims have been discovered over
the past year. Mr Qalibaf said that three of the murders were believed
to have been carried out by other killers who have already been arrested.
The killings have been dubbed the "spider murders"
in Mashhad by people who thought the killer used headscarves to ensnare
the women in the same way that a spider uses a web to trap its victims.
Mr Qalibaf alleged that the suspect began the killings
after his wife was approached by a man who mistook her for a prostitute.
But an MP, Ali Zafarzadeh, believes that a
sophisticated network is behind the killings.
He said the murders were similar to the 1998 serial
killings of intellectuals and political dissidents by rogue elements in
the intelligence ministry.
The Iranian authorities have come under mounting
pressure to solve the murders.
Ali Tajernia, a parliamentarian from Mashhad, has
demanded the removal of "incompetent" officials in charge of
"If these murders had taken place anywhere else
in the world, officials investigating them would have been sacked,"
newspapers quoted Mr Tajernia as saying on Tuesday.
All forms of prostitution have been banned in Iran
since the 1979 Islamic revolution, but it has become more common in
The beast of Mashhad
Saeed Hanaei believed prostitutes were a 'waste of blood'. So
he murdered 16 - and became a hero for Iran's Islamic militants.
Dan De Luce - The Guardian
Monday 18 August 2003
When the drought ended and the rains came, Saeed Hanaei
believed that it was a sign from God that his killing spree had divine approval.
"I realised God looked favourably on me. That he had taken notice of my work,"
Hanaei said. With 12 prostitutes already dead by his hands, Hanaei carried on
his "work" and strangled at least four more women after luring them to his house
in the Iranian city of Mashhad.
And Along Came a Spider, which had its UK premiere at
the Edinburgh festival yesterday, tells the disturbing tale of a
murderous psychopath who found an alarming degree of ideological
sympathy among Islamic militants in Iran. The serial killer and his
trial attracted a media frenzy in Iran and exposed deep divisions in a
society where a conservative-minded minority feels threatened by social
The director of the documentary, Maziar Bahari, says
he believes Hanaei was a murderer by nature who was catapulted to folk-hero
status by religious extremists. "Hanaei was living in a very
claustrophobic environment and he could somehow justify his killings
through ideological slogans that are acceptable in that environment,"
Bahari says. "He is basically a terrorist. He's not as technologically
advanced as some, but the result is the same."
Bahari's documentary provides an extraordinary
glimpse into the attitudes of a working-class district in Mashhad and
the desperate world of prostitutes entrapped by drug addiction, poverty
and patriarchal cruelty. Newspapers dubbed the murders the "spider
killings" because of the way victims were drawn into Hanaei's home and
then strangled with a scarf. He then dumped the bodies by the roadside
or in open sewers, wrapping them in their chadors, the long, flowing
black garments that cover a woman from head to toe.
Hanaei confessed to the killings, smiled for news
photographers and proudly told the court that he was fighting a crusade
against moral corruption and vice. He and his lawyer cited an ambiguous
provision in Iranian and Islamic law that refers to sinners as a "waste
of blood", arguing that Hanaei deserved lenient treatment.
The case provoked a debate between reformers who
condemned the authorities for failing to catch him earlier and some
conservatives who shared the killer's disgust with a rise in
"Who is to be judged?" wrote the conservative
newspaper Jomhuri Islami. "Those who look to eradicate the sickness or
those who stand at the root of the corruption?" Such sentiments are
expressed by the killer's merchant friends at the Mashhad bazaar, one of
whom says with a laugh: "He did the right thing. He should have
The argument over the spider killings represented a
kind of microcosm of a wider battle still being waged in Iran over the
proper role of Islam in society. Reformists in parliament and government
have tried to push for a relaxation of the country's theocratic system,
advocating what they call a "democratic interpretation of Islam". Their
opponents fear the reformists will only undermine Islam and open the
floodgates to secular, western influences.
The most disturbing defence of Hanaei comes from his
own 14-year-old son, Ali, who says his father was cleansing the Islamic
republic of the "corrupt of the Earth". "If they kill him tomorrow,
dozens will replace him," Ali says. "Since his arrest, 10 or 20 people
have asked me to continue what my Dad was doing. I say, 'Let's wait and
Those who sympathise with Hanaei remain powerful and
vocal, but the majority of Iranians want to see a more tolerant, less
ideological society, according to Bahari. "I think they are in the
minority, and their numbers are decreasing," he said.
Between the scenes of Hanaei recounting his crimes in
a matter-of-fact tone, we see haunting photos of the victims before and
after they were killed and we meet two children whose mothers were
murdered. Interviews with 10-year-old Sahar and eight-year-old Sara
provide some of the documentary's most powerful moments.
