Bind, Torture, Kill
// December 27th, 2012 // Unsolved
The Mystery Begins
On January 15, 1974 shortly before 4:00 PM, three young children arrived home from school in Wichita, Kansas to find their father, Joseph Otero, mother, Julie Otero, and their two siblings Josephine (age 11) and Joseph II (age 9) strangled to death in their home. Joseph was found lying face down on the floor with his hands and feet bound with a cord that had been ripped from a Venetian blind from one of the rooms. Julie was found in the bedroom, lying on the bed, bound in a similar manner. Both appeared to have been strangled by a strip of cord cut from the Venetian blind. The police were quickly summoned to the 803 North Edgemoor residence and the investigation commenced into what would soon turn out to be one of the Nation’s most bizarre and long-lasting serial killing sprees.
Police discovered 9 year old Joseph Jr. in his bedroom lying near the foot of his bed. He was also tied with cord but appeared to have been suffocated with a plastic bag placed over his head rather than choked with the cord itself. They found 11 year old Josephine in the basement hanging by a rope tied to a water pipe – she was wearing only a sweatshirt and socks. Police found that the phone lines leading into the home had been cut, disabling all communications to the dwelling. The family car, a 1966 Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser station wagon, was also missing. Further investigation revealed semen in various locations around the house – concentrated mostly around the victims bodies. Police were perplexed.
Later that day, sometime around 7:00 PM, the police found the Otero vehicle at a nearby Dillon’s parking lot (see picture below – vehicle is the 2nd vehicle by the center light pole – click picture for full size view). The parking lot was less than one mile from the Otero’s home. The vehicle was parked in the center of the lot near a light pole, easily visible from the street. The killer had apparently driven the vehicle into the lot entrance and parked the car in the first empty spot available. Police presumed the killer drove the vehicle directly from the scene of the murders to the parking lot and then fled the parking lot on foot.
The First Letters Arrive
Soon after, a Wichita Eagle newspaper reporter received an anonymous phone call. The enigmatic caller told the reporter that he could find valuable clues in a Mechanical Engineering book in the Wichita Public library. The reporter tracked down the book and found a letter tucked inside. The author of the letter claimed responsibility for the Otera killings and provided additional details that nobody but the killer could have possibly known. During the next few weeks, more letters arrived at the Wichita Eagle newspaper taunting the police investigators. They were signed BTK, or "bind, torture, kill".
I write this letter to you for the sake of the tax payer as well as your time. Those three dude you have in custody are just talking to get publicity for the Otero murders, They know nothing at all. I did it by myself and no ones help. There has been no talk either. Lets put it straight.
Position: Southwest bedroom, feet tie to the bed. Head pointed in a southerly direction.
Bondage: Window blind cord.
Garrote: Blind cord, brown belt.
Death: The old bag trick and strangulation with clothes line rope.
Clothed: White sweat shirt, green pants.
Comments: He threw up at one time. Had rib injury from wreck few week before. Laying on coat.
Position: Laying on her back crosswise on the bed pointed in southwestern direction. Face cover with a pillow.
Bondage: Blind cord.
Garrote: Clothes line cord tie in a clove-hitch.
Death : Strangulation twice.
Clothes: Blue house coat, black slack, white sock.
Comments: Blood on face from too much pressure on the neck, bed unmade.
Position: Hanging by the neck in the northwest part of the basement. Dryer or freezer north of her body.
Bondage: Hand tie with blind cord. Feet and lower knees, upper knees and waist with clothes line cord. All one length.
Garrote: Rough hemp rope 1/4 dia., noose with four or five turns.
Clothes: Dark bra cut in the middle, sock.
Death: Strangulation once, hung.
Comments: Most of her clothes at the bottom of the stairs, green pants, and panties. Her glasses in the southwest bedroom.
Position: In the east bedroom laying on his back pointed in eastern direction.
Bondage: Blind cord.
Garrote: Three hoods; white T-shirt, white plastic bag, another T-shirt
Clothes line cord with clove-hitch.
Death: Suffocation once, strangulation-suffocation with the old bag trick.
Clothes: Brown pants, yellow-brown stripe T-shirt
Comments: His radio is blaring .
All victims had their hands tie behind their backs. Gags of pillow case material. Slip knots on Joe and Joseph neck to hold leg down or was at one time. Purse contents south of the table. Spilled drink in that area also, kids making lunches. Door shade in red chair in the living room. Otero’s watch missing. I needed one so I took it. Runs good. Thermostat turn down. Car was dirty inside, out of gas.
I’m sorry this happen to society…. …Good luck with your hunting.
YOURS, TRULY GUILTILY.
P.S. Since sex criminals do not change their M.O. or by nature cannot do so, I will not change mine. The code words for me will be … Bind them, Torture them, Kill them, B.T.K., you see be at it again. They will be on the next victim.
On August 4, 1974, three months after the Otera killings, the partially dressed body of 21 year old Kathryn Bright was found in her home located at 3217 E. 13th Street. Just as in the Otero case, she had been bound with cord and strangled. She had also been brutally stabbed multiple times.
