BTK didn’t only inflict excruciating brutality on his victims, he tormented the police. Rader toyed with authorities, starting by stashing a confession letter at the Wichita Public Library in October. The budding serial killer called the Wichita Eagle and told them where to look. In the letter, he even came up with several impressive and memorable monikers for himself. BTK stands for “bind them, torture them, kill them.” The special makes clear how methodically the cops were investigating, but the drama comes through the killer’s own impatience. He writes letters, poems, draws pictures, explains how the X factor is a supernatural element, and even names Kathryn Bright, Shirley Vian and Nancy Fox.
BTK: Chasing a Serial Killer continues the enforcement dilemma during the 12-year gap in the killings: whether BTK was dead, in prison, out of town, or on the road. We get a terse explanation of a cold case, how in cases of this magnitude, they are never really closed, just forgotten. Which brings us back into the central drama. BTK did not want to be forgotten, and when he sees a newsy “Whatever happened to?” piece in local media, he decides to answer the question.
The documentary deftly captures the escalation and braggadocio from drawing to photography. BTK posed 53-year-old victim Marine Hedge in bondage positions at the Christ Lutheran Church, weeks after killing her, before dumping her body in a ditch. There are similar examples of his macabre presentation, and BTK: Chasing a Serial Killer showcases the killer’s portfolio expertly. The BTK Killer’s spree ends with the killing of Dolores E. Davis, who was found in February 1991.
The documentary turns this into a police procedural after BTK goes on a letter-writing spree, he even tapes one to a stop sign. The special notes that this is where BTK makes his mistake, by fudging a return address. But this reviewer sees another missed opportunity. Did BTK lick the stamps? This is one of the cases which spanned the pre- and post-DNA analysis era of crime-fighting. The killer ejaculated at the kill scenes from his earliest murders, but it didn’t equal usable evidence. The documentary gets into how DNA testing was in the early stages, one cop says to get a sample you had to ruin a whole lot of evidence.
The cops go in a different direction. They pull in hundreds of possible suspects to see if they could get a match for the newly admitted 1986 murder of Vicki Wegerle. The third installment is basically an inadvertent comparison between how organized the police get and how sloppy BTK gets. Once the whole dragnet coalesces, the first thing the cops realize is BTK isn’t quite the mastermind they thought he was. He writes a poem threatening lead investigator Lt. Ken Landwehr, who has become the face of the BTK task force, as well as a false autobiography. One of the things the elusive villain left was an outline for a proposed book titled “The BTK Story.” It opens with the chapter “A Serial Killer Is Born.”