The Killer Next Door

No one ever suspected this ordinary man could be the killer next door.

By Max Alexander from Reader's Digest | July 2005

In December of the same year, not far from Vian’s home, BTK bound and strangled Nancy Fox, a 25-year-old secretary; then he used a downtown pay phone to report the homicide. “You had to have lived here to know the fear that gripped this city,” recalls Plant. “The Otero killings happened on my 21st birthday. I was a young mother and just scared to death.” Robert Beattie, a local lawyer and author of a book about BTK called Nightmare in Wichita, says a generation of Wichita women took to checking their phone lines the moment they entered their homes.

In 1975, after BTK had killed five people, Rader’s son, Brian, was born. When Paula Rader was pregnant again, in January 1978, BTK claimed responsibility for killing Shirley Vian in a poem called “Shirleylocks,” based on the nursery rhyme “Curley Locks,” that he sent to the Wichita newspaper. Ten days later he sent another poem to a local TV station in which he described killing Nancy Fox. “Seven down and many more to go,” he warned. Four months later, Kerri Rader was born.

During those years, Rader attended Wichita State University — graduating in 1979 with a degree in administration of justice, which typically leads to a career in law enforcement.

At the same time, Arlyn Smith, a young Wichita detective, hoped to trace the killer through the physical evidence of his letters. BTK usually sent police poor photocopies of the original letters, to distort the typewriter’s “fingerprint.” But Smith figured even photocopies must have some identifiable characteristics. The Xerox Corporation, along with paper and toner manufacturers, agreed to help. Thanks to their efforts, some of BTK’s letters were traced to two copy machines on the Wichita State campus.

Police had located the haystack, but they still had to find the needle. Then, after seven victims, the letters and killings stopped. As the years went by, many assumed BTK had died, moved away or been imprisoned, but Wichita’s new police chief, Richard LaMunyon, wasn’t so sure. In 1984, LaMunyon launched a task force to investigate the crimes. To avoid tipping off the complacent killer, the force was kept secret and named Ghostbusters after that spring’s hit movie. It included local psychologist John Allen, who began poring over the history of the case.

“When I reviewed the 1970s investigations,” recalls Allen, “it became apparent that they were looking for an obvious madman — someone who would act so bizarre that he drew attention to himself. But I believed you could be next to this guy in an elevator and have no idea. I felt he was thoroughly ensconced in a social network — his job, his church.”

By the mid-’80s, DNA was beginning to be used in criminal forensics, so the Ghostbusters began voluntary DNA testing of suspects. They used computer databases to scan records at Wichita State, hoping to cross-reference a suspect. They even convinced the Pentagon to let them view top-secret military satellite photos of Wichita on crime days. Still no killer. LaMunyon disbanded the Ghostbusters in 1986, and the trail went cold.

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