Oct. 28, 2010 -- Lt. Ken Landwehr jokes with reporters during a press conference on Saturday, Feb. 26, 2005, announcing the arrest of the BTK killer, Dennis Rader. Wichita, Kan. Police Chief Norman Williams is in the background.
Photographer: SHNS photo by Randy Tobias / Wichita Eagle Tribune
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Police in Wichita, Kan., like to joke that the chief of their homicide squad has serial killers on the brain.
"I get accused of that a lot by my detectives, that everything and everyone is a serial killer," said Lt. Ken Landwehr. "But that's exactly where my training started. It's one of the first things to look at if you have a sexually motivated homicide."
Folks in Wichita, like Landwehr, have reason to be paranoid. The Midwestern metropolitan area of about 589,000 residents has been plagued by at least four - and Landwehr suspects five - serial killers in recent decades.
Landwehr, 56, spent much of his career chasing one of the world's most infamous serial killers, self-proclaimed "BTK killer" Dennis Rader who bragged to the news media that he had bound, tortured and killed 10 residents of Sedgwick County, Kan., from 1974 to 1991.
Landwehr led the task force that captured Rader in 2005 by recovering deleted files on a computer diskette on which Rader had documented his murders. The file led police to a computer owned by the Christ Lutheran Church of Wichita where Rader had served as president of the church council.
During the 21-year search for the BTK killer, Wichita detectives also helped arrest and prosecute two other serial killers - Richard Grissom, convicted of killing three women in Kansas and Missouri, and James Cromwell, convicted of strangling two elderly Wichita women.
In addition, city homicide detectives worked two killings of women at a local bridal shop attributed to the still-at-large "I-70 killer." The killer officially has been linked through laboratory gunshot analysis to the slayings of six people found during a two-month period in 1992 near the interstate highway in Kansas, Indiana and Missouri.
And Landwehr suspects his town had a fifth serial killer, who he thinks was responsible for the disappearances of two women in the 1990s.
Perversely, the intense notoriety that the BTK killings brought Wichita may have been a brutal blessing. The city's homicide detectives are less likely to fall victim to so-called "pattern blindness" - the reluctance by police to recognize and acknowledge they are chasing a serial killer.
"You've got to look to see if the guy was doing this for the first time," Landwehr said. "You pattern yourself to look at that (serial killing) as a distinct possibility rather than to avoid it, which is something we've historically done in the past. We avoid things like that."
Criminologists who've studied serial killers agree. The apparent plague of serial killers in Wichita may actually provide a clue to how common they are.
"It shouldn't come as a surprise than an all-American city like Wichita would have a few, maybe several, unsolved serial killings over the last three decades. My guess is that this is not unusual," said Northeastern University criminologist Jack Levin, who has published several statistical studies of multiple and serial killers. "Having a notorious serial killer like BTK would certainly sensitize detectives to the possibility of serial killers. That might actually have given them an advantage for avoiding what we call linkage blindness."
Wichita had at least 11 strangulations of women since 1980 recorded in the FBI's Supplementary Homicide Report program, according to a Scripps Howard News Service analysis. Most were committed in the 1980s.
"I haven't a clue why" there were so many asphyxial killings, Landwehr said. "It's been mostly guns, blunt force trauma and knives since 2000."
He doubts anyone was copying Rader's style.
"We have never had anyone who ever confessed or talked after their arrest who said they were patterning themselves after BTK," Landwehr said.
Meanwhile, Wichita police still have unsolved cases like the I-70 killer and the mysterious disappearance of two local women.
"We'll have to get lucky with someone talking in prison. Or maybe we'll get some newfound technology and we can go back over our evidence and finally get somewhere," Landwehr said. "We just have to wait and hope that we'll find something."
Copyright 2010 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
An NBC Action News-Scripps Howard News Service investigation has identified multiple murder clusters in Kansas City, mostly during the 80s and 90s that a computer program has tagged as suspected serial killings.
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Wichita, Kan., with its population of approximately 589,000 residents, has been plagued by at least four - and Homicide Squad Chief Lt. Ken Landwehr suspects five - serial killers in recent decades.
Authorities in Indiana and Ohio have launched investigations into suspected serial killings after a Scripps Howard News Service study of FBI computer files found many alarming clusters of unsolved homicides of women across the nation.
The FBI - in its publication "Serial Murder: Multi-Disciplinary Perspectives for Investigators" - provided these common misconceptions about serial killers following a national symposium on serial killers that met Aug. 29 through Sept. 2, 2005 in San Antonio, Texas: