On January 15, 1974 in Wichita, Kansas Joseph Otero, Julie Otero, and their two siblings Josephine and Joseph II 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 began an investigation commenced into one of the 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. 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.
Later that day, sometime around 7:00 PM, the police found the Otero vehicle at a nearby Dillon’s parking lot. 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.
Soon after, in October of 1974, the Wichita Eagle’s Don Granger received an anonymous call, presumably from the Otero killer himself. The caller directed him to a mechanical engineering textbook in the Wichita Public Library. Inside the book, Granger found a letter claiming credit for the killings of the Joseph Otero family, and gave the details of the murder that only police and killer could know, also, he was promising more victims. The letter was addressed to the “Secret Witness Program” under which people with information about a crime could pass on that information to police through the newspaper and remain anonymous. The killer wrote that the three individuals being questioned for the Otero murders were not involved. The following excerpts with their many misspellings and grammatical errors were printed in the Sun :
“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 with no ones help. There has been no talk either. Let’s put this straight….” Then the killer provided details of the crime scene that were not published in the paper.
“I’m sorry this happen to society. They are the ones who suffer the most. It hard to control myself. You probably call me ‘psychotic with sexual perversion hang-up.’ When this monster enter my brain I will never know. But, it here to stay. How does one cure himself? If you ask for help, that you have killed four people they will laugh or hit the panic button and call the cops.
“I can’t stop it so the monster goes on, and hurt me as well as society. Society can be thankful that there are ways for people like me to relieve myself at time by day dreams of some victims being torture and being mine. It a big complicated game my friend of the monster play putting victims number down, follow them, checking up on them, waiting in the dark, waiting, waiting…. the pressure is great and sometimes he run the game to his liking. Maybe you can stop him. I can’t. He has already chosen his next victim or victims. I don’t know who they are yet. The next day after I read the paper, I will know, but it to late. Good luck hunting.
“P.S. Since sex criminals do not change their M.O. or by nature cannot do so, I will not change mine. The code word for me will be….Bind them, toture them, kill them, B.T.K., you see he at it again. They will be on the next victim.”
The police began the analysis of the letter and made a conclusion that the killer was quite well educated and a reasonably good speller despite a few feeble attempts to appear to have a weak grip on the English language. Also, they assumed he has done quite a bit of reading about the criminal psychology of that era: the famous letters from California’s Zodiac Killer and the Jack the Ripper letters that the killer could read in newspapers and books.
Just three months after the Otero murders, the partially dressed body of 21 year old Kathryn Bright was found in her home located at 3217 E. 13th Street. She had been bound with cord and strangled just as in the Otero case. 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. 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. 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 found the body of 26 year old Shirley Vian. She was partially undressed, bound with cord, and had a plastic bag placed over her head as with the other victims. 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… “
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, 28-year old Vicki Wegerle was found on 2400 West 13th Street strangled and sprawled on their bedroom floor. 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.
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