A former cybercop who made a key discovery that helped catch the BTK serial killer in 2005 says that BTK asked his advice months earlier about how to stay anonymous while sending e-mails.
Randy Stone, a former Wichita police officer, says he didn’t realize that the guy quizzing him about e-mail security at the Park City administrative building in the summer of 2004 was the serial killer who had eluded police for 30 years.
He now wonders whether the advice he and other law enforcement officers gave Dennis Rader that day might have lengthened the intense 11-month manhunt for BTK in 2004 and 2005.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Wichita Eagle
“That thought has crossed my mind,” he says.
Police caught BTK in February 2005, 11 months after he resurfaced with taunting messages in March 2004, and seven or eight months after he asked Stone’s e-mail advice.
BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) murdered 10 people in the Wichita area, starting in 1974. Dennis Rader was captured and revealed as the serial killer in 2005.
Police told of Stone’s role in Rader’s identification that year.
But Stone didn’t talk publicly about his early encounter with BTK until after he retired from the police department in 2010. Now a Wichita cybersecurity consultant, he talks about the BTK case sometimes when giving presentations to groups or clients about cybersecurity.
The big break
In February 2005, Stone, a Wichita police officer skilled in computer technology, examined a purple computer disk BTK had sent to police.
BTK task force commander Ken Landwehr had tricked BTK into thinking that messages sent on the floppy disk could not be traced. After Stone slipped the disk into a computer, it took only minutes to link it to Christ Lutheran Church and to congregation president Dennis Rader. What Stone did that day was “a really big deal,” the big break in the case, said Tim Relph, one of the BTK task force detectives at the time.
Stone also says he and BTK traded a chilling joke the day after Rader’s arrest in February 2005.
Police and the FBI had just finished 36 hours of interrogation of Rader. Relph was shackling Rader in handcuffs and a belly chain to take him to jail.
Stone, standing outside the door, stuck his head into the interrogation room and did a little taunting of his own.
“It’s nice to put a face to go with the name I found on the floppy disk,” Stone said.
“Oh, that was you?’ Rader replied. “You’re the one?”
“I was the one,” Stone said.
“Well, if I ever escape from here, I’ll have to track you down,” Rader said with a laugh. “And fill your mouth with floppy disks.”
‘A big old grin on his face’
Stone isn’t worried; BTK remains in a maximum security prison, never to be paroled. And he remains a despicable person, Stone said – proud of the murders he committed on children and women and parents.
Stone saw that up close after the interrogation. He helped other officers escort BTK in shackles into the Sedgwick County Jail, he said. Inmates in the holding cells, realizing who was coming in, began chanting “BTK! BTK! BTK!”
“He got a big old grin on his face,” Stone said. Rader raised his shackled hands and gave a double thumbs-up.
First killings: 1974
BTK killed his first victims in 1974, invading the home of the Otero family. He tied them with ropes using elaborate knots. He tortured them, suffocating or strangling the parents and two of their children, prolonging some of their deaths. He sexually violated the bodies of some victims.
Wichitans didn’t realize a serial killer lived among them until four years later, after BTK stalked and killed several more women and sent police and the media anonymous messages.
In the late 1970s the messages stopped. For decades, some investigators thought BTK was either dead or in prison. But Chief Richard LaMunyon devoted several investigators and untold amounts of money to a secret investigation in the 1980s.
The “Ghostbusters,” as they called themselves, included a young Landwehr. They ran down information on hundreds of leads and suspects. When the trail grew cold, Landwehr put the file cabinet of investigative documents where he could always find it.
BTK resurfaced in March 2004, with a cryptic message sent to The Wichita Eagle. Landwehr was horrified; he thought BTK would start killing again. Within hours after he saw the message, Landwehr and the FBI set up a task force with 50 cops, many of them assigned to DNA-swab hundreds of possible suspects.
He also was assigned technology-trained officers, including Stone.
‘We were very helpful’
Stone and other task force members did some regular duties also. And that’s why Stone and two other tech-trained officers, Brett Eisenman and Shawn Price, found themselves one day working a routine eBay fraud case out of the public administration building in Park City.
The three of them took a break, Eisenman said. They walked down a hall and bought drinks from a pop machine. They were wearing their uniforms, and people in the building knew they were working a cyber case, Stone said.
A balding, middle-aged man came out of his office near the soda machines where the three cops were popping open sodas. He wore a Park City code enforcer uniform.
Eisenman remembers him using a joking, friendly tone and saying something like, “You guys are the big technology cops, right?”
He asked questions about how and whether e-mails could be traced. And whether someone who didn’t want to be traced could be traced.
“We were all too willing to prove what great cops we were,” Eisenman said. “No matter what points he raised, we told him ‘Oh, no, if you send an e-mail, we will catch you.”
