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Retired police vividly remember their work

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, March 14, 2007, at 8:24 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, March 27, 2012, at 12:44 p.m.

Jack Bruce thumbs through a yellowed, wide-lined legal pad and points to notes he jotted in red ink more than 31 years ago. "Tied up" reads one line about halfway down the first page of the legal pad. Then, in homemade columns, the names, ages and genders of Joseph, Julie, Josephine and Joseph II Otero.

Bruce was sitting at his desk the day Dennis Rader killed his first victims, or "projects."

The call to police came in at 15:40, or 3:40 p.m., Jan. 15, 1974. A patrol officer responded at 15:42.

Also inside the notebook is a hand-drawn map of the Oteros' home at 803 N. Edgemoor and a timeline of the family's activities that morning

7:30: Joe, Julie, Charlie, Danny, Carmen wake up

8:07 to 8:10: Joe returns from taking kids to school

After 8:10: Joe has can of pears...

8:40: Man seen on sidewalk leading to house

10:30: Man seen leaving house in car

The timeline ends with a neighbor's call to police.

Bruce said he'll never forget that day.

"Something like that — well, it sticks with you for 30 years," he said Saturday in an interview at The Eagle.

Retired law enforcement officials who worked on the BTK case over the years said they were glad police offered details of the investigation leading up to Dennis Rader's arrest.

Did they miss anything?

Ray Hartley was the lead crime scene investigator on the Shirley Vian Relford case in 1977. Police found Relford, 24, tied up and strangled in her house at 1311 S. Hydraulic.

Hartley, who left the police department about 25 years ago, said he wasn't surprised by the way Rader spoke in court June 27 when he entered a guilty plea.

"Any individual who could commit those heinous crimes had to be somebody who had no conscience, no feelings whatsoever," he said.

For years, he wondered whether police missed something back then.

On Friday, Lt. Ken Landwehr assured people such as Hartley that there was nothing more they could have done.

"The only thing that comes to my attention is that if we had DNA capabilities back then, how many lives would have been saved?" Hartley said Saturday.

The randomness of it

Arlyn Smith, a former investigator in the BTK case, said it was gratifying that Landwehr made it clear nothing in the old case files pointed the finger at Rader.

"When you feel like you've really done everything you could do, it is nice to have that validated by someone else," said Smith, who now works for the Wichita school district. He left the police department in April 1993 after 20 years.

What made Rader so hard to catch was not his intelligence, Smith said, it was his randomness.

"Randomness," Smith said, "is the enemy of an investigator."

Part of the difficulty, too, he said, "lies in the fact that he was so disorganized. He didn't even pack the same material in his 'hit kit.' "

During his elocution laying out his crimes in court on June 27, Rader said he had used materials he found in the homes of Kathryn Bright and Vicki Wegerle. In both crimes, he talked about not having control of the situations the way he would have liked because of how hard his victims fought.

Rader told police he would troll areas searching for women who attracted his attention. But what attracted Rader to one woman or another may not have been the same thing, Smith said.

Because BTK was so unpredictable, he said, there was no picture.

It was like trying to connect the dots, but the dots were random.

"It's difficult to make sense out of something like that," Smith said. "The temptation is to draw your own picture of what you want to see."

'He's going to screw up'

Bryan Brimer retired from the Sedgwick County sheriff's office in 1998 as a captain.

He was detective lieutenant in charge of the investigation into Marine Hedge's murder. He was a captain in the patrol division when Dolores Davis died and was the duty supervisor that night, called out to the crime scene.

Brimer said he always hoped that investigators would solve the crimes, "but after so many years you wonder whether they'll get him or not," Brimer said.

When Rader began sending clues again and dropping packages, Brimer hoped, "Well if he keeps doing it, eventually he's going to screw up."

Brimer said he is proud of the law enforcement community for putting Rader in jail.

"I think Kenny (Landwehr) said in the news conference that it was a great day for law enforcement when he (Rader) was apprehended and he's right," Brimer said. "The only thing I regret — and this may seem a little cold — is that the man is not eligible for the death penalty. For the terror he has inflicted on this community, it's unfortunate he's not going to be eligible for that."

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