Archive for Thursday, April 1, 2004

Media focuses attention on police chief

McKenna investigated BTK murders; media turn to him for insight

April 1, 2004

Much of the focus about the Wichita serial killer known as BTK lies in Wichita, which is not surprising.

What might be more unexpected is the recent renewal of interest in BTK attracting media attention to Baldwin and its police chief.

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Mike McKenna spent a lot of his 22-year career on the Wichita police force investigating the BTK murder cases, and now media are turning to the Baldwin police chief for an in-depth look at the killer.

Since BTK, which stands for a description of the attacker's crimes -- bind, torture and kill -- re-emerged into public view last week with a letter to The Wichita Eagle, McKenna has been interviewed countless times by newspapers and TV stations wanting to know more about the Kansas serial killer.

McKenna said several news organizations, including The Dallas Times, The Chicago Tribune, the national news networks from New York and the state and local media, have contacted him about the killer. One reporter even went so far as to contact McKenna while he was on vacation in Mexico.

He said much of the media interest is because of how quiet BTK was for so many years, only to re-emerge so suddenly when most people thought the killer was dead or in prison.

"It's because of the surprise that this man has survived this long without apprehension," he said. "His shadow has crossed our door again."

But McKenna believes BTK was always in Wichita.

"I never felt BTK was gone from the city," he said. "I believe he has remained in the community and has chosen to remain silent."

BTK's slayings, seven of which occurred in the 1970s, remain unsolved. Six were strangled and one was stabbed. Letters claiming responsibility for the killings were sent to The Wichita Eagle and KAKE-TV, the last one being received in 1979.

But last week, a new letter was sent to the Wichita paper in which BTK took responsibility for an eighth murder, the 1986 strangling of Vicki Wegerle.

McKenna, who worked the murder cases for several years as a patrol officer, a detective and then lieutenant on the department's special investigation section, said BTK is making contact again after nearly a quarter-century of silence out of a desire for media attention.

"He's very much thrilled with this," he said. "This is his time and he's enjoying it. I believe he feels this is his day in the sun."

McKenna said he believes BTK felt slighted by media in the 1970s when a California serial killer, dubbed the Zodiac murderer by police, was also receiving media attention.

"At the time (BTK) was active years ago, there was a jealousy with him," he said. "He felt he was as good or better than the Zodiac murderer."

After years of investigating the murders and profiling the killer, McKenna believes BTK to be a quiet and withdrawn, but controlling and meticulous individual.

"Profiling an individual is both an art and a science, but it's just one of the tools used in apprehending a criminal," he said.

McKenna said it's unlikely BTK will make a mistake that will lead to the killer's apprehension. Instead, he said, the case might only be resolved with new DNA technologies or from a new witness.

"This type of person rarely makes mistakes of significant value," he said. "It would be far less likely that he would make a mistake you'd see committed by other criminals."

McKenna said he believes BTK will surface again, especially with the renewed media interest.

"I don't think he's done," he said. "When he's ready to contact the department again, he will.

"But I have every confidence in the world with the people there today carrying on the investigation," he said. "They are the best of the best."

And though McKenna, who worked for the Wichita Police Department between 1974 to 1996, said he's happy as Baldwin's police chief, he often thinks about the BTK murders and would like to be the one interviewing instead of being interviewed.

"There's always a part of you that feels like you left a job unfinished," he said. "One thing I hoped I would always do in my career is sit down across the interview table and conduct an interview with him. I would like to find out how his mind works, find out why he committed these heinous crimes."

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