City's 'BTK Strangler' claims he's killed 7 (1978)

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story is part of The Wichita Eagle's archived coverage of the pursuit, arrest and conviction of Wichita's notorious serial killer, the BTK Strangler. This story originally was published on Feb. 11, 1978.

A killer claiming responsibility for seven Wichita murders — at least six of them strangulations — still is in the area and has threatened to strike again. Police Chief Richard LaMunyon warned in a terse, bombshell announcement Friday.

"I know it is difficult to ask people to remain calm, but we are asking exactly this," LaMunyon said. "When a person of this type is at large in our community it requires special precautions and special awareness by everyone."

The killer identifies himself as the "BTK Strangler," LaMunyon said, and claims he committed the sensational slayings of four Otero family members in 1974 and three other killings since, the most recent in December. LaMunyon says he has received three communications from the killer via news media.

In two of the communications, LaMunyon said, the killer indicated BTK stands for "Bind, Torture, Kill."

The chief said the killer had threatened in a letter received Friday to strike again.

"We have no reason but to believe the individual has the capability to kill again," LaMunyon said. But LaMunyon said he didn't know whether, when or where the "BTK Strangler" would strike.

Police have said they have no concrete leads, suspect, or even a description of the killer.

Police and autopsy records indicate that several of the killings had sexual overtones, although records show no evidence of rape.

LaMunyon said the BTK initials were used in an earlier letter received by The Wichita Eagle and Beacon, and turned over to police in 1974.

The most recent letter, however, was sent to KAKE-TV, which turned it over to police Friday. LaMunyon's statement came after he had studied the two-page, single-spaced letter and said he was convinced "without a doubt" the letter writer had knowledge only the killer could have. LaMunyon refused to make the letter public.

The first letter, received by The Eagle and Beacon, identified BTK's victims as Joseph Otero, his wife, Julie, and their children, Josephine and Joseph II.

The second letter, received by KAKE-TV Friday, identified the additional victims as Shirley Vian and Nancy Jo Fox.

All six victims named by the letter writer were slain in their homes, which are east of the downtown area.

The seventh victim was not named in the letter to KAKE, and LaMunyon said Friday that he wasn't sure of that victim's identity.

In the KAKE letter, the killer taunted, "You guess the motive and the victims."

Detectives Friday were combing police files of unsolved Wichita slayings, trying to determine who that victim was.

LaMunyon said police didn't know whether the killer had any contact with his victims before he killed them.

But, the chief said, there seems to be no common bond between the victims.

"It seems to be a random thing," LaMunyon said.

KAKE executive news producer Ron Loewen said the letter, postmarked Thursday from Wichita, was received at the station at 9 a.m. Friday. After KAKE officials read the letter, LaMunyon was notified, Loewen said.

The first letter written by the "BTK Strangler" was put in a book at the Wichita Public Library. In October 1974 Eagle-Beacon Director of Community Affairs, Don Granger received an anonymous telephone call, telling him where the letter was.

In that letter, which Granger turned over to police, the writer claimed that he was the Otero killer.

Loewen said the letter to KAKE was "well organized" and that it indicated the "BTK Strangler" may again contact the station.

The first letter, in contrast to the one received by KAKE, was poorly typed and contained many misspelled words and improper grammar.

In a post script to the 1974 letter, the killer said, "The code words for me will be... Bind them, toture (sic) them, kill them. B.T.K. you see he at it again (sic). They will be on the next victim."

In a hastily called press conference Friday evening at City Hall, LaMunyon said, "I want to restate that there is no question in our minds but that the person who wrote the letter killed these people."

LaMunyon said the letter to KAKE began with the question, "How many do I have to kill before I get my name in the paper or some national attention."

The killer went on to say in the letter that he was compelled to kill by "factor X" -- the same element he claims motivated mass killers Son of Sam in New York, Jack the Ripper in London and the Hillside Strangler in Los Angeles.

"It seems senseless, but we cannot help it," the BTK Strangler says in the letter. "There is no help, no cure, except death or being caught and put away."

In his letter to KAKE, BTK dwelled on the lack of published news coverage of his first letter. LaMunyon quoted from the KAKE letter: "A little paragraph in the newspaper would have been enough."

The letter continues: "After a thing like Fox (the killing) I come home and go about life like everyone else."

A third written communication, a poem, was mailed prior to the letter to KAKE.

The poem on a 3 by 5 index card inside an envelope postmarked Jan. 31, was addressed to "Eagle Beacon, 825 E. Douglas, City" It was printed as if the sender had used a child's printing set.

The poem, which started out "Shirleylocks, shirleylocks" was thought to be meant for the paper's Valentine's Day advertising messages and was forwarded to the classified advertising department.

The poem never was delivered to the news department. A representative of the classified department turned it over to police Friday night.

Deputy Police Chief Bill Cornwell said the poem is "very brief, only seven lines long." Each line rhymes, he said.

Cornwell said the poem "describes his feeling of the killing." Before he signed the poem, the BTK Strangler wrote, "A poem for Fox is next." It is signed "BTK."

Of the poem, Cornwell said, "We acknowledge that it was written by the person who killed her (Vian)."

At the press conference, LaMunyon and Cornwell refused to disclose further details of the letter sent to KAKE.

"It would appear that this individual is seeking recognition," LaMunyon said.

The chief said that police and psychologists who studied the 1974 "BTK" letter, decided not to make that letter public.

"We felt the lack of news coverage would forestall any more killings -- that as what was hoped at the time," LaMunyon said.

Police have monitored each slaying since receiving the 1974 letter, LaMunyon said, to see if there were similarities that may have led police to the Otero killer.

Asked why police had refused Friday to acknowledge the killer may have been responsible in the Vian and Fox slayings, LaMunyon said, "There, of course, were definite similarities, but at the time there were very significant differences." He refused to elaborate.

After the Otero slayings in 1974, police released a composite sketch of a dark-complected man thought to be the killer. Cornwell said Friday, however, that later information obtained during the Otero investigation led police to now believe that he is not the "BTK Strangler."

In describing the killer, LaMunyon said it appears that the man has personalities. In his first letter, BTK said a "demon" was compelling him to kill, LaMunyon said.

The chief said the two letters are being reviewed by psychologists to develop a profile of the killer.

Deputy Chief Cornwell refused to disclose what police think is the motive of BTK's killings.

Police are withholding parts of the letter to try to prevent cranks from learning details that might entice them to convincingly claim they are the killer.

Also, police asked that specifics about the sexual nature of the killings not be published in order to hindering the investigation.