DNA of retired police sought in BTK probe

The lead investigator hunting the BTK serial killer has asked former Wichita police officers to provide their DNA in connection with the investigation.

"We feel it is necessary at this point in our investigation to request swabs from some former police personnel," Lt. Ken Landwehr, the head of the homicide division, wrote to former officers in a letter published in the quarterly newsletter The re-Tired Copper.

"We are collecting swabs to eliminate with certainty personnel who were employed during the time period in which the BTK murders occurred. It is our contention that by being as thorough as possible at this time it may counter defense strategies at a later date," the letter continued.

Other police detectives have called former officers, such as retired Det. Frank Cummins, asking them to come in and provide a mouth swab for DNA testing.

Cummins, who served the department for 23 years and is 71 now, has declined.

"It's frankly insulting to me that they would ask me for this," he said.

It's not that he objects to the BTK hunt. He was a uniformed officer when BTK strangled four members of the Otero family in 1974. He wants BTK found and tried.

"That guy is going to make a mistake someday, and get caught, and I hope I'm alive to see it."

What troubles him, Cummins said, is that he knows what police could do with his DNA. He served as a detective. Once police build a database, they keep it. It might come in handy someday.

And because of the nature of DNA, because it can show genetic family relationships, it would be like handing the police department a permanent set of fingerprints, without permission, from every person genetically related to him. Not only his family, but his descendants.

"I've got a 3-year-old great-granddaughter," he said. "I can't ask her permission for this. Why should I give anyone a clue as to her DNA?"

Landwehr declined to comment for this story. So did John Garrison, the publisher of the newsletter.

It has been publicly known for a long time that BTK left his DNA at at least one of his murders.

It was so long ago that when BTK did it, no one, including BTK, suspected that DNA would someday become a standard feature of many homicide investigations.

Cummins, who worked as a uniformed officer for 20 years and then as a detective before he retired in 1979, said he first learned of Landwehr's request to former officers when he received a call from two police detectives asking him to give a swab.

"At first, I thought, sure, why not?" he said.

But soon after the phone call, second thoughts crept in.

Later, he received his October-December issue of The re-Tired Copper, a quarterly newsletter for the Wichita Retired Police Officers Association.

The editor, Garrison, a retired officer , introduced Landwehr's letter by noting that it "should address the concerns many of us have regarding DNA testing."

In the letter, Landwehr assures former police officers that "the samples we are requesting will not be put in any other database or compared to other crimes."

But Cummins isn't entirely buying that.

"I just think this whole DNA thing is going to end up in the courts," he said. "Someday, because of privacy concerns, we are going to end up with a court ruling about DNA that will be similar to the Miranda rule." (Miranda dramatically underscored civil rights and is familiar to most people as "the right to remain silent.")

From what Landwehr said in his letter, Cummins said, it looks to him like police are covering their bases for any future criminal trial, trying to head off any BTK defense lawyer's attempt to say that the old DNA belongs not to their client but to an investigating police officer.

Cummins said he never dealt personally with any BTK investigation, except, very indirectly, the Otero murders. He remembers that he was one of dozens of officers who were given a description of a car to look for. And he thinks, but does not recall for certain, that he was one of the officers assigned to watch the Otero house in the days after the murders.

"They could have saved themselves some work by just calling me up and asking me what it was that I did regarding BTK. I didn't do much."

Who is BTK?

The killer known as BTK is Wichita's most notorious serial killer, now connected with eight unsolved homicides from 1974 to 1986.

BTK stands for "Bind, Torture and Kill." The serial killer suggested the initials in letters he sent to local media in the 1970s.

After more than two decades of silence, he resurfaced in March by sending a letter to The Wichita Eagle, followed by letters delivered to KAKE-TV, the police, the Wichita Public Library and possibly other locations.

A letter found in a package drop box near downtown Wichita in late October is being examined by the FBI, which has verified other letters as authentic.