“Can I communicate with Floppy and not be traced to a computer. Be honest. Under Miscellaneous section, 494, (Rex it will be OK), run it for a few days in case I’m out of town-etc. I will try a floppy for a test run some time in the near future-February or March.”
That communication from BTK-now known to be Dennis Rader-to the police was to be the beginning of the end for the conceited, self-assured serial killer who killed at least ten in the Wichita, Kansas area between the 1970′s and 1990′s before stumbling all over himself and giving himself away 2005.
Allow me to interject a bit of personal commentary here. This case has been one that I followed more closely than others because I lived through the whole bit-from the first murders in the 70′s through his then-unlinked murders in the 90′s as a Kansas resident. In fact, for several years, I lived within 50 miles of Wichita.
The areas that Rader called his playing field are areas I know well. The people he scared into never entering a home without checking the phone to make sure the lines hadn’t been cut are people I grew up knowing. They’re a people with a great deal of common sense and a certain measure of good ol’ Midwestern trust.
It was revealed in the book that Rader may have stalked and intended to murder at least one resident of north-central Kansas. My grandparents lived in that area their entire lives.
In short, it all resonates more than most cases I know well. So I’ve read the books on the subject. While this is not what I’d consider the best book on Rader, it definitely has a unique point of view.
The authors are all journalists with The Wichita Eagle. (This is a link to excerpts from the book, from the Wichita Eagle website. This is the comprehensive page from The Wichita Eagle that contains photos, interviews and timelines for the murders.) They didn’t have to do extensive research for the book, I’m guessing, because they lived it and covered it as it was happening.
Additionally, they are quite familiar with the players in law enforcement, which sets the tone for the book. It’s a look at the lives of two long-time Wichita residents-serial killer Dennis Rader and Wichita Police Department homicide detective Lieutenant Ken Landwehr, whose starkly contrasting (and yet at times, oddly similar) lives became entwined.
It’s, at the same time, both a book that is highly self-congratulatory and harshly self-critical. (Something the politicians radically messed up in the press conference announcing the arrest-something else that’s covered in the book.) There are times that the authors don’t hesitate to criticize moves made by both themselves and the police department.
As a reporter for a brief period of time, I covered cops and courts, and I know it’s all-too-easy to make missteps in communication that affect the relationship between the media and law enforcement. So if the book had spoken only of the easy lines of communication, this book would have rung starkly untrue. But as it is, it’s believable. I’m guessing, as authors, that it would be very easy to slip into a tone of complete self-congratulations following such a huge arrest (that was largely brought about by the coverage in the media.) So the authors should be congratulated for walking that line in the book.
Still, it’s important to remember that Rader really hung himself through his own extreme conceit-like most serial killers. Butt’s an interesting study in how the media and law enforcement CAN work together to ensnare criminals.
Mostly, though, I appreciated the thorough portrait portrayed of Landwehr. All too-often true crime books focus on a certain amount of glamorizing the killer. This book offers a great portrait of the sacrifices law enforcement members made during the long investigation.
In the end, I’m not sure this is the best book on BTK. But it is a unique look at a case that stumped even experts in the field of serial killers.