On Monday, for the last time as a public employee, Lt. Ken Landwehr faced television cameras, and told the news, as he’s told it for 20 years after some of Wichita’s worst moments.
He usually told about the latest murders, and the news was usually bad. This time it was about him not doing this anymore; Monday was his last day before retirement. In the packed City Council chambers, some people dabbed at their eyes. The man who had helped solve most of 600 homicides, some of them known around the world, was calling it a career.
The news he told this time was that he was lucky more than successful, and that other people, his detectives in the homicide unit, did all the work he got credit for. “Lieutenants don’t work for a living, OK?”
He said the main reasons he stuck around for 20 years as the homicide unit commander was that his mother and father raised him here, and he thought the city was worth working for. He said there were a few other reasons he stuck around, and survived 600 homicide investigations, most of them successful: his wife, Cindy, kept him steady, her daughter, two grandchildren, and his son James, (turning 16 in three days), all made him proud. “They gave me something to live for,” he said.
Nearly everything he said, although he got two standing ovations from hundreds of people, pointed back to someone else.
But as he often did at news conferences about homicides, he left a lot out. In the past he did it to be circumspect about a case. On Monday it was because he never wanted to talk about himself. Just before the gathering opened, he joked, as he saw hundreds of people coming into the Council Chambers, that he should have told everybody to come on Friday, when he will be gone. “Oops,” he said.
His commanders and others filled in a few details, though.
Deputy Chief Tom Stolz said the conference room next to Landwehr’s office is going to get a plaque over the door, naming it for him, along with words from one of Landwehr’s sayings to his detectives about the unit’s true role: to be “a voice for victims forever silenced.” Cindy Landwehr said there had been a previous gathering Monday, on the sixth floor where Landwehr worked most of his career, and where many detectives for years swore by him as a man, an investigator and a boss. Detectives there gave him a huge picture containing the images of the many detectives who had worked with him, including while solving crimes like the Carr brothers murders, and the BTK serial killer case.
Deputy Chief Tom Stolz read from his personnel record, about how he was, as Landwehr himself said, a bad student at Wichita State University. The only A grades he got were in Algebra and Criminal Justice.
Stolz also described the first investigative case Landwehr solved, in early 1980. He assured a 13-year-old boy that he would help him, after the boy’s bicycle was stolen; a few days later, Landwehr showed up at the boy’s home, and gave him back his bike.
Mayor Carl Brewer couldn’t be there on Monday, but the city manager played a video to Landwehr and the crowd, lauding his long service. In the future, Brewer said, when there’s a case no one can solve, he and the city manager plan to go to the top of the City Hall building, and imitate people from the Batman movies; they will summon Landwehr from retirement by turning on the “Landwehr light.”
Afterward, while people hugged Landwehr, Kelly Otis, who as a detective helped Landwehr solve the BTK case, patted Landwehr on the back.
“There’s a few things most people don’t know that you need to know,” said Otis, a burly guy who as a patrol officer and detective had survived gunfights and street fights.
“The guy can shoot. And the guy can fight. There are some badass cops on this department who can handle the most dangerous things. But if I had a door to bust through, and a house to storm, I’d pick Landwehr to go in with me.”