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Sunday, January 30, 2005

Finding the BTK Strangler: The DMV Numbers Game

Wichita BTK (Bind-Torture-Kill) Strangler Investigation

Many criminals have been caught by basic police procedure regarding their use of a motor vehicle to travel to and from crime scenes. Serial killer, Son-of-Sam, David Berkowitz was found through a parking ticket he received near one of his murders. Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber was caught following a routine traffic stop. The Wichita Police and Kansas State Investigators are certainly using the records of the Kansas Division of Motor Vehicle (DMV) to narrow their list of suspects.

Here are some facts about the Wichita Kansas BTK (Bind-Torture-Kill) Stranger regarding his use of a vehicle and some possible screening criteria for the Kansas DMV records:

• Jan 15, 1974 -- He drove the Otero car to a Dillions parking lot following the murders.

• Dec. 9, 1977 -- He drove a vehicle away after making a 911 call from a pay phone to report the Nancy Fox murder. He may have been driving a late model van that had writing -- possibly advertising -- on its side according to a witness, a local fireman.

• Sept. 16, 1986 -- He drove the Wegerle car to escape the crime scene.

• Jan. 2005 -- A vehicle (he drove?) went to Sedgwick County, KS, to drop off BTK messages #7 and #8.

Here are four separate times over 31 years where the BTK Strangler is known to have used a vehicle to travel to or from a crime scene.

Some questions for the Kansas DMV database:

• How many men currently between the ages of 53 and 68 had a State of Kansas Drivers License during all these periods? Do not include men with severe physical disabilities or amputees (1974-1986). One profile of BTK by author/criminalist, Michael D. Kelleher, thinks BTK was probably born between 1946 and 1952, with a higher probability of 1949-1951, ie a baby-boomer.

• How many were born in 1939? BTK claims he was born in 1939 making him 65-66.

• How many just had a valid license in 1977 and 1986? He may have had an out-of-state license in 1974 (student?) and 2005 (commuting into Kansas).

• How many men on the above lists lived within 30 miles of Wichita, KS on Jan. 15, 1974 and within 75 miles on Dec. 9, 1977.

• How many men on the above lists also had a drivers license on April 4, 1974, March 17, 1977 and April 28, 1979. He murdered Kathryn Bright in 1974, Shirley Vian was murdered in 1977, and Anna Williams was burglarized in 1979. It is reasonable to think that the BTK strangler also used a vehicle to escape (his preferred M.O.) his crimes on those dates.

• How many men on the above lists are between 5'8" and 6'0." Kevin Bright described the BTK "as a white male, 5 foot 10 inches, of stocky build with dark brown or black hair and a black moustache." Bright is the lone adult BTK survivor who managed to get a close look at him.

• Given Bright's description it might also be reasonable to exclude Black and Asian men from the list. Althought one account described BTK as "dark-complexioned... believed to be of foreign extraction." So there should be some leeway regarding this criterion.

• How many men had a moustache on their valid (in April 1974) driver's license photo? [assuming they still have the records]

• How many men wore glasses in 1974, 1977, and 1986? BTK was never reported to have worn glasses in the 70's and'80's.

It should be noted that this effort to identify the BTK by using a database search was attempted in the 1980's by the Special Wichita BTK Task Force called the "Ghost Busters." This was some of what they did back then:

Using all of the available evidence obtained, investigators soon began to assemble lists of every white male that lived within a quarter-mile of the Oteros' house in or around January 1974. Investigators also made similar lists for the Vian, Fox and Bright homes. In addition, task force investigators compiled lists of men living within 1 1/4 miles of each of the victim's homes; they also assembled lists of white male students who attended Wichita state University between 1974 and 1979. The smallest list contained the names of eight people who had checked out the mechanical engineering textbook from the library where the Otero letter was found.

Detectives decided that the most significant of all were the address lists. ''The main crux of our search always was geographical," said Lt. Kenneth Landwehr of the Wichita Police Department. "According to the behavioral scientists, the individual lived close to where he was striking."

Robert Beattie, a Wichia lawyer who is writing a book on the BTK killings, added:
"...the suspect list. At its peak, that list had nearly 13,000 names on it because it included virtually every male who lived or worked in the target [3.5-mile-diameter] area."

This strategy and the work that was done then has probably been passed along to the current investigators to continue searching for suspects. Expanding the radius of the search, bringing in as many databases (like DMV) as possible, and running as many 'what if' queries is what needs to be done.

Some search criteria for the Wichita PD:

• Subtract the names of the men who have had their DNA tested (4,000+) from the above lists. How many names are left?

• Have the pictures of all the men remaining on the list been obtained and shown to Kevin Bright or compared to the police sketches? Or could their DNA be obtained?

Given the depth of current computer databases, combined with any previous data collected, it seems any number of various search queries should yield a not insurmountable list of "persons of interest." Even if the records from the 1970's are not fully digitized they are probably being searched manually.

One thing is certain the BTK Strangler, as a 50-60 year old man, is in a large number of existing databases. Making the right connections between these databases will ultimately point to a prime suspect.

BTK (Bind, Torture, & Kill) Strangler Info [TJN]
Ghost Busters [Crime Library]
updated: Feb. 16, 2005

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