Firoozeh, the 14th victim, went out to buy opium one
day at about 5.30pm, says her daughter, Sahar. "We were all waiting for
her but she never came home." We see a drawing in crayon from Sara, with
a bearded Hanaei in handcuffs, her mother lying dead and a little girl
kneeling in despair. Sahar looks away from the camera and says she
hasn't spoken to anyone at school about what has happened. She says she
wants to be a journalist when she grows up because she hopes to document
what happened to her mother.
Hanaei served as a volunteer in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq
war, and described his murders as a "continuation of the war effort". He
first became obsessed with "street women" after his wife was mistaken
for a prostitute by a taxi driver. We learn from a journalist that
Hanaei went looking for men who were soliciting prostitutes and got
beaten up. "So he turns to the people who don't have the power to fight
back," says the journalist, Roya Karimi.
Hanaei had plenty of opportunities to prey on the
powerless in Mashhad, a city with all the ingredients for a thriving
prostitution trade. While millions of pilgrims visit the city's holy
Shia shrine every year, massive amounts of opium pour over the border
from neighbouring Afghanistan and are transported through the city.
Growing levels of poverty and unemployment, with rural families
migrating to cities, have fed the increase in "street women".
The spider case forced the invisible world of
prostitution into the public arena and government officials can no
longer pretend otherwise. But prostitution remains a sensitive issue and
Bahari's documentary, which has been shown throughout Europe, has yet to
be broadcast in Iran. The criminal code's vague reference to victims
deemed to be a "waste of blood" has come under increasing scrutiny from
Despite Hanaei's confession in prison that he had "improper
relations" with his victims, some ideologues still sympathise with the
spider killer. This month a hardline paramilitary group, Ansar-e
Hizbollah, warned in its weekly publication that declining morality
among women could lead to more such killings: "It is likely that what
happened in Mashhad and Kerman could be repeated in Tehran."
Although Hanaei was sentenced to death, he was
shocked and angry when the moment came for his hanging in April last
year. Unlike at his highly publicised trial, there were no cameras
around to record how he screamed in protest, baffled that his
ideological allies never came to his rescue. "Even until the last second
before his execution, Hanaei thought someone in the government would
come to save him," Bahari says.
Hanaei's case had sparked debate and morbid
fascination but not much mourning for the death of the 16 "street women".
And Along Came a Spider commemorates these women and grants them a
degree of dignity they never received while they were alive.
I’m sure that like many readers of this website, I have very
little understanding of why religious people believe so strongly in the little
fantasy world that their book (The Bible, Koran, etc.) brainwashes them into
thinking is reality. And I find it even harder to understand why they would then
go on to kill people because of what this brainwashing has led them to believe.
But I do love a religious serial killer.
Our lovable religious nutter for today is Saeed Hanaei. He was
a 39-year-old construction worker in Iran's holy city of Mashhad. And the reason
he gave for his actions are quite original.
His wife was propositioned by a driver at a street near their
home that was a hangout for prostitutes. And because of that Hanaei took it apon
himself to clean up the city. Although it wasn’t guys that tried chatting up
his wife that he was interesting in cleansing the city of, no, it was
prostitutes. 16 of them in fact.
Each of the 16 prostitutes were strangled with their
headscarf. At one stage police became so worried about the murders that they
removed all pro’s from the streets.
And why did Hanaei only target prostitutes?
“I killed the women for the sake of God, and for the
protection of my religion because they were prostitutes and (were) corrupting
"I wouldn't have bothered even if I had killed 150 women
because I wanted to clean the holy city of Mashhad from corrupt women and
prostitutes," he said.
I’m sure that was the reason and that it nothing at all to
do with the fact that Hanaei suffered from impotence.
Unfortunately I don’t know how Hanaei was caught, or what
penalty he received, but I’m sure there’s a place in Heaven waiting for him,
so it was worth it.
The Wacky World of Murder
In 2000 and 2001 the Iran holy city of Mashhad was haunted by
a prostitute killer dubbed 'The Spider Killer' that left his victims dumped in
the city streets like garbage, strangled with their own headscarves. By the time
police arrested Saeed Hanaei in Juy of 2001, nineteen women had been murdered,
though three would eventually be attributed to copycat slayers.
Hanaei was finally caught after a potential victim managed to
escape from the killer's home and led police back to him. Hanaei soon confessed
to sixteen killings, claiming that they were in response to an incident in which
a man propositioned Hanaei's wife, who he had mistaken for a prostitute.
Essentially Hanaei said he felt he was cleaning up the streets and protecting
However, Hanaei soon admitted his true motivations. Posing as
an average customer he would pick up his victims and take them home where he
would sexually assault them before dispatching of them. That has not stopped
many in the Middle East from lauding Hanaei as some sort of Islamic hero,
however. Some press even called for Hanaei to be spared execution because he
"did not spill the blood of innocents."
Saner minds prevailed thankfully, and Hanaei was hanged in a
prison yard on April 16, 2002, with relatives of his victims in attendance.
Serial Killers A-Z