Dedicated Wichita police commander Ken Landwehr laid to rest

The casket of Lt. Ken Landwehr is moved from Central Community Church after his funeral Saturday.
The casket of Lt. Ken Landwehr is moved from Central Community Church after his funeral Saturday. Eagle correspondent

Ken Landwehr, the retired Wichita police commander who helped solve more than 600 homicides, was laid to rest Saturday after succumbing to kidney cancer on Jan. 13.

During a quiet afternoon funeral service, the 59-year-old was honored as a single-minded investigator with unwavering dedication to family and an unshakeable desire to bring justice to crime victims. Hundreds saw Landwehr’s flag-draped coffin at the front of Central Community Church, listening as Wichita police Detective Tim Relph described his respected colleague as a gruff, “sometimes blunt and cantankerous” man who, underneath a rough exterior, possessed a good-natured and kind demeanor.

Once, Relph told mourners, Landwehr took a victimized child quietly aside and described “the beauty of heaven” – a move characteristic of his concern for those affected by crime.

“Because of the calling God laid on Ken’s heart, he worked diligently,” said Wichita Police Department Chaplain Dave Henion, who officiated.

Police work was his “mission in life.”

Landwehr, who was diagnosed with cancer just before his 2012 retirement, joined the Wichita Police Department after he was himself a victim of armed robbery in 1977. He went on to lead the agency’s homicide unit for 20 years and the task force that captured BTK serial killer Dennis Rader, who killed 10 people and eluded police for decades, in 2005.

Even in trying times, Relph said, Landwehr placed a quiet faith in his colleagues. He talked to victims’ families of “when” – not “if” – a murder suspect would be caught.

“The hours were long,” he said. “Kenny burned the candle at both ends.”

He recalled uncounted late-night phone calls; Landwehr’s raspy voice would be on the other end of the line.

“What are you doing? Are you ready to go?” the homicide commander would say, then rattle off an address.

When Relph arrived where directed, Landwehr would be there – “the calm in the chaos” – eyeing evidence and reassuring families.

“Kenny was often writing checks that the rest of us had to cash,” Relph said, drawing chuckles from the crowd.

“He never doubted us. ... From the first officer at the scene to the last word in closing arguments, he believed in all of us,” he said.

Although Landwehr is best known publicly for his contribution to Wichita law enforcement, much of Saturday’s service focused on his life’s private side.

Dozens of family snapshots were projected onto video screens as a trio of songs played. Mourners looked on, watching an adventurous Boy Scout with dark-rimmed glasses grow into a Bishop Carroll High School student in the photographs, then into a man.

Eventually, the man became a husband, caught by camera dancing and laughing with his bride, Cindy. The husband became a father who taught his son to shave and, later, a grandfather who watched his granddaughter hit her first home run.

“He was a family man, a great dad,” Henion said, later adding: “Ken gave his family what they needed.”

In a letter read at Saturday’s service, Landwehr’s granddaughter, Megan Vanatta, wrote of his final struggle with cancer.

“God saw you were getting tired. God knew you were suffering in pain. A cure was not to be found. ... Not only (did) a gold, pure loving heart stop beating, but your hard-working hands were put to rest.

“God opened his arms for you along with the victims” Landwehr sought justice for, Vanatta wrote.

Memorials in Landwehr’s honor may be sent to Ken Landwehr Memorial Fund, c/o Wichita Credit Union, 9835 E. 21st St. North, Wichita, KS 67206.

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