When BTK Strangler serial killer Dennis Rader was arrested it was due to his “drops,” his series of 11 packages, cards and letters he created during a nearly one year period from March 2004 until February 2005. Prior to then he had basically gotten away with murder, at least 10 of them, as well as gotten away with taunting the people of Wichita, Kansas with his feared self-created persona. Even the police had nearly given up the hunt for him, which started in 1974 with the murders of four members of the Otero family in their home. There hadn’t been a confirmed message from BTK since 1979, and no one had been able to link any subsequent murder definitively to him. It was assumed the killer was dead, incarcerated, locked up in a mental institution or otherwise out of commission. He wasn’t, of course, but was alive and well and living in nearby Park City, Kansas with his wife and two children, an otherwise law-abiding citizen who raised no suspicions of being a serial killer. The murders would continue as well, until at least 1991.
If he had maintained his silence, BTK would still be a free man today, writing citations and catching dogs for the city of Park City. But his ego was way too big for his hat, and he just had to let everyone know he was still at large, the same old feared serial killer on the loose. Perhaps it was caused by the release of the first book exclusively about him, Robert Beattie’s “Nightmare in Wichita, the Hunt for the BTK Strangler,” which was intended to alert a whole new generation of Wichitans to the crimes of BTK as well as the struggle to apprehend him. So instead of easing toward an eventual quiet retirement into oblivion, BTK instead unwittingly unleashed one of the biggest manhunts in US history. But he himself became so obsessed by the resulting media barrage that he couldn’t resist feeding it further and further with more of his outlandish drops.
It all started in March, 2004 when a letter arrived at the Wichita Eagle newspaper, from a “Bill Thomas Killman.” It contained 3 photocopied photos of a woman who appeared to be dead or unconscious, posed differently in each one. It also contained a photocopy of the driver’s license of the same woman, who was murder victim Vicki Wegerle. She had been killed at home one morning in 1986, and the only item known to be missing from her house was her driver’s license. The letter bore a signature, a weird symbol of the intertwined letters BTK. The letter was authenticated by the FBI as a genuine communication from the Bind-Torture-Kill serial killer, and an old cold case was closed as another BTK murder.
The dust from the resulting uproar hadn’t begun to settle when another mysterious letter arrived, this time on May 5, 2004 at the studios of KAKE-TV, the Wichita ABC affililiate. This was a lengthy word puzzle consisting of columns of letters and a few numbers mixed in. The FBI verified that this also came from BTK, as he characteristically used his unique signature, but couldn’t make any particular sense out of the puzzle. There were a number of words and phrases discerned within it, but what did it all mean?
On June 9, 2004 a package was found taped to a stop sign at the corner of First and Kansas, in the middle of the city. This contained a disturbing collection of documents, including a letter detailing the grisly murders of the Otero family and a sketch of a nude and bound female hanging by a rope. Eleven year old Josephine Otero had been hanged by a rope in the basement of their home in 1974. The sketch was labeled, “The Sexual Thrill is My Bill.” Also enclosed was a chapter list entitled “The BTK Story” that mimicked the chapter list of David Lohr’s original article on BTK at the on-line Crime Library. Chapter One was entitled, “A Serial Killer is Born.”
On July 17, 2004 a package marked “BTK” was found in a book return at the Wichita Public Library downtown. It contained a worrisome message: “I have spotted a female that I think lives alone and/or is a spotted latchkey kid. Just got to work out the details. I’m much older (not feeble) now and have to conditions myself carefully. Also my thinking process is not as sharp as it uses to be … I think fall or winter would be just about right for the HIT. Got to do it this year or next! … time is running out for me.” This same package contained an intriguing claim that he, BTK, had engineered the recent death of a 19 year old man from Argonia, Kansas, named Jake Allen. Jake Allen had committed suicide by lying on railroad tracks 12 days earlier. BTK claimed to have lured the young man to his death via a series of computer chats. (This claim was later disproven as a hoax, as there was no evidence that Allen had ever had any such Internet chat with anyone, and his death is still seen as a suicide).
Despite huge pressure from the public, the police refused to release many details of the packages from June on, as it was feared that hearing these things could provoke BTK into a killing frenzy. Many of the details of the package contents weren’t made public until after Dennis Rader pleaded guilty to 10 murders on June 27, 2005.
The fifth drop didn’t occur until October 22, 2004 when a UPS worker found a strange manila envelope while picking up the contents of the UPS box at the Omni Center by Second and Kansas. This consisted of a very disturbing assortment of cards that had images pasted on them, including one of a bound woman with a look of sheer terror on her face. One card contained a poem called “Death to Landwehr,” a reference to Lt. Ken Landwehr who was head of the BTK investigation.
