March 30, 2004

Victims' children return home; clues sought (1974)

Editor's note: This story was originally published in 1974.

Three children whose parents and brother and sister were brutally murdered Tuesday were returned to the house today as police continued to seek clues in the mass slaying of four members of the Joseph Otero family.

Police, not discounting robbery as a motive in the city's first multiple slaying since July 1973, escorted the three surviving Otero children to the home at 803 N. Edgemoor.

The children this morning were staying with friends until arrival later today of relatives from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Otero, 38, his wife, Julie, 34, and two children, Josephine E., 11, and Joseph II, 9, were found dead by another son, Charlie, 15, in the family's modest home in northeast Wichita about 3:40 p.m. when he returned from school.

The victims were found in various parts of the house and all had been bound with cord. Dr. Robert Daniels, district coroner, said all of the victims died of strangulation from cords wrapped around their necks.

No motive has been discovered for the murders. Police chief Floyd Hannon said it was one of the "most bizarre" cases he has seen.

The tragedy apparently occurred sometime after 8 a.m. Tuesday, police said today. Otero had taken three older children, Charlie, Danny, 15, and Carmen, 12, to school prior to 8 a.m.

It has not been determined if Otero might have been waylaid on his way home or if the murderer or murderers might have been in the house when he returned, police said.

There was no sign of a struggle inside the home which might indicate the assailant could have been known to the family, an official said. He added there has been nothing found in the investigation to say positively this is the case.

Officers were stopping cars in the vicinity of the murder scene today on the off chance that someone who regularly travels in the vicinity might have witnessed something unusual, police said.

Officials had not been able to determine if the cord used to bind the family was taken into the house by the murderer or if it was already in the house. However, one official said, "we haven't found any like it anywhere in the house."

The victims were bound and gagged and the knots used to bind their hands and feet apparently were tied by an expert, officials said.

Otero and his wife were in a bedroom of the frame house, Joseph was in another bedroom, and the partially clad body of Josephine was found hanging from a pipe in the basement. Daniels said the young girl was not sexually assaulted.

Hannon said at the scene of the crime Tuesday that the mass slayings "borders on a type of execution" in that the telephone line leading into the home had been cut.

The family car was seen leaving the Otero home, occupied by one person, and was found in a parking lot at Central and Oliver about 7 p.m. Officials said they have not been able to locate any persons who might have seen the car driven to that location.

Otero, who retired from the Air Force in September, was a mechanic and flight instructor at Cook Air Field, Rose Hill. During his military career, he served primarily in the Panama Canal Zone and his native Puerto Rico.

Air Force officials at McConnell Air Force Base this morning said Otero left the service Aug. 31, 1973, while stationed in the Panama Canal Zone.

Sgt. Garlan Musser, casualty assistance officer, said Otero had entered the Air Force May 28, 1952, and had at one time been stationed in Wichita with the 384th flying wing. He said there was apparently a break in Otero's service in 1956.

Otero was born and reared in Puerto Rico, enlisted in the Air Force in New York City and attained the rank of technical sergeant while in the service.

He said relatives will have to determine who will take custody of the three remaining children.

The children will be entitled to government assistance, Sgt. Musser said.

Just when Otero was stationed in Wichita officials can't say until complete records are obtained from the Military Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. Sgt. Musser said Otero's records had not yet been fed into the center's computer because of Otero's recent retirement.

He said the records were expected today.

Sgt. Musser said Otero apparently returned to Wichita in November. He said retirement checks still were being sent to Otero's address in Puerto Rico.

Mrs. Otero worked for a short time as an assembler for the Coleman Co. She was terminated Jan. 3 as a result of a reduction in the labor force. A company spokesman said she was recommended for rehire.

Joseph, a fourth grade student, and Josephine, in the sixth grade, were students at Adams Elementary School, 1002 N. Oliver. They were described as "good students."

"The Otero children were good students — no trouble at all," said Adams principal David H. Lawson.

"That's one reason I didn't know the parents very well. If the children had been a big problem as some are, we probably would have had the parents in for a conference. But Joe and Josie were just model youngsters.

"Josie was a talented little girl," Lawson continued. "She made placemats for the Christmas party, and they were very attractive."

He recalled that the father had enrolled the two children in elementary school.

"He was a personable young man," said Lawson, "and seemed quite intelligent. He told me he had decided to live here in retirement.

"Why Wichita?" I asked him. He said he had an interest in aeronautical engineering and that Wichita was the air capital of the world. He wanted to be involved in it."

Lawson recalled that even though the family had been in Wichita since November, a moving van had brought a load of furniture to the Otero home only about two days ago.

A friend caring for the three surviving Otero children this morning said he had become acquainted with Otero while serving with him in the Air Force in the Panama Canal Zone.

He said when Otero retired in September as a master sergeant, another friend mentioned a job at Cessna Aircraft Co.

"When he got here," he said, "he found he needed more flying hours and took a job at Cook Air Field."

He said he knows of nothing in Otero's background which could be connected with the tragedy.

"He was a really nice guy. He never had trouble with anybody."

The last multiple slaying in Wichita occurred last July 1 when a 67-year-old Wichita man allegedly shot and killed his wife, brother and sister-in-law.

The suspect, Floyd E. Anderson, died in September at Larned State Hospital while being held for a mental examination.

Death was apparently due to a heart attack.

Victims of the triple murder were Margaret A. Anderson, 67, wife of the suspect, and Leonard L. Anderson, 60, and his wife, Ruth Anderson.

All were shot with a .38 caliber revolver.

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