Saturday, 2 Mar 2024

B.T.K. Killer Named as Prime Suspect in Two Unsolved Murders

Late last year, Sheriff Eddie Virden was watching a Netflix true crime series, when he started thinking about how close the crimes of one of the featured serial killers came to his home in Osage County, Okla. So he decided to pay Dennis Rader a visit in prison.

Over the course of a three-hour interview in the El Dorado Correctional Facility in El Dorado, Kan., Mr. Rader, a notorious and elusive serial killer known as B.T.K. who is serving 10 consecutive life terms, went into excruciating detail as he recounted the nearly dozen horrific murders he had committed in and around Kansas. But before Sheriff Virden left the prison, Mr. Rader offered up a final, strange piece of information.

Sheriff Virden said Mr. Rader told him there was one “fantasy” he never managed to pull off: kidnapping a girl from a laundromat.

Officials now believe that was not true.

This week, Mr. Rader was named the primary suspect in two unsolved killings: Cynthia Kinney, a 16-year-old girl who worked at a laundromat and disappeared in 1976 from Pawhuska, Okla., in Osage County. The second was Shawna Beth Garber, a 22-year-old woman whose body was discovered in 1990 in Lanagan, Mo.

Mr. Rader toyed with residents of Wichita, Kan., for three decades using letters, poems and packages. He insisted that the public call him B.T.K., for his systematic approach: bind, torture and kill.

For years, Mr. Rader lived an ordinary life in Kansas, where he worked, regularly attended church and was a Scout leader. He was also known for being very organized and a stickler for the rules.

His killing spree began in January 1974 in Wichita, where he killed four members of the Otero family, who were all strangled inside their home with a cord used in Venetian blinds. Nine months later, after the police announced a possible confession in the case, B.T.K. sent his first letter. In it, he took credit for the Otero killings and mentioned details that the police said only the killer would have known.

Mr. Rader would go on to kill many more times, through the early 1990s. He seemingly chose the rest of his victims, all women of varying ages, at random. In addition to being featured in the series viewed by the Osage County sheriff, the gruesome murders had an overarching presence in Netflix’s “Mindhunter,” as a fictional version of Mr. Rader makes appearances throughout the series about a serial killer.

In January, undersheriff Gary Upton, a 31-year law enforcement veteran, joined the Osage County Sheriff’s Department and began investigating the reopened cold case for Ms. Kinney, who had been working at a laundromat in Pawhuska when she disappeared in 1976. Mr. Upton and the sheriff’s office poured through old evidence, including Mr. Rader’s journals, where he kept meticulous notes of his stalking and the killings.

Mr. Upton said the police determined that Mr. Rader’s employment as a regional installer with ADT, the residential and commercial security company, coincided with the construction of a bank across the street from the laundromat where Ms. Kinney worked.

Mr. Rader also had a diary entry around the same time that Ms. Kinney went missing that went into detail about kidnapping a girl from a laundromat. The entry was titled “Bad Wash Day.”

Ms. Kinney’s body was never discovered.

The sheriff’s office continued to record Mr. Rader’s whereabouts and looked up all missing persons and unsolved murders in areas where they knew he had been working. After ADT, Mr. Rader went on to become a regional supervisor for the state and United States censuses. Records put him in the same area at the same time of Ms. Garber’s disappearance in 1990, Mr. Upton said.

But it was Polaroids that Mr. Rader left in one of his journals that helped solidify the connection, Mr. Upton said. The pictures contained items that likely belonged to Ms. Garber, including a red blanket that matched one that was reported missing when Ms. Garber disappeared.

Mr. Upton said the sheriff’s office plans to ask the F.B.I. whether they still have the red blanket, which might have Ms. Garber’s DNA on it. Ms. Garber’s remains were identified in 2021, and officials determined she died by strangulation.

Mr. Upton said “correspondence” that the sheriff’s office “intercepted” from Mr. Rader in prison led law enforcement back to the site of Mr. Rader’s house in Park City, Kansas. This week, local officials excavated around the property and found what Mr. Upton called a “hidey-hole” that contained “personal effects that we consider evidentiary in value and worthy of further testing.”

One of the items was pantyhose tied in a knot that was consistent with Mr. Rader’s use of binding wrists and ankles.

Mr. Rader was known for collecting pieces from the scenes of his killings. In early 2004, The Wichita Eagle published an article about B.T.K., marking the 30th anniversary of the Otero killings and when the terror began. Not long after, B.T.K. wrote a letter, starting on a communication frenzy. Ten letters or packages were mailed to newspapers and media outlets, or were simply left in parks. They were filled with an assortment of items, some from the killings: photographs, a word puzzle, jewelry, a computer disk and a victim’s driver’s license.

Mr. Rader was taken into custody the next year, with help from DNA evidence and a computer disk he had mailed to a media outlet. He was charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and later gave a public apology for his crimes, blaming a demon.

Remy Tumin is a reporter for The Times covering breaking news and other topics. More about Remy Tumin

Derrick Bryson Taylor is a general assignment reporter. He previously worked at The New York Post’s PageSix.com and Essence magazine. More about Derrick Bryson Taylor

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