Crime & Courts

Victim and perpetrator of ‘the Poet’ crime hoax in Wichita four decades ago has died

A woman who was the victim and perpetrator of a crime hoax solved by Wichita police nearly four decades ago has died.

Ruth Finley unknowingly tormented herself as “The Poet” in the late 1970s and early 1980s crime mystery that included letters written in rhyme and a stabbing at the parking lot of Towne East Square.

Finley died May 30 at age 89. She had worked at Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, enjoyed knitting and donated hats and scarves to U.S. troops in Afghanistan and volunteered to translate textbooks into braille after learning to code, according to an obituary.

But 40 years ago, Finley was the victim in a real-life crime mystery that would later become the subject of a book and made-for-television movie, according to The Eagle’s archives. The purported harassment by the Poet started in 1978, taking place during the same time Dennis Rader terrorized Wichita as the BTK serial killer.

Finley reported to police that in addition to the hundreds of poetic letters threatening physical harm and extorting money, she was the victim of cut phone lines on Christmas Eve, a Christmas wreath set on fire, a kidnapping, a 12-inch butcher knife at her workplace, and receiving Molotov cocktails, chunks of concrete, a bottle of urine and a jar of feces.

She was hospitalized after she was stabbed three times with an ice pick in the parking lot of Towne East Square in August 1979.

But when the Poet began writing threatening letters to the wife of Police Chief Richard LaMunyon, he then took over the case. He suspected that either Finley or her husband was behind the Poet and devised a plan to find out.

The case came to a surprising conclusion in 1981 when police photographed Finley mailing one of the Poet’s letters to herself. She admitted the hoax to investigators — including stabbing herself in the mall parking lot.

The investigation cost the city $370,000 in 1982 dollars — the equivalent of just over $1 million in 2019 dollars, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator. No criminal charges were filed against her after the Sedgwick County district attorney said a psychiatric examination showed her actions as the Poet were not malicious.

“Finley had unknowingly been tormenting herself as a result of psychiatric problems stemming from a childhood of horrific physical and sexual abuse,” The Eagle previously reported.

She spent six years in therapy working with psychiatrist Andrew Pickens exploring the repeated sexual abuse she suffered as a little girl in Missouri. She had been raped by a neighbor when she was 3 years old, and both Finley and Pickens said the childhood experiences likely led to the creation of the Poet.

Therapy found that Finley had been bound by a red bandana during the sexual assaults. Police said during their investigation that a red bandana or handkerchief was a symbol used by the Poet.

Finley expressed her memories of the sexual assaults during therapy in a child’s poetic first-person account. Her sessions helped her understand that the little girl in the poems was herself, and only she could soothe and protect the child.

‘’All through therapy I was wanting him (Pickens) to take care of that little girl,” Finley said in an interview 13 years after the hoax ended. ‘’... I have no idea where I’d be without therapy.”

After the mystery of the Poet was solved, Finley thanked her family, hospital staff and police officers in a November 1981 interview.

“I think I may have died and gone to hell,” she said. “I think I’m coming back, though, thanks to the kind nursing staff and doctors at Wesley Medical Center psychiatric unit, and to an understanding family who stood by me, especially Ed (her husband) and my loyal and dependable sister, Jean.

“I’m equally grateful to the fine officers of the Wichita Police Department, who in the end saved me from either a mental breakdown or my own self-destruction. It’s been a nightmare for all involved.”