Ken Landwehr, the Wichita detective who arrested Dennis Rader, has passed away at age 59. Via The Atlantic, this ABA Journal article explains how the killer was caught:
The beginning of the end for BTK came in January 2005, when he sent a postcard to a Wichita TV station describing a package he claimed to have left by the side of the road. In the message, BTK also asked about the status of another package he said he had left at a Home Depot store a few weeks earlier.
The roadside package turned out to be a cereal box containing a document. It described in gruesome detail his first crime–the 1974 murders of a couple and two of their five children. The box also held some jewelry and a doll with a rope around its neck; the doll was tied to a curved PVC pipe, apparently representing one of the victims, an 11-year-old girl.
But it was BTK’s reference to a package at the Home Depot that gave police their first big break in the case.
An initial search of the premises turned up nothing from BTK. But a store employee told police that his girlfriend had found a cereal box with writing on it in the bed of his pickup truck about two weeks earlier. The employee, thinking it was a joke, threw the box away.
Police recovered the trash and found the box, which contained several documents, including the one asking police whether BTK could communicate with them via a floppy disk without being traced. If so, he asked police to place the newspaper ad saying “Rex, it will be OK.”
Police ran the ad. They also reviewed the store’s security videotapes, which showed an unidentified man in what appeared to be a black Jeep Grand Cherokee pulling alongside the employee’s pickup truck and walking around the vehicle.
Two weeks later, a disk arrived in the mail at another TV station, along with a gold chain, a photocopied cover of a novel about a killer who bound and gagged his victims, and several 3-by-5 index cards, one of which gave instructions for communicating with BTK through the newspaper.
The disk contained one valid file bearing the message “this is a test” and directing police to read one of the accompanying index cards with instructions for further communications. In the “properties” section of the document, however, police found that the file had last been saved by someone named Dennis. They also found that the disk had been used at the Christ Lutheran Church and the Park City library.
Landwehr says Rader had taken pains to delete any identifying information from the disk. But he made the fatal mistake of taking the disk to his church to print out the file because the printer for his home computer wasn’t working.
“It’s pretty basic stuff,” Landwehr says about the reconstruction of the deleted information. “Anybody who knows anything about computers could figure it out.”
A simple Internet search turned up a Web site for the church, which identified Dennis Rader as president of the congregation. Police quickly determined that Rader was a code compliance officer in Park City, located his address, drove past his house and saw a black Jeep Grand Cherokee registered to his son, Brian, in the driveway.
From there, prosecutors subpoenaed a tissue sample from a Pap smear done on Rader’s daughter, Kerri, at a student clinic near Kansas State University in Manhattan, which she had attended five years earlier. DNA tests on that sample showed that Kerri Rader was the daughter of BTK.
Any lingering doubts were erased after Rader’s arrest, when he proudly described, in a bone chilling, matter of fact way, the torture and murder of 10 people, including the 11-year-old girl and 9-year-old boy. His recorded confession, which lasted more than 30 hours, filled 17 DVDs.
*This is what we used to save our computer documents back in the old days, before thumb drives and Dropbox. Ask your parents about it.