Evidence found on the Bright murder scene allowed police to quickly accredit the killing to the BTK killer. There were also suggestions that police may have found a "murder kit" in a nearby truck hidden under a tarp (some think that BTK may have hidden under the tarp when police arrived and then slipped away unnoticed, leaving the kit containing rope and wire cutting tools, behind).
Another key piece of evidence resulting from the Bright murder – a witness. Kevin Bright, the brother of Kathryn Bright, was at the Bright home when the killing occurred. Kevin struggled with the attacker and was strangled and shot in the head. He feigned death and when BTK subsequently noticed that he was still alive, he was shot again – in the head. Remarkably, Kevin survived and even remained conscious. When the BTK Killer’s attention was diverted, Kevin fled the scene to seek help.
Kevin later recounted how BTK had told him that he was "a wanted man in California and was seeking a car to escape". Kevin also stated that BTK had casually commented, "Hey, haven’t I seen you at the University?" Almost 3 decades later, Kevin would hold the unique distinction of being the only victim to survive a BTK attack.
Nearly three years later, on March 17, 1977, Wichita police received a call for assistance at 1311 South Hydraulic Street. When they arrived, they found the body of 26 year old Shirley Vian. As with the other victims, she was partially undressed, bound with cord, and had a plastic bag placed over her head. They found her three young children, alive, locked in a nearby closet. Tragically, one of the children, 5-year old Steve Relford, later told police in a haunting statement, that he had witnessed the entire incident by peeking through the keyhole in the door. Police attributed the killing to BTK but were puzzled as to why the serial killer was deviating from normal tendencies ascribed to serial killers – particularly, why had he waited 3 years before killing again.
On December 8, 1977, almost 9 months after the Vian murder, police received yet another call. The call, which was later traced to a phone booth in downtown Wichita near Coleman Industries, instructed police to go to 843 South Pershing Street. The caller relayed information from a driver’s license he claimed to have taken off of a woman he had just murdered. When police entered the home they found 25 year old Nancy Jo Fox dead on the living room floor. They concluded that she had been killed the night before and that she had been torturously strangled and revived repeatedly. Again, semen was found on the scene but police concluded that Nancy Jo had not been raped. Police also noticed that there were no defensive wounds on the victim. They began to feel that the lack of defensive wounds on this victim and all the previous victims seemed to indicate that the killer had a superb control on his victims – either by force or by deception. He was either someone they knew or someone whom they felt comfortable allowing into their homes.
The last regular communication with BTK occurred in 1979 after which he went dormant for several years. In his previous communications, he pleaded for publicity and made it clear that he wanted to gain national attention along the lines of the Hillside Strangler and Jack the Ripper. Since the murders had suddenly ceased, police assumed the killer must have died or been imprisoned. Most crime investigators and criminal psychologists had previously thought that it was literally impossible for serial killers to stop their murder sprees by their own free will.
How many do I have to kill, before I get my name in the paper or some national attention? Do the cops think that all those deaths are not related? Yes, the M.O. is different in each, but look at the pattern that is developing. The victims are tied up _ most have been women _ phone cut _ bring some bondage mater sadist tendencies _ no struggle, outside the death spot _ no witnesses except the Vian’s kids…
After a thing like Fox, I come home and go about life like anyone else. And I will be like that until the urge hits me again…
In 1984, 5 years after the last regular communication, police set up a task force called "the Ghostbusters". This task force began examining the BTK evidence using extensive computer analysis. They discovered that all murders had been committed within a few miles of each other leading them to the conclusion that the killer was from the immediate area. They also discovered that some of the letters had been ingeniously run through copy machines multiple times making them impossible to trace. But, it was determined that one of the copies was made in the Wichita State University Library, leading them to believe that possibly a student or ex-student may be involved.
In April of 1985, Marine Hedge was found dead. Her body had been removed from the scene of the crime and disposed of. Police realized that the evidence found indicated that the BTK killer could have been responsible, although this method of removing the body from the scene differed from the killers previous modus operandi. They certainly were not confident in their assumption though. They began to wonder if the original killer had returned or if a copycat killer was stepping into his place.
On September 16, 1986, Bill Wegerle returned to his home shortly before noon and found his wife, 28-year old Vicki Wegerle, strangled and sprawled on their bedroom floor. Police were summoned to the 2400 block of West 13th Street to investigate the murder where they determined that nothing had been stolen and that the only item missing from the house was Vicki’s drivers license. Although the circumstances appeared similar to the previous BTK killings, since 7 years had passed since the last communication, the police still wondered if there was no connection to the BTK killer. The connection would be soundly made almost 15 years later.
Six years later, in January of 1991, the body of Delores Davis was found near a river in rural Sedgwick County. Police inferred that she had been abducted from her home, strangled, and her body transported and dumped in the remote rural area. The police concluded that the BTK Killer was the most likely suspect. Almost 20 years after the first murder, the BTK Killer was still at work, leading police to the assumption that this serial killer could obviously take off for years on end and resume killing on a whim. A "part-time serial killer" would be very difficult to apprehend.
