A manhunt for a serial killer who for 31 years taunted police with letters about his crimes ended today when authorities said they finally caught up with the BTK killer and linked him to at least 10 murders.
WICHITA, Kan. — A manhunt for a serial killer who for 31 years taunted police with letters about his crimes ended today when authorities said they finally caught up with the BTK killer and linked him to at least 10 murders.
“The bottom line: BTK is arrested,” Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams said today, setting off applause from a crowd that included family members of some of the victims.
The suspect was identified as Dennis L. Rader, a 59-year-old city worker in nearby Park City, who was arrested Friday. Police did not say how they identified Rader as a suspect or whether he has said anything since his arrest.
BTK — a self-coined nickname that stands for “Bind, Torture, Kill” — terrorized Wichita throughout the 1970s and then resurfaced about a year ago after 25 years of silence. The killer had been linked to eight slayings between 1974 and 1986, but police said today they had identified two more, from 1985 and 1991.
Rader, a Cub Scout leader who was active at his Lutheran church, lived with his wife, neighbors said. Public records indicate they have two grown children. Messages left for family members were not returned today, and no one answered the door at the home of his in-laws.
A few neighbors recalled receiving small favors from Rader, but most interviewed today said the municipal codes enforcement supervisor was an unpleasant man who often went looking for reasons to cite his neighbors for violations of city codes.
“A part of me was scared when I heard, because I talked to him. It’s a little creepy,” said Chris Yoder, 23, who once lived nearby.
Rader has yet to be charged, but a jubilant collection of law enforcers and community leaders told the crowd in City Council chambers they were confident the long-running case could now be closed.
“Victims whose voices were brutally silenced by the evil of one man will now have their voices heard again,” Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline said.
Rader was being held at an undisclosed location, and it was not immediately clear if he had a lawyer.
Prosecutor Nola Foulston said the death penalty would not apply to any crime committed before 1994, when the death penalty was introduced in Kansas.
The BTK slayings began in 1974 with the strangulations of Joseph Otero, 38, his wife, Julie, 34, and their two children. The six victims that followed were all women, and most were strangled to death.
Along with his grisly crimes, the killer stoked fears in Wichita by sending rambling letters to the media, including one in which he named himself BTK for “Bind them, Torture them, Kill them.” In another he complained, “How many do I have to kill before I get my name in the paper or some national attention?”
But he stopped communicating in 1979 and remained silent for more than two decades before re-establishing contact last March with a letter to The Wichita Eagle about an unsolved 1986 killing.
The letter included a copy of the victim’s driver’s license and photos of her slain body. The return address on the letter said it was from Bill Thomas Killman — initials BTK.
Since then, the killer had sent at least eight letters to the media or police, including three packages containing jewelry that police believed may have been taken from BTK’s victims. One letter contained the driver’s license of victim Nancy Fox.
The new letters sent chills through Wichita but also rekindled hope that modern forensic science could find some clue that would finally lead police to the killer.
Thousands of tips poured in, and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation gathered thousands of DNA swabs in connection with the BTK investigation. In the end, DNA evidence was the key to cracking the case, said Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius.
“The way they made the link was some DNA evidence, that they had some DNA connection to the guy who they arrested,” Sebelius said in an interview with The Associated Press. She did not elaborate.
The two newly identified cases were similar to the early ones with one exception, Sedgwick County Sheriff Gary Stead said: The bodies had been removed from the crime scenes. One of the victims lived on the same street as Rader.
“We as investigators keep an open mind. But only now are we able to bring them together as BTK cases,” he said.
On Friday, investigators searched Rader’s house and seized computer equipment.
Authorities, who generally declined to answer questions in detail after announcing the arrest, had little to say about why BTK resurfaced after years without contact.
“It is possible something in his life has changed. I think he felt the need to get his story out,” said Richard LaMunyon, Wichita’s police chief from 1963 to 1989.