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In the 1970s, Oak Harbor Police Chief Steve Almon may have sat in class next to a man who was in the process of becoming one of the nations most infamous serial killers.
In the 1980s, Almon investigated a brutal crime that he believes may be linked to the same man, who is known by the initials BTK.
Now, Almon is keeping in touch with former colleagues at the Wichita Police Department to stay up to date on the case. After 31 years, police finally broke the case last month. They arrested Dennis Rader, a 59-year-old father of two and avid churchgoer, who stands charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder.
Im anxious to hear every detail about it, Almon said. With this kind of guy, the most important thing is that he was arrested.
Over the years, Almons life has been touched by the cruel hands of the serial killer several times. They may have crossed paths in college, in the neighborhoods where Almon patrolled, in the home the young officer wanted to purchase for his family, and maybe in one of the biggest cases of Almons career.
As serial killers go, Almon said that the BTK killer has been a very unusual case. BTK may have stopped killing for years at a time. He wrote letters taunting police and sent packages with trophies from his victims. He named himself BTK, which stands for Bind, Torture, Kill. His method of murder changed from victim to victim. He was not a loner, as many serial murderers are, but an active and well-known member of his community.
Almon and Rader took criminal justice classes at the Wichita State at the same time. Almon said he was curious to know if they were in class together, which is very possible.
While Almon put his criminal justice education to work in law enforcement, Rader apparently used his schooling to kill people without getting caught.
Almon said investigators on the case thought from the beginning that BTK may have law enforcement experience. He even heard that detectives had compared all the fingerprints of all police officers to a partial found at the scene.
It turned out, however, that Rader never became a cop, but worked as an animal control officer.
The killer goes to work
Almon went to work as a police officer in 1975, a year after BTK began killing. The killers first victims were four members of the Otero family; an 11-year-old girl was his target.
BTK strangled Josepth Otero, his wife, Julie Otero, and their 9-year-old son, Joseph. Police found the partially clothed body of Josephine Otero hanging by the neck from a rope tied to a sewer pipe in the basement.
Three months later, BTK stabbed and choked 21-year-old Kathryn Bright and shot her brother, who survived.
Later that year, BTK sent his first letter. The Wichita Eagle-Beacon received a letter from a person claiming to have killed the Oteros. It included details that only the killer would know.
Almon started work as an officer a few months after that. He said police didnt even know they had a serial killer on their hands when he began. He was assigned to patrol the neighborhoods where BTK was lurking, not realizing who was out there.
Not long after taking the job, Almon and his wife started looking for homes in the area. While patrolling, he said he came across a nice little house in a nice neighborhood that was for sale. The couple went to look at the house and were delighted to find it had a very reasonable price.
Almon said he was seriously considering the house when he told a fellow officer about it and learned it was the Otero house. Almon, of course, was aware of the terrible murders, but hadnt realized where the crime had taken place until that moment.
The couple decided against buying the house.
In 1977, BTK killed at least two more women. His voiced was captured on tape when he called 911 to report one of his murders.
In 1978, BTK sent out more letters claiming responsibility for the killings. The police chief announced that a serial killer was at large in Wichita.
In 1979, BTK waited inside the home of a 63-year-old woman, but left when she didnt return home as expected. He later sent her a letter saying that he had been there.
Then BTK abruptly broke off contact and seemed to end his killing spree. Law enforcement experts believe, at the time, that he was dead, in prison or in a mental institute.
Brutal murder may be linked
It had been six years since anyone heard from BTK when Almon, a homicide detective, was assigned to investigate the brutal murder of Linda Shawn Case. He said he immediately looked at is a possible BTK case, even though BTK seemed to be gone.
There were some definitely similarities to other BTK cases. The young woman had been bound and tortured before her throat was cut. It appeared to be a random killing. It was such a gruesome scene, he said.
The murder was so high profile that the landlord of the house made money giving tours of the scene. Almon said he quickly put a stop to that by getting a warrant to seal the home.
Not long after the murder, Almon said he and the other detective, John Blevins, received a tip. An anonymous caller said the Case murder was a BTK case and that there was evidence left in the bathroom.
Almon said he and Blevins went back to the bathroom and scoured it for evidence. The wallpaper in the room was made to look like old newspaper, so the two men read every word with magnifying glasses.
Nevertheless, the case was unsolved. A few months later, Almon received a promotion and was transfered out of homicide.
It always bothered me as to whether there was really a clue, he said, and whether this was a BTK case.
Around the same time as the Case murder, Almon said the police set up The Ghostbusters, a top-secret group of investigators dedicated to finding BTK. The squad took up nearly a full floor of the police department building and was cordoned off from all other officers.
Almon said the members had to take a special oath of secrecy.
The Ghostbusters employed all the latest technology in the search for BTK, including some of the earliest uses of forensic DNA analysis. Nevertheless, BTK eluded them.
The killer may have never been caught if he hadnt decided to reestablish contact the media and law enforcement one year ago. He sent a letter to a newspaper claiming responsibility for killing 28-year-old Vicki Wegerle in 1986. He sent a copy of her drivers license and pictures from the murder scene.
Almon, who was now hard at work in the sleepy town of Oak Harbor, said he was very excited to hear that BTK had reemerged.
I think every officer who has worked in Wichita would feel the same, he said. Nobody wants to see him get away with this.
Almon was even more excited when Wichita police recently arrested Rader, the man they believe is BTK. The killer sent a computer disk to a TV station. Investigators were able to trace the disk to a computer at a Lutheran church, where Rader was the church council president.
Almon said he believes BTK re-surfaced because of the media coverage given to Gary Ridgway, the Green River killer. For BTK, one of the thrills of his dark other life was receiving public attention, Almon said.
They say theyll have to re-write the books on this one, Almon said. He doesnt match the profile.
You can reach Jessie Stensland at firstname.lastname@example.org or 675-6611.