April 10, 2004

Bowling group tries to dispel specter of BTK

The Women's International Bowling Congress has taken steps to assure the thousands of bowlers who will begin arriving in Wichita next week that they will be safe from BTK, the serial killer who resurfaced last month.

More than 42,000 people are expected to come to Wichita for the group's national tournament, which begins Thursday and runs through July 6.

"We've had some inquiries" about whether it's safe to come to Wichita, congress executive director Roseann Kuhn said Thursday, but to her knowledge no one has canceled a trip.

"We wanted them to know that yes, we are concerned about it, and we are taking the appropriate measures to make sure they'll have a good experience in Wichita," she said.

The Women's International Bowling Congress has been holding championships since 1916, Kuhn said, and "nothing like this has ever happened before."

Letters from Kuhn and Wichita Police Chief Norman Williams have been posted on the organization's Web site in an effort to calm any fears BTK has created. The case has attracted international attention since Wichita police confirmed that a letter sent to The Eagle on March 17 was from BTK.

"These ladies come from all over the world," said John Rolfe, president and chief executive of the Greater Wichita Convention and Visitors Bureau. "It's a big convention, and we want them to feel safe about it."

The championship is expected to generate $25 million for the city of Wichita and $55 million for the state, Rolfe said. The bureau will undertake similar reassurance campaigns with other conventions coming to Wichita.

"We just think it's important to be pro-active," Rolfe said. "Most people have heard about it."

BTK killed at least seven people between 1974 and 1978, then vanished for 25 years after mailing a couple of letters in 1979. The letter sent to The Eagle last month contained a photocopy of photos and the driver's license of Vicki Wegerle, who was killed in her home in September 1986.

Police now blame BTK for her death and have made finding him their top priority.

Wichita police have developed an operations plan for providing security at the bowling congress's events in Wichita, Williams said, as it does for any major event. Teams will bowl at Northrock Lanes and Thunderbird Lanes, and other events will be at Century II.

"We try to just make sure we cover all our bases," Williams said.

Kuhn's letter to bowlers offers safety tips but also states that BTK's crimes all took place in private residences.

"The profile of this person does not fit coming into hotels and coming into bowling centers and attacking people," she said Thursday. "I'm more concerned about tornadoes and bad weather than I am about a serial killer."

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