Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The BTK Story

Police Power

Throughout the fall of 2004, police continued their intense search for BTK, this time looking to their own ranks. BTK is believed to have what some might consider "inside knowledge" of police activity or law enforcement training. For practical reasons, many serial killers are focused on the investigation into their crimes. Some, like the notorious South Carolina serial killer, Pee Wee Gaskins, and Dr. Frank Sweeney, Cleveland's Kingsbury Run murderer, have even cultivated police sources by hanging around taverns where cops visit and luring them into conversations about the investigation.

Serial killers are also attracted to law enforcement because it represents power, the ingredient that the serial killer lacks in his everyday life. Kenneth Bianchi, one of the Hillside Stranglers, took courses in police science and posed as a psychologist so that he could pal around with investigators working on his case. It was more than just a practical activity to avoid becoming a suspect himself, it was the vicarious thrill of outsmarting the police and exerting power over them.

Dr. Frank Sweeney did the same type of thing while decapitating 13 or more victims in the 1930s. The famed Eliot Ness was head of law enforcement in Cleveland at that time. When Eliot Ness focused his attentions on Sweeney, Sweeney reciprocated by sending Ness taunting post cards and even a papier maché torso. Sweeney got tremendous pleasure from outsmarting the very smart Eliot Ness.

This is what is happening here with BTK. Instead of exerting power over his victims as he tortured and killed them a couple of decades ago, he is now exerting power over the police. His games, his letters, his packages are putting enormous pressure on them to produce an arrest. Not only that, BTK has found a way to hold power over thousands of fascinated amateur sleuths who flock to the chat rooms and message boards to theorize and analyze BTK's every word. With the Laci Peterson circus finally coming to a close, BTK is making a bid to be the next televised obsession. He has become a celebrity.

Was BTK ever a Wichita cop? It's not likely, although he may have experience in the military police. Just to be on the safe side in case BTK turns out to be another Gerard Schafer, Wichita police called on retired police officers in mid-November to volunteer to have the inside of their mouths swabbed for DNA samples so they could be eliminated as potential suspects. However, investigators ran into unexpected difficulty when at least one police officer refused to participate in the ongoing investigation.

According to Roy Wenzl's November 21, 2004 article in the Wichita Eagle, retired Det. Frank Cummins was skeptical of the DNA tests because of long-term privacy concerns. Wenzl reported that "because of the nature of DNA, because it can show genetic family relationships, it would be like handing the police department a permanent set of fingerprints, without permission from every person genetically related to him." Moreover, Cummins believed that the tests were a waste of money and he distrusted how the police would utilize the samples. Consequently, he decided not to voluntarily provide DNA samples. He would not be the last person to refuse police testing.


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