Tape of BTK call aired; police are hoping for ID (1979)

03/30/2004 12:00 AM

03/28/2012 11:05 AM

Editor's note: This story was originally published in August 1979.

A Wichita television and radio station began broadcasting a police tape of the BTK Strangler's voice Tuesday in the hope that someone will be able to identify the man who claims to have killed seven persons.

KAKE TV (Channel 10) and Radio will play the tape through noon today. Police Chief Richard LaMunyon asked that anyone recognizing the voice call (number no longer in service) — an open line — day or night.

"I'm very hopeful for positive results, but I'm very doubtful," LaMunyon said. "Even if you know the individual, to identify him will be very difficult unless he's very close to you."

Police received a few calls minutes after KAKE radio first broadcast the rape at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

The voice was recorded on the automatic taping system at the Emergency Communications Department when BTK called police in December 1977 to report the death of a woman he calls his seventh victim, Nancy Jo Fox.

In letters and poems written to The Wichita Eagle and KAKE-TV, the strangler has claimed responsibility for seven Wichita slayings since January 1974. It was a February 1978 letter to KAKE that linked the Fox slaying to BTK, who says his initials stand for "bind, torture, kill."

Also in the letter, BTK said he had almost made a mistake by calling to report the Fox slaying.

On Dec. 9, 1977, a man called police through a telephone operator. Because the call was placed through the operator, an automatic trapping system was activated. The trapping system allowed the telephone company to trace the call to a phone booth at St. Francis and Central, even though BTK hung up quickly.

When a police dispatcher picked up the telephone, a man said in a clear voice, "Yes. You will find a homicide at 843 South Pershing. Nancy Fox."

The dispatcher attempted to get the man to repeat his statement, but the telephone operator, still on the line, interrupted and repeated the address. The man said, "That is correct," and hung up.

The conversation was recorded at the emergency communications center on a tape recorder with a slow tape speed, which affected the quality of the tape somewhat. There also was considerable background noise, including what is thought to be a bus accelerating.

Police considered the audio quality so poor that they did not release the tape at the time, thinking it would be useless, LaMunyon said.

About two months ago, however, KAKE offered to pay to have the tape enhanced through computer methods if the police would provide a copy of the tape.

"We didn't want to do it just for news," LaMunyon said. "But we thought there might be some possible benefit to the investigation. We didn't want to do it just for show, but I discussed it with the detectives and we decided we had nothing to lose. It's a long shot, but there's a possibility."

LaMunyon provided a copy of the tape, which KAKE sent to Professor Mark Weiss of Queens College in Flushing, N.Y. Weiss invented a computer process to eliminate extraneous noises on tape recordings. Weiss used the process to analyze President Nixon's Watergate tapes and a Dallas police radio recording that captured the shots that killed President Kennedy in 1963.

In Weiss' process, a tape is fed into a computer that breaks sounds down into basic wavelengths. Extraneous noises are eliminated, and speech sounds are isolated and re-recorded.

The entire recording is only seven seconds long, and BTK speaks only 15 words during a three-second span.

"We didn't learn anything additional from the processed tape than we had from the original we had," LaMunyon said.

LaMunyon said that the original, unenhanced tape had been sent to the FBI laboratory in Washington, D.C., sometime ago. The FBI said that the tape was too short and that there was too much background noise for making a voiceprint suitable for comparison with the voices of suspects.

As of 11 p.m. Tuesday, about 30 persons had called the hotline number, according to Al Thimmesch, captain of the major crimes squad. The calls have yielded "some more names that we have to look at," Thimmesch said.

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