The Killer Next Door

Something doesn’t seem right, thought Cindy Plant, as her truck bounced along an old dirt road north of Wichita last January. Plant, 52, is code and animal control officer for the tiny community of Valley Center, which lies just north of the country road. Valley Center has many paved highways, but Cindy prefers North Seneca Street, a less traveled agricultural route that parts a sea of wheat fields.

She was taking Seneca to Park City, a nearby town where her friend Dennis Rader held the same position she did. They’d met in 1991 when Plant, a sturdy blonde with a soft open face, trained Rader in animal control — teaching him how to recognize and evaluate dog behavior, when to use the tranquilizer gun, and how to deal with sadness when dogs need to be put down.

The back of Plant’s truck is often populated with a barking dog or two, generally in some state of distress, but today what distracted her was litter — specifically a Post Toasties cereal box propped up against a road-curve signpost. As a code officer, Plant pays attention to trash. “If I see tires dumped, or an old freezer, I get out and report it to Environmental Health,” she says. “When you look at trash and debris, it’s flung, it’s thrown, it’s blown, but it’s never propped up.” Plant passed the box for several days, curious yet always too busy to get out and take a look.

As Plant suspected, the cereal box was not trash. It had been weighted with a brick and positioned carefully against the signpost by Wichita’s notorious serial killer, who in a letter to police once referred to himself as BTK — short for “bind them, toture [sic] them, kill them.”

BTK enjoyed corresponding with the cops, sometimes via the media. In a postcard tip sent to a local TV station about the time Plant spotted the cereal box, the killer indicated its location, and said the box contained a doll, some jewelry, and an “acronym list” that may have been a word puzzle.

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