New Letters Arrive 30 Years Later
On March 19, 2004, over 30 years after the first murder, the Wichita Eagle received a strange letter. Postmarked March 17, 2004, the letter with a return address of Bill Thomas Killman (i.e. BTK), contained startling evidence. Inside the envelope was a copy of Vicki Wegerle’s driver’s license and three photograph copies of her body. In the three photograph copies, police noted that the body and clothing was moved to a different position in each subsequent picture. They quickly ruled out the possibility that the photos could be crime scene photos since crime scene analysts would never touch, nor certainly move, the body during the course of taking crime scene pictures. They determined that whoever had taken the pictures had deliberately moved the body to a different position before snapping the photo. They deduced the letter was most certainly from the BTK killer. Police had linked BTK to his 8th killing. Hurst Laviana of the Wichita Eagle reported:
I think the family always in the back of their minds thought it was BTK but as far as I know, the police never fixed on him as a suspect until today.
The return address on the letter was 1684 South Oldmanor. Police swiftly dispatched to the location only to find an empty, vacant lot.
On May 5, 2004 yet another piece of the baffling puzzle emerged. ABC affiliate, KAKE, Channel 12 in Wichita, Kansas received a puzzle and photocopies of two employees identification cards. A photocopy of the card of a Southwestern Bell employee and a Wichita Public School employee were enclosed. Neither employee had any idea how copies of their photo identification cards could have been obtained by a third party. Police were able to determine conclusively, that this letter was also sent from the BTK killer, although its precise meaning was unknown.
Police Release More Clues
In late 2004, Wichita Police released new evidence to the public. As is common in criminal cases, not all evidence was exposed to the public. By keeping certain elements of the crime from the public, police gain the upper hand when the criminal is captured or confesses.
Wichita police Lieutenant Ken Landwehr, held a public news conference and released details about the BTK killer to reporters, details that were gained from the text of the BTK letters to the Wichita Eagle. Landwehr explained:
In these letters, he has provided certain background information about himself which he claims is accurate.
The contents of the letters revealed an amazing amount of detail including the fact that he was born in 1939 (which would make BTK around 65 years old in 2004), that his family moved around often and always lived near railroad tracks, that his father was killed in World War II and he had been raised by his mother with the help of his grandmother, that his mother dated a railroad detective, that his grandfather played the fiddle and died of lung disease, that he had a cousin named Susan who lived in Missouri, and that he had once had a friend named Petra who had a younger sister named Tina.
Police were not sure how accurate these statements were but did believe that at least parts of the information were correct.
Soon, additional letters arrived along with more personal items from the victims. Packages containing key evidence were purposely left in public places. Communications via electronic media began. It was clear that the BTK killer had resurfaced and was in the process of disposing of his "trophies" and he was doing so in a hurried and sloppy manner. He was also clearing up misconceptions about the previous murders. When referring to the Shirley Vian killing, BTK expounded on the reason the children were left alive:
They were very lucky; a phone call save them. I was going to tape the boys and put plastic bags over there head like I did Joseph and Shirley – and then hang the girl. God-oh God what a beautiful sexual relief this would been.
Some believed that the BTK Killer was readying himself to be caught. Possibly something in his life changed – something that was driving him to discretely provide the local authorities with clues that could lead to his arrest. Or possibly the BTK killer decided that the 30th anniversary of his first killing would be a good time to obtain the media hype he had so long desired. Others believed that the BTK Killer was jealous of the recent publicity given to the Green River Killer and the Washington Sniper cases. Whatever the rationale, the BTK killer was carelessly leaving additional clues.
An Arrest is Made
After over three decades, police arrested 59 year old Dennis L. Rader (see sidebar) on February 25, 2005 based partly on "DNA evidence". Rader, a city worker in nearby Park City for over 14 years, was arrested by Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams. Rader’s home was searched and computer equipment seized. He was accused of killing 10 people between 1974 and 1991. Rader confessed to some (at least 6) of the killings. Details on the DNA evidence are sketchy by it is assumed that the DNA evidence (obtained from the crime scenes, recent letters, and DNA samples from Rader’s daughter), a traceable electronic communication (from a floppy diskette – see sidebar for details) that was traced to Rader’s church, and publicity resulting from the recent letters received from the BTK killer, allowed the police to pry enough details from the general public to pinpoint Rader as the culprit. Police note that since the latest known killing was 1991, the death penalty, which was reinstated in Kansas in 1994, would not apply (unless they can tie a cold-case murder committed after 1994 to him – and there is at least one murder where Rader could be a suspect).
In what had to be a surreal realization, Police also noted that Rader had previously served in the Air Force as a Telephone Specialist and had also worked for ADT Security Systems as an installation manager. During his tenure with ADT, Rader had extensive knowledge of all the home security installations that his company conducted and even drew circuit diagrams to make sure workers installed the systems correctly. This tied in closely with several of the cases where it appeared the victims may have known or trusted their killer and also proves notable given that phone lines had been cut to at least one of the victim’s homes. The tenure of Rader with ADT Security Systems ran from 1974 through 1989 – during the peak of the BTK killings.
That a serial killer can begin a killing spree, stop for many years, resume killing again, and years later continue taunting the police is the most troublesome characteristic of BTK.
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