‘Holy Spider’ is a crime drama that follows the story of Arezoo Rahimi, a journalist who comes to Masshad to uncover the identity of a serial killer. Parallel to her, we witness the events in the life of a man named Saeed Azimi. On the surface, he is a normal person with a family to take care of. By the day, he takes care of them, but a different side emerges at night. He picks up sex workers, takes them to his home, and strangles them to death.
As appalling as his actions are, the reason behind them shocks Rahimi. What’s worse is that the public seems to agree with Saeed’s actions. The film is unnerving on several levels and makes one wonder if someone could really be so motivated by their religious beliefs to commit such heinous crimes. If you want to know more about the real-life serial killer who inspired Saeed Azimi’s character, here’s what you should know.
Is Saeed Azimi Based on a Real Serial Killer?
Yes, Saeed Azimi is based on a real serial killer named Saeed Hanaei. Born in 1962 in Mashhad, he confessed to killing sixteen women between 2000 and 2001. His targets were female sex workers, who were often drug addicts. He would ride around in his car or motorbike, looking for his next victim. He would take them home when his wife and children were away. Then, he would strangle them with headscarves. He wrapped their bodies in black chadors and dumped the bodies. Reportedly, he confessed in court that when he left the body of his third victim on the street, he waited around until the cops showed up and helped them load the body in the ambulance.
Dubbed the “spider killer” by the press, Hanaei was born in 1962. He is said to have grown up in an abusive household with his mother. Allegedly, she would scratch him badly and bite pieces of flesh off him. Barely out of his teens, he volunteered in the army and served in the Iran-Iraq war from 1980 to 1988. When he came back home, he started working as a construction worker. He got married and had three children.
Describing the murders as “a continuation of the war effort,” Hanaei revealed that he first became obsessed with sex workers when his wife was mistaken for one by a taxi driver. Reportedly, he went looking for and was beaten up by the men who solicited sex workers. According to journalist Roya Karimi, “So he turns to the people who don’t have the power to fight back.”
Hanaei would have claimed his seventeenth victim, but she fought back. After punching him in the stomach, she ran away and didn’t go to the police until a few days later. She was scared of the repercussions it would have on her as a sex worker. But she eventually overcame the fear and led the police to the serial killer.
Hanaei called his crimes a work for god and said he intended to cleanse the city of morally corrupt women, calling it his “religious obligation.” Shockingly, he received the support of some people who believed he had done nothing wrong. They campaigned in his support but stopped when more details about Hanaei’s interaction with the women came to light.
Investigation revealed that he had had sexual intercourse with thirteen of his victims and was also guilty of theft and forging papers that presented him as a member of the morality police. He confessed to using the papers to harass people he believed morally deviant. He also revealed that he had a hit list with the names of at least eighty people.
How Did Saeed Hanaei Die?
Saeed Hanaei was sentenced to death by hanging and was executed on April 8, 2002, in Mashhad Prison. He had confessed to murdering sixteen women, while the bodies of nineteen women were discovered during the case investigation. Due to the support that he received initially, he believed that his supporters would rescue him. “Even until the last second before his execution, Hanaei thought someone in the government would come to save him,” said Maziar Bahari, the director of ‘And Along Came a Spider,’ which tells the story of Saeed Hanaei.
Reportedly, Hanaei had been “shocked and angry” when he discovered that he really was going to be executed. Though there were no cameras around for the execution, it is said that he “screamed in protest.” As for his victims, he considered them “worthless as cockroaches.” He added: “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.”
Read More: Is Holy Spider Based on a True Story?