In Kansas, a Serial Killer Resurfaces, Tantalizingly
Published: December 3, 2004 (must register to view original article)

WICHITA, Kan., Dec. 2 - When a serial killer calling himself B.T.K. wrote to The Wichita Eagle in March, it was the first time he was known to have contacted anyone since the 1970's. In the months since then, he has sent several other tantalizing letters to the newspaper and the Wichita police.

Apparently, he told them quite a lot about himself.

This week, the police released a highly detailed profile of the killer based on his letters, raising hopes of a breakthrough in a case that has haunted Wichita for a generation.

The police have linked B.T.K. to eight slayings, including four members of one family who were strangled in 1974. The last victim was strangled in 1986; a photocopy of her driver's license was included in the letter The Eagle received in March.

The killer took the name B.T.K. for himself, saying it stood for "Bind, Torture, Kill," which he described as his pattern.

The profile released on Tuesday contained a long list of characteristics the killer claimed to have. Detectives asked people to consider whether the characteristics matched those of anyone they knew.

According to the list, the killer claimed, among other things, that he was born in 1939, his grandfather played the fiddle and died of lung disease, his mother dated a railroad detective, he was a veteran, he was fascinated with trains, he has worked repairing copying machines, and he had a female Hispanic acquaintance named Petra who had a younger sister named Tina.

The release of this list set off an intense wave of speculation that stretched from Wichita coffee shops to Internet chat rooms where people compared clues, exchanged gossip and offered theories about the case.

Then, on Wednesday evening, the police raided a house in southeastern Wichita and arrested a 65-year old man on charges unrelated to the killings. Local news reports were full of speculation about whether B.T.K. had been caught.

But Chief Norman Williams of the Wichita police said on Thursday that no arrest had been made in the case, and he criticized the news media for jumping to conclusions.

"It's a travesty when you look at the impact, and you look at what has happened to a neighborhood because people assume that the Wichita Police Department was making an arrest in regards to B.T.K," Chief Williams said at a news conference.

The police said the man was arrested on charges of trespassing and violating housing codes. On Thursday night, KAKE-TV in Wichita broadcast an interview with a woman it identified as the man's sister. She said that nothing in his background other than his age and military experience fit the list of characteristics the police issued this week.

"He was a family man, and he wouldn't hurt anybody," she said.

A spokesman for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, Kyle Smith, said investigators had sent samples of the man's DNA to a laboratory for testing, The Eagle reported. Mr. Smith said the samples would be compared with others connected to the B.T.K. case.

Police spokesmen cautioned that in recent years they had sent the DNA of hundreds of men to be checked in the B.T.K. case. They say they have no evidence tying the man to the killings.

Though elusive, B.T.K. has not been quiet. He wrote his first letter in 1974, placed it in a book in a Wichita library and told The Eagle where to find it. In the letter, he took responsibility for killing the four family members and included enough details for the police to take him seriously.

The police theorize that the same killer is responsible for at least four other homicides in Wichita. In each case, he appeared to have stalked the victims, slipped into their homes, cut their telephone lines and then assaulted them, tied them up and slowly killed them.

He sent The Eagle a poem about one of his murders and is believed to have called a police dispatcher to report another. Once, he sent a letter to a woman saying that he had been waiting for her in her home, but that he did not have the patience to stay until she returned.

All of this sent a wave of fear surging through Wichita, and because no one was ever charged in the case, it has never fully dissipated.

Police investigators devoted millions of dollars and countless hours to the case, but were never able to come up with a suspect.

Some people here came to believe that B.T.K. might have died, been arrested in another case, been committed to a mental institution or simply moved away.

Though his recent letters have led to speculation that the killer wanted to be caught, Gregg McCrary, a former F.B.I. profiler who now teaches forensic psychology and runs a consulting business in Virginia, said he was not so sure.

"If he wanted to be caught, he could just turn himself in and we'd be done with it," Mr. McCrary said. "There's going to be some truth in there, but the truth helps the lies go down, so to speak."

The letter sent to The Eagle in March came with a photocopy of a driver's license and photocopies of three blurry pictures of a woman's body in front of a television set. The license bore the name of Vicki Wegerle, who was strangled in 1986. The license has been missing.

That letter and several others that The Eagle and police investigators have received since then riveted Wichita's attention. All of them included a symbol the police say that only they and the killer knew, and that convinced them that the letters were authentic.

On the streets of Wichita on Thursday, people expressed guarded hope that the B.T.K. case might be nearing a close.

"I just wonder if he's sick and wanted this whole thing solved before something else happened," said Mary Lou Rivers, 62.

Robert Beattie, a Wichita lawyer who is writing a book about the case, said Thursday that he would "urge caution" to anyone who thought the case might be solved. "All we know is this guy has been arrested for misdemeanors," he said.

Mr. Beattie said the apparent progress in the case had raised the hopes of victims' friends and families.

"I had a call this morning from a family member of one of the victims saying they were meeting and crying," he said. "They hope this long tragedy will be brought to an end."

Howard Brodsky, a Wichita psychologist who worked with the police on the case in the 1970's, said, "This guy's really taken it upon himself to toy with the media and the police."

Gretchen Ruethling contributed reporting from Chicago for this article, and Glen Sharpe from Wichita.