“We were very helpful,” Stone agreed.
The three cops gave detailed technical explanations about why they could catch e-mail senders, no matter what they did to hide.
They had no way of knowing the guy was BTK, Stone said. Eisenman put all that together months later after he saw Dennis Rader’s photo in the media.
“He was in a public building and sort of portraying himself as ‘one of us’ in uniform,” Stone said. “And we’re all trained anyway to answer questions and be helpful when someone in the public asks a question.”
From hardcopy to e-mail
What makes this relevant, as they learned later, was that BTK was sending a lot of paper messages to taunt the public and police – more than a dozen in 11 months. And he wanted an easier way to communicate.
He knew investigators would examine the paper and ink he used, and that they could trace and find any copy machine he used, unless he took precautions. So in creating messages, he wore gloves. He copied messages on one copy machine, then drove to several other locations and copied the copies, often reducing the type size. He trimmed paper edges.
This was annoying him, he told investigators later. He had a regular job. He stalked women, including many he never planned to kill. And he was a husband and father, a busy church congregation president and a volunteer who taught Boy Scouts how to tie elaborate knots.
He was looking for a new technology for his messages.
He never sent an e-mail and Stone thinks the advice he unknowingly offered to Rader might be the reason why.
Instead he sent a floppy disk. And that is how the cop who coached him on e-mail safety became the cop who caught him.
And just in time. Not long before his capture, investigators say, BTK picked out an 11th victim in the Wichita area, and one day stepped onto her porch.
The reason he postponed the murder, he told police later, was that he saw a construction crew working nearby, and thought they might remember him standing there.
Appealing to an ego
Landwehr had decided, in the early 1980s, to turn BTK’s considerable ego against him if he ever resurfaced.
During the 11 months in 2004 and 2005 that BTK remained free, Landwehr repeatedly called news conferences to update the public about the manhunt.
But he and the FBI also crafted public statements to subtly appeal to BTK’s ego. Landwehr would say, for example, that BTK’s recent message was “interesting.” Landwehr wanted to spur BTK to send more, hoping he’d make a traceable mistake.
In a Special K cereal box left outside Park City one day, police found a typed question from BTK:
“Can I communicate with Floppy and not be traced to a computer. Be honest.”
If disks are not traceable, BTK wrote them, he wanted police to reply in a newspaper classified ad with the words,“Rex, it will be okay.”
Landwehr checked with Stone. “Could a floppy be traced?”
“Yes,” Stone replied.
Landwehr sent detective Cheryl James to The Eagle. She gave the fake name Cyndi Johnson to the clerk and paid $76.35 for the ad, which began with what Landwehr later called his favorite lie of all time.
“Rex, it will be OK.”
BTK sent the disk.
‘Look at that!’
It took only 10 minutes, Stone said.
The task force had set up operations in the Epic Center downtown. Stone got a call from Landwehr: Detectives Dana Gouge and Kelly Otis were racing toward Stone, disk in hand. They’d just picked it up at the TV station where BTK had mailed it.
The only worry he felt at that moment, Stone said, was whether he’d have time to eat the two enchiladas he’d ordered for lunch.
When the disk arrived, he popped it in and used a software forensic program called Encase to call up not only what was visible on the disk, but also information that had been deleted.
Peering over Stone’s shoulder were a dozen anxious faces: Landwehr, Relph, Otis, Gouge, FBI agents, prosecutors.
If Stone found them a name, they would race off to find that person.
Stone pulled up BTK’s message:
“This is a test. See 3 X 5 Card for details on communication with me in the Newspaper.”
That’s all that BTK meant for them to see. But Stone then called up the disk’s hidden meta data, which recorded the who, what, where and when information was written.
The Rader family had bought the disk and used it originally to download a Christ Lutheran Church meeting schedule. Then Dennis Rader had apparently over-written that with his message to the cops, using a computer at the Park City Public Library.
So within minutes, as all those anxious eyes watched his screen, Stone had two local names.
“Christ Lutheran Church.”
“Park City Public Library.”
Stone then clicked on the the disk’s “Properties” field. There, the disk had recorded the username of the person saving the file.
“Look at that!” someone said.
Then he quickly pulled up the church website.
Listed at the top was the congregation president: “Dennis Rader.”
Stone heard sudden scuffling behind him.
“I turned around,” he said.
“I was alone.
“It was like in the cartoons, where everybody disappears in a cloud of dust.
“Where they had all been standing, there were pieces of paper floating down to the floor.”
Some information for these stories came from “Bind, Torture, Kill: The Inside Story of BTK, the Serial Killer Next Door,” published for The Wichita Eagle by HarperCollins, 2007, by Roy Wenzl, Tim Potter, L. Kelly and Hurst Laviana.