There was a collage of pictures of children with bindings drawn across their bodies and faces. This envelope also contained what BTK claimed to be his autobiography, listing a number of details about his life such as being born in 1939, his father dying in the war, mother dated a railroad detective and so on. Almost all of it was actually false, an attempt to mislead police into researching false clues. The police did release the autobiography to the public a few weeks later, which undoubtedly would have greatly pleased if not excited BTK.
What the Wichita Police Dept. was actually doing was following the FBI’s advice: keep the killer communicating. Don’t offend him publicly. Don’t over-excite him into killing some more. Just keep communicating until he makes a mistake.
The sixth drop was discovered on December 14, 2004. A man walking through Murdock Park that night noticed a package wrapped in white plastic leaning against a tree. Out of curiosity he took it home with him and opened it. It contained a “PJ” doll. The doll’s head had a plastic bag tied over it. Its hands were tied behind its back and its feet were bound together. Tied to the feet was a real driver’s license belonging to BTK murder victim Nancy Fox whom he had killed in December 1977. The man immediately notified KAKE-TV, who arrived and photographed the contents and notified police. KAKE agreed not to broadcast what was found in the package, for fear of arousing the killer.
The seventh drop was not revealed to the public until after the arrest. BTK had left a Special K cereal box marked “BTK” and “bomb” in the bed of a pickup truck parked at the Home Depot on North Woodlawn on January 8. The truck belonged to an employee of Home Depot. He thought it was trash at first and put it in a trash can at home. Luckily his wife had thrown a discarded pillow on top of the box, unwittingly preserving it. Days later when the man realized the significance of the box they retrieved it and notified police. By checking surveillance tape of the parking lot, the first glimpse of BTK was seen but the image was too far away and blurry for identification. But by measuring the wheelbase of the black vehicle he was driving it was determined the vehicle was a Jeep Cherokee. The box itself contained information about some of his “PJs” or projects, intended victims that he had watched or stalked. It also contained more misleading information of how he lived in a 3 story home in Wichita with an elevator that had a bomb in the basement rigged to explode if the house were invaded.
The eighth drop was another cereal box from the “cereal” killer, this one a Post Toasties. It was discovered on January 25, 2005 as the result of a tip from drop #9, which was a postcard sent to KAKE from an S. Killet using as return address the address of the Otero house. The Post Toasties box was found leaning against a road sign on a desolate unpaved section of North Seneca to the north of the Wichita city limits. KAKE videotaped the box without touching it and notified police. It had a brick on top of it and appeared weathered. It was later revealed to have contained another doll, this one with a rope tied around its neck and tied to a plumbing fixture, simulating the hanging of Josephine Otero. (For a silent video of BTK dolls, sketches, driver’s licenses, see this clip from KWCH.com).
The tenth drop was another postcard that arrived on February 3, again sent to KAKE. Return address was Happ Kakemann, a 1950s character from KAKE’s past. This one stated: Thank you for your quick response on #7 and 8. Thank to the news team for their efforts. Sorry about Susan’s and Jeff’s colds. Business issues: Tell WPD that I receive Newspaper Tip for a go. Test run soon. Thanks. PS: May want to use KTV-PC-etc code # and Letters from me for my Verification code to you. He was referring to an actual newspaper ad in the Wichita Eagle placed there by detectives. In a previous communication, BTK had asked the police if it would be safe to put his writings onto a computer diskette. The responding ad assured him in agreed-upon code: Rex it will be OK. (For more images of evidence items, plus victims and survivors, see BTK Victims, Survivors and Evidence Gallery).
Drop #11 arrived at the studios of KSAS-TV on February 16, the Fox affiliate in Wichita. It contained a letter, a piece of jewelry and a purple diskette referred to as “Test Floppy for WPD review.” Detectives wasted little time analyzing the diskette and found software on it from Christ Lutheran Church in Wichita and the name Dennis. BTK had apparently thought he had erased the original contents of the diskette and that it would be “safe” to use it for his purposes. A quick Internet search brought up a website for the church mentioning its current president, Dennis Rader. A group of detectives quietly drove by Rader’s house in Park City and noted a black Jeep Cherokee parked in the driveway. Rader was placed under surveillance while a subpoena was secretly obtained for a DNA sample of his daughter from medical records. The familial DNA was a match to DNA found from semen at BTK crime scenes and the case was solved.
After eating lunch at home as was his custom, on February 25, 2005 Rader was driving back to work when he noticed he was totally surrounded by police, a good 50 or so of them. He surrendered quietly and was led to a waiting police car, handcuffed.
“Hello, Mr. Landwehr,” he said once inside the car.
“”Hello, Mr. Rader,” Lt. Ken Landwehr responded.
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