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Wichita Police Arrest Suspect in BTK Serial Killings

By Peter Slevin and Lois Romano
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 27, 2005; Page A01

WICHITA, Feb. 26 -- It took 31 years and countless clues delivered by the killer himself, but jubilant Wichita police on Saturday named a Lutheran church leader and government inspector as the notorious BTK strangler, a poetry-writing attention seeker who murdered at least 10 people and dared the authorities to catch him.

BTK -- for "bind, torture, kill" -- always said in his taunting messages that he wanted national attention and a catchy, tough-guy nickname. He became so audacious that he once called 911 to report a homicide he himself had committed and strangled a neighbor who lived just six doors away.

Relatives of victims applaud Saturday at City Hall in Wichita, as authorities announce the arrest of a man believed to be the BTK serial killer, who terrorized Wichita in the 1970s and resurfaced a year ago. (Randy Tobias -- Wichita Eagle Via AP)

BTK Timeline

Jan. 15, 1974: Joseph Otero, 38, and his wife, Julie, 34, are strangled in their home along with two of their children, Josephine, 11, and Joseph II, 9.

April 4, 1974: Kathryn Bright, 21, is stabbed to death in her home. Police later conclude she was a BTK victim.

October 1974: The Wichita Eagle-Beacon gets a letter from someone taking responsibility for the Otero family killing and including crime scene details.

March 17, 1977: Shirley Vian, 24, is found tied up and strangled at her home.

Dec. 8, 1977: Nancy Fox, 25, is found tied up and strangled in her home. The killer's voice is captured on tape when he calls a dispatcher to report the crime.

Jan. 31, 1978: A poem referring to the Vian killing is sent to the Wichita Eagle-Beacon.

Feb. 10, 1978: A letter from BTK is sent to KAKE-TV claiming responsibility for the deaths of Vian, Fox and an unnamed victim. Police Chief Richard LaMunyon says a serial killer is at large and has threatened to strike again.

Aug. 15, 1979: Police get more than 100 tips in the first day of radio and TV broadcasts that repeat the voice of the BTK strangler from the 1977 recording.

April 28, 1979: BTK waits inside a home but leaves before the 63-year-old woman who lives there returns. He later sends her a letter letting her know he was there.

Sept. 16, 1986: Vicki Wegerle, 28, is strangled in her home.

March 19, 2004: A letter arrives at the Wichita Eagle containing a photocopy of Wegerle's driver's license and photos of her body. Police link it to BTK.

Feb. 26, 2005: After receiving several more letters, authorities announce the arrest of BTK. Police identify him as Dennis Rader, 59, a municipal worker in nearby Park City.

Only on Saturday did police formally link her death to BTK, whom they identified as Dennis Rader, a married father of two grown children.

"The bottom line," Police Chief Norman Williams announced to whoops and cheers at a City Hall news conference, "BTK is arrested."

Rader, in custody awaiting formal charges, worked as a compliance officer in Park City, just north of Wichita, and attended Christ Lutheran Church for at least 25 years. He is president of the church's governing council. Pastor Michael Clark said the congregation is in a "state of shock and bewilderment." He asked for Wichita's care and compassion.

"If you asked me to make a list of 500 names, his name wouldn't have been on it," one Christ Lutheran member said. "A quarter evidently has two sides, and no one, obviously, saw the other side."

Once Rader had been identified, details of his biography matched leads and suppositions developed by detectives through the years. In the 1970s, he worked at a nearby Coleman camping gear plant where two of his victims were employed. He graduated in 1979 from Wichita State University, where detectives 25 years ago found a photocopier used by BTK -- and where they speculated he studied a poem he mimicked in a later missive.

Wichita police have been embarrassed by mistaken arrests in the case twice before, but they are confident that Rader, 59, is their man. Dozens of law officers and politicians attended the news conference, along with invited relatives of BTK's victims. The first 46 minutes were defined by congratulations and bear hugs.

Boasts about the teamwork and technology that finally led to Rader were broad, but information remained scarce. Lt. Ken Landwehr, a Wichita detective who has tracked BTK from the start, received two standing ovations before he spoke. He then spent less than two minutes revealing what little information the authorities -- determined not to botch the prosecution -- want known.

Beyond the investigation, the search for the self-named BTK has been a Wichita parlor game. The fascination hit a new peak Friday with the arrest of Rader in a traffic stop. Internet message boards created years ago to absorb the public buzz sizzled with theories and details, including an unconfirmed report that Rader's adult daughter put two and two together and alerted police.

In Rader's working-class neighborhood, people wondered how a killer could have lived in their midst while some felt they just knew BTK must have been responsible for the killing of 53-year-old Marine Hedge, a neighbor of Rader's on Independence Street.

"It's like putting together a puzzle," said Mary Dudley, county coroner and director of the Sedgwick County Regional Forensic Science Center. "It's such a frustrating case, with getting communications . . . taunting the police."

It was those communications that drove authorities to distraction in the 1970s but ultimately helped the case against Rader, police said. BTK had a history of writing letters to police and news organizations, sometimes mailing them, other times leaving them in public library books.

"I can't stop it so the monster goes on and hurts me as well as society . . .," he wrote after the early killings. "It's a big complicated game my friend the monster play, putting victims number down, follow them, checking up on them, waiting in the dark, waiting, waiting. . . ."

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