After all these years, they had come to believe that the monster was dead — or at least locked away in prison somewhere.
But news that BTK was alive sent relatives of his victims reeling Thursday, awakening the horrific memories of those dark days decades ago.
"When a life was taken so drastically like that and so brutal, it's really hard to deal with," said Ruth Fox, whose stepdaughter, Nancy Fox, was killed more than 25 years ago.
"It's just almost unbearable."
The killer called police to report Nancy Fox's murder from a pay phone at Central and St. Francis. She was found bound and strangled in the bedroom of her duplex at 843 S. Pershing on Dec. 9, 1977.
BTK's reappearance has dredged up all the old pain, said Dale Fox, Nancy's father. But it also provides an opportunity for something relatives of his victims have never had: closure.
"I hope he has made a real bad mistake on his part, and that he'll get caught this time," Dale Fox said. "He's a clever guy, a smart guy. To evade everyone all this time, he has to be."
Nancy, 25, was a secretary for a construction company and worked part time at a jewelry store. She made friends easily and enjoyed living in her duplex, where she had been for more than a year. Living alone didn't bother her, Dale Fox said.
"She never was worried about it," he said.
Fox was at work at Cessna Aircraft Co. when he was called down to the office. Police took him to St. Joseph Medical Center to identify his daughter's body. Police said evidence indicated the killer had broken into Nancy's duplex and was waiting for her when she got home.
Nancy is buried in Harper, next to her grandparents.
"We get down there every chance we get," Dale Fox said.
Her photo has a prominent place in the living room of the family home near Haysville.
"We go to church all the time," Dale Fox said. "Through prayers and the grace of God, we made it through it."
But the past couple of days have been awfully hard, especially for Nancy's only sister and her youngest brother. He's a truck driver now, and Dale Fox fears that he learned of BTK's reappearance by way of the radio somewhere out on the road.
That's the way he found out in 1977, Dale Fox said.
A sophomore in high school at the time, he had skipped class that day and was riding around town when he heard about his sister's death on the radio.
Time is supposed to heal wounds, Charles Bright knows.
"It doesn't heal this one," he said flatly.
A week from Sunday will mark the 30th anniversary of his daughter Kathryn's death. She had just returned to her home at 3217 E. 13th St. with her brother, Kevin, to find BTK waiting for them.
According to police reports, Kevin Bright said the killer made him tie his sister to a chair, then forced him into another part of the house, where he tried to strangle him and finally shot him twice in the head.
Kevin fled out the front door and flagged down a passing motorist who took him to the hospital for gunshot wounds to the temple and the side of his mouth. Kathryn, 21, was stabbed to death.
Kevin described his attacker as a stocky white male, 5-foot-10, with dark brown or black hair and a black mustache.
Charles Bright said he was shocked to learn BTK was still around, but that has turned into a sense of anticipation.
"That's what I want: Catch him, so we can all be at ease," he said.
Kevin doesn't talk about that night. It's not easy for his father to, either.
"I guess what gets me the most is, she had her whole life ahead of her," Charles Bright said. "Folks are not supposed to have to bury their daughters and sons."
About the only thing that can help the healing process now, Ruth Fox said, is justice.
"If they could just catch him, that would be our prayer," she said. "To get him and make sure that justice is served him in the most cruel way."