The BTK Killer murdered at least ten people in Kansas during a killing spree that started in 1974, in which he sent taunting letters to police and the media. The killings and letters challenging police to catch him, along with a period of silence from 1991 through 2004 (when the letters resumed), made the search for the BTK Killer headline news.
Dennis Rader, the man eventually arrested and charged as the BTK Killer, pleaded guilty to the previously mentioned ten murders. The BTK Killer is in prison now, but law enforcement agencies continue to pursue cold cases linked to him. One of them, a woman who disappeared in 1976, has Oklahoma law enforcement searching for evidence that may add another conviction to Rader’s name.
Serial murder and the BTK Killer
Serial killers have baffled law enforcement agencies and gripped the public’s attention long before the BTK Killer appeared on the scene. Jack the Ripper, perhaps the most notorious serial killer in history, continues to pique the interest of researchers who devote their efforts to identifying the killer more than a century after the last known murder victim was discovered.
The BTK Killer stands out among serial killers, though, because of the correspondence that Rader sent to police and media members. After all, it was Rader who came up with the “Bind, Torture, Kill” nickname he has become synonymous with.
His correspondence to law enforcement, which included clues about his victims and himself, taunted police until they ended abruptly in 1991. The messages did not resume until 2004, when Rader wrote a letter referencing a 1986 cold case. A series of correspondence from the killer included personal effects, such as jewelry, that may belong to some of his cold case victims.
Consequently, many murder cases that may be connected to him remain unsolved. One is a cold case dating back to 1976 involving the woman who disappeared in Osage County.
What is a cold case?
A cold case is any unsolved criminal case that police stop actively investigating after their initial efforts fail to produce information that could lead them to a suspect or evidence tying a someone to the commission of a crime. As the name implies, cold cases are not closed; they simply remain open but inactive pending the discovery of new evidence.
The case of the BTK Killer is a prime example of a cold case that was eventually reactivated when new evidence became available. When Rader resumed taunting authorities with his correspondence after his long period of silence, that correspondence resulted in the police receiving a computer disk. Law enforcement was then able to trace the disk to a church where Rader was a congregation member. Rader’s anonymity began to unravel, and the mysterious identity of the BTK Killer soon came to light.
Rader was arrested in 2005 after DNA evidence was used to connect him to the first murder he committed in 1971. Rader eventually confessed to only ten murders, leaving law enforcement agencies with cold cases, such as the one in Osage County, that may have a connection to the BTK Killer but no confession or evidence to lead to a conviction.
How long can cold cases remain open?
There are restrictions, called statutes of limitations, on how much time prosecutors have to file criminal charges against someone. State law in Oklahoma generally gives prosecutors three years to file charges, but it can be longer depending on the criminal offense.
For example, prosecutors have three years to charge someone with criminal fraud once they discover the offense, but they have five years to file charges against someone accused of issuing a bogus check. When it comes to the crime of murder, though, there is no statute of limitations in Oklahoma.
As such, if police find evidence linking the Osage County woman's disappearance to Rader, the self-described “BTK Killer” could face prosecution for yet another murder, and one more cold case might be closed.