Armed with a number of new tools to analyze old evidence, Wichita police Thursday began the detailed task of reopening an active investigation of the BTK killer, who they now think was responsible for an unsolved 1986 slaying.
In addition to phone tips, new interviews with family members of the victims and reanalysis of old reports, police will have the aid of newer crimefighting tools — such as a national DNA databank — to help them try to catch the city's most notorious serial killer.
Police think BTK sent a letter to The Wichita Eagle last week claiming responsibility for the 1986 murder of Vicki Wegerle.
The killer had previously been linked to seven killings between 1974 and 1977.
At a packed City Hall news conference Thursday morning, police Lt. Ken Landwehr said evidence from the Wegerle case is being fed through national fingerprint and DNA databases in an effort to solve the city's biggest open murder case.
Landwehr said details about the letter make him certain it was sent by the person who sent previous BTK letters. The Eagle has agreed not to publish several of the details in the letter that have led police to this conclusion.
Landwehr said the letter was mailed locally but declined to say which post office it was sent from.
The case has drawn the attention of national news organizations. The CBS News home page listed it among its top stories of the day, the network aired a segment on its evening newscast. The case also has drawn attention from CNN, MSNBC, "Good Morning America" and "Inside Edition."
The letter, which arrived in The Eagle newsroom last Friday, contained a single sheet of paper with a photocopy of Wegerle's driver's license and three pictures that apparently were taken of her body. Each picture shows her in a slightly different pose and with her clothing arranged in a slightly different manner.
The return address said the letter was from "Bill Thomas Killman" — a person who apparently does not exist.
Landwehr stressed that the letter did not indicate plans to kill again.
"We're encouraging citizens to practice normal safety steps — keep their doors locked, keep their lights on," he said.
Landwehr said the FBI, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Department were assisting with the investigation.
As of Thursday morning, Landwehr said, 32 leads had been left through telephone and e-mail tip lines being monitored by police.
"Those will be prioritized, and we'll be going over those," he said. "As in any cold case, we'll be reinterviewing certain key witnesses, possibly family members, for any new information."
He said detectives are also going through lists of prison inmates who have recently been released to make sure that BTK's 25-year silence wasn't caused by his incarceration.
Landwehr said all DNA samples in the Wegerle case are being sent to the FBI's Combined DNA Indexing System, which is known in law enforcement circles as CODIS. As of November, CODIS contained more than 1.5 million offender profiles, most of which were taken from inmates entering prison.
Landwehr said he could not speculate about the timing of the letter.
"I have no idea why (he) would wait so long," Landwehr said. "I wouldn't ever want to comment on any other cases around the nation, but it is without a doubt the most unusual case we've ever had in Wichita."
Several former officers who have worked on the case said Thursday they were shocked that BTK had resurfaced.
"One theory is that he was incarcerated or institutionalized," former Police Chief Richard LaMunyon said. "Very honestly, I don't think you can eliminate any possibilities. I think you also have to look at the possibility that he's been here all the time.
"Maybe something's changed in his life. Maybe he got married. Maybe we got close to him. Maybe he's on medications. I don't think you can arbitrarily throw out any possibility."
LaMunyon, who was police chief during the Wegerle homicide investigation, said BTK was a suspect in that case.
"Absolutely it was looked at," he said. "It was never confirmed that it was. It was never determined that it wasn't."
He said any DNA evidence gathered during the investigation would have been preserved using the most modern technology.
He also said he doesn't think BTK poses as much of a threat to the city as some other violent criminals who are walking around. He said an FBI profile in the mid-1970s indicated that BTK was probably in his 30s.
"If you just do the math, you're looking at somebody in his 60s," he said.
Retired Deputy Chief Kerry Crisp said he finds it hard to believe that BTK has been living in Wichita all along.
"He was active for so long and was inactive for so long, you had to figure there was some kind of intervention," he said.
Bernie Drowatzky, who retired from the Police Department in 1986, said he, too, suspects that BTK spent some time in custody. He also said he sees the letter as a break that may solve the case.
"I think there's something somewhere we missed that's going to take (police) to him," Drowatzky said.