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Sunday, October 9, 2005

Profiting from the BTK Serial Killer

There is absolutely nothing wrong with a capitalism and making a profit. But sometimes with the good of a market economy you get some messy ethics questions. It's now pop culture custom and practice that vicious killers will get their own movie. Especially, if they have been one of the most infamous serial killers for the last 31 years. CBS delivers the story of Dennis Rader the Wichita BTK (Bind, Torture, & Kill) serial killer tonight in the television movie: "The Hunt for the BTK Killer."

Rhonda Holman at Kansas.com provides a Wichita perspective on the BTK movie: BTK'd - Like it or not, killer part of pop culture.

Then there is the case's emerging impact on pop culture. There was coining of "BTK" as a verb last month on the WB's "The Gilmore Girls," as in "If you see me BTK'd, you'll know why." There was the commercial for new CBS lawyer show "Close to Home" that cast Rader alongside Scott Peterson and the Menendez brothers as killers next door. National radio host Phil Hendrie even did a wicked bit on "BTK clothing," as in big, tall kids.

It's easy to respond to the notoriety with indifference, as in whatever -- just as long as they spell Wichita right. This is, after all, a fascinating true story that found its finale at a time of feverish fascination with crime.

What's regrettable is that the pop culture retellings can't help but refresh the pain for Rader's victims and survivors.

The economic bottomline means that it's okay for a big network like CBS and its advertisers to profit from a notorious case. So why can't a small website operator do the same thing? Tom Voigt is the operator of the CatchBTK.com website. Mr. Voigt set up CatchBTK.com in May 2004 in the hopes it could help find new leads. He said that in just two months the website has received over a million hits from all over the world.

The CatchBTk.com mission:
The goal of catchBTK.com is to identify the serial killer calling himself BTK through the sharing of case-related information.

Now since BTK has been caught Mr. Voigt no longer thinks it's necessary to share any of the information. So he has taken the 20 Megabytes of information that he and hundreds of people have shared about the Wichita BTK (Bind, Torture, Kill) serial killer case off the internet and is now selling it on a CD-ROM for $6.95. His site his right. However, this is unfair to the many people who contributed to the site and who linked to it (like TJN). If it was just Mr. Voigt's own content that wouldn't be so troubling. But, when he takes down the public forums and case information from contributors and tries to sell it that crosses some sort of fuzzy internet code-of-conduct boundary and puts him on slimy ground.

Looking at it from Mr. Voigt's point of view it's understandable that he might not want to pay for the bandwidth that his site (with mission complete-BTK caught) will draw due to the renewed BTK interest for this evenings broadcast of "The Hunt for the BTK Killer" telemovie. But, when you put your website out there as a public service you need to come up with a better business model for sustaining it and/or terminating it. Additionally, breaking links and turning away web traffic doesn't seem very smart. It also doesn't seem completely fair to pick on Mr. Voigt when you have a multi-billion corporation like CBS profiting from their exploitation of the BTK case on a much larger scale. However, that's capitalism - messy and ethically imperfect, but better than any alternatives.

One small lesson from this story is that topic specific websites like CatchBTK.com come and go. Choose wisely if you decide to contribute or link to them.

Some of the CatchBTK.com information is still available at the Internet Archive:

Reviews of the movie:
The Hunt For The BTK Killer: Just Your Average, Deadly Dull Serial Killer! [eclipsemagazine.com]
BTK on TV: 'A study of evil' [kansas.com]
Playing Cat-and-Mouse With a Serial Killer [NY Times]
Hunt for the BTK Killer [Hollywood Reporter]

Crime & Justice Forum discussion of The BTK movie: "The Hunt for the BTK Killer"
BTK (Bind, Torture, & Kill) Strangler Case Info [TJN]
Dennis L. Rader arrested as Wichita BTK Serial Killer [TJN]

Update: We've been informed that ironically Tom Voigt himself was jailed for over 3 months in Oregon for stalking a women around the time of Rader's arrest. That puts everything in perspective. Mr. Voigt also runs the ZodiacKiller.com website, where he was busy today. The temptation is to rewrite and rename this post "The Stalker's Stalker is Really a Stalker," but we don't want to get stalked.

KAKE-TV reported on Sept. 20, 2005, about Mr. Voigt's legal problems. It was easy to miss because it misspelled Mr. Voigt's name as Voight:
Right after Dennis Rader was arrested many people noticed Catch BTK website creator Tom Voight was nowhere to be found. That's because he was serving a jail sentence for stalking.

According to a state offender website, Voight was in the Multinomah County Jail in Portland, Oregon for stalking a woman. A clerk with the Multinomah County Courthouse says Voight was convicted for multiple violations of a protection from stalking order. On February 11, he was sentenced to six months in jail and five years probation. He was released on May 23rd.

Voight says the charges stem from an incident involving a former employer. He says the female car dealer he worked for as a webmaster owed him about $2,000. Voight says he made a number of calls and sent many e-mails using colorful language to collect the money, but he was never physical and never threatened violence.

Voight is now trying to put the incident behind him. He's moved and is currently engaged to be married. Voight has stopped updating his website, saying now that BTK is caught the case doesn't interest him anymore.

BTK Website Developer Arrested for Stalking [KAKE.com]

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