March 30, 2004

Police baffled on motive in mass killing

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

The bizarre "execution-type" slaying of four members of the Joseph Otero family Tuesday morning has Wichita officials baffled.

Intensive investigation by police that continued Wednesday turned up contradictory material on a possible motive for the killings.

Otero, 38, his wife, Julie, 34, their daughter Josephine, 11, and son, Joseph II, 9, were found dead of strangulation in various parts of their home at 803 N. Edgemoor.

Their bodies were discovered about 3:45 p.m. by the Oteros' other children — Charlie, 15, Danny, 14, and Carmen, 13 — when they returned home from Robinson Junior High School.

A late bulletin from police Wednesday said a white male, about 5-feet-10 to 6 feet, slender build, wearing a dark topcoat or trenchcoat with dark shaggy hair cut below his ears, was observed in front of the Otero residence at 8:45 a.m. Tuesday. He was not wearing a hat, according to Police Chief Floyd Hannon, and was dark complexioned. He is believed to be of foreign extraction.

One theory of Police Chief Floyd Hannon is that the brutal mass slaying was perpetrated by "some person in the community suffering from a mental disorder."

Elaborating on that possibility, Hannon said the way in which the family members were slain indicates a fetish on the part of the assailant.

Otero was bound, but not gagged, while his wife was struck, gagged and bound. Joseph II was found bound with three hoods over his head and the daughter's body was hanging by the neck from a rope tied to a sewer pipe in the basement. She was only partially clothed, Hannon said.

Hannon also suggested Wednesday there is a strong possibility the person or persons who committed the crime were known by the Otero family. He said there was no forced entry to the house and no evidence of robbery. It did appear that Mrs. Otero at some point sought to protect her children and herself by fighting with the killer. This assumption, Hannon said, is based on the bruises on her cheeks.

The entire Puerto Rican family had been trained in judo and the house contains certificates of their achievements in the act. Because of this, Hannon speculated that the person or persons may have been armed with a gun.

"It appears (the slayings) were premeditated at his point," Hannon said. No ordinary robber or window peeper would carry tape, rope and wire cutters to the scene, he said.

(The rope and tape were used to bind the victims and the wire cutters to clip outside phone lines.)

One theory is that the killer was an opportunistic window peeper, but the theory is not a strong one, according to Hannon.

Hannon believes Otero was not at home when the killer entered the house. Otero had taken the three surviving children to school before 8 a.m. The two who were slain did not go to school until 9 a.m., explaining why they were at home.

"If Otero was not at home at the time the man entered the house, it would seem there would only be one person involved. However, if he was at home, it would indicate there was more than one (killer)," Hannon said.

The time of Otero's death was set between 8:15 and 8:45 am. All four family members were dead before 9 a.m., Hannon said.

A dark complexioned man wearing a rumpled hat was seen by a witness leaving the home in the Otero family car at 10:35 a.m., creating a 90-minute gap between the time the family was dead and when the suspect was seen leaving.

When questioned on the time discrepancy, Hannon said, "There are other things that went on in the house that we cannot relate at this time." He declined to say whether any of the victims had been sexually molested.

Investigation into a possible connection between the Otero slayings and an attempted murder last Saturday in the county was also underway.

Mrs. Otero was employed at the Coleman Co. as an assembler from the middle of December to the first part of January.

The supervisor of her department, Michael L. Williams, 26, of 4140 N. Battin, was shot in the abdomen at his home.

Williams is in serious condition in the intensive care unit at Wesley Medical Center and could not be interviewed Wednesday. His father, Vernon Williams, is head of the personnel department at Coleman.

He said he could see no connection between the Otero murders and the attempt on his son's life.

When Michael answered a knock on his door at 9 p.m. last Saturday, he was confronted by two men. He asked something like "What's going on here?" Williams said. The younger Williams then saw the men had guns and slammed the door, and one of the men fired, striking Michael in the abdomen, Williams said.

Williams said Mrs. Otero was a good employee. However, she worked a different shift than his son and Michael did not know her well.

Police continued their investigation into a possible connection, although Williams said that in his son's case the motive appeared to be robbery.

Hannon said a robbery motive in the Otero case has been almost eliminated. "There is no sign of a struggle in the house and nothing of value missing. Also eliminating the possibility of robbery is the time element," Hannon said.

The mistaken identity theory also is being investigated. The former occupants of the Otero home could have been the targets, Hannon said.

The former occupants, who asked not to be identified, said their family had lived at 803 N. Edgemoor for 11 1/2 years.

It this was a robbery and supposed to be so well planned, why would they know we hadn't lived there for three months, the former resident asked.

She said her husband had been in the same type of business at least 25 years and there never had been any attempt of this nature. "We put a lot of love into that house and it really has us shaken up," she said.

(Remainder of story unavailable.)

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